The battle over consumers’ inboxes is becoming increasingly fraught. Despite the reports of consumers switching off email, it still holds importance in many marketing mixes. At the same time, consumers are disillusioned with the communications that they are receiving, with over 60% of consumers feeling that the messages they are sent are of no interest to them. This, in part, may explain why the arms race over our inboxes is now at a tipping point. As marketers employ more and more tech to try to win this war, there have been widespread and longstanding calls, from Bill Gates to Forrester Research (amongst others) for them to pay a price to reach consumers’ inboxes.

Conversely, while marketers are thinking about coughing up cash to enter inboxes, the idea of consumers paying extra for a ‘premium inbox’ that will be inaccessible to marketers has also been touted. What has become abundantly clear is that consumers will not stand for the clutter in their inboxes any longer, and there needs to be a solution to this critical issue.

Making marketers pay for inbox access may help somewhat, putting a concrete cost on the attention of their audiences. Email ‘stamps’ could also help decrease the volume of marketing emails, as many businesses would think twice about pressing send if there was a cost attached.

That said, pay-to-play still fails to address the underlying issues that are causing consumers to dismiss marketing emails. It doesn’t matter how much money a marketer throws at a consumer’s inbox if the message that person receives is completely irrelevant to them. In the world of pay-to-play, personalisation is still king.

Marketers are told nearly every day that we are living in the age of data. But so many still don’t use data to their advantage, least of all in their email marketing. This is an incredible disservice to consumers who are crying out for more personal and targeted email messaging.

There is now a mountain of data that marketers are lucky enough to have at their fingertips. Apart from the usual demographic, socio-economic and marketing information, savvy marketers can also use social media, transactional, online behavioural and even environmental data to build up an incredibly detailed picture on what their target audiences desire and need.

This level of detail is the gunpowder marketers need to really fire up their email marketing campaigns. A supermarket, for instance, could promote their new range of baking mixes to customers who follow the Great British Bake Off on twitter and Facebook, use the #GBBO hashtag and have previously searched for simple cupcake recipes.

Using previous sales and loyalty card data, the supermarket may also be able to tell from previous years that sales of certain baking mixes peak after specific Bake Off episodes and that these mixes are often ordered online, on smartphones and tablets, in the hour after an episode has been on TV. Knowing this information, the supermarket can then send a mobile and tablet optimized email featuring chocolate biscuit mix straight after the biscuit episode airs to all customers who follow Great British Bake Off on social media.

Open data such as weather or transit information can make email marketing even more targeted. Sales of cupcake baking mixes may decrease when it is raining while sales of mixes for whole cakes may increase. Likewise, sales of baking mixes, as opposed to raw ingredients, may surge when transit data indicates that many people have had a bad commute home.

This level of personalisation shouldn’t just be reserved to the few data-literate marketers. Consumers’ clogged up inboxes are a problem for the entire industry, and it needs an industry wide solution. Today’s consumers are simply too busy to be separating the wheat from the chaff in their mailboxes, and they shouldn’t have to – every communication they receive should be relevant and timely. The industry needs to adopt this as a new standard for personalisation that all marketers should adhere to.

This standard wouldn’t be difficult to achieve either. The technology that ensures marketing emails are delivered at the right time and with the right messaging is accessible to businesses of all shapes and sizes. There’s a notion within the industry that setting up personalised messages is costly and time consuming. This is simply not true, and it’s harming marketers’ relationships with their audiences. Paying for email ‘stamps’ is likely to cost the same amount, perhaps even more when you factor in ROI.

Because of email overload, consumers are now less forgiving of irrelevant marketing emails than at any other point in history. Marketers need to wake up to the fact that their audiences’ time is money. If email ‘stamps’ and premium inboxes place a tangible value on consumers’ attention spans and inbox space, then pay-to-play may go some way to solving the industry’s email issue. But it is not the whole solution to this problem.

Marketers need to step up and serve customers the emails they really need, when they need them – and at no other time. If they don’t there’s a risk that email will cease to get through to consumers at all. In this inbox deadlock, marketers need to remember who they are really fighting for.

Guy Marson

Guy Marson


Guy is Director and Co-founder at Profusion.