Beyond email marketing open rates

Visual communication

Email marketing open rates aren’t everything. Most people are not going to open every email you send. But they still interact with each one, whether by scrolling past your subject line in their inbox or stopping to delete your email. They notice. I know I do.

I receive gobs of marketing emails, and I open very few. But I continue to do business with the companies that send them. Here’s what I mean.

I have Google’s new grid view in my Gmail promotions tab. So I see the subject line, the sender name, a preview image (most of the time), and the company’s logo (most of the time). Here are four emails I received recently:

Email Marketing Open Rates

UPDATE: Google has pulled the plug on Gmail grid view since this article was published.

And here’s what I thought about each (L-R):

  • Pottery Barn: “Hmmm, I’ve been looking for some cute pillowcases to match my new curtains. Pottery Barn is pricey, but 60% off? I could do that …” [I never clicked on this email, but I went directly to the website later and bought a pair of organic cotton pillowcases on clearance. Love them.]
  • HeartWork Yoga Studio: “Free yoga. Eh, I can’t go this Saturday, but I should really start going to that Thursday class I like.” [Have not gone yet, but I’m thinking about it.]
  • Road Runner Sports: ‘Cause I’ve got a golden ticket. I’ve got golden twinkle in my eye. [Honestly, this one just made me think of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. If I’d been in the market for new running shoes, I probably would’ve clicked.]
  • Aveda: “Arg. I’m out of that amazing Aveda conditioner. I’ll have to splurge on that soon.” [It will probably take a while, but I’ll definitely buy some on a rainy day.]

While I didn’t open any of these emails, I did engage with the brands, even if only for a split second. And I actually made a purchase. So marketers, take heart — open rates aren’t everything.

Assets to communicate with people who don’t open your emails

As an email marketer, you can communicate with your audience, even when they don’t open your emails. You have a few assets to play with:

  1. Your subject line
  2. Your sender name (who sent the email, usually your brand name)
  3. Your featured image (if you’re optimizing for Gmail’s grid view)
  4. Your logo/Google+ account (if you’re optimizing for Gmail’s grid view)

Within Gmail, the featured image and logo are obviously quite important. But only a fraction of your audience members probably have grid view. So you’ll definitely want to pay close attention to your subject line and your sender name — everyone sees these, regardless of whether they use Gmail, Yahoo, or Outlook.

You can use all four of these assets to make an impression and convey vital information.

Make — or affirm — an impression

You can strengthen your branding, even if you have low open rates. How? By being consistent with your sender name and logo (your logo doesn’t need to be in your email, but to optimize for grid view, you need to be set up on Google+). You can use also use your subject lines and featured images to make an impression, even when your readers don’t click. Here are a few sample impressions a brand might want to make or affirm:

  • We sell funky, unique clothing.
  • You can count on me for delicious recipes.
  • I’m the go-to person for tax advice.

These aren’t subject lines — they’re impressions that you make through your subject lines and images.

Convey vital information

You can also use your (unopened) emails to convey timely, important information like deadlines and limited-time offers. Here are a few examples of vital info:

  • My next show is Friday at the Uptown.
  • We’re offering 50% off through tomorrow.
  • Today’s the conference registration deadline.

Even if people don’t open your email, they might mention your event to a friend or visit your website for more info later.

Think beyond open rates

Obviously, the goal is to get people to open your emails and heed your calls to action. Strong email marketing open rates are great! But in reality, you’re lucky to get a nice fraction of people to open any given email. So design your emails to communicate with your readers every time, even when they go unopened.


Also published on Medium.

Image by: mikecogh via Compfight cc

Emma Wilhelm
Emma Wilhelm loves punchy words and uphill battles. She’s a proud member of the GoDaddy GoCentral team. When she’s offline, she relishes long runs, baked goods and dance parties with her kids. Follow her on Twitter at @emmasota.