UK consumers at end of their tether as untargeted emails still outnumber personalised messages

Email is rightly regarded as one of the most cost-efficient and effective channels for reaching out to the consumer. With UK consumers estimated to have on average more than two email accounts each, the opportunity to place a message right before the eyes of the intended consumer is significant.

But actually getting a message noticed and opened despite the vast amount of commercial email each consumer receives today – and then making an impact – is no easy task. What too few companies sending out marketing emails seem to realise is that these communications are only truly effective if they are suitably targeted, tailored and personalised.

With the latest GI Insight research revealing that more than half of UK consumers (53%) say that almost all the direct email they receive from companies and other organisations is irrelevant to them, it is evident that too many firms are missing out on an opportunity to cut through the bulk of poorly targeted communications and truly engage consumers. The majority of organisations still seem to be ignoring the full potential of email as a precise marketing tool by treating this medium as a ‘cheap’ blast-out channel for generic messages and offers.

The survey also revealed that firms are not targeting both genders with equal success. Women are in fact more likely to receive better targeted emails than men, with 50% of women declaring that the majority of email messages they receive from organisations is in fact relevant to them compared to just 45% of men getting email that’s on the mark.

Overall, the research also showed that older consumers (age 35 and over) are less impressed by the targeting of their emails than younger people, indicating that, although these sections of the population are the most likely to have families and higher individual earnings, brands are not reaching out to them effectively via email. Fewer than 43% of the 18-24 age group complain that most of their email was irrelevant versus 57% of the 45-54 demographic.

Nevertheless, marketers are evidently more successful at focusing their targeting efforts specifically on higher income households: only 22% of the very highest earners surveyed (respondents with household incomes of £150,000 or more) regarded the majority of email they receive as irrelevant.

Email can be an especially effective medium for dealing with existing customers as opposed to prospects. The survey shows that 73% of the responding consumers say they have given companies they have previously purchased from permission to email them. This indicates that there remains plenty of ground for optimism that consumers will continue to give brands access to their inbox where a relationship already exists. Firms that want to use email to make cold contact with prospective customers face bigger barriers than those building a dialogue with existing clients, as only 51% of consumers responding to the survey say they have given firms they have not bought from before permission to email them.

When a company fails to deliver relevant messages, it risks provoking annoyed and alienated consumers to eventually unsubscribe – thus cutting off a key marketing channel. And the negative effects of irrelevant email messaging can be even more damaging to the brand as it can harm reputation and encourage irritated customers to take their business elsewhere.

For email to work, firms need to take into account consumer preferences and understand their behaviour in order to approach them at the right time, in an appropriate tone, and with a relevant offer. They need to know if email is more effectively employed in conjunction with other channels for particular consumers and whether, in fact, a customer is worth investing the time and effort to pursue. The only way to know all of that is to gather consumer data, analyse it and use the insight gained to shape the approach to each individual prospect and customer.

When a consumer entrusts a firm with their email address, they are opening an important window of opportunity for marketers. If firms are to take advantage of those rare opportunities to establish a productive – and profitable – dialogue with a new or existing customer, they need to target that consumer accurately with tailored and personalised content. If, instead, consumers continue to receive generic messages, they feel let down by the brand and often cut it off. Companies need to keep earning the right to contact consumers via email by individualising their messages and constantly refining their targeting.

Andy Wood

Andy Wood


Andy Wood is the Managing Director of GI Insight.