Study: Work email opened more frequently than personal email

A multi-generational survey by Adobe offers insights into where and when people wade into their inboxes—and what particular peeves make them likely to trash your marketing message.

Giving up on email marketing? Not so fast.

Although channels such as social media, voice search and augmented reality all play important roles in the customer journey, new research from Adobe finds that email is holding its own against those newer channels and technologies.

Consumers say they spend about five hours a day checking work email (three-plus hours a day) and personal email (two-plus hours a day), according to the 2019 “Adobe Email Usage Study,” which surveyed 1,002 U.S. adults in July. They’re refreshing their inboxes while watching TV, in bed, during work meetings, during meals, while driving—even in the bathroom.

“It’s incredibly clear that we’re all comfortable with email, and we’ve integrated it into almost every part of our day,” says Sarah Kennedy, Adobe’s VP of global marketing. “While it’s important to note that the time we spend checking email overall has declined since 2016, the frequency remains substantial. The Adobe survey findings solidify how important email still is in the everyday lives of our customers, and this means there is still a big opportunity for marketers to utilize email to engage with people in relevant and useful ways.

“Contextual relevance and usefulness are critically important because you need both to deliver value to your customer and without them, you also risk being ignored,” Kennedy says.

According to the survey, emails in work inboxes are opened more frequently than personal emails—80% and 57%, respectively. Respondents say they prefer to receive offers this way (56% for work, 60% for personal), significantly more than direct mail, social media and other marketing channels.

Yet only one-quarter of email offers from brands are interesting or compelling enough to open, consumers say.

What stops people from opening emails?

Excessive frequency of brand emails is the leading annoyance for both work and personal emails, respondents say. Other gripes include incorrect marketing data about the recipient, offers to buy an already-purchased product, and poorly written or wordy messages.

Consumers said personalization in email marketing is important to them—especially in personal correspondence. Broken down by generations, almost half of millennials (46%) want personalized emails from brands, followed by 43% of Gen X and 30% of Baby Boomers. For work emails, 37% of millennials want them personalized, as do 26% of Gen X and 23% of Boomers.

Consumers say they are most frustrated by email recommendations that don’t match their interests—33% for work emails and 31% for personal emails.

“It’s no secret that customers now expect personalized experiences both online and off,” Kennedy says. “Accurate and useful personalization in email marketing is a must. Get their names right. Provide offers for products and promotions they’ve already expressed interest in. Forget about mass emails to your entire subscriber list. Understand the implication of their gender, location, age, and whatever else you already know about them.”

Work email invading nonwork hours

According to the study, respondents across all groups frequently check work email outside the office. Of note, they’re checking personal email less during work hours, although that’s truer for Boomers than for Millennials and Gen Z, 31% and 26%, respectively, who still check personal email multiple times per hour.

Checking Email Often?

(Image via Adobe)

Even though most people check work email outside the office, millennials are driving an overall trend to resist that urge. Almost half (48%) of consumers say they don’t check their work inbox until they start working. Of the rest, just 13% check while still in bed, 15% while commuting and 25% while eating breakfast.

As for personal emails, 25% of consumers say they first check their personal email while still in bed, 42% check while getting ready or eating breakfast, 16% check en route to work, and 17% check when they get to their workplace.

Stacking up against online platforms

For comparative purposes, social media—which has seemingly taken over our lives—is first checked by many (30%) during a break at work. Not far behind, 26% first check while still in bed, 25% check while getting ready in the morning or eating breakfast, 11% check during their morning commute, and 8% check at the office.

Compared with 2018, the study also found that Baby Boomers are more likely (more than half) to ignore work-related email while on vacation, but personal email is frequently checked. On the other hand, one-quarter of millennials and Gen X check their work email multiple times a day when on vacation, and one-third check personal email.

“There are generational preferences and habits that come into play, for sure,” Kennedy says, “and it depends on the person and what their daily routines and preferences are. For example, someone who commutes via public transportation might choose to check their email while on the train, while someone who is driving to work would wait until they get into the office.

“Understanding when and where individuals are more likely to open an email communication from a brand is key in getting open and engagement rates up.”

A version of this post first appeared on CMO by Adobe, the company’s thought leadership site for senior business decision makers.



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