In email marketing, character counts.

Do words in advertising even matter anymore?

Across a media landscape that increasingly favors user-generated content and meme-ified messaging, the collective response among TikTok brand accounts and even Super Bowl advertisers seems to be an indifferent  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

These shifting channel preferences can leave digital tactics like email marketing feeling as traditional as a pennysaver, but there’s a reason that inboxes, digital or otherwise, keep getting filled — these tactics still get results.

According to a 2021 study by Litmus, email marketing still boasts the highest ROI among digital channels at $36 for every dollar spent, and while the tactic doesn’t deliver the splashiness of a viral TikTok, the ROI is achievable because marketers have substantial control over how their messaging can be tested and optimized to better galvanize audiences.

All of this is related to a principle that often moves out of focus when marketers sacrifice strategy for trendy tactics — different channels are built for different stages of purchasing.  


A social platform, especially one as nascent and trend-focused as TikTok, favors impression-oriented objectives, like brand awareness. Trending content evolves quickly in these spaces, so by the time a marketer has created content worth testing, the algorithm has pushed the related trend out of the targeted audience’s feed — a great thing for platforms driven by daily active user counts, but not for content marketers.  


As recent shifts in data privacy regulation have reinforced, email is not a channel built for brand awareness — it’s built for consideration and retention. Anyone you’re emailing should already know who you are, and you should know whether they’ve opted into hearing from you.  


But on any given day, there are likely 120 or so additional emails vying for attention. How do you effectively stand out? It starts with the first 40 characters any user sees in their inbox.  

For many Bader Rutter clients, email marketing isn’t a new practice, but a focused A/B testing strategy often is. Any optimization framework should be informed by the performance trends a client is experiencing, and since email isn’t often a new tactic, a common attribute we begin troubleshooting is a subject line’s impact on opens.  


It’s common for email marketers to experience open-rate decay, but known subscribers are too valuable to whiz by an email like it’s a highway billboard. That’s why an owned channel like email must leverage known subscriber attributes to captivate readers at every opportunity.  


Whether it’s purchase history, loyalty membership, known market segment or even a subscriber’s first name, tailoring your brand message around specific user attributes typically augments the outcome. When we work with our clients to test and tailor subject-line copy based on first-party data, we often see a reliable open-rate increase of approximately 5 percent. 


That increase may seem minor, but for large subscriber lists, it can net out to hundreds of additional referrals to the subsequent web destination. As an example, we recently developed an A/B testing framework for animal health leader Zoetis and its loyalty program, My Zoetis Rewards. While our tests are often focused on open-rate optimization, we still consider click-through rate a primary KPI. In some instances, a Zoetis open-rate test can still positively impact CTR by as much as 20 percent.  


And remember, open rate has never really been intended to serve as a primary performance indicator for the channel because it’s a channel built for conversion, not awareness. All the same, subject-line optimization is an essential first step to ensuring your most valuable audience gets the message.  

About the Author

Andy Penkalski is Marketing Automation Lead at Bader Rutter. He and his team help Bader Rutter clients hone their first-party media and data acquisition strategies that in turn allow them to maximize the impact and personalization of these owned channels and destinations. Prior to joining Bader Rutter, Andy spent much of the last decade in the Software as a Solution (SaaS) space, working as both user and promoter of essential B2B MarTech platforms. While Andy and his team love finding new ways to enhance the personalization, timeliness and relevancy of all email and SMS marketing efforts we support, they are equally passionate about helping our clients manage and track the progress and outcomes of their ever-evolving customer journeys.