In 2016, the use of ad blocking software is expected to increase 34% from 2015. Forecaster eMarketer suggests double-digit growth in 2017 as well, with nearly 87 million internet users expected to adopt the practice. With their livelihood at stake, major publishers are at the forefront of solving this issue in a number of ways – ad-free paywalls, requests to be added to the user’s whitelisted sites, and logging in through Facebook or Google – none of which have been entirely effective.

Digiday recently reported that Condé Nast and The Washington Post have tested another approach: publishers request online visitors using ad-blockers register their email address in order to keep reading the site’s content without paying. Representatives from both publishers spoke to the power of gaining a user’s email address to increase and improve data collection, and reach the visitor through the inbox. As noted in the article, “Most people are unwilling to pay for news; asking for an email recognizes there are other ways of exchanging value.” This then raises an important question: What is the value of an email address?

Monetarily speaking, the value of an email address could be quantified as any given brand’s average lifetime customer value. But more importantly, what publishers and marketers want more than ever is to be granted access to all the data tied to an email address as it travels across the web, reading, searching, shopping, watching, listening, sharing and liking. This information could be further leveraged into targeted, customized, or personalized messaging. Mintel Trends such as Make it Mine, Data Creators, and Guiding Choice all suggest that consumers – aware that each click of the mouse, or swipe of the screen is tracked in one way or another – would be open to a more individualized, efficient, and relevant online experience. This advertiser’s utopia would therefore increase the value of a consumer’s email address exponentially.

And yet, it is the consumer who actually assigns a value to their email address, deciding when to give it up and to whom. This value also likely fluctuates as a result of any number of variables, including the reputation of the party that is requesting it, or how interested the visitor is in what they would be getting in return. Targeted or not, consumers seem wary about being barraged with advertising, or sharing their personal data, and for good reason. Once shared, consumers assume their email address will then be added to yet another marketing list or newsletter they have no interest in receiving, and did not sign up for. Consumers are also protective of their email addresses for concerns over privacy, adding another layer of friction. The Mintel Trend Attention Economy addresses another point: consumers are increasingly aware of how valuable their attention is to advertisers and can therefore demand more for it.

In this environment, where consumers hold most of the power within the transaction, marketers should do three things when requesting, or having obtained, a new customer’s email address:

1. Be transparent with your reasons

Consumers collectively received more than 471 billion commercial emails from January to May, and read rates averaged around 13% during that time*. The overwhelming lack of interest in billions of emails is due to irrelevancy, fatigue, or both. Whether you intend to send promotional emails, or want to improve visitor data collection, telling the customer why you require their email address makes clear the transaction taking place and allows the customer to opt in based on transparent terms. If a customer has opted-in to receiving emails, they are more likely to read them.

2. Establish trust

Consumers feel that loyalty is generated from a positive customer experience, and trust is a key factor in consumer loyalty according to Mintel report The Role of Loyalty in Financial Services US 2015. Therefore, it is imperative for marketers to build on the transparency established when collecting an email address by respecting it. Consumers have entrusted that the address will not be used beyond the established reasons provided in its collection. If they are then subjected to newsletters or promotional offers they did not sign on for, they will be less inclined to read the email and more inclined to unsubscribe. Trust is established when marketers show consumers that they value their customer’s email address and do not abuse that privilege.

3. Let the customer call the shots

Allowing the customer to decide when, how, and why they receive emails from marketers ensures a higher level of relevancy at a tolerable frequency. Three recent examples demonstrate how brands request customer engagement in a way that lets the recipient control the B2C conversation, all at different points along the customer journey:

  • Rockport invited new customers to “make the rules” via a preferences site to determine when and what they wanted to receive information on, as well as personal information to receive local news and birthday promotions.
  • Discover cross-sell emails allow recipients to be reminded about the promotion at a later date if they wanted time to consider the offer.
  • Foot Locker recently requested customers on its email list to confirm interest in future campaigns because their “email subscription is about to expire.”

The more marketers understand that consumers value their personal data, and – being the gateway to much of that – their email address, the more they are able to demonstrate that value is shared. Transparency, trustworthiness, and ceding control are three very easy ways for marketers to demonstrate respect to their customers. As a result, the exchange between brands and customers will more closely resemble that which all brands want: a relationship.

* Email data provided by Mintel ePerformance/eDataSource as of May 6, 2016

Eric Fahey is a Research Manager at Mintel Comperemedia, where he specializes in email and digital marketing, consumer trends, and competitive intelligence.

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