Babar Khan Javed
Oct 12, 2017

Tip Sheet: 5 ways to improve email open rates

Email marketing continues to be the most cost-effective channel for brand development and traffic generation, but low open rates can stall progress. Here's what to look for and fix.

Identifying the root cause behind low email open rates is a starting point.
Identifying the root cause behind low email open rates is a starting point.

With an average open rate of 25 percent across verticals, email marketing continues to fascinate and elude brand marketers and their agencies.

Generally considered the most cost-effective tactic for generating brand awareness and online traffic, email becomes the essential next step after an awareness campaign manages to acquire the email address of a targeted prospect.

The progression that follows begins with a thank you message, rewards for opening emails, reminders on abandoned carts, and offers for limited product lines.

Improving the open rate involves acknowledging five possible shortcomings, investigating the root cause and setting up safeguards for future problems.

Here are the five area to look into to improve open rates.

1. Delivery

As the meme we've used to illustrate this article explains, no one can open an email they don't get.

This can happen due to the inadequacy of servers, a timed out connection or simply a lack of memory, so technical causes have to be examined. 

But at the risk of stating the obvious, emails cannot be delivered to addresses that do not exist. This is rectified by implementing systems that determine real, fake and outdated email addresses with an API to existing email service providers (ESPs).

"Deliverability is one of the most important factors when choosing an ESP," shared Mellissa Lee, the head of GetResponse in Malaysia. "One of our customers, Applecrumby & Fish, managed to increase its open rates by 124 percent by migrating to GetResponse due to our dedicated IP infrastructure."

Marketers can also use Salesforce Marketing Cloud to filter undelivered email addresses in a separate segment so that when the system attempts to re-email failed recipients again, the same email isn't sent to those who have already received it. If marketers fail to do this, they risk having their email sending address categorized as a spam generator. 

2. Subject

It's no secret that email marketing is effective when done right. This also means that there are planners in the market that resort to cheap tactics for attention and clicks. Most users have become desensitized to spammy looking emails and will ignore them.

"We conducted an A/B test to see how changing the placement of the value proposition in the email subject line impacted the open rate of the newsletter," shared Syed Waqas Pervez, the head of marketing at Yayvo. "We saw that by bringing the value proposition at the start of the subject line, the open rate improved by 24 percent."

Make sure your email subject line doesn't come across as spam by following best practices consisting of the first name of the recipient, a question that represents a concern of the target segment, and is under five words in length. 

3. Strangers

There's a chance the receiver of the email never signed up for the newsletter. We are after all operating in a landscape ravaged by ad fraud and bots, so this possibility should come as no surprise. Rectify this by rewarding your agency with quality results instead of quantity. Poor incentives are often the root cause of shoddy practices.

"Old email databases, especially from old sources, create a problem for open rates," shared Hendrik Kuhl, the managing director of the Lion & Lion office in Hong Kong. "For an online furniture retailer we work with, we spent time trimming the database to people who really showed interest in the brand (via opening emails and clicking) and focused on sending to them with great content at an increased frequency."

The results were not just the 55 percent average order value increase from an email source, but a staggering 650 percent increase in orders directly from that channel. In this case, Kuhl's team confirmed that quality beats quantity.

4. Rewards

While context matters and the above factors, a reward communicated in the subject line goes far. Examples include LinkedIn offering credits for its ads to users that have used the platform to advertise products, jobs, and even articles. Another common example comes with e-commerce companies such as Amazon offering free shipping or Lazada offering cashback on purchases made before a certain date.

Brand Minds Asia is currently running a partnership with the Asia Content Marketing Association to offer members special rates on sponsor packages, with rewards communicated in the subject line trigger a sense of urgency and action. 

When devising the reward, brand marketers must consider what will bring value to the intended recipient, with a spillover sales or trial impact for the advertiser. A decent amount of A/B testing around the best ideas brainstormed on the brand and agency side is a way to determine the objective winner.

5. Timing

Look at your email inbox and see how many people want you to use their product or service. Now consider that your intended target segment is being targeted by your competitors as well. Not only do you have to follow the above key points to stand out among the competitor clutter but your email must also reach the inbox at the exact intersection between prime reading mode and interest to learn.

"Our customers are from all over the world, which means recipients have different time zones," shared Salik Gadit, the e-commerce manager for Junaid Jamshed in Pakistan. "Segmenting users based on timezone can help achieve better open rate. The quickest way is to use "time optimization" or schedule " time wrap" available in email marketing tools like MailChimp."

Brand marketers must instruct their agencies to leave room for experimentation or schedule it themselves with the lead generation tools created by LinkedIn. With their data on user log in timings, in-platform browsing, and content consumption, the InMail option within LinkedIn can be timed to reach a target segment right after they have read an article that raises awareness on your brand solution.


When brand marketers and their agencies invest quality time, effort, and testing into email marketing, results are gradually optimized for the long run. Be sure to capitalize on this low effort marketing channel and reap the rewards to grow brand sentiment and preference.

Campaign Asia

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