How to generate a 95% open rate for your next campaign

Here’s how we managed it – and how you can too

January 5, 2017

When was the last time a piece of digital mail delivered you a 95% open rate? It sounds like a trick question – but it’s not. As marketers, we’re always on the lookout for tactics that can deliver better email marketing – but we’ve been trained by experience to think of pitching messages in people’s inboxes as a low percentage strategy. There are just too many barriers to cutting through for it to be otherwise. When you send an email, you’ve got to overcome spam filters and junk mail folders, you’ve got to hope your target audience spots your subject line amidst the hundreds disappearing below their preview window. And of course, you’ve got to catch those audience members at a time when they’re ready to pay attention to you – and hit them with a reason to read that resonates.

Bear all that in mind and it’s no wonder that an email that gets a 40% open rate is generally considered to have nailed it. That’s a very good open rate for email, almost double the average, and it’s only likely amongst an audience that you have an existing relationship with. An open rate close to 100%? Surely that’s fantasy marketing territory?

I would have thought so too – up until a month or so ago. That was the week when we sent a mail launching our Astonishing Tales of Content Marketing eBook to more than 7,000 people – and had 95% of them open it.

It’s not the first time we’ve hit a really high open rate – but it’s the highest open rate that I’ve seen us hit yet. I’m not writing this post to gloat. Instead I want to share with you how we did it. In the process, I’m hoping that I’ll be able to identify what went so right – and make sure we repeat it the next time around.

Here it goes – my take on the formula for a 95% open rate:

Different platforms mean different open rates
Okay, there is one trick at work here: the mail in question wasn't actually an email. We use email in our marketing all the time, including in our Astonishing Tales of Content Marketing launch. However, our highest open rates always come through Sponsored InMail on LinkedIn – and that was certainly the case here.

There are many reasons for Sponsored InMail’s high open rate. It comes with guaranteed deliverability – it only arrives in members’ inboxes when they are actually logged in and engaged on LinkedIn, so that they can’t miss your message. And there are strict delivery frequency caps to ensure other brands aren’t cluttering up your audience’s inboxes and reducing your visibility. Last but not least, InMail arrives in a professional environment when prospects are on the look out for relevant, value-adding propositions. We use email for building awareness and reaching audiences at scale – but when we’re interested in getting that open rate up amongst a well-defined target, we know it’s time to turn to Sponsored InMail.

Have a striking title with an emotional benefit
It’s not all in the platform, though. Our 95% open rate was staggeringly high even by Sponsored InMail standards. There were other factors at work here – and the most obvious was our subject line. It was striking, it was unusual – and above all, it pitched its value in emotional terms. Astonishing Tales of Content Marketing doesn’t just promise value – it also promises a fulfilling experience to go with that value. As Jason Miller (who wrote our record-breaking InMail) explained in a post on the content lessons of the Daily Mail, this promise of an emotional benefit can have a big impact on engagement.

Make it personal
All of our Sponsored InMails are written by specific people in our team – and they always reflect that individual’s personality. When we’ve tested different approaches in the past, we’ve found this is far more effective at driving both open and click-through rates. Our Astonishing Tales of Content Marketing InMail came from Jason, who’d also written the eBook itself. He was able to share something of that experience in the message itself. Just as importantly, having his profile picture introducing the InMail in members’ inboxes sent a clear message that they were being asked to engage with a human being.

Ask someone relevant to take the lead
Jason’s a proven influencer within the content marketing space. Our target audience were used to seeing him on our blog – as well as on-stage at marketing events and conferences. Having someone inherently relevant to take the lead on your Sponsored InMail campaign can definitely drive higher open rates. If you have relevant, high-profile people within your business, try getting them involved in the campaign.

Make that open rate count
It was great to generate such a high open rate – but of course, it’s what you do with that open rate that really counts. The other satisfying thing about our record-breaking Sponsored InMail was that it had a lot of other characteristics that we know result in strong engagement – and click-through rates. It was short and got to the point quickly. It used bullet points to get across the value our eBook had to offer and it had a call to action that reinforced why downloading our eBook would be hugely worthwhile. Combine these features with those that drive consistently high open rates and you are giving yourself the best possible chance of a mail campaign delivering on its objectives.