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What do unread marketing emails really mean?

We’ve all heard the legends…

People’s email inboxes are filling up.

Image credit: NBC


The volume of email correspondence worldwide has reached new heights as the much-maligned medium’s benefits and extremely efficient ROI have birthed an email marketing renaissance that few suspected could or would ever happen.

The growing sophistication of email marketing design and technology over the past 2-3 years has created an unprecedented logjam of quality, personalised and automated email marketing correspondence in the world’s inboxes. This has prompted ESPs to repeatedly up the inbox storage space ante just to stay relevant.

The marketplace is crowded.


And so are our inboxes.

According to research conducted by MailChimp, open rates for emails across all industries max out at just shy of 27%. This means that more than 2 out of every 3 marketing emails sent will go unopened, and that is the best-case scenario.

These emails are relegated to the “unread” category, to languish there for weeks, months or even years. To accumulate in large numbers and be pointed to repeatedly as evidence of the inefficacy of email marketing, or even as the death knell of email itself.

But is that the truth?

What does this all really mean for email as a marketing channel?

Let’s take a look.

What do unread marketing emails really mean?


Of the 112.5 billion marketing emails sent worldwide in 2015 (using our best case scenario of a 27% open rate from MailChimp’s data) approximately 30.4 billion were opened.

This leaves worldwide email users (of which there were 2.6 billion in 2015) with a total of 82.1 billion unread marketing emails in their collective inboxes, or an average of about 31.5 per person for that year.

31 unread marketing emails and 11.7 opened marketing emails for every man, woman and child with an active email account, worldwide, for the year 2015.

That is, of course, just a worldwide average.

There are certainly many accounts that received no email marketing correspondence whatsoever, and many more that received a disproportionately larger number of marketing emails.

We here at Phrasee, for example, noticed that we began receiving a much larger amount of marketing messages, via both email and other channels, following our recent announcement that we had raised £1 million in seed funding.

Funny, that.

In any case, it is safe to assume that some inboxes are inundated with heaps of marketing emails, while others receive very few, if any at all.

It’s the way of the email marketing world.

The point is this:

For those email marketers hoping to consistently land their emails in the category of the 27% that get opened, this presents two very important questions:

  1. What is wrong with the 73% of marketing emails that don’t get opened?

  2. What is right with the 27% that do?

The answer, of course, is multifaceted and complex and dependent on a number of variables.

There is, however, one simple truth that those whose emails are not getting opened must come to terms with: they are doing something wrong

But, what?

Well, a few things, actually…

Subject lines

boring subject line

We here at Phrasee have always believed that the email subject line is one of the most, if not the most, important part of any marketing email. Get the subject line right and people will be way more likely to open your email. It really is that simple. It’s a safe bet that the 73% of unopened marketing emails were led with subject lines that were found wanting when the recipient saw them in their inbox.

Brand damage

There are brands that send more than their fair share of marketing emails. Some of those brands do so very effectively and others not so much. Those that fall into the “not so much” category often damage their brand by sending out boring, spammy and open bait emails. Recipients, fed up with wasting their time on these emails, will be likely to ignore future emails from that brand and may even unsubscribe from their email list. Emails from that brand become white noise, all but invisible when scanning through one’s inbox.



If you expect people to open your emails, you’d better have something to offer. Email Marketing is a dialogue. It is like approaching someone at a cocktail party, if you have nothing of value to say then no one will want to talk to you. If you repeat yourself, no one will want to talk to you. If you are talking just for the sake of talking, no one will want to talk to you. You will be labelled a bore- someone to be avoided whenever possible.

But if you are the person who always has an interesting, funny story to tell, or can be relied on to provide something- sage advice, a sympathetic ear, even a warm smile and a hearty handshake, people will not only be glad to see you, they will seek you out.

Offer recipients value in some form, and they will respond positively when they see your emails in their inbox.


Sloppy, amateurish emails turn people off. An off-brand colour scheme and layout will dilute your message.

The same is true for emails that are a pain to read on a particular platform, say, mobile, for instance.

Design matters. There is a reason the advertising industry spends billions of dollars on graphic design every year. It’s because people react a certain way when presented with something that looks slick and is aesthetically pleasing. The look and feel of marketing emails can mean the difference between a recipient who will continue to open your emails, and one who will not.


When your audience opens your emails, how do they function? Are your calls to action on point? If a recipient likes what you have to say and decides to interact with your brand in some way, are they able to do so with as little hassle as possible? They’d better be. With many recipients who are ready to buy, subscribe, find out more, or check out your website, you only get one shot. Miss it, and that potential conversion may never come back.

In our, humble opinion, these 5 elements of a marketing email are what separate the email marketing haves from the email marketing have-nots.  If you fall into the category of those whose marketing emails go unread, it is a safe bet that the problem lies somewhere in these 5 elements. If any of the above are lacking, open rates will suffer, and it is time to go back to the drawing board or get some help.

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Trevor Beers, Senior Language Technician, Phrasee

Phrasee pheatures: Trevor Beers

Our very own Senior Language Technician, Trevor Beers, shares advice for those looking to join the tech industry, and insights into life at Phrasee.

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