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Email Engagement Best Practices: The What, Why, and How

  • Updated: 17 August 2021
  • 9 min read

In its initial days, email was almost a military application with negligible civilian access. Today, it is the go-to communication channel for over 3.9 billion people worldwide. Email is so successful because it helps enterprises reach their customers where it matters—their inboxes. Email engages users in a way that no other tool can, even outside of the product.

Is email still relevant?

While it’s true that email is now facing a lot of competition, in reality, it is nowhere close to losing its utility. Alternatives like social media and push notifications aren’t nearly as efficient as email, which is the most ROI-yielding marketing channel. Email gives a $44 ROI, the highest possible in present-day marketing.

This channel gives a 44X ROI

It's almost too good to be true

So what’s made email marketing so powerful as a marketing channel? What’s so good about it is that it assures user engagement and conversions? Here are some plausible reasons:

Email is a direct and personal way to reach customers

The best place to meet customers virtually is through their inboxes. Since it is a direct mode of communication, email isn’t ignored or pushed too late for reading. This gives email engagement the potential to quickly turn interested prospects into hot leads who can convert into paying customers. And if customers are already aware of the brand, messaging can be personalized according to the segment they fall in.

Email is actively read

Email can target a large population of users at the same time. This channel makes it possible to convey a single piece of information in multiple content formats—you can add more text and visuals over email than via other channels. You can also give users more options to explore your company by adding different CTAs and hyperlinks. With SMS or push notifications, the best action you can expect is a click on the link.

“Despite the flurry of social media and instant messenger notifications, email remains one of the most active channels that people read. If the subject lines are great and the email is personalized well, users will certainly interact with email more than with any other channel.”
-Raymund Villanueva, Head of Business and QR Ecosystems, PayMaya

With email, it is also possible to make the reader take immediate action. You can embed CTAs that can take the user to a product demo link, sign-up page, or even a review page, whereas other channels usually cut short with a one-way broadcast conversation.

Bonus Content
  • The Modern Marketer’s Quick Guide to Email Marketing [Ebook]

A framework for value-driven email engagement

Emails need to deliver value to stand out from the rest

How do you make your emails stand out?

Before delving into the details of click analysis, email lists, or the choice of infrastructure, you must first think about:

1. Segmentation

Segmentation refers to the process of bucketing customers into separate groups. Each group will have its own demographic and behavioral traits like location, gender, age, occupation, pain points, decision-making power, etc. Of course, segmentation cannot be performed manually. You need the help of automation to implement advanced segmentation at scale, especially when you have an email list of global users.

“Segmentation worked tremendously well for us, increasing open rates almost 10x from a year ago. To segment effectively, you need to understand your user’s consumption habits, what they’re doing, when they’re more likely to click on emails, what their behavioral traits are—everything.”
-Shewali Tewari, Growth Marketing Manager, Airtel XStream & Wynk Music

Here are some tried-and-tested tips on advanced segmentation:

  • Choose your segmentation model based on impact: Before selecting the metrics you want to segment your users against, create a grid of segmentation options and mark the ones that will result in the greatest impact.
  • Segment users right when they sign up: Encourage users to update their email preferences and mention demographic details such as age and gender right after they sign up, in the welcome email.
  • Segment users according to engagement levels: Designate email engagement metrics like opens and non-opens, clicks and non-clicks, etc. to different segments that capture varying levels of user intent.
  • Prioritize the top order value segment: These are your best, most regular, highest paying customers and you need to show your appreciation with reward programs, gifts, and incentives to keep them coming back.

2. Triggered timing

With email, you can target a global audience, even though they live in different time zones. You can trigger specific emails based on a preset schedule for different time zones. For example, Netflix emails users every Friday evening—but Friday evening in Asia could be Thursday midnight in another country. To ensure that all users receive the email in their inboxes on their Friday evening, the email tool will be set to trigger time-based email bursts.

Similar to segmentation, time-based email triggers are also done with the help of email marketing programs. You can set up invoice emails or purchase confirmation emails, for example, and make sure your customers close the deal—all the while automating the entire process, right from the trigger to the sending. Today, there are AI-based email marketing platforms that can help send the right message to the right user at the right time.

3. Contextual content

Send your users contextual content

Send your users contextual emails for happier engagement

Content, that is, text and imagery shown on the subject line, email body and the CTA is perhaps the biggest driver of actions. They should be well-thought-out, creative, and persuasive. The content should resonate with the user, address their pain points, exceed their expectations, and deliver the information they are looking for.

The content should also be tied to the segment the user is bucketed into. For example, if segment A consists of users looking for a smartwatch, the email should promote the item and incentivize users to finish the purchase. If you have segmented users based on geographies, you can become even more hyper-localized in your language. Ultimately, email is all about messaging. The more valuable and personal the content it carries, the better it will be responded to.

4. Personalization

Addressing the user by the first name is just one step. True personalization in email marketing is providing value to the user in a contextual manner. This includes sending them contextually relevant content that is personalized to their buyer journey.

Some examples are awareness-based blogs, webinars, and video recommendations for top-of-the-funnel prospects and new feature releases, pricing plan updates, upcoming features, etc. for existing customers. This form of dynamic personalization heightens email engagement.

A great example of dynamically personalized emails would be the Netflix recommendation roundup—each user gets a targeted email specific to their taste in cinema. These custom recommendations remind users of the value they’re deriving from the product, and encourage them to use Netflix instantly.

Another great example is Pinterest—each week, users are sent a recommendation roundup, which is a personalized dump of everything that the user has displayed an interest in. There are also further recommendations stemmed from what the user has searched for. For example, if you search for pottery-based images, you get coffee mug recommendations in the next email as well.


MoEngage Email: An email marketing platform with automation & personalization

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What kind of emails work best?

How do you make your communication stand out?

Make your emails good enough to stand out from the rest

Emails that offer genuine value to the user receive maximum open rates and engagement. Customers judge whether the email is going to be useful to them or not based on subject lines, so it’s crucial to put thought into writing subject lines that appeal to the needs of the user.

“Email subject lines should not over-promise. They should invoke a fascination in the user. They should create the impression that the email can provide helpful information.”
-Patricia Lim, Digital Marketing Manager, CIMB Bank Philippines

There are several types of emails that can help businesses maximize user engagement, the most popular ones being:

1. Informative emails

Informative emails inform users about current trends and practices in the industry. They help the customer become a domain expert in their industry and enable them to choose the product they need.

2. Educative emails

Educative emails provide customers with the knowledge to make informed decisions. These emails also highlight to customers the USPs of a product and why one must be chosen over the others.

3. Promotional emails

Emails that announce upcoming offers, ongoing deals, promo codes, coupons, holiday deals, etc. that the customer can avail.

4. Transactional emails

These give the customer updates about their current transactions, password resets, or similar updates that cannot be expected to drive engagement. They can be considered to be part of improving the customer experience of the product as a whole and not an active part of marketing or revenue generation.

Top to bottom, optimize customer journeys throughout the funnel

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Key engagement metrics to track email engagement

Track the right metrics for better engagement

How do you measure email success?

Beyond open rates and click rates, there are three types of metrics that should be tracked to measure email engagement, which are:

1. Email deliverability

Email deliverability is not the same as delivery. Deliverability tries to answer the question, “Did the email land in the inbox, or did it go to spam?” It is the number of emails users actually receive in their inboxes, as opposed to delivery, which is the number of emails the recipient server has accepted to receive.

“Email is a key driver of revenue and engagement, so it’s crucial that the emails we’re sending actually reach people’s inboxes.”
-Alice Cornell, Director of Email Deliverability, Change.org

2. Click analysis

Click analysis hopes to answer questions like:

  • How many people are clicking on your CTAs, and which ones are they clicking on?
  • What content blocks to focus on, and what to avoid
  • What is the CTR for each content block?

Click analysis shows how you can improve the content being sent in the emails. In a way, it is the barometer that shows what kind of content users are really interested in clicking and knowing about.

3. Conversion rate

Conversion means different things to different businesses. For some, it could mean bringing visitors to their website, and for others, it could mean transacting a sale. It is necessary to lay down in definite terms what is expected of an email as the final objective. This will help measure results with clarity—otherwise, engagement rates will be misleading.

For example, a high open-rate in banking may not indicate success, but it will for an eCommerce business that wants to promote a sale. This is why it is necessary to lay down industry-specific conversion metrics and benchmarks.

How to use segmentation to drive email engagement

Segment your users and send them targeted communication

Targeted emails incentivize engagement

Why should you use segmentation in email marketing? Segmented emails are known to have at least 14% higher open rates. They help personalize the email journey specifically to the user’s buyer journey and thus maximizes their engagement.

Segmentation can be performed in a series of three steps, in a specific order:

  1. Demographic and interest-based content personalization: Send users content that is trending and considered popular with their age, gender, and cultural group.
  2. Current relationship with the brand: Which funnel stage is your user in? Based on the answer to this, you can vary content velocity, messaging, and your response.
  3. Last interaction with the brand: If it has been quite a while since the customer has engaged with your brand, it is necessary to warm up the conversation with informative content before sending them promotional emails.

How to deal with churned or lost customers

An RFM analysis usually helps gauge customer sentiments towards your brand. It points to customers who are loyal, about to churn, or need personalized attention to maintain loyalty. But what about churned customers?

Churned customers are not lost forever. There is still an opportunity to win them back, provided your email engagement is strategically planned.

While reinitiating interactions with lost or churned customers, it is necessary to dial down on the mailing frequency. One of the best strategies to initiate a conversation with churned customers is to ask them why they churned, via polls and surveys.

It is also a best practice to create a separate segment for them so that promotional or transactional emails are not sent to them even by accident.

It is ideal to nurture them with educational content that will encourage them to engage. Perhaps, in the near future, when their scenarios change, they might become actively engaged users.

In a nutshell

It is essential to utilize the right channels for growth

Email marketing is a powerful tool for growth

Email marketing is definitely rewarding—the 44X ROI is too good to be true. However, to achieve such impressive ROI, a high-level strategy has to be created, taking into account customer demographics, interests based on segments, the objective that the email is meant to achieve, and the metrics to measure its success.

It is not possible to run a successful email marketing campaign with manual efforts. A solid email marketing platform is the need of the hour to get the coveted 44x ROI.

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Related watch

Best practices for boosting email engagement: SEA

...With Patricia Lim, Digital Marketing Manager at CIMB Bank, Raymund Villanueva, Director and Head of PayMaya QR Ecosystems, and Arijeet Rana, Growth Manager at MoEngage.

Best practices and strategy for email deliverability and engagement: US

...with Alice Cornell, Director of Email Deliverability at Change.org, Brittney Kleinfelter, Partner - Performance Marketing at Chameleon/Collective, and Meagan White, Head of North America Marketing at MoEngage.

Best practices for boosting email engagement: India

...with Shewali Tiwari, Growth Marketing Manager at Airtel XStream and Wynk Music, Dhruv Vats, Sales & Growth Manager at MoEngage, and Sandeep Pandey, Marketing Manager at MoEngage.

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About The Author
Ramita is a content marketer with a knack for creative storytelling. She enjoys bridging the gap between people and brands through the power of language. When she isn't writing, she's either reading, traveling, or playing fetch with her dog.
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