Resources Hub » Blog » How Consumers Engage With Brands Through Email in 2020

Even with detailed email analytics and reporting, it’s tricky to decipher exactly what your subscribers want from your brand. This means that email marketers are often left with trial and error, experimenting with strategies over months or even years until they find the sweet spot.

That’s why we directly asked consumers what they want: We recently surveyed 400 consumers on how they want to engage with brands through email.

We asked questions about email opens, purchasing from email, and reengagement. The results reveal how to adjust your email marketing strategy for better outcomes with less guesswork.

In this article, we share the results from the survey and interpret what it means for marketers. Plus, we share actionable tips and examples from brands.

What makes customers purchase from email?

The first data set reveals what types of emails or tactics make customers more likely to purchase from an email campaign.

Are customers more likely to make a purchase from personalized emails?

Most consumers indicated they were neutral about whether a personalized email would make them more likely to buy. However, a significant portion of respondents did respond that they “somewhat agree” that personalization makes it more likely for them to buy.

What does this mean for marketers?

While not conclusive, this result suggests that personalization is a strategy marketers should try with their list and carefully track results. A/B testing for personalization is a good way to see if it’s worth it for your subscribers.

We also found that one of the biggest indicators of whether customers will purchase from email is how familiar they are with the brand. More important than personalizing emails for every subscriber is making sure that every subscriber knows your brand, and a strong welcome sequence can help new subscribers become familiar.

Are customers more likely to make a purchase after receiving a birthday email?

The majority of respondents said they “somewhat agree” or “strongly agree” that a birthday email leads to a purchase. But a large number of respondents did remain neutral.

What does this mean for marketers?

This is likely a strategy that’ll work for your brand. But, before you can put it into practice, you must collect the birthdays of your subscribers. You can do this by:

  • Asking for a date of birth when they sign up
  • Sending an email to all subscribers asking for a birthday

We also found that the number one thing that makes people enjoy emails from brands is when the email includes a discount. So pair the birthday email with a personal discount to get the most mileage out of this campaign.

For example, Bohemia Tea Parlor sends out this email to subscribers, asking for their birth date:

Are customers more likely to make a purchase after receiving an email that clearly offers a discount or reward?

The results for this question were clear: Yes—discount emails spike purchases.

What does this mean for marketers?

If you’re sending a discount or sale notification to subscribers, make it obvious. Put the discount in the subject line and email headline to leverage open rates and purchases.

But there’s one caveat: We also found that customers are much more likely to open a promotional email from a brand they’re familiar with than a promo from an unfamiliar brand.

So make sure your nurturing emails do the heaviest lifting. When customers are engaged and familiar with your brand, a discount email will do even more to drive purchases.

For example, Veestro included the discount at the top of the subject line and in the email header:

What makes customers open emails from brands?

The second data set demonstrates the strategies and tactics that lead customers to open your emails.

Are customers more likely to open an email that addresses them by name?

Most people responded that neither agreed nor disagreed that they’re more likely to open emails that address them by name. A large number of people also said they “somewhat agree.”

What does this mean for marketers?

These responses indicate that many consumers probably understand that their names can be added to a mass email. In other words, they know it’s not truly a personal email.

However, seeing their name in a subject line can capture their attention long enough for them to read the full subject line—and be enticed to open the email.

So personalizing subject lines with subscriber names is a strategy worth trying, but use this tactic sparingly.

For example, Native personalized this Mother’s Day promotional email with the subscriber’s name to stand out in an inbox crowded with other Mother’s Day promos:

Keep in mind that sending personalized content is always a good idea, but there are many ways to personalize that go beyond leveraging a subscriber’s first name in your email.

Are customers more likely to open an email that they know will add value to their day?

Overwhelmingly, respondents said yes. Emails that are known to provide value are more likely to get opened.

What does this mean for marketers?

Before you can count on this strategy, you have to instill in subscribers the belief that your emails are valuable to them. This means starting off with an email welcome sequence that’s more about providing value than it is about promoting your brand.

Once customers come to expect value from you, they’ll be more likely to keep opening your emails. If you’re not already doing so, start packing your emails with valuable content, like helpful blogs, personal stories, or how-to videos.

For example, TUSHY is well-known for its humorous and value-packed emails:

Do customers prefer having options for how to interact with brand emails?

The final data set is all about whether or not subscribers would be more engaged if they had more control.

Do customers like it when brands ask them how often they want to receive emails?

The strong majority of respondents said yes. Having input in how often they receive emails from a brand improves subscriber satisfaction.

What does this mean for marketers?

Rather than just assuming how often subscribers prefer emails, ask them directly. Not only will this give you valuable information about how to structure future campaigns, but it’ll also please your subscribers and allow you to deliver exactly what they want.

Marketers should ask this question early on in a relationship with a new subscriber:

  • Ask them to choose a frequency when they first sign up
  • Ask in your welcome email sequence to respond with a preference

This information can then be aggregated to adjust how frequently you send emails to your list in general. Or this information can be used to segment your list by preference and send emails to each subscriber according to what they prefer.

Take a cue from this branding studio, which prioritizes getting preferences from subscribers right away in their welcome sequence:

Would customers be willing to opt to receive fewer emails instead of unsubscribing?

Most customers were clearly in favor of this option. Considering that 60% of people cite “received too frequently” as their reason for unsubscribing, it’s likely brands would mitigate a sizable number of unsubscribes just by offering an option to receive fewer emails instead.

What does this mean for marketers?

Marketers should include a link to “update preferences” or “change how you receive these emails” alongside the unsubscribe link. Or marketers could include an option to receive fewer emails after a subscriber follows the unsubscribe link.

Both options aim to give customers a clear channel for getting what they really want: fewer emails—not zero emails.

Do customers appreciate when a brand notices they haven’t opened emails in a while and ask them to update their preferences?

The vast majority said yes. Customers do appreciate when brands notice they haven’t been engaged.

What does this mean for marketers?

Marketers should closely monitor engagement with their emails. After a subscriber consistently fails to open an email, marketers should send a personalized email to the subscriber or launch a re-engagement campaign.

Not only will doing this improve subscriber satisfaction, but it’ll also help brands scrub their lists of non-engaged subscribers that may be skewing their reports.

If you need inspiration for how to re-engage inactive subscribers, read our resource on re-engagement.

And check out this example of re-engagement email from Morning Brew:

Wrap up

While it’s tempting to rely on easy fixes like inserting subscriber first names into email subject lines, this survey reveals that the real winning strategies are those that require a thoughtful approach.

So opt for strategies like:

  • Creating value-packed emails full of how-tos, videos, and personal stories
  • Consistently listening to your customers, asking them what they prefer in content and frequency
  • Sending re-engagement campaigns to subscribers who’ve gone dormant
  • Prioritizing making your brand a familiar face in the inbox with strong welcome series and humanized content

Bottom line: Customers can tell the difference between quick marketing ploys and emails that were created with thoughtfulness.

Use the information from this survey to check in with your email marketing. If there are any results from this survey that surprised you, start adjusting your strategy accordingly and monitor your own results to find out what works for your list.


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This blog provides general information and discussion about email marketing and related subjects. The content provided in this blog ("Content”), should not be construed as and is not intended to constitute financial, legal or tax advice. You should seek the advice of professionals prior to acting upon any information contained in the Content. All Content is provided strictly “as is” and we make no warranty or representation of any kind regarding the Content.
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