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“My campaigns have a very low open rate” A common response when asking clients how they feel their campaigns are performing.

The focus of email marketers at the moment is very much on automation, responsive designs, and clever dynamic or conditional content. These are by no means bad things to concentrate on, but neither do they address one fundamental requirement: the recipient actually opening the email when they receive it.

In the recent Econsultancy and Adestra Email Marketing Industry Census 2013, a staggering 44% of companies spend between 2-8 hours on the design and content of their email, yet only 20% of those same respondents suggested that they spend a similar amount of time on strategy and planning. You can create an amazingly designed and responsive template, full of dynamic content, with all the bells and whistles, but if no one is opening it, your time and resources – both commodities in short supply – could have been better spent.

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

With the above quote in mind, to improve your open rate you need to have a plan in place and dedicate some resources to implementing it.  Open rates are affected by two main things:

Here are four quick and easy tips to help you refine your messages for the above points, and put together a plan that will enable you to increase your open rates:

1) Use a consistent Sender / From Name – this is a straightforward but very important part of building your reputation with recipients and increasing brand recognition. By using a consistent sender name, the recipient won’t have to think about who the email is from, and will make a quick decision as to whether it is an email they wish to open. It’s important to consider whether you use your company name or an actual person; if you build your brand on a person’s name and they leave your business, you will lose that recognition when you change the sender name.

2) Subject line strategy – this is possibly the most overlooked part of any email campaign. If you don’t have a subject line strategy, it’s time to start. This is all part of the wider idea of ‘inbox branding’: having consistent, recognisable, and inticing subject lines that someone can always associate with your brand.  As an example, take a look at how emails appear in my own personal inbox:

Notice their strategy with the subject line?  It’s always consistently personalised with my name, along with a single product  for ‘only’ a certain price plus free delivery.  Because of this, I always associate with a good price and free delivery on items.

3) Set expectations to new signups – although this may not be considered by many, it’s worth planning a welcome program, or at least a welcome email, when someone does opt in or signup.  By warming them with a welcome email and setting an expectation of when they can expect to hear from you (daily, weekly, monthly etc.) you’ll increase the chances that they’ll continue to open your emails in the future.  By not doing this, you run the risk of the user potentially forgetting they ever signed up at all, forgetting who you are and binning, marking as spam or unsubscribing altogether.  Some companies like actually state that they send their newsletters on a Monday, Thursday and Saturday, which can be good to get recipients used to expecting their emails at regular times on specific days.

4) Clean up your data – why not read my previous blog on letting go of old or inactive data?  Cleaning your data and removing those from your list that haven’t engaged in over a set period of time (e.g. 12 months) will naturally boost your open rate and be a better indicator of open rate among your active recipients.  As an example, if you have a list of 100k contacts with an open rate of 5% (5000 people), and 50k who haven’t opened an email in 12 months, removing the inactive contacts will naturally increase your open rate to 10%.  The 50k you remove can then be targeted differently to try and re-engage them to bring them back onto your active mailing list.

The above are four very quick tips but are by no means an exhaustive list of what you can do. It’s all about standing out and being unique in the inbox to ensure your email is read first and above all others.

They say the best things come in threes, so I’ll leave you with a final quote from General Patton about adding some of your own creativity to your plan. I encourage all clients to come up with as many crazy, out-of-the-box ideas as possible for the simple reason that…

“If everyone is thinking alike, someone isn’t thinking.” – General George Patton Jr.

So, spend some time this week thinking differently about your emails and how you can increase your open rate. After all, your hard work and time spent in the design of email creative and content will be rewarded by people finally seeing the fruits of your labour.