New Report Tells Most-Read Types of Emails and How to Take Advantage

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Brian Cuthbert of Diversified Communications, who recently delivered a webinar for us on Aligning Editorial Strategy with Sales and Marketing, has his editors reach out to five cancelled members each month to ask "What can we do better?" and see if they will come back. "We've picked up 3% of cancelled members by doing this," he said.

A report on the performance of 10 types of email campaigns from email marketing company Return Path, titled 2018 Email Marketing Lookbook, confirms the logic behind Cuthbert's strategy. In general, "win back" messages have a 20% read rate and only a 12% "deleted before reading rate." This "means one out of five subscribers who were previously ignoring your messages may be inspired to re-engage with you," the report states.

Overall, Return Path studied 600,000 commercial emails from 3,000 senders to come up with benchmarks for 10 common campaign types. Here are takeaways from the other nine:

Post purchase messages have the highest read rate at 44% and the lowest delete-before-reading rate of 7%. That makes sense, given the order confirmations, receipts and shipping instructions included in those emails. It also makes sense then that some type of upsell or an additional purchase should be included in this email, similar to the thank-you/confirmation page on your site that comes up when someone makes a purchase.

Welcome emails have a read rate of 23% but also the lowest average inbox placement, at 84% and a high complaint rate. The takeaway here may be to clearly state the benefits for the person subscribing or joining and not to try to sell anything else or confuse them at this initial stage.

I receive a lot of abandoned cart messages lately. The discount ticket company Goldstar loves to send these. These types of messages get a respectable 20% read rate. I think we like to know that something we're interested in is still available. But they also have one of the highest deleted-before-reading rates which makes sense. Perhaps throwing in one more incentive could be the decider. For example, Walmart sends an abandoned cart email offering free two-day shipping. "Complete your order before in-demand items are gone."

Account related messages received a 30% read rate. These are sent to notify subscribers of a change or activity related to their account. "TripAdvisor sends online reviewers a monthly account update with a digest of stats related to their recent posts," writes Return Path. "The message is highly personalized and interactive [and thus] a solid tactic for keeping subscribers engaged with the brand and serving as a reminder to continue posting reviews."

Birthday messages are the least sent of the 10 types, but the read rate was pretty high at 23%. Of course, they can only be sent once or twice a year, but it does seem worth it to try to obtain that information. It also could mark the start of a more personalized and engaged relationship. A similar type of email could be sent to mark someone's anniversary with you—and even to mark a big milestone in the industry. People like special occasions.

While loyalty program messages do pull in a read rate of 21%, they are "tied for the most actively ignored message type" with a 12% deleted-before-reading rate. So make sure the benefit to the message stands out.

Ironically, newsletters generate the lowest read rate in the survey, at 18%, and get few rescues from the spam folder. But these are mostly free newsletters. It is a good reminder, however, that even if people are paying for something, they still may need a smooth and enticing delivery to read it..

Feedback messages generated a 19% read rate. That's not bad, although it doesn't tell you if people responded, filled out a survey, etc. (I just opened a feedback email this morning from our local tennis tournament and then decided I didn't have the time to fill it out.) At a discussion group I recently attended, people agreed it's a good idea to estimate how long something will take to read or fill out. The Zipcar example Return Path gives offers a chance to win one of five Amazon gift cards for responding.

Promotional emails don't perform well overall, perhaps because they are the most common message type. They accounted for 70% of the messages studied here and had a read rate of 19%. But sheer volume makes them productive. 

Download the full report here.

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…