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How can you avoid Clutter folders?

5 December 2016
by Adam Oldfield

With so much effort being ploughed in to avoiding junk folders, many marketers are now overlooking another growing problem – Clutter. But this clever cousin can prove just as punishing when it comes to ROI.

First, it’s important to understand what exactly ‘Clutter’ is.

It is pitched, by Microsoft, as an intelligent algorithmic feature which learns a user’s email habits and activities, so that it can then filter low-importance communications into a sub folder. The aim is to create a distraction free inbox and legitimately reduce the level of ‘noise’ that an individual is exposed to.

First introduced in November 2014, it became a default setting for all Office 365 users by the end of June last year. And the impact on inbox placement has been vast. Clutter is now said to move over one million emails per day, and counting, reportedly saving users an average of 82 minutes per month.

This may all sound familiar – after all, many marketers were stung by Google’s Promotions tab for email. But Clutter’s auto-sort functionality is smarter still. And, as consumers start to rely on technology to rationalise more and more of their daily tasks, marketers are likely to find it harder to bypass.

Whilst a spam or junk folder prevents inbox placement due to factors such as poor mail server configuration, Clutter is able to identify a brand that over-penetrates its base. Even if the recipient is a satisfied, long-standing customer, and the brand has a fantastic sender profile, it is still possible to fall foul of Clutter.

It must be noted that Clutter is intended to be used as a second tier inbox. In essence, ‘relegation’ to Clutter is not intended as a penalty. But, in reality, it is. It has an unequivocal impact on open rates, because people simply forget to check the content that resides there.

So how do you avoid Clutter folders?

Our primary piece of advice is something we often say to our clients and peers. See email for what it is. You wouldn’t continuously and overtly pressure someone into a purchase if you saw them face to face every day. So don’t do the same via their inbox.

Engagement is the enemy of the Clutter folder, because opens and clicks illustrate relevance. So, don’t just use email to sell. Use it to interact. Think carefully about where your email can really add value, and what will prompt the recipient to stop and do something. That’s step one.

Frequency must also be considered and a careful balance is certainly required. As a marketer you need to maintain your email reputation and sender profile to avoid junk. But with over-regularity, you create the risk of the user becoming inbox blind. Yes they may not unsubscribe or complain. But if they don’t open or click either, Clutter will helpfully remove the distraction.

Lastly, it is important to monitor and measure, and use marketing learnings to understand what to do, when and how to keep Inbox interaction alive. We work with our clients, for example, so that they can gain tech-based insight into their base. It’s then possible to segment, personalise and trigger, for maximum email success. In other words, if you know that certain people like X, you can tailor your communications accordingly and send the right content at the right time, based on a life stage. These three elements combined, provide a very powerful Clutter antidote.

Photo of Adam Oldfield
Adam Oldfield
Managing Director & Founder

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