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Now that social media has (somewhat) matured as a marketing channel, the balance of power in the Force has seen email marketing recoup some of its lost luster. Particularly in terms of personalization and one-to-one marketing, email still provides the best means of reaching consumers in a meaningful, targeted way.

Most importantly, consumers still read email, and certain segments of your market likely read email a lot. Smart marketers have continued to perfect their strategies and increase their inbox effectiveness, so you’re facing formidable competition for your subscribers’ attention.

To succeed with email marketing, you’ll need to follow a few basic best practices and get to know your audience very well. To help you decipher what the typical consumer wants from marketing emails, TechnologyAdvice surveyed 1358 US adults about their consumption of emails from businesses. We then surveyed a cohort of 472 consumers about their expectations, preferences, and dissatisfactions with marketing email.

Here are three of the biggest takeaways:

60 percent of consumers still read marketing emails

Of the initial sample of 1,358 adults, 60 percent said they read emails they received from businesses. However, only 16 percent said they did so regularly.
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That a significant majority of consumers read promotional emails underscores the fact that marketing communications are still a welcome presence in most inboxes. The low percentage of heavy readers though suggests that while consumers don’t mind these types of emails, our attention for this content is fleeting.

To stake a claim for your subscribers’ attention, you’ll need to focus on the characteristics of your email consumers see before they open it: the subject line, the sender address, and the preview text. All of these characteristics have a tremendous impact on the ROI of your email marketing, because if no one opens your emails, then no one will click through and convert.

Consumers primarily read emails for discounts and news updates

Targeting the 60 percent of respondents who read emails, we asked why they read marketing emails at all. 38.9 percent of respondents indicated that they read marketing emails to receive discounts and promotions, while 26.2 percent said they read these types of emails to get news and updates.

While the top two responses vary, they both indicate consumers’ expectation for your marketing emails to include obvious value. The monetary value of discounts and sales needs little explaining; marketers have been using this tactic for decades upon decades.

But value comes in different forms, and reliable news and information can hold substantial value for email subscribers by keeping them informed about ongoing events or supplying detailed educational content that helps them build a more comprehensive understanding of a certain subject.

Either way, consumers are using email more for value-based exchanges with companies rather than customer service inquiries. Only 11 percent of respondents in our survey indicated they read emails from businesses in order to obtain technical support.

Emails must be relevant and sent with a reasonable frequency

Even with the understanding of which types of emails to send, it’s still easy to misalign value and make offers that don’t resonate with your audience. When asked how marketers could improve their email campaigns, 24 percent of respondents wanted more informative content and 23 percent wanted more personalized content.

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Both requests suggest that market research and segmentation play a large part in email marketing. If consumers find something impersonal, it’s usually not because it didn’t contain their name, but rather because the content didn’t feel appropriate to their interests. Likewise, receiving targeted content that doesn’t offer any new or interesting information will make recipients less likely to open future emails.

The quality and relevancy of content are important, but above all, consumers want marketers to send less emails. A full 43 percent of respondents confirmed that they wanted to businesses to email them less frequently.

It seems the key to addressing your low engagement numbers doesn’t involve upping your sending volume.

On first glance, consumers expectations don’t seem so unreasonable: send relevant, informative content with a decent amount of time in between each correspondence. But what seems straightforward isn’t always so easy for marketers.

The execution may take some work, but many of the problems with email marketing can be remedied by adherence to best practices and more powerful technology that allows for better segmentation and targeting capabilities.

Zach Watson is the content manager at TechnologyAdvice. He covers gamification, healthcare IT, business intelligence, and other emerging technology. Connect with him on LinkedIn.