The problem with email marketing is that when a person is in their inbox, it is never a great time for them to context shift and think about your company.  

Why is email marketing's communication vehicle of choice? 

For most marketers, email is the method of choice for one-to-many customer communication.   

The reasons are simple:

  • Email is very low cost.
  • Email has close to 100% coverage.   Everyone has an email address.

But, as we all know, email marketing is not that effective:

  • 30% is a good open rate
  • 10% is a good click-through rate

That is pretty low.    

Why are email open rates and click-through rates so low?  

An obvious reason is that the emails are not relevant to the customer.  But let’s assume they are relevant, what else about email makes it not that effective as a communication vehicle:

  • People are overwhelmed with email.  They have too many emails coming in. They can’t keep up with their work and personal emails let alone correspondence from companies.  
  • Email is inherently out of context.   I believe this is the most important factor.

What is a customer’s context when they are checking their inbox.  

Transactional email is the one kind of email that is different.  Customers will go to their inbox looking for this email coming out from a site or application in order to make sure it arrived or act on what it includes.  Transactional emails are almost emails in-context and thus they have much higher open and click-through rates.

A time for email messaging and a time for in-context messaging

If the customer is not interacting with you, then email is one good way to try to get them back.  At that point, your relationship is becoming again like new customer acquisition.  You try to reach them and you settle for low percentage response rates.  

Likewise, if you have a business where your customer interacts with you infrequently, then an occasional email to remind them of your existence or provide an insight, update, or white paper can build the relationship.

But if your customer is interacting with you, if you have an ongoing relationship, then many things are best communicated to your customer in-context, as they are interacting with you.  

In-context messaging is the notion of messaging your customers right as they interact with your website or application.   If you have something to say to them, tell them while they are thinking of you, while they are interacting with you. 

For example:

  • If a SAAS or web application, wants me to finish setting up a module or wants me to try out a key sticky feature, the best time to tell me is while I’m in their app or on their site.
  • If an ecommerce company wants to give me an incentive to buy my wife that pricey necklace I keep returning to on their site, the best time to tell me is while I’m in the online store, looking at it.   

LinkedIn is a company that does this well.

While I'm on the site, they encourage me to Finish Setting up my profile and, as I use InMail, they encourage me to Upgrade to get more InMails

Consider adding in-context messaging to your retention marketing mix.  Of course, it doesn't replace email, but it can be an effective way to communicate with your customers ... in context.


Karl Wirth

Founder, Apptegic

Apptegic enables this kind of in-context messaging to help online businesses retain their customers