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Why Open Rates Matter (and the Lesson My 12-Year-Old Taught Me)

Written by Jacob Salem

Every morning, when I’m packing lunches for my kids and husband, I also pause to write a short note for each of them.

Sometimes, I include a joke. (It’s guaranteed to make them groan.)

Often, I put in a few lines about what we have coming up later.

Now that I have a 12-year-old, I’ve started including more conversation and feedback.

I was under the impression these notes were always read.

But the other day, she asked me something that left me confused, until I asked, “Did you read your lunch note?”



I guess open rates aren’t just an online matter, nor do they only relate to my professional life.

Years ago, I was involved with direct mail marketing. And, just like email marketing, it was considered far more effective than regular old advertising.

But why?

  1. The cost of direct mail is usually much less…

…but you have to do your math a certain way.

The initial investment is usually a lot more: you have to pay for printing and producing.

Email marketing doesn’t necessarily cost more, but it depends on how you account for your time to make sure things are done the way they should be done.

How is your list segmented? Are you sending the right message to the right people?

  1. With direct mail, you get right into people’s homes…

…but you have to make it past the trash can first.

I still sort my snail mail by the recycling bin.

It’s not so different for email, though.

Oh, the joy of the spam filter…it’s the bane of email marketers everywhere.

The life span of the average email contact is six months.

Six months? I have laundry older than six months!

But that’s the latest trend. So to make it past the trash can, you need to make sure you’re relevant and engaging.

Which leads us to…

  1. Direct mail is a lot more personal…

…if you can just get people to open the envelope (or read the post card).

The original “open rate” had to do with the envelope.

Now, it has to do with a click.

Think about how many times you scan through the subject lines in your overflowing inbox and decide to skip or trash something (or some things).

Not so different from my 12-year-old with her lunch note…

How do you improve open rates?

  • Write to an individual.

Face it: however much you may know that you’re getting the same email as 32,000 other people, it feels better to have it addressed to you.

(Especially if you have your first name listed as Awesomesauce.)

(Not that I’ve ever done that, of course.)

We like to hear our names, and the closest you can get to saying your contact’s name is typing it (or using that handy dandy form field feature in your email client).

But it’s more than just using a name.

Write to one person from you.

One to one.

It’s the kind of interaction that works best for nearly everyone on the planet. Tap into that!

Nurture your customers with personalized, individual content, and you will see your sales grow, possibly by as much as 20% based on current research.

  • Use short and simple subject lines.

You could blame mobile devices for this, but it probably has as much to do with our shortened attention spans.

We have more things to do and see than ever before…so if you can’t say it in a few words, figure out a different way to say it!

Best practice: use less than 30 characters.

For a handy tool to use to count characters (or words), try

  • Send less often.

Ever had someone complain that you haven’t emailed them?

I mean, other than your mom.

We’re all drowning in email…and no one wants more. We sign up for email, but…do we really want it?

Yes, we do. Current statistics show that 91% of Americans want to get marketing email.

But that doesn’t mean we want it every single day.

(In fact, less than 15% of those people said they wanted daily email.)

  • Use numbers in your subjects.

It creates urgency. It draws the eye. It compels subscribers to open.

And hey, subject lines with hard numbers have an open and reply rate of over 50%!

  • Personalize the subject line.

We like our names. Use them. 🙂

Multichannel retailers reported a 37% increase in unique open rates when they used personalized subject lines vs. non-personalized subject lines. So there’s also that.

  • Segment.

Send people what they’re interested in receiving. Base it on their past purchases, on what they’ve opened or clicked on in past emails, or on what they’ve asked to receive.

Maybe that means you’re sending to less people, but if you’re sending to a group that’s more likely to open and buy, then it’s a better list!