Email Marketer vs. Clients/Higher-ups & The Best Practice Battle


There is often a discrepancy between what we, as email marketers, know is a best practice and what consulting clients or higher-ups in our organization tend to ask about. Our responsibility as email marketers is to steer the conversation based on our expertise, even when challenging. Clients/higher-ups should also understand that email marketers don’t create best practices. We recommend them based on what we see in the industry and what we have proven in testing.

The goal of this blog post is to explore the areas where I see this most and provide some context and possibly some solutions on how we can resolve this “battle” to create a better understanding of why email marketers often give the advice or recommendations they do.

In 2017, I started my consultancy. The first conference I attended was hosted by an ESP, one where I had worked for eight years. At the time of the conference, I had been away from the ESP for about four years. I was surprised that many discussions hadn’t changed in over ten years. Then it dawned on me… Yes, the email marketing space had changed, but certain things still disconnected the best practices.

Fast forward to today…

I make it a point to attend the Only Influencers members-only Zoom discussion every Thursday. When people ask me about this group, I always tell them they are the best in the business and that I learn something new from them on every call. Our discussions often revolve around strategy, metrics, segmentation, and more. The ideas shared are valuable and applicable to every brand, yet it remains a challenge for brands to embrace them fully. I see this even in my own consulting business and other groups I’m a part of.  I often see the question, “How do I explain this to my company?” when email marketers get pushback from internal teams.

Let’s dive into the three “battles” I see the most.

The metrics battle

The most important metric for measuring the success of our email campaigns is Revenue Per Email (RPE). Yet, every week, I get on calls with clients, and the first question is about the Open Rates. I get it. You want people to open your emails, but with Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection (MPP), the value of the Open Rate changed, and not every open is a true open.

Open Rate is the easiest metric for brands to understand, which is why this is the question I always get asked about first. Since the launch of MPP, I have used that to explain why open rates are no longer a great metric. However, I now reframe that conversation to discuss the current value of the Open Rate.

Today, I use the Open Rate to show that someone is likely not even getting that email. It isn’t about one campaign. It is about those subscribers who have received multiple emails in a certain period and have not opened ANY email. That group is taking up space on your list and costing you as you are paying your ESP to keep them, and chances are they aren’t coming back, or at least not anytime soon. A good segmentation analysis layered on with a second-party data solution will allow you to see if these are dead email addresses or just unengaged with your brand. This brings to be my second battle…

The segmentation battle

Again, I get it. You have a list of X and want to send it to X in the hopes of generating more revenue. Is this the best strategy? Consider the cost involved. While email marketing is generally low-cost, why pay for subscribers who have never purchased or engaged with your emails for a long time? That money can be better spent elsewhere.

By segmenting your list, you might find subscribers you could mail to more often, and some who aren’t engaging with email might be better suited for SMS marketing.

Last November, I emailed my clients about purging inactive Gmail accounts. I created segments of those who hadn't engaged with emails in over a year and had a Gmail email address. I recommended purging them as Gmail would start bouncing them, and I didn't want to harm the deliverability. I even showed them the percentage of customers in that group (pretty much 0 across the board). The responses were split 50/50. Some didn't want to purge because they felt like they were losing people, but those subscribers were already lost. You can probably guess what happened once Gmail purged those inactive accounts.

Segmentation is more important than list size! It will win every single time.

The image only battle

This is a topic I've been discussing for many years. I understand you've created a beautiful design utilizing your brand font and color, and I think it will make a great email. However, I used to use the NYC subway ride as my example of why image-only emails are problematic. If you're on a subway, some of your emails load, some load partially, and you want to read them during the ride. You can't do that if the most important content is in an image, and it doesn’t load! This recommendation was often met with “most of the time, I have good WIFI, and I want to use my custom font.”

In June, I attended Email Innovations World (EIW), co-produced by Only Influencers, and one of the most impactful sessions was led by Sarah Gallardo, Oracle, on email accessibility. This is when I realized that avoiding image-only emails is not just because of the NYC subway; it's also a legal issue.

Can you create an email that looks good with live text and images without relying solely on images? Absolutely! I do this for all my clients, and when we have A/B tested, guess which one wins?

A week after Sarah's session, a client sent me an email they thought was perfect. However, upon review, I found it was just one big image. When I brought up the accessibility issue, everything changed. Suddenly, we were discussing web-friendly fonts and how to ensure the font was large enough on mobile. I didn’t have to say anything besides accessibility to steer this conversation. No more using the NYC subway as my example of why image-only emails are problematic.

In Conclusion

There are lots of battles in email between email marketers and clients/higher-ups. I don’t think it is that brands don’t want to listen to the experts. It is more about how we, as email marketers, shape the story and why we recommend something. Most of it is around education and why something is important. So:

  • Next time a client/higher-up pushes back and says, “But I don’t want to lose people,” try responding with “Segmentation will allow us to understand who we should email even more, resulting in more revenue.”
  • Next time a client/higher-up starts talking about open rates, try reframing the conversation to the role open rates play today vs. the role they played ten years ago.
  • Next time clients/higher-ups want to send image-only emails, talk to them about accessibility issues. Even at the most basic level, think of the last time you received an email on your mobile device that was hard to read, and you wanted to make the images larger, but like me, you were carrying way too many things and couldn’t do that, so you just deleted the email.

The bottom line is that there is way more to email marketing than just beautiful emails, and it is our responsibility as email marketers to educate brands so that these battles lead to better email marketing.


brian mcgowan LObpG0ku8VM unsplash 600Photo by Brian McGowan on Unsplash