The Habits of Five Successful Email Marketers

Using eDataSource’s panel-generated competitive data reflecting email activity and performance by brand, we’ve identified five retail and travel brands* which we believe to be unusually strong performers.  These are listed in the table below, along with their basic comparative metrics, reflecting the last thirty days.  These brands were selected from a combination of consistently strong inbox deliverability and engagement (read rate) metrics.  We consider a 10% read rate average.  Each of these brands substantially outperforms that baseline, some by several orders of magnitude.

Amazon:  This brand has become perhaps the most sophisticated database marketer in the 30+ years that this writer has spent in CRM. Their promotional emails are typically targeted to the top 1-5% of their email list.  Their weekly contact frequency is low (1-2 per week per subscriber).  Their subject lines usually reference whatever they’re promoting in the email.  Their open rates are almost always on the high-end of any brand comparisons we do.  They are invariably out ahead of their competition in the timing of their major-event mailings (e.g., Black Friday).  Their Prime Day mailings were extremely well thought-out and effective.

Recent mailing example — capitalizes on the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro
Date:  8/5
Quantity:  1.2M
Subject line:  Prime Members: Your sounds of Rio streaming guide”
Inbox %:  98.28%
Read Rate:  39.44%

Macy’s: This brand (in its owner’s previous identify as Federated Department Stores, Inc.) was among the first traditional (non-“mail-order”) major retailer to develop an integrated CRM database (late 1980s).  They’ve long been sophisticated in its use, and have leveraged it rigorously with their direct mail operations, and more recently in optimizing their email programming across store and online buying channels.  Versus similar competitors, they do relatively strong targeting (quarter or third of the file), maintain a weekly contact cadence on the low end of the scale, and generate consistently strong read rates.  Although most of their marketing/promotional email (versus transactional) is devoted to supporting their robust promotional calendar, their email subject lines usually specific product categories being promoted, and the audiences appear to have been selected based on likelihood to purchase in those categories.

Recent strong mailing example (featured vendor promotion)
Date:   7/21
Quantity:  545K
Subject line:  Michael Kors: effortless summer style + FREE gift!
Inbox:  93.81%
Read Rate:  25.00%

Best Buy:  This brand sends a relatively high number of monthly campaigns, but they’re tightly targeted to within the top 10-15% of their email list.  Weekly contact frequency per subscriber hovers at just over four. Though price-promotional their subject lines usually also contain explicit product references. Their best performing promotional emails tend to have extremely strong read rates (up to >40%).

Recent strong mailing example
(category price discount)
Date:   7/7
Quantity:  366K
Subject line: “[NAME] Remember to save 50% on ink and toner”
Inbox:  96.30%
Read Rate:  48.89%


Southwest:  This travel brand has a well-enough developed email base that the brand appears as prominent audience overlap for most of the B2C brands that we analyze. They’re not particularly heavy mailers, and their average email subscriber receives a promotional email from them about once a week.  Nevertheless they drive consistently solid inbox and read rate performance.  Much of their marketing email is highly personalized; i.e., origin or destination-based, rewards-related, and/or promotes hotel or car rental cross-sell for an existing trip.

Recent strong mailing example (focus on point of origin)
Date:   8/2
Quantity:  2.1M
Subject line: 3-day sale! From Austin one-way as low as* $59”
Inbox:  97.92%
Read Rate:  25.53%

Expedia:  This brand maintains strong inbox performance and read rates.  Contact frequency is a sensible 2-3 times per week.  Much of their messaging can be targeted around destinations.  They mail and cross-sell throughout the waypoints of a given purchase cycle.  But much of their message is also highly promotional, with discounts specific to destinations, car rentals and hotel.

Recent strong mailing example
(deep discounting)

Date:   6.22
Quantity:  4.0M
Subject line: ? CONFIRMED: You’ve qualified for 50% off – because you’re an email subscriber”
Inbox:  91.78%
Read Rate:  21.42%

*Note:  This is not an empirically exhaustive list of ‘best performers,’ but rather examples representing brands which consistently deliver very strong email performance in the retail and travel spaces. We base these assessments on our current data, and on our overall experience with comparative analysis of brands in these spaces.

John Landsman is director, strategy and analytics at eDataSource

Related Posts