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7 Organic Tips for Growing Your Email ROI


Would you turn down an opportunity to increase the value and impact of your content marketing program with just a few tweaks to your email list? How about the chance to earn rock-star-level praise from your executive team for achieving better returns on your company’s email marketing investment? When you consider just how valuable email subscribers can be to content marketing success, I’d be surprised if you haven’t already pulled out your credit card and started looking for the “sign-me-up” button to take advantage of this amazing offer right now.

Sorry … I spend way too much time watching late-night infomercials. But seriously …

According to Jessica Best, director of data-driven marketing at Barkley, these kinds of results are well within the grasp of any company that creates email content for a subscribed audience.

Paving the way to success

Let’s back up a minute because email marketing is some seriously powerful stuff – I’m talking the OxiClean of content marketing products. Consider these few stats:

  • According to a 2015 VentureBeat study, email offers the greatest potential for ROI of any marketing channel, delivering an average return of $38 for every dollar invested.
#Email offers the greatest potential for ROI of any marketing channel via @venturebeat. Share on X
  • A June 2016 survey of U.S. marketers conducted by the Data & Marketing Association and Demand Metric found that email had a median ROI of 122% – more than four times higher than other marketing formats examined, including social media, direct mail, and paid search.
#Email had a median ROI of 122%, more than 4x higher than other marketing formats via @DMA_USA @DemandMetric Share on X

But, as Jessica says, you aren’t truly ready to unlock your “email rock star” badge until you are prepared to do two things:

  1. Accurately measure the returns on your marketing investment – not just opens and clicks.
  1. Understand how to maximize the content assets and email framework you have in place.
#Email rock stars measure returns on marketing investment, not just opens and clicks, says @bestofjess. Share on X

Fortunately, in a presentation she delivered at Content Marketing World 2016, Jessica shared some of her best (!) tips for overcoming deliverability issues, increasing email engagement among your audience, and determining the overall impact of your efforts – all of which will enable you to demonstrate your achievements in a way that your content marketing stakeholders will understand – and thank you for.

Doing the math

Jessica asserts that one of the primary barriers to email success is a lack of understanding when it comes to measuring the returns on your (email) marketing investment (ROMI). For the record, Jessica describes ROMI as a separate calculation from ROI, as it doesn’t factor in the business’ overall cost of goods – it’s simply marketing dollars in/marketing revenue out.

Jessica recommends calculating email ROMI by taking the amount of revenue a campaign generated, subtracting your expenses for creating and delivering that campaign, and dividing the result by your expenses.

email marketing romi

Jessica also suggests visiting the site for a simple calculation tool that comes in handy for this task.


Click to enlarge

Maximizing your most valuable asset

Grow a healthy subscriber list, and tend it regularly: When it comes to email marketing success, Jessica says everything boils down to your ability to cultivate a robust list of “hand-raising” subscribers (i.e., those who have asked for your content and, therefore, are more likely to read it regularly), as these audiences represent your strongest potential for business growth. No matter how valuable, creative, and fresh your email content might be, if you aren’t able to deliver your messages into the hands of the right people (and as many of them as possible), you’ll never reach your full ROMI potential.

Of course, it’s simply not enough to amass a giant list of names and email addresses; as you know by now, those lists need to be built through ethical means, so that your reputation as a credible, trustworthy marketer remains beyond reproach. This can be achieved rather simply by following the industry’s best practices (like the ones Seth Godin describes in his book, Permission Marketing) for securing your subscribers’ opt-in permission before you message them.

Follow best practices for securing #email subscribers’ opt-in permission before messaging. @ThisIsSethsBlog Share on X

This keeps your email content from running afoul of expectations. But you also need to make sure your recipients continually view the content they receive from you as a desirable benefit, not a delete-able nuisance. Remember: Just because subscribers gave you permission to reach out, doesn’t mean they feel obligated to engage beyond the initial connection.

Subscribers give permission, but they may not want to engage beyond the 1st email, says @bestofjess. Share on X

Optimize your lists: We all have email newsletters we were once enthusiastic about receiving but, for some reason or another, are no longer motivated to click through, or even open. As marketers we hate to admit that our messages may not be a top priority to readers (or to the email clients that deliver them); but the bigger issue here is that sending emails to subscribers who are no longer active  – or even interested – can skew our metrics and lower our ROMI. Think about this: According to Jessica’s data, on average, as much as 40% of your email list hasn’t opened, clicked, or purchased from you in over a year. That’s a lot of dead weight dragging down your campaign success averages.


Re-engage your fans: Jessica feels that your first course of action for addressing this issue should be to identify and re-engage with subscribers who still want to hear from you, but just haven’t expressed their love for a while.

Naturally, you want to do everything you can to retain the value proposition represented by your most active subscribers (not to mention you want to make sure they are satisfied with the benefits your business offers to them). Fortunately, as Jessica discussed in her session, you can boost your response rate by over one-third by re-engaging with subscribers and asking them to get back in touch with your business. For example, Hostess manages this elegantly – and in a brand-friendly way – by periodically sending inactive subscribers a little reminder that their “spokescake” Twinkie the Kid still loves them – along with the promise of an incentive if they take action to reconnect.

Boost response rate by 1/3+ by re-engaging w/ subscribers & asking them to get back in touch. @bestofjess Share on X


Trim the dead weight to conserve budget: As Jessica notes, it can be useful to periodically weed out perennially inactive subscribers (i.e., the 40% who never open your messages, as shown in the chart above). When you are no longer sending emails to fatigued or out-of-market consumers, she estimates that your send or volume costs can be reduced by as much as 40%. This is a big win to show your executives – without doing anything more than scrubbing your list of consumers who were unlikely to convert as leads or customers in the first place.

It’s useful to weed out perennially inactive subscribers, says @bestofjess. Share on X

What’s the best way to manage this? Consider this example Jessica shared from YRC Freight, which illustrates one way to makes it easy for fatigued recipients to self-identify and bow out gracefully:


But there’s another issue at play here, too: deliverability. When a subscriber isn’t engaging regularly, it’s one of many possible signals to the email client (like Gmail or Yahoo) that your messages aren’t essential – which makes them more likely to be labeled as junk (unless the recipient has you on their “safe sender” list). If your messages aren’t making it into your recipients’ inboxes in the first place, it can compound the other factors that may be dragging down your ROMI. By clearing your list of subscribers who don’t engage, your business looks more attractive to email clients. This gives you a better shot at getting through to the inbox of those who do want your messages – thus boosting your metrics organically.

Six ways to invest in your emails for a greater impact

Once you have a lean, mean subscriber list, and a basic understanding of your baseline email ROMI, you have the foundation you need to optimize, enhance, and amplify your email content, while minimizing the time and budget you waste on emailing uninterested consumers.

To get you started, Jessica offers the following six tips for re-energizing your email campaigns with some high-value, high-impact techniques.

  1. Look for ways to automate and extend the email experience: Considering that, as Jessica points out, welcome emails tend to have the highest open rates of all email messages, it makes sense to sustain consumers’ initial feeling of enthusiasm for your content as long as possible. Furthermore, according to a 2016 emfluence study, automated emails earn twice the open rate and nearly three times the click-through rate of batched emails. This is why using marketing automation to deliver your welcome message as a series of customer-nurturing emails (known as a drip campaign) – is such a powerful email technique.
Automated #email earn 2x the open rate & nearly 3x the click-through rate of batched emails via @emfluence. Share on X

For example, Armed Forces Bank developed a drip campaign that educated customers about its banking products one at a time, then tested the performance of this series against its legacy single welcome email. Among customers who received the automated drip campaign, the bank found a 20% increase in average account balance and a 40% increase in the number of savings accounts opened, and achieved a 230% lift in ROI, comparatively.


  1. Ask for the referral: Looking across various industry benchmarks, Jessica has found consumer conversion rates of 10% on average for referral campaigns. While sometimes this amounts to no more than a new subscriber or lead, it can also mean a purchase under the right circumstances.

For example, fast-casual restaurant Noodles & Company created a full-blown campaign to support email sign-up referrals, offering a chance to earn entries for its Travel the World sweepstakes. According to Jessica, the restaurant received almost three times the number of new email address sign-ups in one month as a result of the campaign, which also led to a 200% increase in monthly sales.


  1. Use motion to move your audience: According to Jessica, not only can including animation and relevant motion effects in emails add emotional appeal to your messages, it can drive up response rates up to three-fold. However, she cautions against delivering the message as a single, large image since many consumers turn off images in their email clients. They would only see a blank message in their inboxes.
Using animation & relevant motion effects in #emails can drive up response rates three-fold. @bestofjess Share on X

Consider this Wingstop example: The company enticed subscribers to try its new Smoke9 wings by adding a subtle smoke effect to the new flavor’s logo in their email. The relevant motion of the smoke wafting over the wings (not seen in the screenshot below) enhanced the overall message, while simulating a sensory experience in a way that words never could.


  1. Take advantage of video: While embedding a video in your email messages simply doesn’t work well in the inbox setting, there are ways to get around this. For example, Jessica recommends using a simple screenshot of your video (captured at the perfect moment) with a superimposed play button. But don’t stop there: You should offer text about why readers might be interested in watching, along with a link to the full video (like MindDrive did in the example below). Using the video as a strong call to action (rather than as the message) is a great way to interest subscribers in spending more time with your business and drive them back to your owned channels.


  1. Make email a two-way conversation: Not only can email speak to consumers on a personalized and emotional level, it can also convey how receptive your company is to hearing their feedback, opinions, and ideas – and demonstrate your commitment to responding to their needs.

Jessica suggests a range of ways marketers can increase consumer interaction through email, from simply providing a contact email and encouraging them to ask questions and offer comments, to inviting them to take part in a detailed user survey – as Indigo Wild does in the example below. Jessica found that this email’s promo code (a thank you for taking the survey) performed twice as well as the promo alone (i.e., without the survey asking for feedback).

indigo wild-survey

  1. Tell a great story: Many brands find it difficult enough just to identify the right inspiration for crafting a uniquely engaging message, let alone a way to extend that story through email over the long term. But Jessica asserts that even some of the most seemingly mundane of businesses can harness the creative muse and deliver an emotionally resonant experience through this marketing channel.

For example, Merial is a company that specializes in animal wellness – such as developing ulcer medications and other health solutions for farm animals like horses. Treating ulcers in horses isn’t exactly a sexy topic. Yet, the company still found a winning way to stand out in the inbox by featuring the story of one of its sales specialists who is a rodeo champion.

Merial employee spotlight


For even more helpful email marketing tips, check out our video with Jessica Best, below.

And don’t miss Jessica’s follow-up presentation this September at Content Marketing World 2017.  Register today for early-bird rates and use code BLOG100 to save an additional $100.