My research into e-mail marketing began with several consumer focus groups designed to develop a qualitative understanding of e-mail user behavior and attitudes.
I began the discussion by asking about the first time attendees were exposed to and used e-mail. The most common answer had to do with school homework or business tasks. Throughout the focus groups, it became evident that “e-mail as homework” was a valid metaphor for understanding how users feel. It’s a daily task they must accomplish and often don’t relish. It’s just something to get done and out of the way before they can move onto what they really want to be doing.
As a function of that metaphor, I found that the primary mode of user interaction with the inbox is filtering. They scan through the list of subject lines presented to them by their e-mail client, quickly glancing over each and deciding whether or not to open. Once they’ve opened it, they scan some more to decide to read and possibly take actions on the contents. In the case of nonmarketing e-mails, this is often a to-do item or a response. In the case of marketing e-mails, the user is deciding if he or she wants to click on the links presented.
Although the subject line forms the basis of the filtering criteria, the sender name also came up in the focus group discussions. Users were more likely to read and act on e-mails from names they recognized. And recognition came in two forms: people they know and celebrity names. Participants ...