5 Reasons Why Most Email Marketing Messages Get Ignored

As I was reviewing email marketing reports for a client, I looked into how the client’s numbers stacked up to others in their industry.

MailChimp, the provider I typically use for my clients, analyzed more than 60,000 of their email campaigns and shared industry benchmarks for open rates, click rates and other data points.

I was pleased to see my client was doing above their industry average. But, when I scrolled through the list, I couldn’t help but notice one number that stood out from most of the others — the open rates for marketing and advertising emails.

Compared to all of the other industries, marketing and advertising had one of the lowest open rates of the bunch at a mere 21.7 percent.

Industries such as government, manufacturing, agriculture and religion all have more than DOUBLE the open rates of marketing emails. And, the click rate for those industries is much higher too.

Highest Email Marketing Open Rates

Here are the numbers for some of the highest industry open rates for MailChimp campaigns:

Religion 48.6%
Photo & Video 48.1%
Manufacturing 48.1%
Non-Profit 46.7%
Government 45.8%
Agriculture & Food Services 45.4%
Insurance 43.7%


Why Marketing Emails Don’t Get Opened

So, how is it that the very industry that should be GOOD at email marketing is sitting at the bottom of the barrel?

Although I don’t have any definitive answers, let’s take a look at some possible reasons marketers stink at email marketing so you can avoid making the same mistakes!

They don’t talk like real people.

NEWSFLASH — People want to be talked to like real, live human beings.
 Yet, when it comes to email, many marketers turn into robots. The language is corporate mumbo jumbo that sends people running for the hills.

People like to open emails from people. That means lose the jargon, be yourself and talk to people just like you would on the phone, or on your blog. Adding that kind of personality to your emails can make all the difference.

For a good example, check out how my pal Jeff Goins does it.

Good email example - Jeff Goins

They focus too much on selling.

Marketers are in the business of promotion and making sales. But, when all you do is sell, through your emails, it’s a big fat turn off to your readers. And, after awhile, they quit opening them.

If you want readers to tune in, you have to give them a reason to — and, unless you’re a retailer, your nifty sale isn’t going to be enough.

Yes, it’s important to use email to sell. But, that shouldn’t be the only thing you do. It needs to be balanced with other compelling content.

The content is boring.

Let’s look at the list again for a moment — specifically, the top couple of spots.

When it comes to religion, people are typically pretty passionate about that, right? It comes as no surprise that those emails have high open rates. Not only is it a subject matter that the writers are likely passionate about, but also the readers actually want to see what’s inside.

The same goes for photographers and videographers. They are enthusiastic about their work and love to show it off. I have a feeling that passion oozes throughout those emails. Not to mention, their emails are likely are visual and interesting. It’s no wonder that those messages get opened.

When you are passionate about the subject matter, people can see that enthusiasm and will look forward to opening your messages.

4. They lack value.

This ties into the previous two points a bit, but I suspect many marketing emails are thin on value. They probably focus on a combination of selling, promotion or boring, “me-too content” that doesn’t make the reader’s life better or easier.

When creating and sending emails, think about your audience.

  • What problems are they trying to solve?
  • What are their biggest struggles?
  • What questions does your audience typically ask?
  • What will make them smile or laugh?
  • What information and advice can you offer that will make their lives better or easier?

Answering these questions can help you come up with some compelling content that will teach or entertain your audience. And, if you’re struggling to find answers, ASK! Send an email and ask folks to reply or create a quick survey to get some feedback.

Terrible subject lines.

There are a few factors that impact whether a person will open an email — who the sender is and the subject line.

If you’ve already demonstrated that you’re a valued, trusted email sender, people will likely open your emails regardless of the subject line. But, if you’re still earning that kind of trust, the email subject line is critically important.

MailChimp compared the subject lines for the highest and lowest open rates and found those that are straightforward and describe the content of the email did best. For instance, subject lines with company names and “newsletter” in them all did fairly well.

Others have found that creating urgency, intrigue, humor or asking questions can all work too. The bottom line is that you need to think about your audience and test different options to find what works best.

What do you think?

What are your biggest pet peeves with marketing emails you receive? Why do you think marketing emails perform lower than other industries?


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Laura Click

Laura Click is brand strategist, speaker, podcaster and the founder of Blue Kite. Learn more about Laura and her work at Blue Kite.

8 replies on “5 Reasons Why Most Email Marketing Messages Get Ignored”

Hi Laura, to be honest, I am surprised at how high the open rates are for the other industries – I hate email newsletters. I don’t think marketers are any worse at creating engaging emails than those in other industries, I just think recipients are much more resistant.

You know, I was really surprised too. That’s what got me wondering about what some of the other industries might be doing right.

Why do you think recipients of marketing/advertising emails are more resistant? Do you think it’s for the reasons I cited or is it something else? I’d love your thoughts!

Hi Laura. I think all the reasons you have listed apply, however, they also apply to emails from non marketers. The reason less marketing emails are opened is because of one thing: People don’t like being sold to.

Half the emails I receive are built with the corporate mumbo jumbo speak or they are way too text heavy to get through. The fact that they are impersonal just adds to the “bad” list.

An eNewsletter that has the same look and feel it did two years ago? That’s another one. I have been opting out of more than a few lists lately because they are doing nothing but selling (begging) and the content just isn’t there.

Interesting point about the e-letter being the same as it was two years ago. So, do you think companies should constantly change and evolve their content? Or, for those e-letters, was the content never really there in the first place? Just wondering. Thanks for weighing in, Craig!

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