Relevance Is Overrated

MediaPost, 4/27/11

Marketers, especially email marketers, are obsessed with the topic of relevance. Of course, there are good reasons for this obsession. Messages targeted to subscribers based on their interests yield higher response rates. Too many irrelevant messages increase the likelihood people will unsubscribe from future email messages.

In recent years, I have become obsessed with the question, “What companies do customers think do the best job marketing to them?” After considering the thousands of responses received through surveys, focus groups, and one-on-one interviews, something occurred to me: relevance is overrated.

While marketers talk about relevance as a mark of success, consumers use the word “relevant” in negative contexts. Consumers talk about their irritation with irrelevant messages (whether in email, banner ads, Facebook, etc.). They talk about how many of the messages they receive are “not relevant” to them.

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