US 2022 Messaging Engagement Report
Detailed insights into how Americans engage with email & SMS.
Earlier this year, Twilio SendGrid released its 2022 Global Messaging and Engagement Report to share how and why recipients around the world prefer to engage with email and SMS. Our report surveyed more than 4,800 respondents from the US, Brazil, UK, France, Germany, and Japan—but that was a lot of data to squeeze into one report.
To better showcase the data and dive deeper into generational differences, we’ve released this US-specific report with more details about sending messages to a US-based audience. This 2022 US Global Messaging Engagement Report deep dives into how US recipients engage with email and SMS. Using this research, we provide best practices and data-backed strategies for improving your customer engagement.
This report uses data collected from both a quantitative online survey and qualitative ethnographic study. By combining this qualitative and quantitative data, we get a clear picture of what US recipients want from branded emails and texts.
To better understand global consumers’ email and SMS preferences, we sent a 20-question survey to 800 US-based respondents. The survey included questions like:
Of the 800 US respondents, 200 individuals fell into each of the following age groups: Gen Zers (18–24), millennials (25–35), Gen Xers (36–50), and baby boomers (51–65). The total global survey sample size was 4,800 respondents.
Next, we recruited 20 participants (5 per age group) to participate in a qualitative study to help us understand their email and SMS preferences more in-depth.
To start, we had them track their email usage over the course of 5 days to learn what role personal email plays in their lives and unearth any generational differences. Each day, our participants received a prompt to answer 3–5 questions, film short video responses, and share screenshots and phone screen recordings of their inboxes. This helped us understand each participant’s impressions of and emotional reactions to the emails and texts they received throughout the day.
At the end of the 5 days, we then scheduled a 30 to 45-minute phone interview with each individual to review their responses and learn more about their personal email habits and preferences. This helped us further flesh out our findings from the quantitative survey. It also helped us to better understand exactly what recipients around the world and different generations like and dislike about branded communications.
Less is more, especially when it comes to messaging. Customers don’t want to receive messages across every channel—they typically want to choose where they communicate with your business.
In our global survey, we asked respondents to choose the 3 communication channels they engage with most often. The top channel was email, which is no surprise as it’s held the No. 1 spot since we launched this report in 2019. New this year, however, is the fact that SMS/MMS and social media ads tied globally as the second most popular communications channel.
In 2021, 49% of global respondents listed SMS/MMS as one of their top 3 preferred communications channels, while 46% listed social media ads. This year, both channels tied with 48% of participants ranking them as a preferred channel.
US-consumers’ top 3 communications channels
1. Email (68%)
1. Email (65%)
2. SMS (49%)
2. SMS / Social Media (48%)
3. Social Media (46%)
3. Phone (28%)
When we look at preferences by recipient age, however, it’s clear that different generations prefer specific channels over others. For example, baby boomers overwhelmingly prefer email and SMS over alternative channels, while Gen Zers prefer to interact with their favorite brands over social media more than any other channel.
Unlike the other channels, email and SMS are 2 communication channels that explicitly require an opt-in from customers. Think about it. You don’t choose to see a search engine or YouTube ads, but you do decide when you sign up for a company’s email list or check the little box that allows them to send you promotional text and email messages. With that in mind, it’s no wonder that consumers prefer email and SMS to other forms of communications.
That said, email marketers can stand to learn something from the rising popularity of social media ads. Engaging copy and visuals aside, there is one other key differentiating factor that drives the efficacy of these ads: personalization. Social media platforms have a wealth of information on each user, allowing advertisers to target specific audiences based on factors like age, gender, location, behavior, and more.
If your brand wants to learn more about your customers, you can create customized communications that resonate with each of your customers, drive conversions, and keep them coming back for more. Being able to build personalized, real-time communications experiences for your customers can help you delight users across every step of the customer journey.
Globally, email is an indispensable communication channel between businesses and customers—and this is even more apparent in the US. Curiously, US recipients have very few generational differences regarding email preferences. They tend to check and read their email throughout the day rather than at specific times—if they’re interested, they’ll click. Smartphones are the primary outlet for checking email because of the ease of access to the internet and ability to push notifications to users about new messages.
Even more revelatory, when users receive unwanted or unfamiliar emails, they tend to use the subject line to decide whether or not to delete it. Similarly, if a particular company sends emails too frequently, recipients tend to unsubscribe or mark those messages as spam.
Getting to the inbox is half of the battle with email communications, but US recipients tend to ignore emails that are unmemorable or irrelevant to their interests.
The sender and subject line are the determining factors in deciding which emails get clicked and opened. While messages from unfamiliar senders usually get deleted or sent to spam, messages from familiar or favorite brands may get opened just because the brand is familiar. Most notably, emails that include big sales or deals are more likely to get opened and clicked.
Your recipients have decided to open your emails—awesome! Now you’ve got to make sure that the content of your message engages and encourages conversion.
Let’s start with personalization. With 63% of US recipients saying personalization would strongly or somewhat influence whether they found an email memorable, it’s clearly something modern recipients want or even expect. Our qualitative insights mirrored these findings, with US recipients admitting they’re less likely to read and act on emails that seem generic or where there’s no effort to make them feel personal or relevant to the inbox owner.
Personalizing your email doesn’t have to be too complex, either. Addressing emails to individual recipients rather than using generic greetings helps make your emails feel more relevant.
This also applies to some promotional email content. Recipients tend to engage with content that feels like it’s for them, including messages that suggest new products based on the information they’ve provided. To back that up, 33% of US recipients said they want to receive content relevant to their interests, and 25% want product recommendations based on their past purchases (think “because you purchased X, you may like Z”).
Too much personalization tends to feel creepy and intrusive for US recipients. Stick to using only the information they explicitly provide to your brand to avoid overstepping.
We also asked US respondents if they’d be willing to share more information with their favorite brands for more personalized messages. The results were overwhelmingly pro sharing.
Across all generations, 49% of participants said they’d be open to sharing more info with brands. That said, 26% of US recipients are still protective of their personal info and said they wouldn’t entertain the idea of giving brands more information about themselves. While baby boomers and Gen Zers were the most protective of their personal information, more than half of all millennial and Gen X recipients had no issue offering info in exchange for more personalized content.
Informative, relevant emails win the day every time. Emails containing critical information—like order confirmations, tracking links, and other similar communications—are more likely to get clicked than emails that don’t serve a specific purpose. Plus, keep in mind that most subscribers opt into your email and SMS lists to stay informed of discounts and promotions. On that note, 72% of US recipients said an eye-catching offer would strongly or somewhat influence their decision to open an email, while 77% said it would convince them to click.
Aesthetically pleasing messages are also recipient favorites. This means including color, images, GIFs, and interactive elements when relevant and can add to the content. Think images of the products on sale or new menu items. GIFs, in particular, are a welcome addition to email, providing some visual interest with color and movement without feeling intrusive. Recipients are less fond of video in emails, however, but if you can’t avoid video, please keep the following in mind:
US Gen X
We’ve all experienced spammy messages and senders that just keep sending, but it can be hard to know how to avoid this behavior on the other side of the inbox. Let’s talk about what not to do when sending to US recipients.
Generally, US recipients look for new information in your email communications. If you don’t include fresh or relevant information in your messages, US recipients are less likely to open future communications. Emails that look like mass communications (e.g., no personalization) also tend to get ignored.
You’ll also want to check your messages over for spelling and grammar mistakes before you hit send. Too many errors can make your recipients think your message is spam.
Spammy content is a red flag for US recipients. If they don’t recognize the sender or think a subject line seems sketchy, they won’t bother opening the email. The same goes for plaintext emails with no visual elements, as these can look unprofessional and thrown together. Shortened links that direct recipients away from the original message for more information can also ring alarm bells.
Another red flag for recipients is the tendency of brands to bait and switch on deals teased in subject lines. Knowing that subject lines are the deciding factors in whether or not people open your emails can tempt senders to write misleading subjects, but please, don’t fall into this trap! This only leads to recipients distrusting your communications and can increase your odds of ending up in the spam folder. Stick to honest subject lines about the deals you offer, and your recipients will continue to engage with your content.
As discussed above, the frequency of your emails plays a big role in your relationship with your recipients. If your recipients receive too many emails in a day or another period of time, they’re likely to mark your messages as spam or even unsubscribe.
That said, our US respondents were fairly split on how often they want to hear from brands, with 37% of recipients open to daily emails and 33% preferring weekly emails from their favorite brands. Why the split? US recipients generally are open to receiving emails more frequently from brands if the information in the message is new or relevant. When the information gets too repetitive, US recipients are less likely to want your communications in their inboxes.
US Baby Boomer
Compared to 2021, consumer attitudes stayed relatively similar year over year with a slight increase in interest in receiving emails less frequently. In 2021, 41% of US respondents wanted to receive daily emails, while that number dropped to 37% in 2022. Also, interestingly, the percentage of US recipients who wanted emails only once a week increased from 30% to 33% year over year.
That said, just remember that each audience is different. Find the right email frequency that works for your unique audiences and keep it. Or, better yet, give your subscribers the power to choose how frequently they hear from your brand with an email preference center.
US Gen X
SMS/MMS marketing can be a powerful way to reach and engage customers outside of their crowded email inboxes. With an average email open rate of just 14.5% and the opportunity for an email to get lost or marked as spam, it can be hard to guarantee your email messages reach recipients, let alone get read by your customers. SMS/MMS marketing can offer a more direct line to your prospects and existing users.
With an average open rate of 94%, SMS/MMS marketing is becoming an increasingly popular way for brands to send targeted, relevant, and concise messages to customers. That said, brands need to tread lightly to avoid pestering customers or coming off too forward.
To help you navigate the murky waters of SMS/MMS marketing, we asked customers how often they want to receive texts from their favorite brands, what type of content they find engaging, and what factors cause them to unsubscribe. Here’s what they shared and how you can use these findings to build or optimize your SMS/MMS strategy:
Whether you’re just getting started with SMS/MMS marketing or looking to optimize your existing program, you might be wondering how often you should reach out to customers. When we asked what message frequency consumers prefer, the results were fairly divisive.
While most US respondents across all age groups (35%) said they’d prefer to receive SMS/MMS messages from a brand just once a week, 20% said they prefer daily texts, and 15% would opt for once-a-month messaging.
Breaking down the findings by age group, we found that while Gen Z is known for being attached to their mobile devices, they were less likely to prefer daily texts from brands. Only 14% of Gen Z respondents said they’d want to receive SMS marketing once a day, as opposed to the all-generation average of 20%. Instead, the younger generation was the most interested of any age group to receive emails only once a month, with 19% of Gen Z respondents ranking that as their preferred email frequency.
To find out what send frequency works best for your unique audiences, run tests to see how often your customers or different audience segments like being reached. You should also track message content to determine if certain users are more open and receptive to specific messages—such as discounts or new product launches—but want nothing to do with other types of content. No one knows your unique audience as well as you do, so run tests to see what resonates.
While your audience is open to receiving mobile messages from your brand, that doesn’t mean they always read or interact with your content. Across all generations, we found that only 1 in 4 US customers say they frequently or very frequently interact with branded SMS/MMS messages, while 31% seldomly or never engage.
Of the age groups surveyed, Gen Zers and baby boomers are the least likely to interact with branded text messages. On the other hand, 34% of millennials and 30% of Gen Xers said they interact with texts frequently or very frequently. Even though Gen Z is notorious for being glued to their cell phones, 38% of these younger recipients said they seldom or never interact with SMS/MMS messages.
Overall, the vast majority of users (45%) reported they sometimes engage with SMS/MMS messages, which prompted us to dig deeper into what factors convince customers to check their texts in the following sections.
To better understand what types of messages and deals engage customers, we asked US respondents to rank the most influential factors that would strongly convince them to open a text.
US customers across all generations said they were more likely to engage with an SMS message when it included an offer/discount (48%) or critical information (44%). Email content and receiving relevant product recommendations were also important to recipients, with 35% and 32% of respondents, respectively, saying those factors would strongly influence their decision to interact with a branded message.
US Gen Zer
To keep your audience engaged with your texts, you need to practice proper SMS etiquette and deliver relevant, valuable content to customers. We found the top 3 texting turnoffs are when customers receive SMS/MMS messages that are:
Pushy language and impersonalized content were less egregious offenses, with only 13% and 8% of respondents saying they felt bothered by them, respectively.
US Gen Xer
US Gen Zer
To avoid confusion, notify customers when they opt into receiving text messages from your brand. Your welcome text should explain what type of content they should expect to receive and how frequently your brand will share new content. Plus, your recipients should also be able to easily identify that your messages come from your brand and have the opportunity to opt out of your SMS/MMS messages if they’re no longer interested. This can ensure your subscriber list consists of only recipients who want and expect to receive your messages.
For the most part, US Gen Zers to baby boomers share a lot in common when it comes to communication preferences. That said, our research did reveal a few important differences:
Texting isn’t just for the younglings—baby boomers and Gen Xers actually prefer it more than any other generation. Gen Zers and millennials chose email and social media ads over SMS (although SMS was a very close third).
It’s also quick, easy, and convenient. Whether it’s a text to confirm an appointment or to spread awareness of a big sale, older generations overwhelmingly prefer it more than any other channel (besides email, of course). That said, don’t take a batch-and-blast approach. US-based recipients strongly dislike too many communications, so optimize which channels you’ll send through based on your audience preferences and data.
Of the age groups surveyed in the US, Gen Z was the most passionate about personalization. They were the most likely of any generation to want to receive messages with past products they purchased, new product recommendations, and content relevant to their interests.
What’s curious, though, was that only half of US Gen Z respondents said they’d be willing to share more information with brands for more personalized content. This could be because the younger generation views personalization as a basic expectation rather than a nice-to-have email/SMS feature.
US-based Gen Z and millennial recipients like to see variety in subject lines, with a mix of normal text, all caps, and an occasional emoji here and there. Older generations, on the other hand, don’t find emojis professional.
US baby boomer
US baby boomer
Know your audience. If you’re sending to baby boomers or Gen Xers in the US, be more conservative with your email subject lines and content. However, if you’re sending to a younger segment, experiment, have fun, and be a bit more creative.
Regardless of your initial strategy, A/B test all of your subject lines to learn from your recipients and improve your email marketing efforts. You may find that your segmented younger generation is more likely to open emails without emojis—with that data, you can adjust your strategy accordingly.
We know that was a lot of data and insights to parse through, so here’s a brief summary of our top takeaways for sending messaging communications to US-based recipients:
That said, keep in mind that every audience is unique and has different messaging preferences. To increase your email and SMS engagement, you’ll have to listen to what your recipients tell you with every open and click and adjust your marketing strategies accordingly.
Every niche audience will have its special nuances, but hopefully, this data can give you a jumping-off point for your marketing campaign segmenting to US recipients. As always, use engagement metrics and A/B testing to continue optimizing your messaging tactics.
Interested in how other countries engage with messages? Download our 2022 Global Messaging Engagement Report to learn how different generations across the UK, Brazil, France, Germany, and Japan interact with channels like email and SMS.
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