The average British consumer has 260 unopened emails in their inbox, totalling more than 14 billion across the country, and more than half of those unseen messages are from brands, according to research by Webtrends. This article is copyright 2014 The Best Customer Guide.

The research, which canvassed 2,000 Britons aged 18 and over, found that 56% of those unopened emails are from brands that the respondents signed up to receive communications from, while 36% are genuine spam and 7% are from friends and family.

"One of the key reasons people are ignoring these emails is that they are irrelevant," said Webtrends' marketing director John Fleming. "While they've signed up to receive updates from brands, they're self-selecting which ones they actually read and only opening the emails they find relevant."

This 'brand spam' is also driving consumers crazy, as respondents said it's the most annoying thing a brand can do when it comes to communications - even worse than sending texts in the middle of the night. Almost all (84%) said that irrelevant brand spam drives them mad.

So how can brands ensure their costly marketing campaigns don't go to waste? The answer, it seems, is to be even more personal about it. According to Fleming, "Of the 20% who never open brand emails, 60% say they would be more likely to open them if the subject line contained information that was personalised to them. Likewise, of the 65% of people who sometimes or often open brand emails, 82% would be more likely to open them if the subject line contained personalised information."

The solution lies not only with the personalisation of emails, but new technologies offer businesses the opportunity to truly personalise the whole customer experience across a wide range of channels, such as web site optimisation and the use of data to enhance in-store experiences.

"Based on a user's behaviour, and the cumulative behaviour of others, marketers can change what people see on a website, even on-the-fly and even if they don't know who the user is. They can also use data to improve the in-store shopping experience through contextual personalisation - combining known online data with real-time information and location-based beacons technology to deliver in-the-moment special offers and enhanced services to customers," said Fleming.

The company expects to see many more businesses starting to do this. The potential is great, but brands will need to be careful: While marketers are easily excited by what this new frontier of contextual personalisation and location marketing offers, to many consumers the idea sounds both intimidating and invasive.

"As always, it's all about the implementation," said Fleming. "The survey revealed that only 19% of Britons say they don't respond more positively when they receive personalised content from brands. It will be important that businesses communicate with people in a way that doesn't simply bombard them with annoying or unwanted messages, but instead proposes recommendations, offers and experiences tailored to their wants and likes."

Importance of Personalisation
The importance of personalisation was found to be paramount, with 44% of Britons saying they find personalised recommendations useful. In fact, Britons are most likely to respond positively to brand communications or web pages that:

  • Deliver real time information relating to their interests (51%)
  • Include info or offers relating to previous purchases (44%)
  • Include info or offers relevant to their location (37%)

Personalisation matters greatly when it comes to social media, too:

  • 40% of consumers say they respond positively to sponsored content that is relevant to their interests
  • 21% say they respond positively to content that is relevant to what they've recently been browsing

Who do consumers want to hear from?
British consumers said they are more likely to open emails from the following kinds of companies:

  1. Retail brands (55%)
  2. Hobbies and interests / leisure (42%)
  3. Travel (33%)
  4. Financial services / banks (27%)
  5. Charities (12%)
  6. Media organisations (10%)

Why do customers unsubscribe?
The main reasons that people unsubscribe from brand communications are:

  1. Too many emails (48%)
  2. The emails are not relevant (36%)
  3. A bad real-life experience with the brand (11%)

Who's hardest to reach?
When it comes to not opening the emails they receive every day, men were found to be slightly worse offenders than women with an average 268 unopened emails in their inbox (compared to only 253 for women).

Interestingly, age plays a role too, with 25-34 year olds being the most likely not to open emails with an average of 352 unopened messages, compared to only 79 for people aged 55 and over.

The UK Office of National Statistics estimates that internet users make up 87% of the UK population, which in mid-2014 stood at some 64.1 million people.