bar graph and envelope illustrating email data

Email Marketing Data: The Foundation for an Optimized Strategy


It might be a cliché, but there’s a lot of truth in the statement: “The money is in the list.” However, to paraphrase another cliché, it’s not the size of your list that matters, it’s what you do with it.

As marketers, we live and die by the quality of our email marketing data. Unfortunately, too many marketers are still fixated on list size. The fact is, big isn’t always best. If you are still playing the “numbers game” and telling yourself, “the more you tell, the more you’ll sell,” you are in for a big shock.

Collecting high-quality email marketing data is a struggle for even the most successful organizations. Email on Acid’s report Optimizing Your Email Marketing Plan includes a survey of best-in-class marketers. Results show half of the respondents believe “Data quality” is one of the biggest areas for improvement, making it the most cited option.

That same survey, which was fielded by Ascend2, found more than 60% of the best-in-class email marketers surveyed plan to increase their email volume significantly in the next 12-months.

Unfortunately, this increase means your subscribers’ already busy inboxes are only going to get even more crowded, and any strategy employing luck rather than insight is increasingly likely to fail. So, how should you be using email marketing data as the foundation for a stronger strategy?

Old vs. New: Data quality relationship challenges

team conducts email data hygiene

Every relationship faces its challenges. Nearly half (49%) of best-in-class email marketers state that maintaining an engaged list is the most difficult objective to achieve when optimizing an email marketing strategy.

One of the biggest challenges facing email marketers is that they are working with historical data. These, often inherited lists, may have been collected via legacy systems and thrown into a collective bucket (spreadsheet) with very little thought about email marketing best practices. This challenge is reflected by the fact that 35% of email marketers surveyed highlighted integrating email data with other systems as particularly challenging.

Changing regulations, such as GDPR, may have forced many email marketers to either re-engage or delete old data. However, there is still plenty of un-optimized data being created and uploaded to email marketing systems in many organizations. Every piece of un-optimized data represents a threat to your organization in terms of performance and cost. When these threats are reflected in your metrics, it’s time to start thinking about how you can do a better job. 

The C-suite loves a big list. However, executives might not realize that there is an inherent risk in a list that prioritizes quantity over quality. When large numbers of subscribers become disengaged, it can negatively impact your deliverability rates and domain reputation. Old data can also find its way onto “spam traps” like Spamhaus and contribute to IP addresses and domains becoming blocked.   

Nobody wants to throw the baby out with the bathwater, and email marketing data from old contacts isn’t always beyond redemption, but it will almost certainly require some TLC to become re-engaged and optimized. It’s also important not to continue with those email marketing bad habits and ensure any new data you collect comes primed and ready for action.

Starting a new relationship with data-driven email marketing

two people in an email marketing relationship

It’s time to forget the “if I kiss enough frogs” approach to email marketing and start building more meaningful relationships.  It’s much easier to do this if you start thinking about your email marketing lists as people rather than data.

We build relationships in the real world based on shared interests and carefully considered conversations. You wouldn’t “SPAM” your friends with a random topic in the hope of hitting a hot seam of conversation. Instead, you take your time to get to know your friends as individuals and tailor the exchange to your shared interests.

That’s exactly how high-quality email marketing data should be used as a foundation for creating real connections with subscribers. Quality data informs the delivery of more relevant email experiences.

It’s obvious when 39% of email marketers tell us they want to reduce SPAM complaints that they aren’t taking enough time to get to know the individuals in their lists and are hitting them with irrelevant campaigns.

Understanding subscriber behavior

illustrated email analytics data

Getting to know your subscribers as individuals is essential if you want to send the right message to the right person at the right time. While some of this personal information will be collected at the time of their initial engagement, like any other relationship, more detailed and valuable information will be shared as your relationship grows.

Data is never stagnant. Contacts change jobs and switch careers, their lifestyles change, and so do their personal preferences over time. That’s why you need a reliable Martech stack to provide data that fuels your email strategy. You don’t need to collect every bit of personal info upfront. We all know that can hurt conversion rates. Once you’ve initially collected names and email addresses, everything else should fall into place as long as other platforms (CRMs, CDPs, ESPs, etc.) are producing reliable data..

Check out our list of 35 top marketing technology platforms for email automation!

Understanding subscriber behavior and optimizing your strategy based on this information is fairly simple when different platforms and their data integrate and play nicely with one another. The challenge is, that’s not always the case, and email marketers are left trying to piece together a puzzle. That’s why well-connected marketing technology in which there is a “single source of truth” for data is a priceless advantage.

As your relationship grows, email marketing data show you how and when your subscribers engage with your campaigns. Quality data will enable you to optimize your send times, email design, and campaign strategies based on subscribers’ levels of engagement.

Email marketing data and personalization strategies

illustrated woman next to personal data icons

It’s not enough to know your subscribers by name. You need to understand what makes them tick and, more importantly, what makes them click.

For example, data shows you which products or services they are interested in. Their engagement with specific content will help you understand where they are on the customer journey. Combine this with localized data-driven dynamic email content (weather, stores near your, events, etc.), and your campaigns should become more akin to those laser-focused email sends you’ve been striving to send for years.

Once you know your email marketing subscribers’ preferences and habits, it’s time to really put your relationship to the test.

Acquiring actionable email data through testing

runner next to actionable email marketing data

For continuous improvements of your email strategy, nothing beats the actionable insights you uncover through regular split testing. It’s the most efficient way to discover which subject lines, designs, offers, content, and calls-to-action work best – and for which audience.

Split testing not only helps you optimize the success of your campaign strategy but may also influence further list segmentation. The email marketing data you acquire through testing can be used to highlight specific preferences in campaigns.

Perhaps you have subscribers who prefer receiving short and to-the-point campaigns, while others prefer more extended, in-depth copy. When you know what your subscribers like, why not give them exactly what they want?

Too many marketing organizations adopt an ad-hoc approach towards testing. It’s something they do when they have the time to do it. This approach needs to change. In an ideal world, every campaign would be tested and optimized. This strategy might be possible if you are only sending a limited number of sends each week. Busier email marketing teams will want to factor in a more regular testing period to suit their workload.

List segmentation and hygiene

man cleans screen to illustrate list hygiene

We need to stop thinking about email list segmentation as placing subscribers into specifically labeled “buckets.” Instead, savvy marketers will interrogate their entire list before every send and assign emails to a campaign based on a threshold relating to relevancy.

This strategy enables us to increase the volume of sends while still optimizing the relevance of our campaigns – essentially doing more with less. This approach also highlights the importance of storing and pulling data from a single source, where you can be assured of its quality and heritage.

It’s important to remember that every piece of data represents a cost to your organization. If you don’t know how much it cost to acquire a specific piece of data, you’ll never truly understand your return-on-investment. It’s also important to remember that poor quality data will never deliver a positive return.  

Similarly, email list hygiene isn’t a one-way street. There are multiple strategies available to marketers before they finally say goodbye to inactive subscribers.

There are many reasons why subscribers might not engage with your brand. For example, they might be on a career break or have different priorities at a specific time. Still, the moment they re-engage with your brand, they are back in the game, and the previous data you have collected will still hold some relevance. Again, this highlights the importance of having a fully connected Martech stack that shares data in real-time.

Remember, even when an email address is no longer in everyday use, it may still provide a helpful re-engagement link via a service like Facebook Custom Audiences.

Email marketing data: Overcoming the challenges

Coming to grips with how you manage your email marketing data starts with setting clear objectives.

Always focus on the metrics that will make a tangible difference to your business. Click-to-open rates (CTORs) and conversion rates always provide a more useful picture of success than vanity metrics like list size.

Your progress towards achieving these objectives should be shared across the wider organization and reported clearly and concisely. If you don’t take charge of this process, other people in your organization will decide how they use data to perceive your success.

Get valuable data and deliver email perfection

Your email marketing data may be trying to tell you something right now. If you’re struggling with deliverability and overall engagement, and you’re not sure why — email pre-deployment testing could solve some of those mysteries.

Email on Acid’s automated email checklist examines inbox display, catches deliverability issues, optimizes emails for accessibility, and ensures your campaigns render as intended on dozens of clients and devices.

You can also take advantage of Email Analytics and get valuable email marketing data to inform your strategy. That includes a breakdown of the email clients your subscribers use as well as customizable Read, Skim, and Delete rates for customizable engagement measurement.

Download the full report on email optimization

Colleagues discuss email marketing optimization.

See the results of an industry survey and find out how best-in-class marketers approach email optimization. Plus, get expert insights and unique perspectives from the Email on Acid team.

Simplify the Email QA Process and Deliver Perfection

What’s the best way to run through your pre-send checklist? With Email on Acid’s Campaign Precheck, we’ve simplified the process and set everything up for you. Use it to double-check your content, optimize for deliverability, ensure accessibility, and preview how campaigns look on the most popular clients and devices. All before you hit send!

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Author: John W. Hayes

John W. Hayes is a marketing strategist and author who has been helping businesses develop their online marketing strategies for more than 20-years. Working alongside some of the biggest names in eCommerce and online marketing he has dedicated much of his career to demystifying the web and highlighting opportunities for businesses to grow. He is the author of five books and is widely recognized as an influential thought leader in the content, email, and social media marketing arena.

Author: John W. Hayes

John W. Hayes is a marketing strategist and author who has been helping businesses develop their online marketing strategies for more than 20-years. Working alongside some of the biggest names in eCommerce and online marketing he has dedicated much of his career to demystifying the web and highlighting opportunities for businesses to grow. He is the author of five books and is widely recognized as an influential thought leader in the content, email, and social media marketing arena.

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