Email Marketing - Subject to Scrutiny

Email is often a vital component of a marketing campaign. Whether you are trying to inform your target audience of a new product or development within the business, encouraging them to buy, or just directing them to your website content, email can be a quick and easy way to convey the message.

‘Can be’ but isn’t always. The failure of a mailer to hit its mark may seem inexplicable, but it’s usually down to one of a few errors occurring during the process.

Firstly, was a mailer the right way to go? 

There are several factors to consider before sending out a mailer: 

  • Is this the right method of communication for my audience?
  • Is this the right method of communication for this particular message?
  • What reaction am I hoping for? (include a clear call to action)
  • Is the quality up to standard?
  • Is tracking in place?

The first depends on your industry and the nature of your business. A study by Smart Insights and Get Response conducted in April this year, found that the open rate for mailers regarding hobbies (28.85%) and art and artists (27.45%) had the highest opening rate, whilst daily deals and e-coupons had the lowest, with 16.82%. This makes perfect sense, as you are far more likely to open a mailer with a subject relating to something you are actively interested in, and anything sent daily is likely to be ignored at least some of the time.

Most subject matters had an open rate of around 21/22% although more specialist industries such as agriculture and food services, and architecture and construction, were slightly higher (approximately 25%). The open rate for mailers concerned with ‘games’ was 21.41%.

Of course, it’s not just the audience demographic which is in play here. Sometimes marketers are guilty of putting out a mailer which is just unnecessary, or would have been better served as a social media post or, occasionally, a phone call.

This is where you must think carefully about why you’re sending the mailer. Presumably it is to incite a specific desired result.

When you build the mailer, every decision regarding copy, image and layout should be geared towards achieving this goal. Including a clear ‘call to action’ is a simple way of making sure your main message is conveyed.

Another reason your mailer might not have been opened is it may have landed in a spam filter.

There are many misconceptions about spam filters, probably because the actual list of what they are looking for has never been made public.

But there are a few tips to avoid your email being mistaken for spam. 

  • Make sure you’re sending from a recognised legitimate IP address
  • Avoid ‘spammy copy’ which includes overuse of symbols such as exclamation points, excessive capitals and certain words such as ‘vote’ ‘free’ and ‘now’
  • Avoid large fonts – anything bigger than 12pt
  • Don’t use too many images
  • Avoid shortened links (including Bitly)
  • Don’t miss out vital info – your business address and an ‘opt out’ must be included
  • Make sure your distribution list is up to date – blockers will see previous unopened emails you’ve sent and assume you are sending spam

So what about emoji?

Surely using little pictograms within your text or subject line will have the spam alerts blaring?

Actually, no.

In a 2012 survey carried out by Practical Ecommerce, emails from two very different industries, adult retail (, and travel (Voyage Privé) both reported not only higher open rates from mailers which included ‘special characters’ in their subject lines, but fewer spam reports.

Special characters include emoji and other text coded symbols (arrows, hearts, smiley faces etc) which you can create from your keyboard.

Similarly, Clickz reported a 15% increase in open rates where the email had special characters in its subject line 

Jess Nelson, of Email Marketing Daily, said: “The use of emoji in mobile and email marketing messages has increased 775% year-over-year… emoji use in marketing messages has shown a steady 20% increase month-to-month in 2016”.

Some businesses have adopted them as part of their brand. ‘On’ produce premium running shoes, including a range called ‘Cloud’. Recently, the company has added a cloud symbol to each of its mailers, which makes them instantly recognisable in its customers’ inboxes. ( This is an example of email marketing working in harmony with the brand’s wider campaign.

It’s all about strategy, care and attention. You have to make sure the mailer you are sending out is perfectly tailored to your audience, and that each component is crafted to elicit the desired response. Then proof it. Then proof it again. Typos and other errors not only look unprofessional, they can be extremely misleading and may land you right back in that spam filter.

Even if everything seems perfect, not every mailer will hit the mark, and that’s ok. Just don’t lose sight of your objective. Remember to keep testing and evaluating what works and let your style evolve naturally.