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Relevance: "The Right Message" at "The Right Time?"

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by: Loren McDonald (@LorenMcDonald)
18 August 2009

Saying "relevance" is the key to success in email marketing is a bit like saying something is "American as motherhood and apple pie." Whether you've heard the phrase before or not, you can probably guess the general meaning, but what does it really mean?

Similarly, "relevance" in reference to email marketing success is generally understand and agreed upon. But we don't really have a single, agreed-on definition for the term, let alone the elements that go into making an email relevant to recipients.

So, on a whim recently, I polled the Twitter community, asking people how they defined email marketing "relevance." Here's a sampling of the responses:

"Relevance in email, to me, means I get what I want (whether or not I know what that is), when I want, how I want it."

"The higher my affinity for the brand, the more 'gap' I am willing to tolerate. … Affinity is an influencing factor on relevance."

"… When the gap is short or nil between the content and what is top of mind in my life."

"Timing and message (content)."

"Relevant email marketing delivers the right message at the right time. Timing + Interest = Relevance."

"Relevance = an email that I can personally relate/identify with and panders to my customer profile …."

'Right Message' + 'Right Time'

Although the respondents answered the question differently, the essence of everyone's comments seemed to boil down to "the right message at the time."

So how do marketers develop an email program that delivers messages when subscribers want them and with the right content and offers? In my latest Email Insider column, "Relevance: What Is It, Anyway?," I begin to answer those questions with a description of email qualities I believe are essential to relevance.

Here's my list below:

The Right Time:

Your email is:

• Wanted
• Trusted and Recognized
• Expected
• Delivered
• Timely
• Surprising

The Right Message is:

• Usable
• Personalized
• Differentiated
• Valued
• Humanized

Next: Detailed Definitions

You can find quick descriptions of each quality that contributes to relevance in the Email Insider column, but here on the Engagement Marketing blog, I'll go more in depth about how each email quality helps make it more relevant than the next one.

I welcome your questions and thoughts here, too. Did I miss anything obvious when it comes to relevance in email? Post your comments below.


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