Can you really achieve inbox zero?

Can you really achieve inbox zero? This article investigates the concept and looks at the psychology behind email overload.

email overload concept

Is inbox zero really achievable?  Just a couple of years ago in 2015, we all received an average of 205 emails per day. The prediction is that by the end of 2018 that will have grown to 236 emails a day and by the time the UK leaves Europe in 2019 it will be 247 emails per day (( That’s around another 25 emails a day than you were getting last year. Every day, seven days a week. This year you will have another 9,000 emails to cope with compared with the previous year, and it is only going to get worse. Email growth rates are high; this year alone the number of email accounts on the Internet is expected to go up by 7%, yet we will still have the same number of accounts per person. So there will just be more and more email users pumping out more and more emails. Have fun.

Not only is this an issue, but the time we are spending on email is going up and up. Nowadays, we spend 28% of our working day on email. That’s almost three hours per day. For every minute you spend on dealing with email, it takes at least another minute to get back to work. That means if you are spending up to three hours a day on processing emails, you are spending another three hours a day doing nothing as your brain attempts to switch back to work. It is pushing productive work into around two hours a day.Email is in control - you are nt

A recent analysis from the Bank of England suggests that static productivity in the economy is linked to the use of the Internet, in particular through smartphones. That’s something I have been teaching my university students for the past five years. Kind of the Bank of England to catch up with me….!

Email is not a productive system

The fact is, email is an illusion. It makes us think we are working because we appear to spend time “doing something”. In reality, though, the “doing” has little to do with actual work. Indeed, evidence from several studies shows that 62% of the emails in a typical inbox are irrelevant to the user. And that doesn’t mean they are spam. I am talking here about the filtered email that ends up in the inbox – the material that is supposedly what the user wants to see. Most of it is time-wasting stuff.

You know the kind of thing – emails that people think you ought to see, emails you are copied-in on “just in case”, and emails from people who you once thought would be useful to you but now…..well, maybe not. Hidden away in the 240 emails you get each day is around a dozen or so that are really important and valuable.

You can try to use filters to sort out the wheat from the chaff, but guess what happens when people do that? Yes, they look in all the places where the filters put things “just in case”.

Imagine this as physical post

Consider what would happen with the physical post. There is material within the postal system that could be useful to you. But it is filtered out. Some of it goes into someone else’s postbox. Some of it doesn’t even reach your street. But, it is potentially useful to you.

If we carry over the filter system from email to the world of the physical post, this would mean that now and then you would pop next door to rummage through their letters to see what you had missed. Similarly, once a month you’d pop over to the other side of town to go through all the mail delivered to a different street – just in case there was anything useful for you.

Of course, this is madness. Yet that is precisely what millions of people are doing each day with email. They filter out messages, so they go into a special folder, and then head off to those folders “just to see”. It’s bonkers.

What is at play here is the psychology of the “fear of missing out” (FOMO). You do not fear missing out on the physical post delivered to your neighbours because you are not aware of its existence. But if you were, if you saw those envelopes, you’d start to wonder what was inside. Curiosity gets us.

With email, we do know about the existence of the messages, so we start to get curious and wonder, and then we worry about missing out if we don’t open the messages.

Man angry with emailsAnd then we end up spending more time on email, getting frustrated and angry, leading to longer working hours, more stress and less focus on productive tasks.

It has to stop…!

Forget the idea of “inbox zero”

Inbox zero is the idea that each day you can have an empty inbox.  You can’t. Stop fussing about it. Here’s why you can’t. Your inbox on your computer may be empty, but what about that inbox in your mind? What about the fact that you know emails have been filtered and filed away? What about knowing that if only you refreshed your email window, you’d get some more messages? What about the worry that colleagues or customers will email you and you’ll miss out if your inbox is so controlled?

People may have an inbox with nothing in it, but their mind is still in email mode. The issue is not with the inbox and sophisticated technological management tools we can use to control our email system. The problem is the way we think about and use email. The problem is in our heads, so that’s where we need to begin if we are to solve the difficulties we all face.

Four steps to an easier life with email

As the statistics show, email is not going away anytime soon. It is going to grow, and we are going to have to cope with it. Even with complex filters and additional software, email will remain a cumbersome and difficult system. So, we need to rethink the way we use it.

The real problem is like that of an addict. We never know when we are going to get our “next fix”. As a result, we dip in and out of email to satisfy our growing “FOMO” thinking. But consider an entirely different issue. Think about brushing your teeth. You know that proper dental hygiene avoids decay and gum disease. It also reduces the need for scary visits to dental surgeons. You are hooked on cleaning your teeth because you want to look good, feel good, smell good and avoid dental issues. Yet do you worry every few minutes “have I cleaned my teeth”? Do you keep popping into the bathroom to give your pearly whites a quick brush, “just in case”?

No. You don’t do that. Instead, you clean your teeth every morning and every night. You have a routine, and you have been doing this daily ritual for as long as you can recall. Your brain doesn’t have a fear of missing out on teeth cleaning because the daily morning and night habit reassures your subconscious as to when your next fix will be.

Step One: Establish a routine

The first step to establishing a better and more productive use of email is to set a routine. And stick to it. It doesn’t matter whether you have an extreme routine, such as Tim Ferris’s once every ten days, or once every three hours, having a routine means your brain will start to recognise what is going on. It will take about 30 days of sticking to your routine, but eventually, your subconscious will gather that your brain will get its fix of email, so it will no longer prompt you to keep looking. Your routine will only work, though, if you switch off all email notifications, on your desktop and on your mobile devices. Otherwise, your brain will get a trigger to start worrying.

Step Two: Let everyone know your routine

The second step in getting a grip on email is to let everyone know about your routine. Use an autoresponder to let every person who sends you an email know when you will respond. Place a notice on your contact page, if you have one, or your profile page, saying when you deal with emails. Get in touch with colleagues, suppliers and customers to let them know when you will deal with messages.

The other day I was running a masterclass for chief executives when I suggested people establish routines like this and let people know about them. One of the CEOs said, “that’s impossible”. When I asked why I was told it was due to the fact that people sent emails and expected an answer pretty much straight away. That’s true, but it’s because they have no idea when their next “fix” of email is going to come either. So they send emails when they think about it, or get a chance. Then they expect a prompt reply. When you set a routine and let people know about it you are helping them, not hindering them. That’s because you have managed their expectations.

Nobody’s email is so important it cannot wait a few hours for an answer. The reason we expect instant answers to email messages is because that’s what we all do, as we run around dealing with messages when we would be more productive NOT dealing with them.

[Tweet “Nobody’s email is so important it cannot wait a few hours for an answer. You are draining your productivity if you try to answer emails quickly.”]

Step Three: Schedule as much as possible

Use something like Gmelius or Boomerang to schedule your emails. Send out your emails, so they arrive in the inboxes of your recipients about an hour before your email working routine. That way they will probably reply while you are doing email. That means you will not be interrupted as often. Furthermore, people will get used to receiving emails from you at specific times, which means they will get an idea of when you are working. They will adapt their behaviour accordingly, improving the way they use email with you. True, it takes time, but generally, habits like this take around 30-60 days to get established. So, stick with it; keep your schedule going, even if you feel it is having no impact. Give it time and it will.

Step Four: Automate as much as possible

A programme like Gmelius can provide you with templates, or you can use “canned responses” to quickly insert email content. Many people spend days each year typing the same old stuff, time after time. That’s a drain on productivity. However, our brains perceive it as work, so we think we are being productive when we are not. You can also get other email automation systems to reduce the amount of work you do with email. That will have an impact on your subconscious as you will stop seeing much email activity as “work”.

Routines, managing expectations, scheduling and automation, will revolutionise email for many people. It will not achieve “inbox zero”. However, it will change the way you think about email, which is ultimately better than striving for an empty inbox which is not actually possible.

Customers and suppliers agree at last on email marketing

Email users and businesses agree on one thing, it seems. Email marketing needs to improve.

Email marketing concept

There are two facts we know about email marketing. One: it is the most successful form of online marketing, as shown in study after study, all demonstrating that it leads to more conversions and more sales than any other type of Internet marketing. Two: it is the most detested form of online marketing, with survey after survey demonstrating that email users are frustrated and annoyed by the vast majority of email marketing messages.

These two facts are in direct opposition to each other. Email marketing works; people hate it. Mmmm. Imagine how much better email marketing would be and what it could achieve if people liked it…!

Thankfully, a couple of new studies show that we are getting closer to that happening.

It won’t come as a surprise, but the latest piece of research on what people want from email marketing is reliable, useful and valuable information. People do not want sales-based email marketing – even though they will use the emails to buy something. The research comes from Adobe which has found that the number one request, made by 40% of people, is that emails become more informative and practically useful. Of course, other studies have found similar things, but this latest research also shows that this request is pretty consistent across age groups.

Email marketing study graph

Notice too that people want content that is directly relevant to them and also material that is from users of the product or service being marketed. In other words, email users are happy to receive detailed and personalised information. They even want to be able to buy the item direct from the email. They just don’t want to be “sold to”.

Luckily, it would appear that email marketers are themselves beginning to get the message. Another study from the sales and marketing company Televerde shows that what most marketing experts want from their businesses is a combination of better messaging and better marketing materials. They also want more case studies and testimonials. What they want the least is better sales material. In other words, marketers appear to realise that the time has come to take a different approach to online marketing.

Televerde chart

The fact is, email marketing works. But given that most people on both sides of the equation want it to be improved, there is every chance that email marketing will gain even higher potential in the future.

True, the average number of emails received each day continues to rise – it’s around 300 emails per person per day at the moment. Together with improved filtering, better anti-spam software and increased awareness you would think that email marketing would be consigned to the annals of history.

Yet, as we get more emails each day and improve the way we use email, those marketing messages appear to gain even greater value.

It doesn’t make sense.

Or does it?

There is something else going on which is making email marketing more useful to marketers and more desirable to users. And that something else is, in reality, everything else that is happening online. There’s social media, messaging services like Snapchat, WhatsApp and a host of other systems for communicating with each other.

The result of all this additional online choice is that people are categorising communication. They are saying things like “I use SMS text messaging for keeping in touch with family” and “I use WhatsApp for my team communications” or “I use LinkedIn messaging for communicating with customers”. People are using different services for separate communications activities.

Which begs the question, what are people using email for these days?

It turns out that people are increasingly categorising emails as “for marketing messages”. It is rapidly becoming THE place where people want to receive marketing materials. In other words, when you send out marketing emails they end up in exactly the right place where people expect to see them. Put those messages on a social network, and it leads to confusion because users categorise something like Facebook, for instance, as for “chatting to friends”. Put a marketing message on social media, and you get lower conversions than through email. That’s because the mind of the user is not ready to receive a marketing message. But send the same message to them on email, and because they have pre-categorised email as the place for marketing, when they open your email message they are in the right frame of mind to deal with it.

So, in these days of increased email, massive competition for communications and rising user “savviness” you might think that email marketing has had its day. But the data continue to show otherwise. These latest studies demonstrate that marketers are beginning to get the message: content-based email marketing is the future for online businesses.

Is communication getting too complex for brands?

Different categories of customers prefer alternative methods of communication. There is a complex array of methods of communicating required by brands.

Communications chaos concept

Choosing the best way to communicate with your customers can be tough. A decade ago all you had was print, phone, email and instant messaging. A decade before that, few brands had email, and instant messaging was experimental, so all you had was print and phone. Nowadays, we also have social media, mobile communications, chat services, digital displays and several other means of keeping in touch with customers.

However, this increasing array of communications methods is a problem. Different kinds of people prefer alternative methods of communication. Increasingly, people are “compartmentalising” communications. They say things like “Snapchat is for friends; Facebook is for groups, SMS is for family, email is for business” and so on. The problem for brands and businesses is that people who are apparently the same kind of customer have different communications preferences.

For example, if your target market is a 35-year-old woman, living in London, single and professional, you may find that one such individual prefers you to use email, while another typical target customer wants you to use Snapchat. Some just want to use your website. No longer can customer personas to help you determine communications preferences.

[su_quote]As the number of communications methods increase, communications preferences become increasingly distinct.[/su_quote]

That makes it harder for businesses to cope. No longer can you plan an email marketing campaign without also producing a similar campaign for your customers who want to hear from you on social media, rather than via email. Equally, you can’t communicate the same way on Facebook as you would on Twitter with customers who would rather you use that network to contact them.

Research reveals communication problem

A recent study has shown just how complex communication is becoming. It showed that even though email was the preferred method of communicating with brands for the biggest majority of people, several wanted only to hear once a month, whereas others preferred more frequent communication.

Meanwhile, the study found that younger people are more likely to open emails than older people – which goes against the popular notion that “email is dead” for 20-somethings. Similarly, the study found that age is relevant when deciding what to communicate. Younger people love to receive coupons, but older people are much less interested in money-off vouchers.

What the study shows is that communication is increasingly individual. In the past, brands could communicate in two main ways – in print or in-person. Brand owners would pretty much know which kind of method worked best for their target customers.

Those customers had no real choice. They either had to read something or hear someone talking about a product, either face-to-face or on the phone. Now, customers are making specific choices about communications preferences, and that is presenting brands with a real problem.

To communicate effectively with customers and potential clients, a business needs to know in advance the preferences of those individuals. Campaigns then need to be drawn up to cover a broad range of delivery methods. That increases the time necessary for each campaign and raises costs.

Do you have a choice?

Do you actually have a choice in how you communicate? If you don’t communicate in the preferred manner required by customers, you risk losing that relationship and their custom. If you do communicate in their preferred way, you raise the costs of running your business, impacting on profitability. It seems that businesses are between a rock and a hard place.

The solution is more detail in your data collection, within your databases and CRM systems. That detail will help you automate communications so that customers can tell you what their preferences are, and then you can include that information in the database. When an email campaign is produced, it will only go to those interested in email. Equally, a good data system can alert you to the best time of day to send out emails, depending on the age group of your customers.

The communications conundrum is only a problem if you don’t have good data and excellent methods of using that information. Some kind of CRM system is no longer a luxury; it is a necessity if you want to get communications right.

Are you checking your email too frequently? Probably…!

Almost 4 out of every ten people are checking personal email up to 15 times a day – that’s on top of work email. Obsession with email is ruining work.

Chart showing email checking rates

Nearly four in every ten people are checking their personal email account between four and 15 times each day. One in every ten is checking their personal email account more than 15 times a day. That’s their personal email, not their business account. In addition to work-related email, a significant number of people are logging onto their personal email accounts around once every 40 minutes during the working day.

These figures come from a study of retail executives in the USA and Canada, but they are probably typical of other sectors. The majority of office workers are checking their personal email accounts several times a day.

What if the researchers had asked a different question? What if they had asked, how many times a day do you check the voicemail on your home phone? Or how many times a day do you go home to check if there is any post that has been delivered in the mailbox? The participants would have probably answered, “that would just be silly”. Yet, it isn’t thought “silly” to check personal emails multiple times a day.

It seems that most office workers think it is either OK or necessary to keep checking their personal email accounts.

Yet this is a distraction. Indeed, so is checking business email accounts. Constant checking and re-checking of email accounts can lead to lower productivity.

So why do people keep checking their email?

Email obsession

One reason why people keep checking their email accounts is because it provides an instant rush of dopamine, the reward chemical that makes you feel good. However, because seeing an email gives you some dopamine, you quickly learn that to get more dopamine you need to look at your email again. The more emails you get, the more you check the accounts because it inevitably leads to more and more dopamine. Before you know it you are hooked on email.

How to reduce your reliance on dopamine

An email-dopamine-tolerance loop exists. You check your email a couple of times a day, get a dopamine high, that tells your brain to check for more emails, so you get more dopamine. But you then get used to the high levels of dopamine, so you need to check more often.

Reducing your reliance on dopamine means you need to lower your resistance to the chemical, allowing it to produce the highs with less stimulation. There are several rather simple ways you can do this.

  1. Reduce your caffeine intake. Caffeine is a stimulant that is involved in inducing dopamine. Lower your caffeine and your dopamine system benefits.
  2. Exercise. People who are physically active tend to have lower dopamine levels. Simply going for a walk each day could be enough to help your dopamine reliance.
  3. Relax more. Getting more time to yourself, without your smartphone in your hand, will help to reduce your stress levels. Meditate or read a book – anything that will help you relax. Doing so will lower dopamine.
  4. Work to a routine. People who have regular routines and schedules tend to have lower dopamine levels. If you check your emails according to a strict routine your dopamine system will benefit.

People who check their email once or twice each day are shown to be much more productive than people who constantly keep an eye on their emails. It is false to think that you have to regularly check emails, otherwise, you will miss out on important information. It turns out that in offices where people only check email according to a routine, productivity is higher. That’s because the email users do not need another “fix” of email reading. Their dopamine system is better balanced, meaning that they do not need the constant surge in dopamine from another quick check of their email account. Not only will you be more productive if you check your email according to a routine, but you will be mentally fitter and healthier too.

Employers need to consider health and safety of emails

Out of hours emails are a health and safety issue. It turns out that checking emails out of office hours leads to possible mental health issues for staff.

Man reading emails in bed

Every night, millions of people check their emails before going to bed. Indeed, some people check their emails while they are in bed. At the weekend too, millions of work-related emails are generated. And it is bad, all bad.

New research shows that out-of-hours emailing is potentially psychologically harmful. Quite apart from the issues of work-life balance, using work-related email when you are not in the office can also lead to mental exhaustion.

For employers, this is fast becoming a health and safety issues. Companies are required by law to protect their employees from harm, including psychological damage. Allowing staff to work on email when they are not in the office could impact upon the individual’s psychological health. As a result, companies may need to limit access to work emails, out of hours.

This is not as controversial as it may seem. In France, it is now illegal for companies employing more than 50 people to send emails outside office hours. The legislation was introduced a couple of months ago specifically to protect workers from psychological damage. You can expect other countries to follow suit.

However, businesses need to think a bit, rather than over-react to steps taken to prevent workers from emailing.

Email overload is well-established; a typical office worker is getting 200-300 emails per day and is spending three hours on dealing with email – the vast majority of which is actually unnecessary.

Combine that with workers who are tired, not relaxed, have home problems due to work clashing with private life and you have a recipe for an unproductive workforce.

Productivity levels in the UK have failed to recover since 2008 in most areas of work. Economists are struggling to explain why productivity is not as great as they would expect.

Tired and emotionally burned-out workers could be a factor. The more emailing they do at home, away from the office, the more they become burned out and stressed.

So, banning out-of-hour emails does much more than enabling companies to stick to health and safety legislation. In addition, preventing staff from accessing work-related emails when they are at home will actually make people more productive. That, in turn, will help boost profitability.

Switching off emails after 5pm at night could be the best thing you do for your business – and your staff.

Five email marketing books that will boost your impact

Five of the best books on email marketing to help you ensure that you make the most of this excellent opportunity for profits.

Email marketing is known to be more profitable than basic web marketing and significantly higher in value to a business than social media marketing. However, many businesses fail to use email marketing effectively. They do not even understand the basics, according to a recent study. So, to help with that, here are my five top email marketing books that will help you get the most from email marketing.

Email Persuasion

Email Marketing Book CoverEmail Marketing Book Cover

If I want to know anything about email marketing, the first person I’d ask for advice is Ian Brodie – who just happens to be the author of this book, Email Persuasion. This book takes you through several ways that will help you both captivate and engage your audience. You will discover how to get people to sign up in the first place, as well as how to get them to buy from your emails. There are chapters on the technology to choose as well as how to write emails that engage people and make them want to read. This book should be on the shelf of everyone running or wanting to start any kind of email marketing campaign.

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Email Marketing for Dummies

Email Marketing Book CoverEmail Marketing Book Cover

No list of books on Internet subjects is really complete unless you have something from the “For Dummies” range. The format of these books and the approach they take means that they are easy to use and straightforward to understand. This range of books are the kind of thing you can dip in and out of, as you deal with specific issues. Email Marketing for Dummies is no different. It contains several sections that you can use for specific things, so you can use this book as a desk reference. Of particular value, though, is the chapter on setting your email strategy – an often forgotten part of email marketing.

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Email Marketing

Email Marketing Book CoverEmail Marketing Book Cover

This one of my five email marketing books is much more focused on writing emails, than any other aspect of email marketing. We all know that all-too-often a company appears to have set up a campaign with all the technological bells and whistles in place, only to neglect the content of their emails. Quite apart from grammatical errors and spelling mistakes, a large number of marketing emails are just badly written. This book will help you avoid that issue. It explains things like how to write good subject lines as well as the three parts of an email that readers expect to see. There is even a model email you can use to help you produce the best kind of email for your clients and potential customers.

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Brilliant Email

Email Marketing Book CoverEmail Marketing Book Cover

OK, I admit it, this is not a real email marketing book. However, it has tremendous advice in it for email marketers because it focuses on how to be an effective email communicator – which is clearly essential for anyone involved in email marketing. One of the key elements of this book is productivity and how you can be more time-efficient with email. That is obviously necessary for email marketers. This book will ensure that you prioritise things and that you have an effective email management system in place. This is essential for email marketers because once you start a campaign you are going to get a lot of replies and enquiries. If your basic email system is not well organised, then your email marketing campaigns will suffer. That’s why you need this book.

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Declutter your inbox

Email Marketing Book CoverEmail Marketing Book Cover

This book takes you through nine steps to make sure that your inbox has in it only the things you really need to deal with. The focus of the book is eliminating “email overload”. That can become a real issue for email marketers. As campaigns get bigger and more effective, you will get an increase in incoming mail, clogging up your inbox. This book provides you with a complete and straightforward method of managing incoming email, so that you are not overwhelmed with emails from your customers or potential clients.

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Have you forgotten the email marketing basics?

Email marketers are not even doing the basics, yet they want to use sophisticated techniques. Email marketing only succeeds with the basics in place.

Cartoon of man being swamped by email The chances are, you get too many unwanted emails. They are not “spam” as such, but they are messages from organisations to which you have some kind of connection. Only this morning, I opened up my email and went through 47 emails, deleting every single one of them as unnecessary or unwanted. That was before I looked in the spam folder to see if anything had mistakenly been added to the dozens of messages that ended up there overnight. It is likely that your email activity is much the same – hours each week spent deleting unnecessary or unwanted emails.

The reason for this is that email marketers don’t even do the basics. New research shows that almost two out of every three emails sent by marketing people are not even personalised. Not only that, most companies do not even collect emails from their customers.

That means they are not getting the results they expect. Study after study – and common sense – tells you that personalisation is key. Making your customer feel wanted, even loved by your business is crucial. If you do not even personalise your communication with them, how much care and love are you showing? Many companies think that personalisation is simply saying “Dear Firstname”. However, research shows that you need to do much more than simply using their name. Yet, most email marketers do not even do that. They do not even make us think the material is personalised; it appears that even if something is not personalised, but we think it is, then we like it.

Email is not personalised enough

The result, of course, is that email marketers do not get the results they want. So, they send out more emails, which we delete. So they send out some more.

According to the Yesmail study, one of the requests being made by those in email marketing is more sophistication and integration. This suggests that because results are relatively poor from email marketing, the solutions appears to be to add more features. Yet, if only the email marketing world would do the basics, they probably would not need all those added bells and whistles.

It is all a reminder that getting the basics right first is essential. If you do not get your email marketing basics right, how can you expect you get the sophisticated stuff correct? Rather than looking at complex solutions to improve results from email marketing, try to work out if you have the essentials done first. In other words, walk before running…!

Make sure you:

  • Collect email address
  • Personalise your communications
  • Segment your lists
  • Understand your customers.

One in every five emails goes missing

Almost 20% of emails never reach their recipients. Here’s what you can do about it.

Email signsMost days you’ll get someone asking you “did you get my email”, to which you scratch your head and try to remember, only to assume they sent it to the wrong person or never sent it in the first place. You probably reply with something like “no, sorry, it must have gone into my spam box”.

The fact is, email is not as reliable as we might think. True, some emails do go into your spam box, but others never make it that far. Indeed, many emails do not get to pass your “white list” because they are blocked at the server level, or end up in a never-ending queue trying to reach you, but failing.

New research shows that on average, 21% of emails just never get to their intended recipient. What’s worse, is this study is for permission-based emailing, where individuals have signed-up to receive the messages. These are not random emails, but they have been requested.

The study shows, however, that some sectors are better than others at achieving delivery of their email messages. Health and beauty is the top of the table with only 4% of emails not reaching their targets. Meanwhile, at the bottom of the list is the technology sector – which you might think would know better – with a whopping 55% of emails that never get delivered.

Email deliverability rates by sector

If you look at the data, though, you will see that the things that get the highest deliverability are mostly personal things – about us as individuals. They are about our health, what we eat, what we wear and what we drive. Things that are less personal get lower inbox placement rates.

The message is clear – appeal to people as individuals and they are much more likely to take steps such as whitelisting your email address. If your email marketing does not appeal to people as individuals, they won’t bother to take action to ensure your emails get delivered.

Sending angry emails actually makes you angrier

Responding to emails that make you angry could be bad for you. Far better to do nothing, research shows.

Many angry emailing

Most days you will receive an email that makes you cross or upsets you in some way. What do you do about it? You have several options, of course. You can respond immediately, getting your frustration “off your chest”. Or you can think about it, ruminate on it and send a more considered reply a bit later on. You could also just ignore it, do nothing and move on.

Which way of dealing with such emails, though, do you think is the best for your mental health? The result from research conducted at Ohio State University could surprise you. The best course of action is to do nothing.

The study compared three types of behaviour following the receipt of a negative message.  Some participants were asked to hit a punch bag while thinking of the sender. Other people taking part in the study were asked to hit the punch bag, but to think of keeping fit while they did it. A third group of individuals were asked to do nothing having received the negative message. Afterwards, tests of their mood were conducted.

It transpired that the people who had “vented” by taking out their anger against the sender were the ones in the most negative frame of mind. Far from helping them disperse their anger at the negative message, the angry response had actually made them feel worse. The people whose mood was uplifted were the people who did nothing.

Doing nothing is a strategy

This reminds me of a study I read several years ago about removing anxiety. I was, at the time, interested in finding out how to help people abolish the fear of public speaking. The study showed there were a few options – therapy, Neuro Linguistic Programming or doing nothing. It turned out that doing nothing was equally effective as any other method of removing anxiety.

This latest research on anger following negative messages is much the same. Doing nothing is a viable option.

But, in reality, are you doing nothing?

When you get a negative email, and you decide to respond, what happens is your brain now starts to get full of thoughts and emotions associated with that negativity. Even after you have sent your angry response, your mind takes a long time to get it out of your head. Indeed, it stays there until you get a response that might be hours later.

But if you do nothing, what happens? Instead, you carry on with other things. You get on with the rest of your work, you think about different things and all those negative thoughts and emotions have to be removed from your mind to make way for the positive thinking you are doing.

When you do “nothing” you are actually doing “something”. What you are doing is replacing the initial negative thoughts with alternative material. And that is why you feel better because you have cut-off the supply of negativity at its source.

[Tweet “When you get an angry email simply ignore it, move on, do something else. It is good for you.”]

Email is actually superior to voicemail for emotions

Email triggers more emotions in senders than voicemail. But the content is more negative in emails than voicemails.

Email is always with youEvery day almost 183 billion emails are sent; we must love email. In spite of the fact that we can phone each other, write letters, use Skype, send instant messages, or meet each other face-to-face, we appear to prefer email.

Yet, email has significant limitations. There is no tone of voice and no body language – two essential components in human communication. Even so, we appear almost to prefer email to other kinds of communication.

Now, new research has the answer. A study conducted at California State University used a series of experiments investigating the use of email and voicemail in two different scenarios – normal work style messages and romantic messages. In both instances, the researchers found that email triggers a greater emotional arousal in the sender than does voicemail.

In other words, as senders of email we feel more aroused by using email than we do by using the telephone.

However, the study also found that the emotional content of emails was more negative than that of voicemails. This was the case whether or not the messages were work-related or romantic.

For the first time, this research reveals why we are almost addicted to email. It makes us feel emotionally aroused when we send it.

But we have to realise that the recipient is more likely to feel negative than if we were to use the telephone. The emotional content of email messages in the study had more negative emotional words than the content of the voicemails.

So, we feel good by sending emails, but the person to whom we are writing is more likely to feel negative than if we had picked up the phone.

Why do we love emails?

The researchers have come up with an interesting argument as to why we seem to prefer sending emails and what triggers that increased emotional arousal in the sender. With emails, you can edit things, go over them, rewrite them and so on. That means as the originator of the email we are more engaged with the message itself, leading to more arousal. However, with voicemails it is a one-hit situation – the same as phone calls. You cannot edit what you say in a phone call, and hence we appear to have a lower engagement with the content and, therefore, feel less aroused by it.

This argument clearly has merit, and it explains why the content of an email is less emotionally positive than phone calls. When we go over and edit what we are saying in an email we can refine it so that it says exactly what we want – removing, therefore, all those positive emotional “filler” words that we use in speaking. Recent studies have shown that “um” and “er” in normal conversation carries emotional value. They appear to indicate alertness, and this transmits high emotional value to the recipient. When we edit our speech and cut those words out, we become less emotionally engaging to the listener. With emails, we edit out such wording, which we might include in a voicemail, and, therefore, the message we send is perceived more negatively.

How to overcome the limitation of email

So, what can you do if your emails make you feel good but are likely to cause the recipient to feel negative? Email breeds email; if you are sent an email, you are more likely to reply by email. So, step one in ensuring you trigger the positive emotions you want is to stop and think for a moment before you reply. Would it be better if I picked up the phone? Do I have to reply via email? Think before replying is one answer.

Another thing to do when you have to use email is to write conversationally. Avoid editing and over-writing. Instead, just write what you would say to the person. This will help you raise the amount of emotional wording in your email, thereby improving the way it is received. It might even be a good idea to get something like Dragon Naturally Speaking and simply dictate all your emails.

[su_box title=”How to make emails work in marketing your business” box_color=”#27699E”]To discover how to use email effectively you need to read Chapter 4 of my latest book, Sales Genius.[/su_box]

What is the fastest way to write engaging email subject lines?

Getting the right email subject line is essential to increase open rates. But what is the quickest way of writing great subjects?

Newspaper Headlines

The Huffington Post writes several headlines for every article and then tests them to see which one works best. Over at Upworthy, they write 25 headlines for every article and will measure which one gets the most readers, ultimately sticking with that one. Headline writing for popular media sites is now as much of a science as it is an art.

But there is a message in their methodology. If your headline is not right, you won’t get readers in this fast-paced, distraction-heavy online world. These sites often spend more time on writing the headlines than they do on the article or blog post itself. Indeed, in the world of newspapers the people writing the headlines are usually paid more than the writers of the text below them. Not only that, big-selling tabloids usually have a couple of people whose sole job is to write the front page “splash” headline.

When it comes to email, the subject line is your headline. It is the first thing people see, and it is instrumental in helping recipients make the decision whether or not to open the message.

So the question is, how many alternative subject lines do you write for your emails? Do you split test your email subject lines to find the ones with the best open rates? It is also worthwhile reflecting on how much time you spend writing the subject line, compared with the text of the email itself. If you want the best open rates – particularly for marketing emails – you need to spend more time writing the subject line than you do in writing the email itself.

However, this all takes time. So, how can you write truly engaging email subject lines without spending hours on them? The answer is found in new research that investigated the engagement rate of different kinds of email subject lines.

The study looked at more than 9 million email subject lines in over 3,000 companies sending out emails to more than 2 million people. So it is a substantial study.

Contrary to popular belief, the research discovered that there was no relationship between the length of the subject line and open rates.


The study also found there were some real “turn-off” words in subject lines, including the often used word “free” as well as “secret of” – both words that so-called Internet Marketing Gurus recommend you use.

What is more important is that the “call to action” is at the beginning of the subject, rather than at the end. Furthermore, the study revealed that there were some words that had a positive effect on opening rates such as “still time” or “fastest”. This suggests people prefer saving time to saving money.

So how can you use this information to speed up your subject line writing?

The first thing to realise is that in spite of what many people say, stop worrying about fitting your subject line into a certain number of characters. Focus on the quality of your subject, not the quantity of the characters. That will speed your writing up.

Next, forget trying to squeeze in all those so-called marketing phrases such as “free” or “secrets” and so on. Again, you are less creative with headline writing when you feel compelled to use particular words. When you remove the pressure for specific wording, you’ll write more quickly.

You could stimulate your subject line writing by using some tools, such as Content Row’s title generator, the browser extension Headlinr or the WordPress plug-in KingSumo Headlines.

You could also check out each subject line you write using the Headline Analyzer or the CoSchedule Headline Analyzer.

Three steps to fast subject line writing

  1. Focus on the reader and tell them immediately what action to take
  2. Forget about the length of the headline or using so-called trigger wording
  3. Check you subject line using an analysis tool

That’s it – do that and your subject lines will engage people and you will get higher open rates. However, it is worthwhile focusing more attention on the subject line than on the email itself.

Emails after work make for an unhappy workforce

Work emails seen during non-work hours lead to conflict and psychological problems for workers

Man checking email in bedOne of the benefits of email is that it is 24/7. You can send out a message to your team knowing that many of them will get it immediately and that everyone else will see it within hours. Gone are the days of having to print something and send it via some mail system meaning that it takes days for anything to happen. Email has speeded up communications providing businesses with considerable productivity benefits.

That, of course, is what we think. But what we think is not always true.

The 24/7 nature of email means that the people we work with, our customers and our potential clients are always available. There is almost never any “downtime” when they can be separated from us. Millions of people check their emails before going to bed each night – just to see if there are any last messages from the boss or from their customers. We are never disconnected from them.

That situation could have psychological consequences. Recent research from Texas shows that the 24/7 nature of work-related emails is not good at all. In a study of 341 employees the researchers found that the constant checking of “out-of-hours” emails led to increases in conflict and anger amongst workers.

The study found that there was a particular kind of person – the “segmentor” – which was particularly badly affected by out-of-hours emails. The segmentors are the people who want to see a clear divide between home and work, yet the constant battering of emails reduces this desired division. As a result these people have an increase in anger and conflict.

It may seem a good idea to have the instant ability to send out a message at any time of the day or night, but are we aware enough of the impact we are having? It seems that we are potentially affecting the personal lives of the people we communicate with, as well as increasing problems at work.

If people have increased conflict and anger in their life, their work performance suffers. So, far from email improving communication and productivity it could be the root of difficulties in the office, leading to several unforeseen impacts.

What is the answer? Easy. Treat email as a 9-to-5 system. Simply ban out-of-hours emails. Your productivity will increase and you will have a happier workforce, leading to other beneficial impacts in the office.

Believing that the 24/7 nature of email is the saviour of your business productivity could be the foundation for a wide array of office problems.

America leads the way on email marketing

Study shows that American firms use email marketing more effectively than those in Europe

American companies are using email marketing techniques much more effectively than companies in Europe. According to a Mailjet study of brands in American and Europe, there were several areas in which firms based in the USA were ahead of their European counterparts.

The study found, for instance, that nine out of ten businesses in the USA were linking email marketing with social media activity, yet this was being done by only a little more than three quarters of European companies. Similarly, in America 93% of companies use split testing of emails, but in Europe that falls to 80%.

America was generally ahead of Europe except in a couple of key areas. In particular, in Germany the inclusion of past customer information in emails to personalise them more was much more prevalent.

Overall, though, it appears that American companies have the edge on those in Europe, adopting email marketing techniques and methods more frequently. These issues, though, are important because they affect email deliverability.

Chart showing email deliverability

The study also found that the email marketers believed that the most important factor in ensuring their emails were delivered was personalisation. Nothing new in that. But second on the list was having a clean email list.

That begs the question how often do you clean out your mailing lists? Ideally that should be a regular task – the more people on your mailing list the more frequently you need to do this.

Interestingly, some of the most frequently asked questions about email marketing – such as how often should you send out email marketing messages and which email company should you use were amongst the least important factors in ensuring deliverability of emails.

The study implies that the most important things to concentrate on are having a clean list of people who you contact in deep, personal ways.

That is by far the best way of getting emails opened – and it is the kind of thing concentrated on by the leading email marketers in this study.

Mobile email users frustrated by formatting

Most people receive email on mobile devices these days, but email marketers are failing to satisfy them

Most email is now opened on mobile devices these days. However a new study shows that we are frustrated by the poor formatting of emails on mobile devices. It appears that email marketing companies are still producing emails that look great on desktop devices, but fail to impress on mobiles.

Chart of mobile emal success

The research was conducted by RealTime Email and it found that the text being too small to read, the message being badly formatted and the resulting link being too difficult to read all contributed to negative feelings about mobile email. Indeed almost 80% of people complained about such issues.

One other important factor in this study is that now people are complaining about receiving too many emails. On desktop email systems the number of emails is not seen so negatively. That is probably due to the fact that managing them – or ignoring them – is much easier. However, on mobile devices the management of unwanted email messages is more complex. Email apps are not as feature-rich as desktop ones, filtering is less capable and so on. As a result we are more aware of more emails on our mobile devices – and that is beginning to annoy us.

In a similar way to desktop email, though, lack of relevance is a significant issue. Far too many companies are sending out emails to people who are not ideal recipients. That suggests lack of segmentation and lack of effective database management by firms.

One other interesting aspect in terms of relevance was the annoyance some people complained about because they owned an app from the company. They believed that sending messages via the app was more relevant than sending an email. So companies need to be aware of who has their app and who does not – the people who have the app should receive messages through that, with the non-app owners getting the email instead.

What this study shows is that in spite of years of knowledge about email marketing, many businesses are still getting it badly wrong.

Don’t fall into their camp. Here’s what to do if you want your email marketing to succeed for mobile device users.

  • Know who reads your emails on mobiles and who reads your emails on desktops and send them different versions targeted at their preferred kind of device
  • Segment your mailing lists into much narrower niches and only send email messages specific to those people
  • Know who uses your app and communicate with them via that, rather than email
  • Do some market testing to discover how often is too often for emails to your segments – then produce an appropriate mailing schedule
  • Design landing pages from mobile email links specifically for mobile devices

In other words, email marketing for mobiles is much more than simply having a “responsive” version of your messages

Email is mostly mobile nowadays

Unless your marketing emails are responsive and aimed at mobile users, you will be less likely to succeed with email marketing.

Responsive design is essential for email marketing

Email is always with youEmail is a mobile communication method. Many of us check our emails on our mobile phones or tablet devices, but new data shows that 53% of all emails are now opened on a mobile device, rather than a desktop computer.

The research also shows that 50% of clicks from emails now come from mobile devices, such as smartphones.

In other words, if your emails are not mobile-friendly you are reducing the likelihood of clicks through to your website as well as the possibility of any sales. Indeed, research shows that sales from mobile phones are up 40% compared with the previous year. That means more and more people are seeing email as a mobile method of communications, not something they do sitting down at their computer.

For businesses this means a potential change in attitude. It means that we need to realise that people are no longer having an “email session” at their PC; instead they are checking and responding to emails “on the go”.

This means they prefer short emails, not long  ones, perhaps. It also implies that email recipients need easy-to-follow messages which are focused and have clear calls to action.

Great long, multiple-offer emails are probably going to become less successful as people increasingly use mobile for email communications.

If you are still using desktop email clients to compose email messages, you are likely to have lowering response rates to your campaigns as your emails will not show up so well on a mobile device.

What you need are email marketing systems that provide responsive designs for emails, adjusting the size and format according to the type of mobile device the recipient is using. Mailchimp is one service which provides this feature automatically for many of its templates. You could also use a responsive design system, such as Responsive Layout Maker from Coffee Cup Software.

Crucially, though, it is the way we perceive email that has to change. No longer is it mainly a thing we do on computers. It is now mainly something we do on smartphones. And because of that we need to change the way we think about email marketing, providing emails that work on small screens that people navigate using their thumb. Complex emails will not work on that situation, even though they work well on desktop computers.

Time to re-think the way you focus on email marketing.

Stop checking your email – it stresses you out

Stop checking your email so often; it is not good for you. Companies should encourage email check-in times.

Checking email regularly increases workplace stress

Full inbox - email overloadHow many times a day do you check your email? More than 44% of people check their email at least 11 times a day, according to one poll. Another survey shows that we use our mobiles to check email more often than any other device and that we access our mobiles an average of 221 times a day. Seven years ago I wrote a blog post about a study showing that some people checked their email system 40 times an hour…!

One of the reasons we do this is reward. Getting an email, seeing another message, triggers our mental reward system. That helps us feel good about ourselves. When our reserves are low, we head over to our email inbox and check to see if there is a message awaiting. A new, unread message, triggers that reward system and that improves our mood and self-evaluative systems. When you had only physical post, you only got one “fix” a day. Now you can get as many of those reward fixes as possible and hence people are constantly going back and forth to their email, “just in case”.

Email is actually a productivity reduction system. Far from improving our productivity, it is reducing our ability to work well. It is not the miracle of communication we sometimes think. I even suggested that email caused the recession. Every time you check your email, your brain has “attention shift”. Each time you shift attention from the task in hand it takes about 15 minutes to get back on track with what you were doing. Writing a report that should take you an hour, could take you two hours if you check email four times an hour – which is common for some people.

Now, a straightforward study of email usage shows – once again – that checking email regularly increases stress. Far from easing worries, checking email more than three times a day, is a stress inducer says the study from Canada.

The reward system of our brain lulls us into a false sense of security. By giving us a mental pat on the back it makes us feel as though checking email is good for us. We even logically prove it to ourselves by suggesting that email has solved a communications problem.

However, our stress hormones are getting increased the more times we check our email. That’s because as we seek more and more rewards, our body starts to think we are in danger if we do not get our rewards. And it starts pumping out those hormones in response.

The answer is simple. Check your email once in the morning, once at lunchtime and once in the evening. Then forget it. You will become more productive and less stressed.

Is email marketing successful or just plain easy?

Email marketing continues to be the most highly rated form of Internet marketing. But that might be because it is easy.

Email marketing continues to be the “number one” – but why?

Email marketing is constantly being rated as the “number one” method of marketing by online marketers. There are dozens of surveys and studies which show that marketers rate email marketing as their most successful method of gaining business. There is plenty of research which shows that email marketing generates more sales and more leads than other forms of internet marketing.

However, a new study shows an interesting twist to this long-held belief. It turns out that marketers rate email marketing as the easiest form of marketing.

Graph showing that email marketing is considered to be easy

This suggests that there is a vast amount of email marketing going on simply because marketers find it easy to do. And with large volumes of email marketing happening you are likely to find it is more successful than other forms of digital marketing, simply because of the impact of the volume.

Marketers rate social media as the most difficult form of online marketing that they do. They rate this as their fourth most effective kind of marketing.

When you consider other elements of marketing which they also find difficult, such as SMS marketing or marketing through ecommerce channels, you can see that things rated as more difficult tend to be rated as less effective.

This suggests that people may be finding data that confirms their beliefs. They believe email marketing to be easy and so the data they find backs up it is successful. In other words, people tend to find what they are looking for,

Independent analysis, by firms such as HubSpot, shows that content marketing is by far the single most successful online method of generating sales. Yet, marketers believe this is one of the least successful elements, behind email marketing, a website, SEO and social media. But they also rate it as one of the most difficult kinds of marketing they do. They don’t rate it as that successful because they find it hard to do.

What this data suggests is that email marketing might not be the “holy grail” it seems. It might just be that people find it easy and therefore reckon it is valuable.

Sometimes, a business benefits when you concentrate on the more difficult tasks, rather than the easy ones. Just because it is easy and it produces results, does not mean that email marketing is better than something else, such as content marketing which is more difficult to work with. Don’t let a marketing task’s difficulty fool you into believing it will not be successful. We might be being fooled into believing that email marketing is the most successful form of online marketing, when in reality what we are actually measuring is its ease of use.

Why do businesses send such stupid emails?

Brands send out emails which do not get opened in spite of knowing what people really want.

Six out of ten marketing emails never get opened

Email marketing Are marketers plain daft or just lazy? They can only be one or the other. Surely they know that personalising their email marketing initiatives is what is needed to engage people. That’s not news, after all. Neither is it some amazing fact that would surprise even the most green of marketers. So why is it that most emails sent out by brands are not personalised? Either the companies don’t know that personalisation is essential or they can’t be bothered. And if they can’t be bothered, why should we be bothered to open their emails?

In fact, we don’t bother. A recent study found that the average inbox contains 250 unopened marketing emails from companies and brands. The majority of these emails are from companies which the recipients signed up for – they are not unwanted spam. So why do they remain unopened?

The survey revealed some key factors behind the extent of unopened, yet requested, emails:

[unordered_list style=”red-x”]

  • The emails contain irrelevant information
  • The content is not personalised
  • The subject lines are boring


Now, forgive me if I am being stupid myself, but aren’t these obvious reasons for failure? Isn’t it clear to marketers that every email they send should be personalised, contain relevant information and have a subject line that makes people want to open it? That’s all kind of obvious isn’t it?

So why aren’t companies doing the obvious? Are they daft or lazy?

The web is focused on the wrong thing

One reason why companies may not care that most of their emails lay unopened and unseen is because the web focuses our minds on “traffic”. Everywhere you look there are little signs saying how many people shared this, how many followers this page has or how many people watched something. On top of this businesses have analytics which tell them how many people opened something, how many of them used particular search words and how many of them clicked on something.

We are surrounded by data which is about “how many”.

So email marketers gain success by ever increasing the size of their mailing list; they concentrate on getting more and more people to subscribe. That produces nice graphs for management meetings showing an upward trend. Then they look at “open rates” or “click through rates” and get depressed by how few people actually engage with what they send out. Then someone produces some spurious statistic saying that even this low open rate is much better than was ever achieved with printed direct mail. So, the meeting then goes back to “the only way we can get more sales is to get more subscribers” – and so the circle is completed; businesses believe that the main solution to their problem with email marketing is getting a bigger list.

Yet the recent study shows that the majority of those 250 unopened emails would get opened if they had interesting subject lines, were personalised and contained relevant information. And that suggests you could make more money without expanding your mailing list but by doing “the obvious” when it comes to marketing.

Marketers are not stupid; they know what to do. The problem is they are surrounded by desires to increase numbers of recipients, rather than increase conversion rates from existing subscribers.

True, many businesses are improving their email marketing to deal with the conversion issue. But as this survey reveals the vast majority of businesses are not. If they were dealing with the issue, there would not be 250 unopened emails in our inboxes.

Email marketing should be even more personal

Personalisation of email marketing doesn’t go far enough. To gain more engagement you need to make it even more personal and individual.

Email marketing personalisation is focusing on the wrong kind of being personal

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]e have all had emails addressed to “Dear Firstname”, where the hapless marketer has inserted a “personalisation” code but has actually forgotten to gather any personal data about us that could be inserted into such codes. Sure, we find it annoying and we move on. Many such emails are probably deleted within seconds. Indeed, in a recent analysis of email marketing it was found that only 1.3% of email marketing to the “Business-to-Business” sector actually garners any real engagement. In other words, most B2B email marketers are whistling in the wind.

Chart displaying email subscriber activity

The study found, however, that in stark contrast there was significant engagement with email marketing from the healthcare sector. Indeed, 17 times as many subscribers to healthcare companies were engaged with the emails they were sent than was the case for B2B. It all suggests that those healthcare emails were much more interesting.

Make it personal

The real issue this study has uncovered is personalisation. Email marketers seem to think that “personalisation” is “Dear Firstname”. But that is not personalisation, that is just good addressing. Personalisation to the recipient of an email is “this is about ME”. That’s where the healthcare industry scores. Their emails are intensely personal; they are about the individual themselves. Many B2B emails, though, are “business-like” and about the company sending the message.

Personalisation means making the email about the individual recipient and their specific needs. That means when you collect email data you need more than “first name, last name”; instead you need to know interests, likes, dislikes and so on. You need to know what makes each potential reader “tick”. Of course, if you try to collect that information in a sign-up box, you reduce the number of people signing up – the more fields people have to complete, the fewer people fill them in.

So, you need to add this data to your email marketing system at a later date. You can do this through polls, surveys and ongoing customer research. Then you can include this information in emails which you send out so that the messages are much more personal.

The crucial thing which this new research shows us is that you gain more engagement when you make it more personal. Focus on them, as individuals not target groups, and your email marketing will gain greater impact.

Email is not your enemy

Email critics are getting ever louder, but email is not the problem; job design is the problem.

Sign showing ban emailIt is the jobs that businesses create which are the issue

Apart from the usual nonsense of people claiming “email is dead”, there appears to be a growing number of people saying we should give up email altogether. Indeed in the space of one day several leading publications have told us how we can all live without email. Firstly, there was Fast Company magazine which suggested “How to Live an Email Free Life“. Then there was Inc Magazine which told us “What You Gain When You Stop Using Email“. And then there was the highly influential “MH Blog” which explained “How I Cut the Amount of Email I Receive by 83% in Less Than a Week“. It is as though someone has started a campaign against email.

So what are the facts about email?

Well, it started a long time ago. The first emails were sent in 1962 – that’s right 52 years ago; even then, the systems were dealing with 30m messages a month. Email is established; it is not some modern whim. It is older than most people who read this blog.

Another fact about email is its commercial value. Various studies point to the supremacy of email marketing over and above web marketing. It appears that people respond more positively to emails than to web pages. In turn, the conversion rate from email marketing is higher than from web marketing generally. Email marketing alone is responsible for several billions of dollars being spent each month on Amazon, for instance. And consider for a moment why spam exists. It exists because it is commercially successful. You may have switched on spam filters to avoid receiving email messages about various anatomical enlargements you might yearn for. But enough people do not filter these messages out and enough people click on them and buy the dubious products to help make sure a global multimillion dollar business exists. Whatever you might think about spam, it is hugely successful and profitable for the people who send it – that’s why they send it. Whichever way you look at email, it is undeniably profit producing, both for spammers and for legitimate businesses.

Furthermore, email is immediate and ever-present. If you want to get a message to someone who is not in the office and who has no mobile phone coverage, email will more likely reach them thanks to Wi-Fi. Even if they are in an aircraft, out of mobile phone signal range, they can still get your messages. Email is more instant than text messaging today. If you need to communicate quickly, email works.

Email productivity is a problem

In spite of the obvious benefits of email, there are plenty of reasons to suggest it is also a problem. After all, I suspect you think that you spend too much time on email. The notion of the “zero inbox” is a long and distant dream for many people, And even those who do end the day with nothing in their inbox probably wish they didn’t have to spend so much time doing the organising it requires. On average we spend several hours a day dealing with email. That is much more than we ever spent on handling the morning post when the envelopes arrived on your desk. Snail mail was a lot less time-consuming.

Furthermore, there is a psychological issue with email that we did not have with printed mail. Printed mail came into your office once, maybe twice, during the day. Most office workers spent a concentrated period of time dealing with the post and then the rest of the day “working”. Now, though, email interrupts most people constantly. As a result their brain has to switch attention – this takes time; indeed studies suggest that attention shift for most workers is now taking an hour a day away from their work.

But just how much of a productivity problem is email? Research compiled by Career Builder suggests that it is not as great as we might believe. It turns out that “gossiping” in the office is much more of a problem than email. Indeed, general web surfing or going off for smoking breaks are more of a disruption to our work.

Personal feelings get in the way

When you look at this Career Builder data, together with their earlier work on personal Internet use, you can see that what gets in the way the most is doing personal stuff. We spend an hour a day of each working day surfing the web for non-work related information. And other studies show that around a quarter of our emailing time at work is for personal emails, not business related ones.

What does this all show? It demonstrates that we are drawn to things we like. We find those personal things more appealing than the work we are supposed to be doing. Far from email being an issue, it is the kind of email that’s the problem. Those personal emails, those marketing messages enticing us to buy are all so much more interesting than the work we are supposed to be doing. We cannot help ourselves.

The real issue is job design. Far too many jobs are badly designed, making them less interesting than doing personal stuff online. Not only that, recruitment practices often seem to put round pegs in square holes – getting anyone to fill the job rather than the right person. That means the only thing they are really interested in is the money they take home.

[quote]Poor job design and bad recruitment combine to make personal Internet use at work more appealing.[/quote]

And what is the response of business leaders? To monitor email usage or ban mobile phones. That is shutting the stable door.

If your business has an email productivity issue then the first place to look is at the kind of jobs you have created and the kind of people you have doing those jobs. Get those issues right and the negative side of email will be lessened and its huge benefits made to work better for your company.