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Newsletters, email campaigns and personalization: why settle for a passing grade?

Categories: CROP in the news

Posted on 01-23-19 at 3:05 p.m.

Image for Newsletters, email campaigns and personalization: why settle for a passing grade?

A CROP-Relation 1 Study


Dominic Bourdages
Vice President, CROP



A growing number of companies are looking to personalize communications to their customers in order to increase relevance by targeting the right people, at the right time, with the right content.

While personalized communications hold the promise of increased benefits (higher conversion rates, positive impact on brand image, increased loyalty and, ultimately, increased revenue), the risks associated with low or poor personalization are just as tangible.

The main issue is that too many marketing professionals still approach "one on one" communication with a mass communication mindset. When two of the key objectives consist of maximizing the number of mailings and minimizing creative costs, personalization is automatically relegated to the background.


First indicator: the opening rate

A quick Google search for email and newsletter opening rates leads to dozens of sources, with rates ranging from 15% to 45%. Some even claim that opening rates higher than 25% are a resounding success.

But seriously, can brands afford such poor performances? And most importantly, why are opening rates so low?

We asked the main stakeholders: consumers. 2,189 Canadians were questioned about their attitudes and behaviours regarding branded newsletters and emails. The results follow.

Of all branded communications received personally, Canadians report an average opening rate of 45%. A very honourable rate, one could argue. But in fact, it is nothing less than an admission of failure. It cannot be considered normal that over half of Canadians reject emails from your brand. Keep in mind that if your consumers receive your targeted communications, it's because they have expressly agreed to do so.

And the reason we choose to send out personalized communications is precisely to avoid this type of waste. Especially since the negative repercussions of a low opening rate are very real for brands.


What the opening rate won't tell you

Let's look at this from a consumer's perspective. What happens when such a communication is received? The answer is somewhere between certainty and hesitation. Half the time (51%), the identification of the sender is sufficient to decide to open the communication, or not. For the other half of emails received (49%), consumers hesitate and review the email's subject line before choosing whether to read it or trash it.

The following illustration summarizes the poor performance of email communications, as things currently stand.


Performance indicators: opening

Spontaneous opening rate: 18%

The total opening rate is partly composed of e-mails opened spontaneously by consumers, at the mere sight of the sender's name. It is easy to conclude that these e-mails are appreciated and expected by consumers, and therefore very effective.

The spontaneous opening rate represents the level of trust and relevance you have succeeded in building with your consumers. In the field of targeted and personalized communications, this is the ultimate sign of a "loved brand".


Conscious opening rate: 27%

The conscious opening rate represents the e-mails opened after consulting the subject line, when the sole mention of the sender's name is insufficient to prompt this action. These emails ultimately reach their target and contribute to building a bond of trust and relevance.

The conscious opening rate represents the level of relevance of your communications. It should be interpreted in comparison to the conscious rejection rate.


Conscious rejection rate: 22%

The conscious rejection rate represents the emails that will ultimately be trashed after hesitation and viewing the subject line. These emails generate little or no interest among your consumers. They have a negative impact on the perceived relevance of your brand, because they are the result of overly broad targeting or poor personalization.

The conscious rejection rate should be considered a red flag, especially if it exceeds the conscious opening rate.


Spontaneous rejection rate: 33%

The spontaneous rejection rate includes all branded emails that have no chance of reaching their target. They are systematically rejected at the very sight of your brand name. This is akin to a colleague that no one wants to invite at their Christmas dinner table.

The spontaneous rejection rate can mean two things (or a combination of both):

• Either it represents the direct negative effects of an inadequate personalization strategy;
• Either it is the result of an acquisition campaign that is far too aggressive and poorly targeted.

In all cases, the spontaneous rejection rate represents the "surplus weight" of your brand's consumer database. And since the Holiday season is a perfect time for resolutions, I encourage you to analyze the perceived relevance of your brand's communications, and to set goals for improved performance in 2019.

A high spontaneous rejection rate should encourage you to seriously consider streamlining your database, as it will often lead to a wave of unsubscriptions.


Breaking free

Over the last six months, half of Canadians surveyed said they have unsubscribed from mailings of at least one brand. In terms of dissatisfaction, 50% is nothing short of a disaster: this means that half of the population receive brand communications that they no longer want to receive. Some will say that this is a harmless, normal correction, because many consumers subscribe frantically to all kinds of things, only to realize their mistake later. However, without knowing the reasons for unsubscribing, it is impossible to draw accurate conclusions.


Why are consumers breaking free?

Clearly, consumers are telling us that they receive too many personal communications from brands. And all this "spam" is counterproductive for our industry.

Not only are they claiming that they receive too many e-mails (43%), they are also saying the we don't know them well enough and that their evolution as consumers is not recognized (42%), that our communications are sorely irrelevant, and that they are both useless and annoying (29%).

It is also important to note that one in ten Canadians (10%) unsubscribed while being convinced that they had never agreed to receive such communication from the brand in the first place. This is not about compliance with Bill C-18, but rather about building a relationship based on relevance and honesty. It's quite possible that many of them simply forgot that they had subscribed. But the lack of relevance of the communications will have exhausted both their tolerance and their memory.

It is interesting to note that this percentage varies greatly from one brand to another. In fact, among the brands with the highest personalization scores, only 5% of consumers say they have never consented to receiving communications. Conversely (you can see this coming!), this percentage rises to 31% for brands with the least relevant communications.


The boomerang effect

But the most pernicious effect of brand communications that are deemed irrelevant by consumers is its effect on their opinion of brands. A good personalized communication strategy will bring an average positive difference of +37 on brand evaluation. On the other hand, a brand guilty of implementing a poor strategy will suffer great damage to its sympathy capital (negative difference: - 24).


Your targeted communication strategy

Generally speaking, the type of content consumers want from brands is strikingly similar to Maslow's pyramid. Personal communication (as opposed to mass advertising) appears to find legitimacy in the value it offers consumers. This is the most democratic type of content, with four in five Canadians (79%) expressing a desire to receive a variety of promotional offers.

The middle levels include, respectively, informational communications (58%) and product recommendations that they may find interesting (31%).

Finally, the creation of pure content (journalistic in nature and not directly related to the brand promoting its products/services) is at the top of the pyramid (18%).


Relevance strategy pyramid

Your targeted communication strategy should therefore differ from your overall communication strategy; first and foremost, it should be based on a creative strategy aimed at creating tangible value for your consumers. Obviously, any form of discount qualifies for this category. However, it is not necessary to give up profits to meet your consumers' expectations. A VIP status with different benefits will be equally appreciated.

Secondly, your targeted communications should meet informative needs: new arrivals, modified opening hours, etc.

Quickly, however, you will need to get to know your consumers better, as their expectations of your targeted communications will increase. You will need to demonstrate that you are making the necessary efforts to be relevant in each of your communications. Ultimately, once you have achieved this status of trust and relevance, you will be able to easily customize your product recommendations to your consumers, and you can expect much better conversion results.

Finally, as your brand becomes legitimately recognized as an "expert, your can also develop a journalistic content strategy (and deploy it in a personalized way), thus completing the picture by broadening the communication base with your consumers. At this point, you will no longer be talking about your products per se, but your editorial line will focus on sharing your brand values, establishing an emotional connection with your audiences, and positioning your brand as an undisputed leader.


Preferred media and formats

Not surprisingly, when it comes to preferred media, email is by far the dominant option with 90% of mentions. However, postal delivery ranks surprisingly high, as the preferred media for 21% of Canadians. Obviously, age is an important factor in assessing this statement, and this percentage is but an average. Note that there is a direct correlation between the two variables.

Postal service as a preferred media

Perhaps one could say that "rumours of the postal service's demise have been greatly exaggerated". As of now, sure. But in the long run, it will likely follow the same extinction curve as printers, land lines, cars that run on gasoline and other "technologies" from the past century.

Especially since other communication channels available to brands generate little enthusiasm: traditional media (radio, TV, out-of-home) and text messages rank third with 9%, followed by social media ads at 8% and smartphone notifications at 6%. As for web banners, with a measly 3%, they should soon join the QR code in the cemetery of "marketing innovations".

Finally, with respect to format, short text with pictures seems to be the preferred format, with 57% and 48% of mentions respectively. Only one-third of Canadians prefer more sustained copy. Finally, video trails the pack with a low 10% mention. But don't dismiss video entirely, as it remains a highly appreciated format, except in the context of an email, where it is relatively unpopular.


Personalize before it's too late

While a good personalization strategy can have positive impact on your brand, it would be foolish to believe that it can mend your relationship with consumers who have already written you off. Indeed, Canadians' interest in personalized communications decreases drastically for brands that have abused generic email messages, and who may now be perceived as completely irrelevant.


Big Brother is watching you

Purchasing history is often the first source of information that communications professionals will turn to when they want to initiate a personalization strategy. But be aware that one in three Canadians (32%) express discomfort with such a strategy. However, the acceptability index of this approach remains one of the highest (+21). Needless to say that using people's browsing history will generate a highly negative reaction in 40% of respondents (index +9). Finally, geolocation represents is the epitomy of unacceptable "spying", as 61% of Canadians are against this type of indiscretion (index -22).

In the end, the inherent transparency of a survey remains the most acceptable approach to learning more about your consumers, as three in four Canadians (76%) agree with this practice (index of +33).

Be honest with your consumers and explain why you are interested in them. They will be grateful and their relationship with your brand will be stronger.


Learning #1: Waste no time in assessing your targeted communication situation

The best way to effectively define objectives is to establish an overview of the current situation, and to be able to compare yourself.


Learning #2: The relevance of communications determines consumers' opinion of a brand

Get to know your consumers better as individuals. Make sure your communications are relevant to increase your brand's "love score". Otherwise, your brand image will suffer.


Learning #3: Develop customer-centric measures

Identify your best customers, show them some respect and develop a trusting relationship. For those consumers who seem uninterested in your mailings, reduce the frequency of communications until you find out more about them.


Learning #4: Your consumer is evolving

What your consumer finds interesting today is not necessarily what he/she will find interesting tomorrow. Acknowledge their evolution and provide them with the opportunity to share it with you.


Learning #5: Don't underestimate the perception of intrusion

Define what your consumers find acceptable. Don't invoke the law or your existing business relationship to "spy" on them. Give them the opportunity to explicitly accept the information you may use. And above all, explain your intentions.


Learning #6: Start embracing personalization today

If you are considering personalization, do it before your brand is considered irrelevant, as an eventual reconciliation with your consumer may prove difficult.

Quebecers in favour of secularism and a more restricted immigration

Categories: CROP in the news

Posted on 11-27-18 at 5:02 p.m.

A majority of Quebecers support François Legault's proposals to ban public servants in position of authority from wearing visible religious symbols and to reduce the yearly number of immigrants received by Quebec.

Click here for detailed survey results – FRENCH ONLY

The pollsters’ mea-culpa?

Categories: CROP in the news

Posted on 10-02-18 at 2:53 p.m.

Many will no doubt tell us that we, the pollsters, got it wrong, and we will have to accept their verdict.

In our defence, we can always cite the particularly low voter turnout (66% versus 71% in 2014), the fact that Liberal supporters stayed home, and so forth ... which wouldn't be entirely untrue.

But could we really have predicted such an unpredictable about-face? Polls are snapshots taken at a specific time and especially in a specific context. You have to be wary of their predictive value. A few days later, by the time voters arrive at the ballot box, the dynamics can be very different.

We are forced to trust what people tell us. Perhaps they do not always reveal their true feelings.

Former Quebec premier Robert Bourassa coined a now historic expression, "la prime à l'urne" (the ballot-box effect), arguing that Liberal voters were more discreet with polling firms; that they were reluctant to reveal their true voting intentions.

When Bourassa coined this expression, it was "cool" to vote for the Parti Québécois - a young, liberating, trendy, Montreal (but not elitist) party. In contrast to this image of the PQ, the Liberal Party was perceived as more "conservative." People were somewhat embarrassed to admit in a poll that they were voting Liberal. I am not saying that people outright lie to us, but some tell us that they are undecided while others act differently in the privacy of the voting booth.

In such a context, political analysts in Quebec have always criticized us for underestimating the Liberal support. Even until recently, they were advising us to allocate 50% of our undecideds to the Liberals in our distribution process in order to account for this anticipated boost at the ballot box. Imagine where we would be if we had done that for this last campaign!

However, if the fact that a party is perceived as "conservative" makes voters slightly embarrassed to admit that they will vote for it and pollsters consequently underestimate the support for that party, the CAQ may well have borne the brunt of this trend in this campaign.

In my last text for L'actualité and my blog, I pointed out that CAQ supporters clearly display a certain degree of ethnic intolerance. This party has forged an image of ethnic intolerance (remember the burkini ban proposed by Nathalie Roy, who was re-elected last night). One shouldn't forget that the campaign focused largely on immigration and that the CAQ has certainly appeared intolerant on this subject.

This party is undoubtedly perceived as a right wing, conservative party. In Quebec, such conservatism may be circumspect yet freely expressed in the privacy of the voting booth.

In hindsight, we can now conclude that the about-face at the ballot box, the so-called prime à l'urne, led pollsters to underestimate the CAQ support and overestimate the Liberal support, while properly estimating support for the two other parties.

The polling industry will assuredly be pondering these results but, at this point, it is not entirely clear how to proceed.

The solution for properly allocating "discreet" and undecided voters in this new context is not obvious. To have correctly predicted last night's election results would have required manipulations that are difficult to imagine!

CROP has invested in artificial intelligence to better predict consumer behaviour. But we do so by merging transactional data with attitudinal and declarative data. In the case of an election poll, however, our only data source is what people tell us, and we are forced to rely solely on that.

This election has changed things. We will have to be very creative in the coming years to get around what appears to be a new boost at the ballot box!

Alain Giguère
President, CROP Inc.

Controversy surrounding a CROP survey for AIMIA

Categories: CROP in the news

Posted on 04-03-18 at 2:41 p.m.

An unfortunate media and PR storm involving a CROP survey for AIMIA, Aeroplan's parent company, erupted last Thursday, forcing Aeroplan to apologize to its members.

As President of CROP, I feel it is my duty to respond to the misinformation surrounding this controversy.

The tempest began when an Aeroplan member took one of our surveys on the values of Canadian consumers and citizens and was "horrified" by a few of the questions we asked. She expressed her displeasure on Facebook and Twitter, and things quickly escalated from there.

A major part of our work is to understand the trends in the personal values of consumers and citizens. Experience has taught us that people's values are a much more reliable indicator of their choices of products, services and brands than their gender, age group or income, although we factor in these variables too. What upset this particular Aeroplan member were a few questions about personal values.

Even if the questions seem objectionable at first glance, they are used to measure fundamental societal issues that brands, institutions and society at large need to take into account when making important decisions. Furthermore, we do warn our survey respondents that they may find certain questions shocking and explain that their purpose is solely to help us understand people's personal values.

The first four statements in the table below are the specific questions that upset the complainant, along with the proportion of Canadians who agreed with these statements this year and a decade earlier. Balance is very important to us. That is why the last two statements in the table, also from the same survey, express the exact opposite sentiments and act as a counterbalance to the first four.

Our survey results indicate that Canadian society is in turmoil: neo-conservative values are on the rise while, at the same time, a push for self-expression running counter to traditional values is sharply rising too.

I believe that society needs to monitor these phenomena. Brands, companies and institutions have an obligation to understand where their stakeholders stand on such issues.

Our society seems to be in the process of fracturing. Some people feel that society is changing way too fast, prompting them to retrench, to seek comfort in traditional values. Others revel in the unprecedented possibilities for self-expression and fulfillment.

Brands, companies and institutions must keep up with these trends to ensure that their advertising, communications and social engagement policies are appropriate. Their future depends on their ability to engage their stakeholders in the best way possible, to share and express their values. To do so, they need to know them inside and out, warts and all!

CROP's goal is to understand how the values of Canadian consumers and citizens are evolving using the best means at our disposal. To do this, we have been asking probing and sometimes provocative questions for more than 50 years. Nevertheless, we are very sorry if our recent survey questions have offended some people. That was certainly not our intention.

Alain Giguère
President, CROP Inc.
April 3rd, 2018

Study on public services in Quebec

Categories: CROP in the news

Posted on 12-20-17 at 2:24 p.m.

Published on La Presse+, here’s a summary of a study on public services in Quebec conducted by CROP for GESTION, HEC Montréal’s magazine (French only).

http://plus.lapresse.ca/screens/553cc269-4db8-4c8f-a34e-ad3648c8f1bf__7C___0.html