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Recognition, Relationship, and Reward

  |  December 12, 2011   |  Comments

Trends and benchmarks in open rate by message type.

You know you're an email geek when the release of the Q3 2011 Email Trends and Benchmarks report presented by Epsilon and the Email Experience Council (EEC) is like an early Christmas gift!

As always, there's a lot of good data here - data you should be using not to define the success or failure of your email marketing program, but that can help you identify strengths of your program and areas where you should be testing to improve performance.

The data is broken down in a few ways - by industry as well as by type of email message. Today I want to focus on the latter.

Epsilon and the EEC have defined six message types (definitions are my own; it would be nice if the report included definitions, but it does not), which are:

  • Marketing. Straight promotional email - sole purpose of the message is to drive a purchase (or in some cases, generate a lead that can drive to the purchase).
  • Service. Transactional email messages, relating to a new email sign-up, an order, or some other issue involving a recent action (may and should include some marketing calls to action).
  • Editorial. Messages that include content that provides value to the reader without a purchase (may and should also include some marketing calls to action).
  • Acquisition. Email message to someone that doesn't have a pre-existing relationship with the sender or whose relationship with the sender is very casual (for instance, someone that drops a business card in a jar at a trade show booth).
  • Research. Email sent to gather opinions via surveys.
  • Other. Anything that doesn't fall into one of the other categories.

The vast majority of email messages sent in Q3 2011 were for marketing purposes (65.8 percent); the "other" category made up another 26.6 percent. Service emails accounted for 6.7 percent of messages, editorial was 0.6 percent; acquisition and research messages were very low contributors to volume (0.1 percent each).

Can you guess which type of email messages had the highest open rates?

If you said service messages, you're on your game.


Service messages have bested all other types of messages with regard to open rate for the entire period analyzed (back to Q1 2010). It's common sense if you think about it - when a customer interacts with a business, they're going to open messages to confirm that the transaction was successful.

Service messages have very high open rates, therefore they deserve your attention. I've done a lot of work in the past few years helping companies turn their service messages from a cost center into a profit center. It's not difficult to do; while you have the reader's attention, make a relevant pitch to get them to take an action that benefits your bottom line.

In most quarters, editorial messages garnered the second-highest open rate. This is one reason I'm surprised at the low volume (0.6 percent) of editorial messages that are sent. The content of editorial messages provides value to the reader regardless of whether or not they make a purchase. This drives people to open and read them.

I come from the publishing industry where editorial content is abundant (since it's the product), but you don't have to be a publisher to send editorial email messages. There are a number of cost-effective ways to get editorial content including:

  • Aggregating it from third-party sources (avoid intellectual property issues by linking back to the original source for the full text).
  • Developing it yourself via interviews with relevant thought leaders, by performing surveys of email subscribers and analyzing the results or by asking your internal folks to write about what they are seeing in your industry.
  • Commissioning articles from experts in your field, some of whom may be willing to forgo payment in exchange for attribution and a link to their website.

Many organizations shy away from doing editorial email messages because they don't believe they can include marketing calls to action. This couldn't be further from the truth. I've worked with organizations where their email newsletters (read: editorial emails) generated more sales and revenue than the promotional emails (read: marketing emails) they sent out. For more reasons why you should be sending editorial as well as strictly marketing messages, see "E-mail Marketing vs. E-mail Sales," a column I wrote over two years ago that is still relevant today.

Finally, I want to talk about the open rates on acquisition type email messages. The open rates here were lower than open rates on all other types of email message in six of the last seven quarters. This supports the data and analysis I presented in "Do Opt-in Lists Really Perform Better Than Opt-Out?" just two weeks ago.

Many marketers sending acquisition email messages are assuming relevance. They rely on job title, industry, or some other attribute to justify sending the email to this group of people. As the open rates show, this alone is not enough.

Here are my three keys to success with regard to getting your email messages opened:

  • Recognition. The person knows the organization or the person mentioned in the From Line.
  • Relationship. The person likes or at least trusts the organization or person mentioned in the From Line.
  • Reward. The subject line spells out what's in it for the reader if they decide to open the email (the preview pane view and snippet copy, used properly, can be instrumental here as well).

These three things are critical for acquisition type messages, but can also help boost your open rate on all other types of emails. If you aren't scrutinizing your messages to ensure they cover all three of these, you should.

In two weeks, I'll dive into the click-through data by email message type.

Until next time,




Jeanne Jennings

Jeanne Jennings is a recognized expert in the email marketing industry and managing director of digital marketing for Digital Prism Advisors. She has more than 20 years of experience in the email and online marketing and product development world. Jeanne's direct-response approach to digital strategy, tactics, and creative direction helps organizations make their online marketing initiatives more effective and more profitable. Digital Prism Advisors helps established businesses unlock significant growth and revenue opportunities in the digital marketplace; our clients learn to develop and implement successful digital strategies, leveraging data and technology to better meet bottom line goals. Want to learn more? Check out Jeanne's blog and Digital Prism Advisors.

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