struggling with email marketing

Email Marketing: Are You Your Own Worst Enemy?


We get the same question from a lot of clients:

“Why am I not seeing better performance from our email marketing?”


“We send a ton of email and get almost no activity... can you tell us what is going on?”

Clearly, there’s some concern by those struggling with email marketing - and they come to their agency or email partner looking for an answer.

For many agencies and marketing teams, the answers they may give back might include:

“Well we haven’t seen a lot of engagement sending emails on Thursday’s so we are going to move to Tuesday and see if that helps.”

Or, (a classic):

“We will try personalizing the subject line, that is sure to increase open rates.”

Or, maybe:

“We’ll offer 20% off next time instead and see if that changes things.”

Those are all good tactics to try - but they are all missing the mark.

All of those answers are ‘yes men’ answers. They are completely and totally ignoring the most important part of an email send:

It’s not the quippy subject line.

It’s not the tools you use to get around spam filters.

It’s not the emojis,

It’s your sender name.
sender name showing in inbox

Yep, the one thing you can’t control or change is the name that appears in the inbox. And that, my friends, makes all of the difference.

This concept even has a name - Inbox Reputation.

What Is Inbox Reputation?

Just like the halcyon days of high school, you have a reputation - only this time, it’s in your customer's inbox.

Are you the cool kid that everyone wants to hang out with (a.k.a., read your emails)?

The student council president (just sending out announcement after announcement and not listening to the response)?

Or are you the jock (sign up now dammit or else!)?

Just like in high school, your reputation matters - and your sender name is the first thing your customers see when they open their email client.

The Proof is In The Open Rates

Our good friends at Litmus published a study titled: “6 Shocking Myths About Subject Lines”.

Litmus article chart image

Their research found that 42% of people look at the sender name first. That means nearly half of your potential readers are thinking primarily about who you are - including all of their combined experiences with your brand - before they ever even bother reading that oh-so-perfect, funny, emoji-filled subject line.

Bottom line: who you are matters a lot more than what you’re saying.

Google “inbox reputation” and you’ll find a handful of SaaS products that claim they can monitor it for you… but they can’t. Even one of the companies that had an aggregate list of tools missed the boat completely.

google results

They said: “By taking advantage of these resources and a variety of data points you’ll have more accurate visibility into how the mailbox providers view your mail.”

We aren’t talking about mailbox providers! We are talking about the people who’s mailboxes you are entering.

Forget Everything You Think You Know

For one moment forget everything you think you know about email marketing.

Imagine a blank white room the only thing in that room in black bold letters is your business name.

Now, imagine as a customer are you excited to see... you?

If you think for a moment that the sight of your business’ name is scaring off your customers then you have an inbox reputation problem that NO SaaS product can fix.

How did this happen? What did you do (or didn’t do)? How can you fix it?

The first step to fixing a problem is admitting you have one. From here, you can tackle step two in a very concise and manageable way:

  1. Understanding Modern Email Marketing
  2. Looking At A New Methodology
  3. Finding Our New Groove
  4. Reviewing Results
  5. Setting Up Checks & Balances

1. Modern Email Marketing

First, try to imagine there is no such thing as an email blast.

mailchimp lists

Even though email seems like a one-to-many form of communication i.e. ads it is not. You signed a social contract with your sender when they opted-in to your email list.

Now, you have to deliver on that promise.

If you are sending every email to every member of your list you are missing out on the most powerful email marketing tactic available: segmentation. And that my friends is going to make all the difference.

2. Looking At A New Methodology

Our new method of delivering emails will follow this format:

new methodology
  • To the Right User,
  • The Right Message,
  • At the Right Time. (Not actual time, as in seconds/minutes -  time as in their point in the customer journey).

As email marketers, we can’t just send the same message to everyone on our list every week and expect to see success. It’s just now how it works.

We aren’t going to please all of our list subscribers with every email send. The goal is to please some with the message/content they are expecting to see.

By looking at the performance of individual segments we can see performance and growth at a much faster rate.

3. Finding Our New Groove

Let’s start with the first part of our new mindset:

right user

The Right User.

Yes, you read that right -  the user is more important than the message.

How can we come up with user segments that we can measure and analyze? How much information are you collecting from your users when they opt-in to your email list? Can you experiment with asking for more than just first name and email?

Are you using marketing automation software like ActiveCampaign? Can you segment by click behavior? This is a great way for both lead gen and ecommerce sites to come up with custom segments!

After you have come up with a few segments, can you make some assumptions about their needs, wants, motivations? Can you craft a message for them that speaks to just one of those?

right message

The Right Message

Now that you know a bit about one of your key segments, let’s say, for example’s sake, it is “people who have clicked on blog posts relating to one of your key service lines.”

We know that they like this content, and that they have viewed multiple articles.

Can we send them an email about a key feature of this service that you offer and how it could help them solve their problem?

I think we could!

Would that email be better or worse than an ‘email blast’ about saving 20% off all services if you book in the next 24h! I’d venture to say it would be better by a factor of 10. Why? Because instead of the perception that you are just ‘blasting’ everyone you have spoken to the individual. You are trying to be that ‘cool kid’ and doing it in a way that doesn’t seem pushy (like the jock) or overly sales-ey (like the student council president).

right time

The Right Time

As with comedy, timing is everything with email marketing.

If you are sending an email to someone who is at the early consideration phase of their journey with language like “BUY NOW BUY TODAY ONLY 4 HOURS LEFT IN OUR AMAZING FLASH SALE”… most likely you are going to turn them off. Bigly.

Knowing where your users are in their journey is critical. If the user is still reading blog articles about your product/service, that probably means they might need a little more hand-holding before pushing the button to buy or fill out that request a quote form.

4. Reviewing Results

Data without insight is meaningless.

reviewing results

We have to look at open-rates, click-through-rates, conversion-rates, and more for each segment. If the audiences you have identified are not performing up to expectations then your initial assumptions might be a bit off.

Start tweaking subject lines, CTA’s maybe even frequency and messaging… every variable must be looked at, analyzed and addressed in order to continue to drive performance from this new hyper-segmented email marketing approach.

If your email team or email marketing agency isn’t giving you the answers to your questions either:

  1. A) you are asking the wrong questions, or
  2. B) they aren’t trying hard enough.

Email is one of the most challenging parts of digital marketing and it takes work in the trenches doing the ugly things like list management and segmentation before we can do the fun things like build emails.

5. Setting up Checks And Balances

check and balances

Depending on your business, you may or may not have to sell this new program internally or externally to a client. You might hear things like:

“This is a great blog - send it to everyone, just in case!”


“This is going to cost too much! We just want to send every email to everyone.”

Trust me, I have heard it all. And I’ll admit - in some cases, I have not fought the good fight, and let a client just roll on with their email program unchecked.

However, if you lay the groundwork early and do a little testing on the side you can PROVE your case with data and get the buy in you need to build a better mousetrap!

Putting It All Together

Your reputation matters. With email marketing it matters more than you think.

You too can have superior email marketing results - but it takes a solid strategy built for long-term growth. We know - we have been pushing the boundaries on email marketing for years. If you don’t think you can get their on your own, get in touch and let’s get your email game up a level!