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Millennials’ Email Marketing Dislikes Are (Mostly) the Same as Everyone Else’s


Despite millennials having a reputation for being different from everyone else, their email behavior is very similar to that of older generations when it comes to the things that drive them to unsubscribe and report emails as spam.

Our Adapting to Consumers’ New Definition of Spam research, which surveyed more than 1,300 American adults, found that roughly the same percentage of millennials (age 18-29) and those from older generations (age 30+) have…

  • Unsubscribed from a brand’s promotional emails because they received too many or irrelevant emails (66% for millennials vs. 67% for older generations)
  • Unsubscribed from a brand’s promotional emails because the emails or website didn’t display or work well on their smartphone (52% vs. 51%)
  • Unsubscribed from a brand’s promotional emails because the brand’s mobile app didn’t work well (41% vs. 40%)
  • Marked a brand’s emails as spam because they didn’t knowingly and willingly subscribe to receive the emails (52% vs. 51%)
  • Marked a brand’s emails as spam because they couldn’t easily figure out how to unsubscribe (50% vs. 50%)

Of course, millennials are different in a number of ways—but even in those instances, the differences aren’t all that meaningful when it comes to how marketers should respond. For example, here are the five biggest differences that we could find from our research:

1. Millennials check their spam folders more frequently and rescue brands they don’t want there more frequently. [Tweet this →]

Millennials seem to be more aware of the imperfections around spam filtering. Fifty-five percent of them say they “very frequently” or “often” check their spam folder, versus only 46% of older generations. And 54% say they “very frequently” or “often” move promotional emails from brands out of their spam folder or mark emails in their spam folder as “not spam,” versus only 43% of older generations.

Only 18% of millennials say they never check their spam folder and only 25% say they never make a brand’s emails as “not spam.” In both cases, that’s roughly in line with older consumers (17% and 24%).

Takeaway: While it’s comforting to know that many consumers, especially millennials, are checking their spam folders regularly and correcting the mistakes made by spam filters, it doesn’t change marketers’ need to try to maximize their deliverability. That means:

2. Millennials are more likely to take action based solely on an email’s subject line and other envelope content. [Tweet this →]

When we busted subject line myths, our Myth #6 was: If an email isn’t opened, then it’s like you never sent it. Our latest research busts this myth into even small bits.

Not only do 39% of millennials say they’ve visited a brand’s store or website as a result of receiving—but not opening—an email from the brand, but 38% say they’ve made a purchase because of a received but unopened email. And older consumers aren’t very far behind, with 34% visiting a brand’s site and 32% making a purchase.

Takeaway: We suppose there’s a little extra incentive if your audience is largely millennials, but we recommend that all brands use a consistent and well-branded sender name, as well as detailed and actionable subject lines and preview text—as the brands do in the examples below. Avoid vague, intriguing, or overly clever envelope content that attract the curious openers rather than openers who are likely to convert. And we absolutely recommend steering clear of subject lines that could be interpreted as misleading.

Descriptive Envelope Content

3. Millennials are more likely to unsubscribe from emails over a bad customer service experience. [Tweet this →]

Creating cohesive omnichannel experiences has been a marketing priority for years now, and that priority was born out of consumer behavior. While brands are often organized into silos, consumers just see the brand. They consider it a singular entity and expect one hand to know what the other hand is doing.

For email marketers, the downside is that failures in one part of the business can be taken out on the email program—and this appears to be particularly true for millennials. For instance, 51% of millennials say that they have unsubscribed from a brand’s promotional emails because they had a bad customer service experience with the brand. Only 39% of Gen Xers and above said that.

An interesting wrinkle to this is that millennials are slightly less likely to mark a brand’s emails as spam because of a bad experience, with only 43% saying they have versus 46% of those from older generations.

Takeaway: All brands should strive for stellar customer service, but clearly failures will occur. If you know of individual cases, consider temporarily suspending that subscriber from receiving promotional emails, depriving them of the opportunity to opt-out while their angry. And if a PR scandal, large product recall, or other negative event occurs, consider temporarily suspending promotional emails to all subscribers to avoid a spike in unsubscribes and spam complaints.

Adapting to Consumers’ New Defition of Spam

Adapting to Consumers’ New Definition of Spam

Understand consumers’ current definition of spam and why they end email relationships with brands with this ebook, which is based on a survey of 1,300+ American adults.

Discover your audience →


4. Millennials are more likely to triage their mobile inbox, saving certain emails for later. [Tweet this →]

It has been thought that you have one shot with an email to engage the subscriber. If the email doesn’t look great on their mobile device, for instance, then they’re on to the next email and you’ve missed your shot.

But our survey indicates that consumers, especially millennials, are willing to save at least some emails for later when they get back to a desktop. Fifty-three percent of millennials say they “very frequently” or “often” save an email while on their smartphone to read later on another device, versus 44% for older consumers.

Despite that willingness to save emails for later, however, millennials are just as likely as older generations to unsubscribe because of mobile-unfriendly experiences. For example, 52% of millennials say they have unsubscribed from a brand’s promotional emails because their emails or website didn’t display or work well on smartphones (vs. 51% for older generations); and 41% have because the brand’s mobile app didn’t work well (vs. 40% for older generations).

Takeaway: Like everyone else, millennials have high standards for mobile-friendliness. So use a mobile-aware, responsive, or hybrid email design approach, and work with your web and mobile app counterparts to ensure that subscribers have good landing page experiences, too.

5. Millennials are less likely to find unsubscribing from promotional emails to be difficult. [Tweet this →]

Our unsubscribe process is competing against the easy-to-find, never-fail “report spam” button. So it has to be straightforward or you risk spam complaints, which hurt your sender reputation, unlike unsubscribes.

Half of millennials, along with half of those who are older, say they’ve marked a brand’s emails as spam because unsubscribing was difficult, which is pretty consistent across age groups. However, only 31% of millennials find it difficult to unsubscribe, whereas 41% of those in Gen X and beyond do, making the risk lower among millennial subscribers.

Takeaway: Regardless of your audience, we recommend that unsubscribe links be prominent in the footer and that you follow the two-click unsubscribe rule—that your opt-out process requires no more than one click in the email and one click on the landing page. However, if your subscriber base is composed of lots of millennials, then you should be especially unafraid to include opt-down or other options as alternatives to opting out, as cookie retailer Cheryl’s does.

Cheryl's unsubscribe page

Although there are some differences here in terms of how millennials behave, the risks that drive unsubscribes and spam complaints are fairly universal. That means that marketers shouldn’t really need to make any changes to accommodate millennials, which love email just as much as everyone else.

Of course, positively motivating millennials might involve very different messaging and strategies than you’d use with Gen Xers and others. But before you’re able to engage them, you have to avoid ticking them off.

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