The 12 (email) myths of Christmas
9 minutes read time | 3 December 2019
On 25 December this year, a large man in a red suit with white fur trim will fly around the world in a sleigh pulled by eight magic reindeer. This man will sneak into billions of homes in a single night and load each one of them up with presents (all the presents were made by elves, BTW). He will do all of this without making a sound or being seen by anyone. Oh, and he’s also been doing this every year on the exact same day since the beginning of time.
Yes, it’s myth season. A magical time when we fill our children’s heads with utter nonsense to make Christmas Day the premiere event on their collective annual calendars.
Myths like these can be helpful. They fill our homes with joy, delight our progeny to no end, and give parents around the world the perfect opportunity to offer empirical evidence of the many benefits of good behavior (good behavior = good presents).
Other myths are far less helpful, particularly those perpetuated within the common consciousness of the email marketing community. In the email game, where we don’t have the considerable benefits of magic reindeer and helpful elves at our disposal, they can actually be quite harmful to the crucial quest of accomplishing our marketing goals.
So, much like many of our parents had to do at a certain point in our lives, we’ve decided to dispel a few of email marketing’s most enduring myths this holiday season. It is our hope that our revelations will result in far fewer tears.
Now, let’s have a look under the tree and unwrap the email marketing truths Santa has left for us.
Myth 1: Email is dead (or dying).
The myth: New user interfaces, social media platforms, and messaging services have made the email channel obsolete, and people will stop using it altogether in the near future, thus rendering email marketing completely useless.
The gift of truth: For every dollar a brand invests in email marketing, it receives 42 dollars in return, according to Litmus data. Despite the doom and gloom predictions that have plagued the email channel for the past decade or so, it remains a key revenue generating channel for many brands. Virgin Holidays, for example, indicates that (with a little help from Phrasee) the brand’s email revenues have actually increased in recent years to the tune of “millions of dollars” in increased email marketing revenue.
Myth 2: An email’s subject line is the primary reason subscribers decide to open your email.
The myth: A good email subject line always means more opens.
The gift of truth: Optimized email subject line copy is a crucial element in subscribers’ decisions about opening/ignoring a marketing email. However, data compiled by SuperOffice has shown that it is actually the second most important factor in this ROI-critical decision (47% of people open an email based on subject line). In truth, the same data showed that 69% of email users credit the sender name (or “from name”) as the primary driver in their email opening decisions. In reality, both a positive perception of your brand’s sender name AND effective subject line language are of crucial importance in driving robust open rates.
Myth 3: Certain keywords alone make emails go straight to the junk folder.
The myth: Words you consider to be spammy effect deliverability.
The gift of truth: Let us be clear on this point: there are DEFINITELY some words that should never be used in an email subject line or anywhere else for that matter (hint: if you wouldn’t say it to your mother, don’t say it in an email). Spam filters use advanced machine learning technology to identify junk mail. While individual words are factors, these words alone are not determining factors. A variety of other criteria such as subject lines, sender name, historical engagement rates and so on combine to trigger spam filters. So, a subject line like “Free viagra delivered by Britney Spears” will most certainly be flagged as spam but mentioning the word “free” in a line won’t necessarily.
Myth 4: Click-through rate is the most important email marketing metric brands should test and optimize for.
The myth: All email campaigns should be optimized toward click-through rates, because that’s where the money is.
The gift of truth: A campaign’s click-through rate is extremely important. After all, driving customers down the path to purchase is the ultimate goal of every email marketing campaign. However, in subject line multivariate testing, open rates generate much more robust and useful data for predicting how a campaign will perform in many cases. This is because open rate is correlated with other performance metrics such as click-through rate and conversions. Further along subscribers’ journeys after they open an email, the sample sizes get smaller and performance data becomes less reliable. Thus, optimizing a campaign toward open rate is a much better approach than optimizing towards clicks-through rate.
Myth 5: The more emails you send, the more you annoy recipients.
The myth: If sending three emails per week generates $100 in revenue, it stands to reason that sending six emails per week will generate $200 in revenue. Therefore, sending more emails is always the best strategy.
The gift of truth: Campaign Monitor reports that 45.8% of email subscribers who have flagged a marketing email as “spam” did so because that brand “emailed too often”. Email frequency is much debated but the important thing to consider is the relevancy of the content within those emails. If you are a valued brand that respects the relationship it has with subscribers, increasing the frequency of the emails you send won’t necessarily damage the brand-subscriber relationship.
Myth 6: Including an emoji/offer/first name etc. in a subject line always boosts results.
The myth: If you want better email subject line performance, add in an emoji, a specific offer, or a subscriber’s name and watch the increased opens roll in.
Emojis, offers (i.e. 50% off!), and subscriber names work… sometimes. Modern digital audiences are fickle, and their tastes and preferences change all the time. That’s why an ongoing, robust multivariate testing strategy is so important to email subject line success. Every brand should be experimenting with different language variants, but without scientifically sound methodologies in place to allow them to learn from their results, such tests will accomplish little and show diminishing returns over time. The good news is that Phrasee’s deep learning engine can do all of this at scale for any brand.
Myth 7: The best time to send your email is on Tuesday at 10 a.m.
The myth: There is an optimal day/time to send marketing emails, so you should always send your emails then.
The gift of truth: There are dozens of blog posts out there that tell us that X time on X day of the week is the optimal moment to launch our latest email marketing campaign. The thing is, though, each one says that a different day/time is the best. How can this be? There are two reasons. 1) The data used to determine optimal send time may not be of a scale sufficient to determine this definitively, leaving the resulting insights open to random variance. 2) Every brand, and every audience, is different. That’s why testing such things at scale on your brand’s own unique audience is the only sound way to learn about how/when/where your subscribers interact with your brand’s emails.
Myth 8: Nobody checks their email when on the toilet.
The myth: The best time to get people to read emails is when they’re at their desk at work, sitting on their couch at home or using their laptop.
The gift of truth: In a survey among 940 Americans about their smartphone consumption habits, 38.7% of respondents said they check their email on the toilet. And due to a little thing called social desirability bias, we believe the percentage of people who do this is actually much larger. So, the next time you check your inbox on the porcelain throne, don’t think you are alone. This is the dirty secret of the modern age.
Myth 9: Short subject lines produce better results.
The myth: There is an optimal email subject line length, therefore all your subject lines should be exactly that long.
The gift of truth: In the wild, short subject lines can perform well and longer subject lines can perform well. The reason so many people like to shout about “optimal” email subject line length is because it is easy to measure. Subject line length is but one element of many that can impact email subject line performance. In isolation, however, the length of a subject doesn’t make a subject line good or bad, nor does it have a statistically significant effect on how it will perform.
Myth 10: What works this week will work next week.
The myth: A subject line structure that performs well on your audience will continue to do so in future campaigns.
The gift of truth: Using similar language from campaign to campaign results in something we at Phrasee like to call “subject line performance decay”. Put simply, as a brand uses the same (or similar) subject line language in several campaigns, the impact of that language (measured by open rate) declines over time. By contrast, our data has shown that using diverse language and regularly multivariate testing subject lines results in an average open rate uptick of between 5% to 10% per campaign.
Myth 11: Anything that boosts the performance of your next campaign is worth doing.
The myth: If you can increase KPIs for your next campaign with high-pressure or dishonest language and other spurious tactics, you should go ahead and do it.
The gift of truth: There is no shortage of tricks and sneaky tactics that a brand can use to increase email marketing performance over the short term. However, measured over time, such tactics result in little more than loss of brand value, sender reputation damage, and higher unsubscribe rates. Targeting negative emotions such as guilt, fear, and anxiety in your brand’s audience is not a sustainable email marketing strategy. Taking the long view and protecting the valuable relationships you’ve built with your subscribers is of infinitely more importance than a short-term uplift in opens and clicks.
Myth 12: AI-powered copywriting can’t write email marketing language in your brand's voice effectively.
The myth: AI-powered copywriting sounds robotic and won’t engage human consumers effectively.
The gift of truth: There are plenty of examples of amusingly bad AI- written copy, nonsensical AI-generated stories, and terrible AI-composed song lyrics out there. However, these do not reflect the current capabilities of the AI deep learning technologies available today. Here at Phrasee, our AI-powered copywriting technology has been generating short-form copywriting that is indistinguishable from copy written by humans (and performs better in 95% of cases!) for quite some time. Our AI is capable of writing copy in your brand’s unique voice and accurately predicting which language will perform most effectively on your brand’s unique audience.