Which Email Practices Seem to be Working for Brands?

September 23, 2013

This article is included in these additional categories:

Data-driven | Digital | Email | Personalization

ReturnPath-Email-Tactics-and-Engagement-Outcomes-Sept2013Email practices – from signup to unsubscribe – have significantly changed over the past 5 years, details Return Path [download page] in a recent study. Brands are asking for less information at sign-up, are more commonly starting their relationships with a welcome email (but less frequently with an offer), and are making the unsubscribe process easier. But which of these practices appear to be working for brands today?

Return Path set out to answer this question by analyzing the results for a variety of practices employed by brands and comparing them against the performance of brands not employing those practices.

Requisite – and very important – disclaimers apply here: these results are not necessarily prescriptive, and could very well differ by list. Identifying and comparing single variables in email practices may also ignore the impact of other variables, such as sender reputation.

Nevertheless, the results can provide a launching point for brands to conduct their own testing. For readers wanting some quick hits: brands sending emails less than weekly tended to see better inbox placement, read and complaint rates than those sending more frequently than that, while those sending personalized messages fared worse in each metric than those who did not.

Here are the individual practices and related results (each variable is a comparison of results for brands employing the component against those not employing it):

  • Collect only email at signup: slightly better inbox placement and complaint rates; no difference in read rates;
  • Collect more than name and zip: worse inbox placement and complaint rates; no difference in read rates;
  • Require confirmed opt-in: slightly better inbox and read rates; sharply better (i.e. lower) complaint rate;
  • Send welcome message: no difference in inbox and complaint rates; better read rates;
  • Begin regular sending within a week: no difference in inbox placement or read rates; sharply better complaint rate;
  • Open with an offer: better inbox placement rate; slightly better read rate; slightly worse complaint rate;
  • Personalize messages: sharply worse inbox placement rate; worse read and complaint rates;
  • Send more than weekly: worse inbox placement rate; no difference in read rate; better complaint rate;
  • Send weekly: better inbox placement rate; no difference in read rate; worse complaint rate;
  • Send less than weekly: sharply better inbox placement rate; better read rate; and slightly better complaint rate; and
  • Include whitelisting reminder: slightly worse inbox placement rate; no difference in read rate; better complaint rate.

Following are some highlights regarding how email practices have changed from 2008:

  • 33% of tracked brands now require just an email address at signup, up from 20% in 2008;
  • 80% of brands now send welcome messages, double the percentage from 2008;
  • Just 39% included an offer in their first message this year, down from 65% in 2008;
  • 1 in 4 brands now offer opt-down alternatives to unsubscribes, up from just 3% in 2008.

About the Data: In February 2008 Return Path subscribed to 61 email marketing programs from retailers, consumer brands, and companies in the travel industry. In August 2008, after monitoring what each sent, Return Path unsubscribed from 45 of the programs to chart the procedures and communications during the process.

In June 2013 Return Path subscribed to 76 programs including as many of original programs as possible and a number of others in the retail, consumer brand, and travel industries. After monitoring messages from each of these, the researchers unsubscribed in August 2013 to compare the experience to the original study.

Return Path then analyzed engagement data derived from its panel of 3 million email subscribers, including roughly 10 million messages from the selected brands received during a 30-day period between June and July, to map key email performance indicators to senders’ marketing tactics. As noted in the text, correlation is not causation, and this is a limited sample of consumer relationships ”“ so results may vary.

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