Does anyone care about your email marketing? Litmus decided to find out — and has good news to report.

Targeted email campaigns are extremely effective, Chad White, research director at Cambridge, Mass.-based Litmus told CMSWire.

Despite predictions that social media would soon eclipse email, its use as a marketing tool has never been stronger. As proof, White cited the ongoing investment in email applications by the likes of Google (with its new Inbox last year) and Microsoft (with constant Exchange upgrades).

One is Better Than the Other

However, this is not about software or hardware. This is about user behavior and how people react to email received from marketers.

The study, The Viral Email examined the rate at which emails were forward from one user to another. Litmus calculated this from a sample of 400,000 commercial emails sends with at least 500 opens between January 2013 and March 2015.

To understand the drivers of email forwarding, it analyzed more than 200 emails from the top 1 percent of viral emails and another 200-plus emails from around the 50th percentile. It then compared those two groups of email in terms of their tactics and topics.

About 5 percent of the email fell flat: not a single forward. But the remaining 95 percent did.

email marketing benchmarks

Specifically, the study found, "The median email (50th percentile) produced a 0.27 percent forward-to-open rate. Put another way, the middle-of-the-pack email generates one forward for every 370 opens. As we travel along the forward-to-open curve, it exhibits the exponential growth behavior that you’d expect.

"The 75th percentile was 2.4 times more viral than the 50th percentile, the 90th percentile 5.1 times more viral than the 50th percentile; the 95th percentile 7.9 times; and the 99th percentile 17.6 times. Or put another way, the 1st percentile of viral emails generates 1 forward for every 21 opens.

White was surprised by the virility of promotional email. He said he thought newsy, helpful content would be forwarded at a higher rate, which was true to an extent. But well-done promotional campaigns also generated a lot of forwards ­— about the same level as newsy content.

Why Forwarding Counts

White said forwarding expands the reach of marketing messages and generates additional conversions. It also indicates the relative success and health of your email campaigns. Those that subscribe to email feeds expect:

  • Marketers to respect the access they provide to their inboxes
  • Email that is functional and relevant
  • Some kind of value, whether it’s in the form of deals, news or content
  • Something interesting, unique or remarkable

Promoting Marketing Emails

Litmus has identified four promotional drivers on the basis of a deep dive into the top 1 percent of viral emails.

  1. Audience Size: Smaller audiences, gathered around narrow interests, specialty products, niche services and local attractions, forward more.
  2. Segmentation and Triggered Messaging: Larger companies can increase the virility of their messages through segmented and triggered email.
  3. 'Share with Your Network': Subscribers respond to appeals to forward the email
  4. Personalization: Several highly viral emails included pictures of the recipient or their friends or family members that were taken at an event hosted by the sender

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License Title image by CharNewcomb.