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Email marketing: How to master the (ever-changing) fundamentals

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“The fate of email has often been predicted to be dead, so today I’m going to debunk some of those myths.” So said Ross Kramer, CEO of email marketing solutions provider Listrak, in the “Email Marketing Best Practices for Online Retail” session during the Annual Summit Boot Camp. Pointing to research indicating that email marketing still plays a significant role in the retailer’s online marketing toolkit, he noted that “ROI is where email rocks – particularly for pure plays and multichannel retailers.” Kramer then laid out best practices for email marketing, advancing from “base camp” all the way to the “summit” (email marketing nirvana, perhaps!). In this first of our two-part post on Kramer’s email marketing primer,  we’ll explore “base camp” – that is, email marketing basics to master first: benchmarks, list growth, calendar, and deliverability. And if you think you know all about this level, guess again – even the fundamentals continue to evolve.


Kramer feels that eMarketer’s benchmarks of 17% for open rates and 3% for click-throughs are “spot on.” Furthermore, “A great goal is for between 20-30% of your revenue attribution being attributed back to the email channel.”

Ross Kramer, CEO, Listrak

List growth.

Growing one’s email file “to be as big as possible” is a must, but “sometimes the ask is so easy that we forget to do it”. Waterford Crystal deployed a “Yes, sign me up!” modal pop up to ask visitors to register, and saw a ten-fuld increase in email subscribers with the campaign. Retailers can also test a number of different options in the pop up creative, such as single use coupons, gift with purchase, and more. Retailers can’t just leave it there, though. They need to know how many net new subscribers they’re bringing on over a day, a week, a month, and beyond. Retailers also need to keep an eye on their bounce rate – as the number of subscribers increases, there is likely to be a bump in the bounce rate. In turn, retailers need to analyze the impact of the bounce rate and whether it was caused by or correlated with that campaign.


As long as they’re sending messages that are relevant, Kramer advises that retailers should email subscribers about once a week; if they test more frequently, subscribers will tell you if you're off the mark.


In terms of each domain, “It’s important to keep an eye on what’s happening here to see whether the message gets to the inbox.” Beyond understanding the composition of your email list, retailers must also plot the performance of each of those ISPs for bounce rate, open rate, CTR, etc. This analysis helps identify problems if, for example, your average open rate for Yahoo! email addresses is 18% but perhaps only 4% for Gmail – and then you can then get that partner invulved to analyze the issue.

What are the primary deliverability pitfalls? 

Drawbacks retailers need to avoid include subscriber complaints - just go ahead and remove those subscribers immediately, Kramer advised - mailing to invalid addresses, mailing to full mailboxes, and sending emails to unengaged subscribers. Unengaged subscribers are an issue that marketers must address directly to maintain their “credibility” with Internet Service Providers (ISPs). ISPs now analyze how subscribers respond to email campaigns, such as whether they simply delete an email immediately without opening it first. Kramer recounted seeing a paper flier at his local Eastern Mountain Sports (EMS) store entitled “EMS Rewards: Inbox Advice for Gmail Users”, highlighting some of the difficulties that retailers have encountered in reaching their Gmail subscribers. Kramer offered a 3-point “Get out of Gmail Jail” plan for retailers to regain their credibility:

    • Remove all Gmail bounces. Gmail provides so much email storage that any Gmail subscriber showing a full inbox should be removed immediately.
      • Suppress non-openers from Gmail campaigns. That is, send email campaigns only to your most engaged subscribers, i.e. those who have opened one of your emails in the last 90 days.
        • Deploy a drip campaign to increase engagement. For example,
        • Massage Warehouse – which almost never provides any kind of discount – sent a note to its 90-day subscribers with a 10% coupon if they clicked through. Additionally, they included a “fairly large unsubscribe call to action” – which is helpful not only to the subscriber, but also to the retailer, as even taking action to unsubscribe actually improves the engagement or responsiveness factor. In similar vein, Kramer advised retailers to experiment with plain text links to increase engagement also.

        Watch for part 2 of this post and Kramer’s advice for reaching email marketing “advanced camp” and “summit” levels soon.