US 2021 Messaging Engagement Report

Detailed insights into how Americans engage with email & SMS.

Chapter 1

Introduction and Background

Late last year, we released the 2020 Global Messaging and Engagement Report to share how (and why) people worldwide engage with email and SMS and what elements of a message make them more or less valuable to the recipient. Our report focused on individuals from Gen Z to Baby Boomers in the US, UK, France, Germany, and Japan.

Now, we’re releasing a US-specific report for you to find more details about sending messages like email and SMS, to a US-based audience. This US 2021 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 engagement.

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Methodology and Data Collection for Recipient Engagement

Chapter 2

Chapter 2

Methodology and Data Collection for Recipient Engagement

We conducted research for this report with a qualitative ethnographic study and a quantitative online survey. By combining the qualitative and quantitative insights, we put together a clear picture of what recipients want from companies sending them emails and texts.  

Qualitative Insights

We interviewed 20 participants in the US to ask them about what companies can do to improve email and text communications to make them more engaging. These 20 participants were segmented by age group and divided into generational age brackets.20 Interviews with five respondents from each age demographic surveyed

See the complete 2020 Global Messaging and Engagement Report to learn more about methodology and data collection for this report. 

Quantitative Online Survey

We also conducted an online survey to understand consumer marketing email preferences and uncover the key best practices that companies can follow to get better customer engagement from emails and text messages.

A chart showing of the 799 total respondents, 25% fell into each age bracket: 18-24, 25-35, 36-50, and 50-65We sent the survey to 200 respondents in each of four age groups: Gen Z (18-24), Millennials (25-35), Gen X (36-50), and Baby Boomers (51-65). This put our total US sample size at 799.

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People Overwhelmingly Prefer Email and SMS/MMS

Chapter 3

Chapter 3

People Overwhelmingly Prefer Email and SMS/MMS

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. 

We asked survey respondents to choose the 3 communication channels they engage with most often. The top channels were:

  1. Email
  2. SMS
  3. Social Media Ads

A chart indicating the top three communications channels people prefer to engage with most often. The top channels were email, SMS and social media ads. However, keep in mind that specific generations prefer different channels over others. For example, Baby boomers overwhelmingly prefer email and SMS over alternative channels, while Gen Zers lean more towards email and social media.

Unlike the other channels, email and SMS are communication channels customers opt into. Think about it.

You don’t choose to see banner, search engine, social media, 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 context in mind, it’s no wonder that consumers overwhelmingly prefer email and SMS to other forms of communications.

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Email Insights

Chapter 4

Chapter 4

Email Insights

Email is an indispensable channel of communication between businesses and customers. Across the board, recipients in the United States have very few generational differences regarding email preferences. Most people 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 their easy access to the internet and ability to push notifications to users about new messages—that’s why it’s equally important (if not more so) to optimize your email messages for mobile.

When users receive unwanted or unfamiliar emails, they tend to use the subject line to decide whether or not it will get deleted. Similarly, if a particular company sends emails too frequently, recipients tend to unsubscribe or mark those messages as spam.


What Makes an Email Memorable?

Getting to the inbox is half of the battle with email communications, but recipients in the US tend to ignore emails that are not memorable or relevant to their interests. The sender and subject line are determining factors in deciding which emails are clicked and opened. Messages from unfamiliar senders are usually deleted or sent to spam, while messages from familiar or favorite brands may get opened just because they are familiar. Additionally, subject lines that include big sales or deals are more likely to be opened than subject lines that bury the lead.

A graph sharing what factors respondent's say impact their decision to open an email. Personalization

Your recipients have decided to open your emails—awesome! Now, you’ve got to make sure that the content of your message is engaging and encourages conversion.

Let’s start with personalization. Addressing emails to individual recipients rather than using generic greetings helps make your emails feel more relevant to recipients. This also applies to some promotional email content. Recipients tend to engage with content that feels like it was made for them, including messages that suggest new products based on the information they’ve provided (think, “because you purchased X, you may like Z.”). That being said, too much personalization tends to feel creepy and intrusive for recipients in the US. Stick to using only the information they explicitly provide.

Keep it Relevant

Informative, relevant emails win the day, every time. Order confirmations, tracking links, sale offers, and other similar communications are more likely to be clicked than emails that don’t serve a specific purpose.A graph summarizing how incluential personalization, layout/appearance, discount, catchy/fun content, and images/video are in making an email memorable to consumers.

Colors and Images and Gifs, Oh My!

Aesthetically pleasing messages are also recipient favorites. This means including color, images, gifs, and interactive elements when they’re relevant and add to the content. Think images of the products on sale or new menu items. Gifs are a welcome addition to email, as they provide some visual interest with color and movement without feeling intrusive.

Recipients are less fond of video in emails, but if video can’t be avoided, please keep the following in mind:

  • Clips should be 1 to 2 minutes in length, at most
  • Videos should NOT autoplay, especially if they include sound
  • Videos should be embedded into the email; try not to redirect recipients to a new page or site

Characteristics of Unwanted Emails

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 recipients in the United States.

A chart detailing the top factors that turn customers off from emails

Think Twice Before Sending

Generally, recipients are looking for new information in your email communications. If you don’t include fresh or relevant information in your messages, recipients are less likely to open future communications. Emails that look like mass communications (i.e., no personalization) also tend to get ignored.

Stay Out of the Spam Folder

Spammy content is a red flag for recipients in the US. 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 plain text emails with no visual elements, as they can look unprofessional and “thrown together.” Shortened links that direct recipients away from the original message for “more information” can also ring alarm bells.

Don’t Bait and Switch

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 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’re offering, and your recipients will continue to engage with your content.

Frequency of Messages

As discussed above, the frequency of your emails plays a big role in your relationship with your recipients. If too many emails are received in one day or another short period, recipients are likely to make spam complaints or unsubscribe. Recipients generally prefer to receive no more than one promotional email per week from a subscribed brand. If the information in the message is new or relevant, they’re willing to receive messages from retailers around every 3 days or so. If the information gets too repetitive or frequent, recipients are less likely to take your communications seriously.

How frequently do you like to receive emails from companies or brands you're interested in?

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SMS/MMS Insights

Chapter 5

Chapter 5

SMS/MMS Insights

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 are received, let alone read by your customers. SMS/MMS marketing, on the other hand, can offer a more direct line to your prospects and 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 ensure they aren’t 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:


How Often Do Customers Want Texts?

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 be reaching out to customers. When we asked what message frequency consumers prefer, the results were fairly divisive. 

While the majority of respondents across all age groups (35%) said they’d prefer to receive SMS/MMS messages from a brand just once a week, 22% said they prefer daily texts, and 20% would opt for once-a-month messaging. A chart detailing how often each generation would prefer to receive SMS/MMS messages from brands

When we broke 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 17% of Gen Z respondents said they’d want to receive SMS marketing once a day, as opposed to the all-generation average of 22%. The younger generation was more in favor of twice-a-week messaging than any other age group, with 16% of Gen Zers saying they prefer bi-weekly texts, which Boomers ranked as their least preferred frequency. 


How Often Do Customers Interact with Mobile Messages?

Just because your audience is open to receiving mobile messages from your brand doesn’t mean they’re always reading or interacting with your content. Across all generations, we found that only 1 in 4 customers say they frequently or very frequently interact with branded SMS/MSS messages, while 31% seldom or never engage. A chart detailing how often each generation would interact with an SMS/MMS message after receiving one.

Of the age groups surveyed, we found older generations were more likely to interact with SMS/MMS messages than Gen Z. While only 17% of respondents aged 18-24 said they interact with texts frequently or very frequently, Millennials (27%), Gen Xers (28%), and Baby Boomers (26%) said they were more likely to engage. Even though Gen Z is notorious for being glued to their cellphones, the youngest generation had the highest number of respondents (9%) who say they never interact with SMS/MMS messages. 

Overall, the vast majority of users 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. 


So, What Makes an Engaging SMS? 

To better understand what types of messages and deals engage customers, we asked respondents to rank the most influential factors that would strongly convince them to open a text. 

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 (47%). Relevant Products and Content tied for third place, with 36% of respondents saying those factors would strongly influence their decision to interact with a branded message. A chart detailing the top factors and influence consumers to engage with an SMS/MMS message.

Top Texting Turn-Offs

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 three texting turn-offs are when customers receive SMS/MMS messages:

  1. Too frequently (77%)
  2. From an unknown brand/company (65%)
  3. That are irrelevant (60%)

“I wish SMS messages would be different each time. Not just the same type of promo or info that they sent to everyone. If it was more personalized, that would also be better.” (US Gen X)

Grammatical and spelling errors, pushy language, and un-personalized content were less egregious offenses, with only 44%, 32%, and 22% of respondents saying they were bothered by them, respectively. Chart detailing the top three factors that turn each generation off the most from brand's SMS/MMS messages

Sensitivity to typos and missing commas was directly correlated to age. While 50% of Gen Zers listed poor spelling and grammar as a turn-off, only 39% of Boomers seemed to mind. Boomers, however, were the age group most irritated by receiving a message from an unknown brand or company. So, regardless of your target audience, be sure to proofread your SMS/MMS messages and ensure customers explicitly know when they opt-in to receive texts from your brand.

Best Practice Tip:

How to find the best send frequency for your audience

To find out what sending 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.

Want to Know How Users in the UK, France, Germany, & Japan Prefer to Engage with Email/SMS?


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Key Differences Between Age Groups

Chapter 6

Chapter 6

Key Differences Between Age Groups

For the most part, Gen Zers to Baby Boomers share a lot in common when it comes to communication preferences. However, our research did reveal a few important differences:

Fun Subject Lines

Gen Z and Millennial recipients like to see variety in their subject lines with a mix of normal text, all caps, and an occasional emoji here and there. However, older generations don’t find emojis professional.


“It just doesn't really do anything for me to see an emoji there. A lot of the emoji ones are spam anyway, so I usually skip over those.” 

US Gen X

Know your audience. If you’re sending to Baby Boomers or Gen Xers, 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.


“ALL CAPS stand out to me. It almost shouts at me. It just screams urgency, or like, check this out. When it's something like that, just seeing big, bold letters…it just stands out and makes me want to check it out. It just entices me.”

US Gen Z

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.


Older Generations Like Text

Texting isn’t just for the younglings—Baby Boomers and Gen Xers actually prefer it more than any other generation. Gen Z and millennials chose email and social media ads over SMS (although SMS was a very close third).

Texting is quick, easy, and convenient. Whether it’s a text to confirm an appointment or a text about a big sale, older generations overwhelmingly prefer it more than through any other channel (besides email). However, don’t take a batch and blast approach. Americans strongly dislike too many communications—optimize which channels you’ll send through based on your audience preferences and data.


"I get these same text messages every day and then they send the same thing via email. It is too much.”

US baby boomer

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Chapter 7

Chapter 7


Different countries and generations have different messaging preferences. To increase your engagement and conversions, you’ll have to adapt your marketing strategies for each unique audience.

Every niche audience will have its special nuances, but hopefully, this data can give you a jumping-off point for your campaign segmenting. As always, use your own engagement metrics and A/B testing to continue optimizing your messaging tactics.

Interested in how other countries engage with messages? Download our 2020 Global Messaging Engagement Report to learn how different generations across the US, UK, France, Germany, and Japan interact with channels like email and SMS.

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