The Big Email Marketing Lie: Why Open Rates Are for Suckers

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On Thursday, Dean Isaacs and I will host a 5in25 trainingMetrics that Matter – 5 Things to Measure in Your Marketing and Sales…

…and (spoiler alert):

Email open rate is not a metric that matters.

A story to clarify: 

A few years back, I attended a conference where an “email marketing expert” spoke. 

He described a campaign where he sent an email to a large list, tracked results and then sent a follow-up pitch to those who opened. 

The open rate for that follow-up: 74%. 

The expert chirped: “If you want to achieve open rates of 50, 60, even 74%, sign up…” and then he pitched a free report to collect prospects’ email addresses. 

That’s some P.T. Barnum stage craft! (Isn’t Barnum the guy who said, “There’s a sucker born every minute?”)

After the circus, audience members crowded ‘round the expert to gather some more priceless worthless marketing nuggets.. 


Here’s the thing…

Open rates lie. 

That 74% rate screams, “Look at me! Marketing success.” 

But what if the marketer hadn’t filtered his list?

What if he sent the follow-up to everyone – even those who didn’t open the first email? 

Let’s do the math. 

(Stick with me. This will be quick and easy. And it’s important if you don’t want to waste time chasing vanity metrics). 

First email:

Sent to 1,000 people. Opened by 100. Open rate 10% (not great). 

Second email:

  • Option A: Sent only to the 100 who opened the first. Opened by 74 people. Open rate 74% (Spectacular. Record-setting! Sign-me up!)
  • Option B: Sent to the entire list of 1,000 people. Opened by how many? We already know that 74 of the 100 who opened the first email also opened the second. But what about the 900 who didn’t open the first email. For argument’s sake, let’s assume NONE of those 900 open the Option B email. So now you have only 74 people out of 1,000 who opened the follow-up. That’s a dismal open rate of 7.4%. 

So which email will generate more sales, 

  • Option A: Open rate 74%?
  • Or Option B: Open rate 7.4%? 

No-brainer, right!? The one with the 74% open rate surely generates more sales, right!? 

Guess again, sucker!

Reframe the question. 

Which email will generate more sales,  

  • Option A opened by 74 people?
  • Or Option B opened by 74 people? 

(Not a no-brainer.) 

Want to skyrocket your open rates? 

Delete all the people from your list who haven’t opened an email this month. 

You can brag all the way to the bank about your inflated open rates…

…and then realize…

…you cannot deposit “opens”
in your checking account… 

One last thing, all of the above assumes your email software tracks opens accurately.

It doesn’t. 

Apple devices “open” emails even when recipients don’t read them. 

Lots of email software blocks the mechanism that tracks opens. So you don’t know it when some people actually read your email. 

But that’s a story for another day. 

The big takeaway for now: Quit worrying so much about open rates.

Countless factors affect the rate. And a higher rate does not necessarily mean greater marketing success. 

If you want to know which metrics truly matter, join Dean and me on Thursday at 5 p.m ET, 4 p.m. CT.

Details and RSVP on LinkedIn

Don't go away yet..

p.s. Coaches, authors, and consultants hire me to power-up their creative content and storytelling to captivate prospects, stand-out and book more business.

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Tom Ruwitch

Tom Ruwitch is the founder and CEO of Story Power Marketing. For more than 30 years, he has helped businesses grow by delivering powerful stories using a variety of different media.