Delivering Episode 14: How does an average subscriber think about email?

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In this episode of Delivering, host Jason Rodriguez interviews his wife, Valerie, about all things email in an attempt to better understand how the average subscriber thinks about email marketing, design, interactivity, privacy, and more.

Episode Transcript

Valerie Jackson

Welcome to Delivering, a podcast about email design, strategy, copywriting, development, and the email marketing industry. I’m your host’s wife, Valerie Jackson. Delivering is brought to you by Litmus—the only platform trusted by professionals to help you send email with confidence, every time. Over 600,000 marketing professionals use Litmus’ tools to build, test, and analyze better email campaigns faster.

Head over to litmus.com to start your free 7-day trial of Litmus, and start sending better emails today.

Be sure to subscribe to Delivering on iTunes or Spotify to listen to future episodes and join the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #DeliveringPodcast.

Jason Rodriguez

Good job. Welcome everybody to Delivering. So I’m your actual host, Jason Rodriguez, but I’m actually joined today by my lovely wife, Valerie. Hi, Val. How are you doing?

Valerie Jackson

Okay.

Jason Rodriguez

So today I thought it’d be fun to get, I guess, the perspective of what I would say is an average subscriber thinking about email marketing or how they don’t think about marketing. We’ll see here. So I guess I should start by saying that you’re probably a slightly above average subscriber because you edited my first book on email design.

Valerie Jackson

I’m generally above average at things.

Jason Rodriguez

Yeah, but you also like hear me just kind of ramble on about email marketing throughout the day.

Valerie Jackson

I hear you. Do I listen?

Jason Rodriguez

So that’s so that’s a good point. So yeah, I just wanted to take some time and ask you a bunch of kind of random questions about email, how you use it, what you think about it. Ask you about some of the things that we think about as email professionals and just get your opinion on that stuff. So I think it’ll be pretty fun. So let’s start with some basic ones. What email client do you use?

Valerie Jackson

Is Gmail a client?

Jason Rodriguez

That’s a client, yes. What about on your phone?

Valerie Jackson

Apple Mail, the default one, right?

Jason Rodriguez

How often do you check your email?

Valerie Jackson

Depends on the day. At least once a day. Sometimes if I’m expecting certain emails, that’ll be several, but probably generally like three-ish times a day.

Jason Rodriguez

Is it usually on your laptop or on your phone?

Valerie Jackson

Usually my laptop is where I really go through my emails. But if I’m, I’ll just kind of scroll through and see if anything’s important on my phone. Sometimes especially, when I’m waiting for something important.

Jason Rodriguez

Have you ever heard the term email triage?

Valerie Jackson

Yes.

Jason Rodriguez

You triage your email on your phone? All right. I usually see you checking your email while we’re watching Netflix at night, after we put the kids to bed. So how would you describe how you use email? What do you use it for or what do you get out of it?

Valerie Jackson

My main use for email is, for me, probably communications dealing with my PTA business and then also for things like keeping up with things that I subscribe to, like monthly subscriptions and weekly subscriptions to like MeUndies and Imperfect Foods, and then also getting notified for sales and things like that. I don’t know. I’m saying “Um” a lot.

Jason Rodriguez

That’s OK. We all do. So, OK. That brings me to the next question then. What makes you sign up for an email list?

Valerie Jackson

Usually a discount or something I’m interested in. I don’t sign up for a lot because having too many emails gives me more anxiety than I usually have. But the few things I am signed up for are maybe a couple local politicians emails, and those are things that just, I want to try to stay informed on. And then if there’s a brand, if there’s something that I’m looking into buying and then I get a discount if I sign up for an email, I’ll sign up for the email. And depending on how often they email me or what kinds of emails I get, I might just unsubscribe real soon from that. But some of them, I end up, you know, continuing to get the emails and being happy that I’m notified about sales or new products or whatever.

Jason Rodriguez

I guess you mentioned MeUndies and Imperfect Foods. Are there any other brands that you actually look forward to getting their emails?

Valerie Jackson

Those are the two that really, when they come through, I will not immediately delete them. Look at them. And sometimes especially I like MeUndies emails because they usually are kind of fun and not too wordy. And, I don’t know, there’s usually just information I actually care about in there. Like what’s new, what the new print is, stuff like that. They’re fun to just look at real quickly. And I’m not too involved in Imperfect Foods. I like it because it reminds me every week that I need to go in, actually put in my order or they’ll just send me a random box of stuff and then we don’t eat it.

And they also send ones that kind of show your impact and like the company’s impact, which I appreciate, you know, how much food waste you’re saving and sometimes recipes and stuff like that.

But you asked me if there’s other companies. Sometimes I appreciate if it’s about like sales. There’re some companies that I get them from that I just automatically delete.

Jason Rodriguez

Okay. You don’t have to name them!

Valerie Jackson

No, I won’t!

Jason Rodriguez

So has an email ever prompted you to buy something like directly from the email?

Valerie Jackson

Yeah, for sure.

Jason Rodriguez

What was it that got you to buy?

Valerie Jackson

Probably a sale or like a new product that I didn’t know about. Like I’m thinking about definitely Athleta if there’s like a, you know, a sale or something, maybe it was. It’s like I click on the link and then I go and I know there’s an extra 20 percent off sale items, I’ll directly go in and search and fill my cart up or MeUndies definitely when it was Christmas time. They had some new products and I was like, oh, these are perfect for Santa to buy for me and my husband. So I directly went and—my husband, that’s you and I’m Santa. So I guess sales or like new products that I didn’t really know about usually.

Jason Rodriguez

All right. Fair enough. Does the design of an email matter to you?

Valerie Jackson

I’m sure it does. Probably more subconsciously. I mean, I think that I like when there’s not tons of copy, just like especially a bunch of little copy, because I just glaze over. Like if there is copy, if there are words on there, it’s nice if they’re, you know, big and easily readable images are good. And yeah, I hate when it’s super long, like some emails I get. You have to like click a thing to view the whole thing and it opens up a new tab. And I’m just like, I don’t want to deal with that.

Jason Rodriguez

Yeah, fair. All right. What kind of subject lines get you to actually open an email?

Valerie Jackson

That’s a good question. I feel my answer just keeps being sales. Sales are good, I guess. Especially if it’s specific about it. You know, like some percentage off or, I don’t know. I think I used to kind of, you know, a couple years ago or maybe several years ago when they first started being specific with like your name, like Valerie. You got to see this. Those would kind of get me first. And now I’m just kind of like, now I don’t need to see that over that.

Jason Rodriguez

Is it usually the subject line or is it more the person sending it or the brand?

Valerie Jackson

I think it’s more the brand. Usually if it’s something that I trust, I’ll open it usually.

Jason Rodriguez

All right. Have you received any emails with, it’s from a brand, but it says like a person’s name, like “Jason from Litmus”. You ever encounter that?

Valerie Jackson

I think a few. Yeah. I’ve seen them before. Usually not from real big brands that I can think of. But there’s a few like, I think Khan Academy, they might have a name attached to them.

Jason Rodriguez

Does that do anything for you or is it just, “Meh?”

Valerie Jackson

I feel like maybe subconsciously, like it feels a little more personal, but on the surface, I don’t know if it really affects me.

Jason Rodriguez

All right. Do you know what an interactive email is?

Valerie Jackson

I think so.

Jason Rodriguez

How would you describe, how would you describe an interactive email?

Valerie Jackson

This feels like a trick. You can interact with it, right. I don’t know. I know there’s some that, like, can change depending on like, like can change as data changes, I guess. I don’t think that’s interactive. I don’t know.

Jason Rodriguez

Give me an example. What are you thinking of?

Valerie Jackson

Like a time clock counting down? Or like numbers increasing as like the number of units increases or something.

Jason Rodriguez

Yeah. Have you ever gotten an email where you can do something to the email and it changes? Like you could fill out a form or like press different things and it would show different content?

Valerie Jackson

I think I’ve gotten where you could like, you know, it’s like scroll over things and it would change. I think I may have gotten others that I just didn’t know I could do that, too.

Jason Rodriguez

Did you have any, like, reaction to those types of emails or like an email countdown timer or anything like that?

Valerie Jackson

I think they’re cool. I think they’re impressive. It’s more interesting than just a static email.

Jason Rodriguez

All fair. Cool. So let’s go back to Gmail for a minute. Do you use Gmail’s different tabs now?

Valerie Jackson

No.

Jason Rodriguez

Is it just that you’re like the classic inbox?

Valerie Jackson

Yes.

Jason Rodriguez

OK. So I was going to ask you what do you think of the tabs? But if you’re not using them… did you ever have that in your email inbox?

Valerie Jackson

No. That’s probably weird, right? And I’d like to just delete as many as I possibly can and keep it all clean. And my rule is like, I try to keep it to where I have like 50 or fewer, but it’s creeping up because I have a lot of things that I end up needing to save.

Jason Rodriguez

I constantly joke that you would be terrified of my work inbox with hundreds of unread messages at this point. But you’ve never seen like, at the top of Gmail, like promotions, updates, forums like any of those little tabs?

Valerie Jackson

I mean, I’ve seen that as like an option, I guess, but I haven’t used it.

Jason Rodriguez

All right. So, I can skip over the next couple of questions.

Valerie Jackson

Sorry, haha.

Jason Rodriguez

Can you think of a time when you received an email with a mistake in it?

Valerie Jackson

Yes. I mean, I can’t think of a specific one. I feel like what I remember is not receiving an email with it, with a mistake, but not realizing there’s a mistake in it. But then receiving an email shortly after that says we apologize for the mistake in whatever email and maybe an explanation of the mistake.

And sometimes there’s actually, there was one recently. I can’t even remember what the mistake was. I think the company accidentally sent out a bunch of emails that, you know, to like the wrong group of people or something. And then I got an email soon after saying, we apologize that those emails were sent. And here’s a five dollar coupon code for your next purchase. So I remember like the apology emails more than I remember the actual mistake emails.

Jason Rodriguez

Did that leave any lasting impression on you in regards to the brand?

Valerie Jackson

Yeah, I think emails, the apology emails, like I said, they leave a bigger impact on me than the actual mistake ones because I might not even realize there’s a mistake.

I think it’s, it makes me trust that brand more that they are willing to step up and say, we made a mistake. You know, maybe a little explanation and we’re sorry about that. And sometimes, you know, here’s a little something for you. However, we might have inconvenienced you. I think that it shows, like integrity on the brands part. Like I have a positive reaction and—not like I have a positive reaction to the mistake, though—a positive reaction to the willingness to acknowledge and try to fix the mistakes.

Jason Rodriguez

Have you ever gotten, like those RE: subject lines says like RE: like regarding?

Valerie Jackson

Oh, yeah.

Jason Rodriguez

What do you think about those?

Valerie Jackson

Kind of annoying? Because I always think that that’s a reply. And I’m like, what? I didn’t email Gap. Sorry. They’re kind of annoying because I think they’re replies when I’m scanning and then I’m like, nope, not a reply. So I don’t really care.

Sorry, I have been really negative.

Jason Rodriguez

No, that’s OK. You haven’t called us spammers yet, so I guess that’s good! Do you know what the CAN-SPAM Act is?

Valerie Jackson

No. I’ve heard you say it but I’m not going to say I know what it is.

Jason Rodriguez

Or do you know what GDPR is?

Valerie Jackson

No.

Jason Rodriguez

What kind of expectations around privacy do you have with your email address, if any?

Valerie Jackson

I guess I don’t really think about it. I’m probably just too trusting in general but I guess now that I’m thinking about it, I would hope that my email address doesn’t get shared by companies.

I mean, I guess it’s like, you know, when I subscribe to something, I hope that, like, that’s what I’m subscribing to and then it won’t be passed on to other things. I do get kind of frustrated when I think I’m signing up for one thing, but then it leads to sign up for like all the other family brands. And I’m kind of like, I didn’t want all that. So, but I mean that, I I kind of get it because it’s like they’re related companies, so I’m sort of OK with it.

Jason Rodriguez

So what what do you do if you found out that your email address had been sold on a list without your permission?

Valerie Jackson

What would I do?

Jason Rodriguez

Or how would you react?

Valerie Jackson

I don’t know. I’m sorry, I’m terrible at this.

Jason Rodriguez

Yeah, I don’t think it’s one of those things people think about or even realize, whether or not they should.

Valerie Jackson

All right. If my email address were sold. Without my permission… I don’t know.

Jason Rodriguez

Would you think there’s anything you can do about that?

Valerie Jackson

No, I mean… You’re gonna edit all this, right?

Jason Rodriguez

Nope, it’s a candid conversation.

Valerie Jackson

Yeah. I don’t know. I mean, I’m sure there is because you’re asking me. So probably. So it’s a privacy thing I think CAN-SPAM Act you just talked about a little bit ago? Did I say that right? CAN-SPAM. Yeah. OK.

But yeah, I guess it just is, like, I’d be like, whatever, who cares, I’ll just unsubscribe from whatever I’m getting now and it’s lik,e it’s annoying, but it’s not like the end of the world.

I don’t know. It’s not going to affect me that much, I guess.

Jason Rodriguez

So CAN-SPAM is the act that was enacted by Congress years and years ago. That’s about, like, supposed to regulate digital communications between companies and consumers. GDPR is more recent, but it’s in the European Union that dictates how we can, like, how companies can get you to sign up for things, what they can do with your data, like how they need to be able to let you unsubscribe and look at your own data. There is one in California that got passed recently. Have you heard anything about that?

Valerie Jackson

Nah.

Jason Rodriguez

Do you think companies should be able to do whatever they want with your email address? I guess I was very leading question.

Valerie Jackson

No.

Jason Rodriguez

What makes you unsubscribe from an email list?

Valerie Jackson

Getting too many emails or getting emails that I feel like are no longer applicable to me. Usually it’s those ones where I sign up because I get a discount code and then I realize, like, that’s the only time I’m probably ever going to purchase from that company. So I don’t need to continue receiving emails. Yeah, just, those are the most like they’re not applicable or there’s just too many. And I’m sick of it’s just, it’s anxiety inducing to have too many email subscriptions that keep piling up in my inbox.

Jason Rodriguez

Have you ever marked an email as spam?

Valerie Jackson

I have accidentally but then felt bad because it was probably from my grandpa or something. I don’t think I ever have purposefully. No. I had accidentally and I’m like, oh, no, I don’t want be mean. Don’t be spam! But no, I don’t think so purposefully.

Jason Rodriguez

All right. What do you think brands could do to make email more valuable to you?

Valerie Jackson

Bigger discounts. Right. So sales… emails more valuable? I’m sorry. I don’t want to keep saying I don’t know. That’s not helpful.

Jason Rodriguez

It’s a perfectly valid answer.

Valerie Jackson

Hmm. I mean, some companies, I think, just need to send fewer or maybe better directed ones. Yeah, more relevant. That’s, that’s a good way to put it.

Jason Rodriguez

How can they make their emails more relevant to you?

Valerie Jackson

I mean, they have all my data, right?

Jason Rodriguez

They bought it from someone.

Valerie Jackson

Yeah, I’m sure most of them have access to purchasing trends and stuff like that. So it doesn’t make sense if I get things that don’t fit in with what I would ever want or need or that don’t really apply to my demographic. I’m trying to think of other ways emails could be more valuable to me. I’m not sure.

Jason Rodriguez

All right. Fair. Have you ever gotten… I know you are an avid Fitbit user and you’re a runner. What app do you use to track your runs?

Valerie Jackson

RunKeeper.

Jason Rodriguez

So do you get emails from either of those companies with like stats or anything like that?

Valerie Jackson

Yes. So Fitbit sends like a weekly email with, you know, kind of your overview from the week. And it also reminds me a lot of times, reminds me that I haven’t synved it in a while and I had no steps the last three days and last week! But that’s just if I didn’t sync my Fitbit. So those are interesting. I look at those and see, you know, it kind of compares your current week to last week. And that’s interesting.

And then RunKeeper doesn’t send a lot of emails, which I appreciate. They usually send maybe a few times a month, like promotional stuff, maybe for like RunKeeper Pro or if they’re partnered with a company and sometimes they have ones that are more, like, they’re doing a global 5k were any 5k you run will count toward it. So kind of like milestones or challenges I guess that you can participate in. And then they also send a yearly recap, which I just got last week that shows how many miles you ran last week or last year or how many activities you logged and stuff like kind of your stats for the past year. And that’s, that was interesting, too. I appreciated that email.

Jason Rodriguez

Cool. Do you have any thoughts on the future of email?

Valerie Jackson

I mean, I hope that emails stay strong because it’s how my family makes money! It’s awesome for your job security. Yeah, job security would be good.

No, but just as like an average subscriber of email, I don’t know. Sorry.

Jason Rodriguez

Do you just expect things to keep working the way they do?

Valerie Jackson

I think that’s kind of how I usually am. I like it if it works. But then it’s you know, when things change, I’m like, irritated. But then it just becomes normal again.

Jason Rodriguez

Is that why you don’t ever update your computer?

Valerie Jackson

Yes. Apparently, I just still use Gmail the way I’ve used it for a decade or more.

Yeah, I guess, I think that probably with all the data that’s out there, email probably will get more personal or relevant to individuals. And I think that probably design wise, it’ll get more interesting and creative, probably more things will be interactive or whatever, right?

Yeah, and I guess I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some way where you could directly have transactions within an email. You know, instead of it taking you to a company’s website, like it’s just like click this button, then your PayPal will be charged within the email. I don’t know. Is that a thing? I feel like that could happen, to me.

Just kind of fewer steps to get the product that they want to sell you, to get you to purchase a product that they want to sell you.

I feel like that’s sort of a thing, I don’t know… If I were in email marketing or working for a company, I guess that might be something that I would be trying to do. Like why make them—if they are interested enough to open this email and they’re within this email and they’re looking at this product—why can’t they just click a button right here? And that will, they’ll buy it. They don’t have to be redirected anywhere.

So there you go. That’s my email innovation.

Jason Rodriguez

All right. You know that guy Mark Robbins I always talk about? Yeah, he does that kind of stuff. I know you’re also like a heavy Instagram and Facebook user. Do you ever like—obviously both those platforms are increasingly filled with ads—do you ever, like, click through on those ads or buy anything through those channels?

Valerie Jackson

I have not very often. Yeah. Rarely. But I have. I can think of one specific time that I have now. Well, one specific time that I had actually, like, I think actually clicked from there to the website to purchase something. And then there are several times where I’ve just seen things so much that I’m like, oh, where was it?

Like I needed new bras. And I remember seeing the same few companies over and over again on Facebook and, you know, the videos in there and everything and thinking once I needed them, hey, I should look into those couple of companies that always show up in my Facebook feed and that did lead me to purchasing from one of those companies.

But the thing that I actually purchased directly through a Facebook link was my awesome hair dryer that’s like a built-in brush hair dryer. And the videos are very enticing. And I was like, if it works like that, I need it. And it actually does. So, yeah, nice.

Jason Rodriguez

All right, cool. I guess, last question. When are you gonna finally come to Boston with me?

Valerie Jackson

I just need an invite. Is that an invite?

Jason Rodriguez

Yeah. I’ll definitely get you out there soon. Awesome. Thank you, Valerie.

Do you want to do the outro or should I? It’s the same as the intro, so I guess I’ll do it. Well, thank you. I appreciate it. Thank you. Maybe we’ll do this again sometime.

Valerie Jackson

Oh, cool. Do you like my, I don’t know, responses?

Jason Rodriguez

It’s all super valuable. I feel like there’s a lot, we expect a lot out of subscribers. I feel like a lot of people just don’t think about email as deeply as we do, which makes sense.

Delivering is brought to you by Litmus—the only platform trusted by professionals to help you send email with confidence, every time. Over 600,000 marketing professionals use Litmus’ tools to build, test, and analyze better email campaigns faster.

Head over to litmus.com to start your free 7-day trial of Litmus, and start sending better emails today.

Be sure to subscribe to Delivering on iTunes or Spotify to listen to future episodes and join the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #DeliveringPodcast.