2013 Email Marketing Best Practices: Part 1 – Getting Opened

2013 Email Marketing Best Practices: Part 1 – Getting Opened

Best-in-class marketing organizations today have established a healthy balance between inbound and outbound channels.

Inbound continues to be such a critical means of capturing demand and serving content (through owned, paid and earned channels) that hits all stages in the buying cycle.

Outbound email, on the other hand, is a critical way of creating demand and nurturing prospects throughout the buying cycle with a prescriptive approach tied to their behaviour.  CMOs continue to see the value in both as judged by the investments they are making.

MarketingSherpa’s 2012 Email Benchmarking Report identified that 67% of organizations increased their email budgets last year, with one-fifth of them increasing it by more than 30%.

More money, however, doesn’t mean a greater return.  Successful email marketing practices in 2013 differ greatly from those just a few years ago. Social media, mobile devices, increased privacy legislation and marketing automation are just a few of the key items that have made the email scene today much different from years gone by.

Over the course of the next three blog entries we will explore best practices for 2013 in the three key user milestones in engaging with email marketing: Getting Opened, Driving Response and Getting Delivered.

We will start today with getting opened.  As it is in driving click-throughs, relevance is also the key to getting your email opened in this age of inbox indigestion.  Here are some keys to getting emails opened in 2013:

  • From Field: Send it from a known individual, such as an account manager or executive sponsor, rather than a “company”.  Use variable data in the “From” field in your marketing automation or email marketing platform.
  • Subject Line Length: ~40 characters, however, more targeted audiences do respond to more specific and longer subject lines. Ensure the most impactful words are before truncation in preview panes and mobile devices. Send to yourself to test truncation.
  • Subject Line Copy: Focus on the audience and the offer, not yourself.  Your subject line needs to tell the reader “what’s in it for them”. Use action words to inspire and drive action.
  • Nurture Emails Triple Results: Instead of “batch & blast”, email today should be used primarily to nurture prospects through the buying cycle. Harvest inbound inquiries and apply marketing automation nurture streams against them. Remember that only ~8% of inquiries are sales ready now, yet 80% eventually buy.  Nurture emails with relevant offers tied to a prospect’s current buying cycle stage have driven 3X open and click-through rates in my experience.
  • Permission Marketing: Opt-in is not only good practice, it’s the law in many countries. If you are sending to many EU countries and Canada (Bill C-28) you need to be an opt-in practitioner. This may cull your list significantly, but it will also result in your communication being seen by a more relevant, engaged database.
  • Time and Day: It used to be Tuesday-Thursday, 9:30-11:30 am and 1:30-4:00 pm. Now it’s not nearly as clear. I prefer sending during off hours (8:00 pm, weekends). Mobile devices and “blended” work/life schedules mean people are always checking email. After hours usually means they aren’t in meetings or conference calls and hence have more focus to devote to your email.  Bottom line – test timing to find out what works best with your target audience(s).

Stressing over your open rates? Stop. Open rates are highly inaccurate. Those with images turned off don’t get counted. Those using preview panes do even if they don’t open the email.  While measurement is always important, the best way to analyze open rates is from a relative perspective. How are open rates trending over time for the same list segments?

Focus on the fundamentals and the best practices described above and also monitor the downstream data (click-throughs and inquiries).  Better “open” fundamentals will drive better response.

What else is working for you in getting emails opened?  Please comment.  And join us next week for Part 2 – Driving Response.

Mark Emond, Demand SpringMark Emond is President of Demand Spring. He has more than 16 years of client-side experience in marketing leadership roles with IBM, Cognos, Watchfire and Corel. He can be reached at mark@demandspring.com and on Twitter.



  1. Kim Nordlie McKean Reply

    Thanks, Mark! Great info. If only we could get our agencies up to speed on these best practices.

  2. Sam Reply

    Hi Mark, thank you for the article. Do you have any advice on the best way to launch an email campaign from scratch. I have a new product to launch, I have my list of buyers of this product, but I’m looking for the most effective way to distribute a mass email campaign to my list. What would be the best tool to use, such as Aweber or MailChimp to send out emails and what would you recommend to retain regular clients?

    Thanks for the article again.

    • emondm Reply

      Hi Sam – sorry for the delay. One of our customers is Constant Contact. They are the leader in email marketing for small businesses, with over 500,000 customers. Two of the things their customers love about them are free telephone support and a strong local presence in many North American markets. I recommend evaluating them.

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