The first thing you see in the morning...
It's romantic isn't it? When someone tells you:
I want to be the last thing you see at night and the first thing you see in the morning.
Not so much, though, when the person who tells you this is an email marketer. Yet 58% of people check their email before anything else when they wake up. So sexy.
What is so important in our email inboxes that we go there first thing in the morning? I mean, just look at the emails in your inbox right now, noting who those emails are from, since they might be the first interactions you have each day.
How many of the emails currently in your personal inbox came from companies rather than people?
I asked about 50 people that question, and here is what I learned. Between 50% and 98% of the emails in your personal inbox come from companies rather than people.
One person told me that the commercial email overload was so bad for her that she had actually abandoned her personal email address not once, but twice, in the last five years, just walking away from it entirely and setting up a new personal email address both times. She was on the 98%-end of that range.
But if you just look at your own email inbox right now, then you might realize that you are not from behind her.
It's just how the world works nowadays.
You have to give your email address to just about every company you buy from.
...for receipts, shipping confirmations, loyalty discounts, etc--your cell phone provider and digital subscriptions, of course.
But even your grocery store and favorite coffee shop ask you to hand it over, that is, if you want the carrot they dangle in front of your face, which might be the "loyalty rewards" for your frequent purchases or simply a digital receipt of your transaction (so you don't have to keep a shoe-box of paper receipts in between tax returns).
Sometimes you are required to give your email address, and sometimes you are simply enticed. But either way, in most cases, you hand it over.
There are many advantages that flow from being "email-connected" to the companies you buy from.
It just sucks that there are also some attendant downsides which are each pretty annoying:
- email overload in your personal inbox, as the hundreds of commercial emails companies send you per week pile up
- many of them of no value to you (I included three examples below)
- each email notification interrupting you, usually on your phone (or even your watch nowadays), when it hits your inbox
Well my underwear is not that old, but colorful silk does sound nice.
Wait, what's a "classic trench?"
More than 59% of people check their personal email at least 4 times per day.
...with about 33% of people actively checking their personal email all throughout the day--likely in immediate reaction to each email notification that pings, vibrates, or pops up.
All of that reaction time...to emails that mostly add no value to your life...it's a huge waste of time.
...and we are not just talking about spam. We are talking about emails from companies you actually do business with, the ones you basically have to receive as part of being a customer of those companies.
Since you actually need some of those emails, you cannot just unsubscribe.
The only way to stop all of the emails you get from the companies you do business with would be to stop doing business with them. But as annoying as these unwanted emails are, the fact is that if you value the product or service the company provides, then you are probably not willing to break up with the company just to avoid their emails.
It's like dating a really desirable person...who just talks too much.
I call this the problem of "inbox intrusion."
...or, as my attorney describes it, the problem of "spam that's not spam," because the emails you receive from companies you do business with are not technically spam--but they are still annoying. Inbox intrusion is the problem that results when you want and need to receive some, but not all, emails from companies you actually do business with.
Since "inbox intrusion" is not spam, you need more than just a spam filter.
Which types of emails are the most annoying?
As I mentioned already, I talked to 50 people about this problem, and I asked them this question, too. Their answers pointed to what might just be a common pattern of preferences, with a clear delineation between (what marketers call) "transactional" and "marketing" emails.
- Transactional emails are triggered by your actions as a customer (or user) of a company, and they include transaction receipts, invoices, shipment confirmation, password resets, changes to terms of service, and welcome emails when you first begin the relationship with a company.
- On the other hand, marketing emails have a fundamentally commercial objective--to advertise a product or service or promote the company's brand--and they include newsletters, promotions, discounts, and offers; although marketing emails can also be "triggered" by some action you take--such as putting something in your "cart" on a website and then leaving without purchasing--the objective remains fundamentally commercial, as opposed to serving some utility for the customer/user on the receiving end of the email, the way that a password reset email would.
The preference pattern: people tend to want/need transactional emails, have some tolerance/desire for discounts, but have less preference for all other marketing emails. There are exceptions, of course, but you tend to find them on a per-person-per-company basis, which makes the exceptions much less pattern-like than the starting preferences.
For example, you might like to receive the newsletter from one company you do business with but not from all companies you do business with. This is why the general preference pattern suggests that people tend to endure the bad (marketing emails) because they want/need the good (transactional emails).
The CAN-SPAM Act, in effect, assumes this preference pattern, as it only requires the option to unsubscribe from marketing emails, rendering transactional emails basically "unsubscribable." One trick email marketers often pull, though, is to put obvious marketing content into an email they deem transactional.
This usually does not dupe anyone, however, and true to the preference pattern described above, the people receiving those "marketing emails in transactional emails' clothing" get upset.
So we might amend the preference pattern to by adding: "...but, most of all, people find attempts by marketers to dupe them the most annoying of all."
Last point on this: people also find it really annoying when unsubscribe links either do not work at all or take you to a login screen you must pass through before finally arriving at screen for "managing your email preferences."
People want unsubscribe links to work, and people do not want to be forced to jump through hoops just to unsubscribe.
There are three ways people have tried so far to solve "inbox intrusion."
Attempt # 1 - Some people use the Gmail Promotions and Updates tabs.
The Gmail Promotions and Updates tabs features attempt to automatically detect marketing and transactional emails, and to then send transactional emails to the Updates tab and marketing emails to the Promotions tab. The purported benefit of this feature is that it automatically declutters the main inbox by removing some of the emails companies send you.
There are two reasons I label this method as "attempt # 1." First, it often does not work as claimed, which means promotional and transactional emails do not get filtered and thus land directly in your primary inbox right next to your personal emails from friends and family. Second, we do not actually know how many people have access to this feature--most people do not, it appears.
Here is the math on that second reason.
As of October 2018, Gmail boasted 1.5 billion users. That is a staggering number of users. But it is not actually the statistic that tells us how many people might be using Gmail's Promotions and Updates tabs feature. Why?
- One gmail email address = one user; and since many people have more than one gmail email address, the total number of people using Gmail is much less than 1.5 billion.
- The promotions and updates tabs only exists in the Gmail apps, whether web or mobile; so, for example, if an iPhone user has a gmail email address but uses the native iOS Mail app to check emails to that gmail email address, then there will be no promotions tab to separate out suspected promotional emails form the main inbox. The statistic you need, therefore, is how many people use non-Gmail email clients.
Moreover, since Gmail is a Google product, you have to remember where Google's revenue ($136 billion in 2018) comes from: advertising. Google makes money by connecting eyeballs with advertisers, and Gmail is one of Google's top mousetraps for snagging eyeballs ("if you don't pay for the product, you are the product"). Thus you should question whether your personal goals even align with Google's.
You want to solve the problem of inbox intrusion and delete as many sources of interruption as possible. Google wants the opposite. So the Promotions and Updates tabs are really features designed to push Gmail users closer to advertisers.
Lastly, this method does not separate your life as customer from your life as a person: you still have to give companies your personal email address; and despite whatever features Gmail has, or adds, that purport to help you better organize your emails from companies, the fact remains that some marketer somewhere can choose to intrude on your inbox anytime he/she wishes.
Plus, that marketer will often sell your personal info to other marketers, and sometimes hackers steal it when the company you entrusted with your personal email address gets lazy. This is why, despite all of the legitimate merits of gmail the free email address and Gmail the app, you still get constant complaints about spam, breaches of security, and unwanted emails.
Annoyances aside, this complaint about security is one to take seriously. Does it make sense to rely on the same tool that most "bad actors" and “inbox intruders” use to intrude on your inbox to protect yourself from intrusions?
Attempt # 2 - Some people use temporary emails addresses.
Sure, you can use temporary email addresses for temporary communication. One example would be when you want to download something a company is giving away for free in exchange for your email address. You can provide the company with a temporary email address, wait for the the free download to hit the inbox of that temporary email address, and then walk away, never to use that temporary email address again.
There are two reasons you cannot use temporary emails to solve inbox intrusion from companies you actually do business with.
- The emails contain your PII ("personally identifiable information" such as name, account numbers, credentials, and financial information), and temporary inboxes are neither private nor controlled by you.
- Companies you regularly do business with will send you emails regularly. So it is not feasible to get what you need from a temporary inbox and then dump it, because the company will continue to email you at that temporary email address.
I am a "power user" of temporary email addresses myself when my use for the email communication is temporary, but I cannot use temporary email addresses to manage all of my email communication with all of the companies I do business with.
This is another thing I have done for years, and I know other people (like Casey above) who also do it.
Sometimes the impetus for maintaining multiple inboxes is separating work emails from personal emails, or perhaps work emails from one job from work emails from another job. And 1 of the 50 people I talked to before writing this article said she had a separate email address she gives to companies when she initially subscribes to an email list--such as a newsletter or discount offer (mock example below).
Honestly, of the three attempts listed here, this is the best, in my opinion. Why? Because it separates the emails to one email address from the emails to the other email address, and you get to decide how to allocate senders to each.
Heck, you could even maintain two gmail email addresses to get both the separation and the small amount of organization that the promotions and updates tabs provide. But you would still have the attendant problems that stem from using a free email address provided by a company whose business model is to sell your attention to advertisers.
The fatal flaw of even this best attempt is that is does not change the fact that when you give companies your personal email address--even if you maintain multiple email addresses--you are still trying to use your personal email inbox to do two fundamentally different things:
- manage personal emails
- manage the emails companies send
As a result, you end up wasting time on unwanted emails that offer no value, having to trust companies to be good stewards of your personal email address (yikes!), and holding onto the bathwater when all you really want is the baby.
So let's unpack this to figure out what an actual solution might look like.
The static part of the problem might simply be clutter and lack of organization.
And if clutter and disorganization result from the lack of separation between emails companies send you and emails people send you, then once personal emails are separated from the emails that companies send, interacting with those company-sent emails might actually be enjoyable.
...the way people enjoy walking into a perfectly organized room in their house.
...or the way that, last year, 50 million people window-shopped Groupon for deals.
So a solution must offer separation and organization without severing your "grapevine" for finding good deals via email.
What else--this time thinking a little more inventively?
What if there were a CRM-like tool but for customers instead of companies?
If you have ever used a CRM before, then you should immediately understand how such a tool could better organize your emails, perhaps around each "provider account" you maintain--or just any provider who has your email address.
Further, many companies cannot even do their job without a CRM. Why not? Because a CRM brings a ton of efficiency benefits that extend beyond merely sending and receiving emails; CRMS, in other words, make it much easier to do all of the things you might need to do in between exchanging an email--such as understanding at a glance what the status of a relationship is, seeing all relevant files and documentations for that account, and a timeline of relationship events to date.
But there is no full-featured CRM-like tool for customers (we might call is a PRM for "provider relationship management"). There are some PRM-like things, but nothing as full-featured as to deserve the description of "CRM-like tool but for customers."
Bingo: a CRM-like tool, centered on a single email address, designated as the exclusive way for companies to communicate with you
🔥 Get company-sent emails out of the personal inbox.
🔥 Automatically organize all that communication.
🔥 Make subscribing fun again.
How? Use a PRM, and only give that email address to companies. Save your personal email address for people.
(Wait, did we just solve this?)
The one thing no one ever tells you?
You do not have to give companies your personal email address. Instead, you should only give them your PRM-connected email address.
(And bonus points if that PRM's business model did not entail selling all of your data to the highest bidder.)
(And double bonus points if it were still free to use.)
You might have guessed this already but...
We built this already. We indeed call it a PRM, and it is indeed free to use. And it will indeed make your world a better place.
We named it "Hubscriber," because we envision your PRM as the hub and all of the CRMs of the companies you buy from the spokes.
Hubscriber is a CRM-like tool designed for customers to manage all of the emails companies send them.
🤔 It might not have occurred to you before, but if you think about it, customers have a “job” to do to, too. Most of the time, that job is to either complain or buy.
Hubscriber makes it easy to do both without having to leave the platform. Through that lens, you might say that Hubscriber gives you “work-life balance for your inbox.”
But once you are managing all of your provider relationships from this single platform, you will realize that the value extends well beyond that inbox pain point (which we have been calling "inbox intrusion"). In many ways, Hubscriber could be everything that people (and companies) hoped Groupon could be.
You can request early access to Hubscriber below.