Email Engagement and Deliverability Advice That Marketers Can Sink Their Teeth Into

  |  May 15, 2014   |  Comments

Several leading email strategists and deliverability experts weigh in with their thoughts and advice on email engagement and deliverability.

Andrew Bonar of newly flush Campaign Monitor did a really interesting blog interview with Sri Somanchi of Gmail's Anti-Spam team.

I know many email marketers shrug when the topic of deliverability comes up, but obviously it is a crucial topic. And Gmail has at least 425 million users, so anytime they provide insight into how to ensure your email message ends up in your subscribers' actual inboxes, marketers need to listen. Plus, Google seems to be really hitting its stride in learning how to love email and make the inbox a great place for both email marketers and subscribers.

It's important insight for any digital marketers for many reasons. A golden rule of email reemerges that any and all email marketers hopefully already follow but now they can live by it for deliverability reasons:

"Think of how you can make the user love your mails rather than how to land in the Inbox."

I asked some leading email strategists and deliverability experts their thoughts on this and for actionable insight and practical advice.

Pay It Forward: Jay Jhun, vice president of strategic services at email marketing agency BrightWave Marketing, told me, "Optimizing for engagement in email simply means that marketers need to have a clear value proposition for its subscribers and customers. I'd even go so far as to say that healthy email engagement requires a 'pay it forward' mentality where marketers need to be in the business of giving first in order to see a reciprocal benefit."

Experiment: Justine Jordan, marketing director at Litmus, advises email marketers to experiment with different types of content to see what generates the best engagement rates, and look beyond opens and clicks to measure success. She adds, "Consider spam complaint rates, replies, blog comments, downloads, and inquiries. Better yet, design a campaign with subscriber engagement in mind - how can you encourage interaction?"

Rewarding Two-Way Conversation: Bonar, head of client success and deliverability at ESP Campaign Monitor, said, "Hopefully smart marketers who have read The New Inbox have already moved away from batch and blast." His advice is to to ensure you match sender/from line and reply-to address. Bonar also recommends that marketers "reward engagement and engage your users to mark 'Not Spam' or even increase the prominence of unsubscribe options" to let them be filtered out of your email program if they don't want to be in it. In other words, help them help you.

For B2B, Speak Their Language: BrightWave's Jhun tells business-to-business marketers to ensure that the value proposition is clear to subscribers helping businesses improve their bottom line, since their inbox view is based on different criteria than offer-driven consumers.

See the Promotional Tab as a Shopping Mall: Jordan of email testing and analytics company Litmus says to adjust your perspective toward the tabbed inbox. Rather than focusing on where messages are delivered, concentrate on getting those messages read. The Promotions tab is still the inbox - and subscribers will search for emails from brands that deliver relevance and value. She cites Chad White for making a great analogy: that the Gmail promotions tab is like a shopping mall; consumers visit when they're ready to buy.

Mitigate Deliverability Risks by Delivering Value Not Just Email: Jhun says deliverability concerns become moot if you are already in the business of making your subscribers anticipate and value your message. He adds that a brand email marketer with a consistently engaged audience can trump even the most provocative subject lines.

Know Your Audience: Jhun says email addresses are not commodities to be multiplied. He says, "They represent real people with real expectations about what they are getting in exchange for the permission they've granted to send promotional emails." Jhun believes that's part of the reason why the Gmail team's drive in innovations is so user experience-centric.

Find Out What Subscribers Want and Honor and Deliver on That: Jordan tells marketers to send messages that subscribers want. If you don't know what your readers want, find out. Ask your salespeople, customer service reps, store employees, and product managers what kinds of questions customers are asking. Look at related keywords associated with your brand or industry in Internet searches. Finally, look to social media to see what topics your audience is discussing.

A few other tactical tips worth testing:

  • Understand how big your Gmail audience is. Some brands have large Gmail user bases among their subscriber population while others have small. Start with understanding what your breakdown is. 
  • Target Gmail users with specific offer, subject line, creative, etc. tests to see what best engages them and delivers to your bottom line. 

Google's Gmail is a powerhouse leading the way in inbox improvements and as they continue to tinker with the user experience, marketers must adapt to these trends as well. The result should be a better inbox for all.


Simms Jenkins

Simms Jenkins is CEO of BrightWave Marketing, North America's leading email marketing-focused digital agency. The award-winning firm specializes in elevating email marketing and digital messaging programs that drive revenue, cut costs, and build relationships. Jenkins has led BrightWave Marketing in establishing a world-class client list including Affiliated Computer Service (A Xerox Company), Chick-fil-A, Cox Business, Phillips66, Porsche, and Southern Company. The agency was recently ranked among the fastest growing private companies by Inc. Magazine.

Jenkins was awarded the prestigious AMY 2010 Marketer of the Year from the American Marketing Association for being the top agency marketer and the Email Marketer of the Year at the Tech Marketing Awards held by the Technology Association of Georgia. Jenkins is regarded as one of the leading experts in the email marketing industry and is regularly cited by the media as such and called upon by the financial community to provide market insight and consulting.

Jenkins is the author of two definitive and highly regarded books on email marketing; The New Inbox (published in April 2013 by ClickZ/Incisive Media) and The Truth About Email Marketing (published by Pearson's Financial Times Press in 2008). Jenkins is currently the Email Marketing Best Practices Columnist for ClickZ, the largest resource of interactive marketing news and commentary in the world, online or off. His industry articles have been called one of the top 21 information sources for email marketers.

He has been featured in Fortune Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, Adweek, Bloomberg TV, Wired Magazine, and scores of other leading publications and media outlets. Jenkins is a regular speaker at major digital industry and general business conferences.

Additionally, Jenkins is the creator of and, the leading authorities on email and social media metrics. Prior to founding BrightWave Marketing, Jenkins headed the CRM group at Cox Interactive Media.

Jenkins serves on the eMarketing Association's Board of Advisors among other civic and professional boards. He is also a mentor at Flashpoint, a Georgia Tech-based startup accelerator program. Jenkins is a graduate of Denison University in Granville, Ohio and resides in Atlanta's Buckhead neighborhood with his wife and three children.

Follow and connect with Simms on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, The BrightWave Blog, and his book websites at and

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