5+ Tips to Make Your Email Campaigns Awesome (Again)

What’s happening to email marketing lately?

I don’t know if it’s just me, but I’ve been seeing more crappy email campaigns the last few weeks. Bad subject lines, poor targeting, bad timing, poor segmentation, horrific designs etc. You name it, I’ve been seeing it, even from some of my favorite companies with email marketing programs. Are we forgetting the tried & true email marketing mantra of timely, targeted and relevant or are marketers spending too much time with their Facebook and Twitter customers that their email campaigns are becoming second thoughts?

It’s no wonder open rates are declining. Check out my friend Chris Sietsema’s post on email marketing service provider’s Mailer Mailer results for open rates over the past five halves (Chris’ LOVE insights are brilliant too). Their report indicates open rates have declined almost 3% since the second half of 2007. That may seem inconsequential, but it isn’t. A 3% decline in open rates can mean significant decreases in metrics that drive sales.

What worries me more? More companies that ever are using email as their top lead generation tool. According to a recent survey from CSO Insights, respondents said 62% of their companies use email marketing as their top-lead generation tool, compared with 59% who said the same thing a year earlier.

It’s potentially a bad SPAM storm coming together all at once.

So, I thought it was time to dish out some email suggestions that can help make your campaigns awesome–again. And by awesome, I mean worthy of your customers opening and getting them to do what you want.

Make Your Subjects Lines Mean Something to Me

First impressions mean everything and with email you have two opportunities to make a great first impression, your From Name and Subject Line. While your From Name is important, I’d argue that that your Subject Lines will affect your email metrics more. Good subject lines typically have three characteristics.

  1. Important words should be front loaded. Want to tank your email metrics right off the bat? Put your most important words at the end of the Subject Line. We live in a world of smartphones and busy consumers. By my count, I only see 31 characters of a subject line on my iPhone. If you aren’t loading the most important message within those first characters, the likelihood of a consumer opening your email is slim. It’s easier to simply delete it.
  2. Generalizations don’t exist. Here are things I (and your customers) don’t want to read “New (insert brand name here) Products”, “Learn more about our new products.”, “Newsletter”. They are generalizations and while they may mean something to you, they mean nothing to your consumers. You want me to open your email, tell me what is in it with your Subject Line.
  3. If you personalize, you use the right variable. My first and last name are Michael and Barber, respectively, but yet I get a few emails a month that say “Barber, 15% Off (insert product name here)”. If you are going to personalize Subject Lines within an email, please make sure you have scrubbed your data. Bad personalization can lead to a quick click of the delete or spam button.

Really an image? I mean really, your entire email is an image.

Look I get that you love your brand and the lovely typography that goes with it, but spare me the sob story. When I take the effort to open your email, please reward me with your most important content in text, not an image. This way I don’t have to click another button to view or display the images.

See a recent email I received from west elm. I love west elm, but without loading all the remote images I know nothing more about the their new mobile shopping site.

I’m a man and I don’t have a handbag so why am I getting your handbag emails. Good segmentation matters.

A couple of years ago, I bought the misses a pretty sweet handbag. She loved it, however, my Inbox didn’t. Apparently if I buy handbags from a certain Seattle-based retailer, I should receive all female-related product emails. How does that make sense? I don’t wear the latest Jimmy Choos, sexy bikinis or summer’s hottest sandals under $100.

If you want to see immediate increases in your email results, take some time to segment your audience by demographic questionnaire, buying habits or any data that you can get your hands on. The better you can segment your customers and understand who they are and what they buy, need or may want, the better performance you will see from your email campaigns.

I’m not going to lie. If you are years into your email campaigns with hundreds of thousands of email subscribers, data segmentation of those customers could be a huge investment of time and dollars. Consider bitting off chunks of your active subscribers, segment them and test.

Timing is determined by your customers, not my opinion or historical data.

If there is one email-related question I’m constantly asked by marketers, it’s when they should send their email campaigns. Back in the day, I would have given you specific times of day that provided better results, but that doesn’t hold true anymore. Timing of your email campaigns is determined by your customers. If your customers convert higher at certain times of day, then send them emails around that time.

Additionally, think about your emails messaging and how it relates to timing. If you are sending me weekend deals, I don’t want your email Tuesday midday because I have about 60 hours of work left before I can care.

Birthday emails make customers smile & drive dollars.

I’m a sucker for birthday emails. They make me smile and research shows they make other customers do the same. Email service provider Experian CheetahMail recently published research that showed total opens and clicks on birthday and other event-related celebrations such as anniversaries garnered upwards of 150% higher rates.

Lesson of the day. When your customers opt-in to receive your email campaigns, ask them what day they were born. All you need is month, date and a triggered campaign in your email service provider and you’re golden.

Bottom line. There are no excuses, minus laziness.

Simply put, I can think of no other reason for poor email campaign performance other than laziness. If marketers take the time to truly understand their email subscribers and provide them with timely, targeted and relevant emails then their email metrics will reflect that effort. If they don’t, then expect to see email metrics continue to suffer because it’s 100x easier for customers to press delete or unsubscribe then spend the time reading your crappy email.

Are you seeing the same poor email campaigns? What other tips would you offer to email marketers to improve their sluggish metrics?


  1. I have to absolutely agree about the “laziness” being the main factor of poor email broadcasts.

    Guilty as charged. Sometimes it seems like it's more important to get an email out there to stay in touch rather than focus on the QUALITY – since when did that become the logical choice?

    Loved your opinions, Michael; great research and links as well.

    Birthday messages are intriguing, but seem to be not easy to implement.

    Ana Hoffman
    202 Bite-Sized Tips To Insanely Increase Your Blog Traffic

  2. Michael Barber (Author)

    Ana – Apologies on the late reply. For some reason, I didn’t get a notification of your comment. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. I appreciate it.


  3. DianeinCanada

    Thanks Michael – great post. So many companies out there get it wrong but when a company gets it right, it really stands out.