New Research Studies Correlation Between Email Marketing Tactics, Program Effectiveness, and Revenue Growth

Return Path partners with Demand Metric on new research into the factors that contribute to a successful email marketing program.


In partnership with global research firm Demand Metric, leading email solutions provider, Return Path released a new research report, The State of Email Marketing. Demand Metric and Return Path sought to determine what separates high performing email marketing programs from the rest of the pack.

Key Findings:
  • Marketing challenges are universal – a whopping 94% of survey participants report that they are/have experienced email marketing challenges.
  • Sender reputation is fundamental to the success of a program – however, nearly two-thirds of email volume come from senders with a Sender Score of 90 or below—so marketers still have a lot of work to do when it comes to their reputation.
  • List acquisition practices are linked to subscriber engagement – Respondents with below average open rates are twice as likely to report having purchased email addresses for their list.


Tom Sather, Senior Director at Return Path shares his thoughts on the study and discusses the findings.

Q: What was the biggest surprise you found when conducting the research?

Given the incredibly complex email landscape that marketers face today, we found it surprising that six percent of email marketers reported not experiencing any email marketing challenges. Unfortunately, we suspect this may be a case of “not knowing what you don’t know,” as those who reported no email marketing challenges also had the lowest open rates among all marketers surveyed. For me, the takeaway from this data point is that, if you think your email program doesn’t have any problems, you should probably take a closer look. The overwhelming majority of email marketers are facing some sort of challenge—whether it’s deliverability, subscriber engagement, sender reputation, list hygiene, or any number of other concerns. Maybe you’re lucky enough to be that unicorn with no problems, but the more likely explanation is that you’ve not yet discovered the issues that are impacting your program.

Q: What is one thing marketers consistently misunderstand about email marketing?

I believe a lot of email marketers undervalue the importance of getting to know their subscribers. In the study, we found that participants with above-average open rates were more likely to report knowing the preferences of their email subscribers than participants with below average open rates. And study participants who stated their email effectiveness was not improving were more than twice as likely to report not knowing their subscribers’ preferences. Conversely, study participants with improving effectiveness were more likely to report knowing subscriber preferences like devices used, times subscribers were opening emails, and how much time they spent reading emails. Overall, the study demonstrated that knowledge about email subscribers is directly linked to above average open rates, revenue growth, and improvement in email effectiveness.

Q: How can proactively monitoring your Sender Score improve your email marketing?

A Sender Score is much like a credit score in that it rates a company’s sender reputation based on metrics similar to those used by mailbox providers, including complaints, unknown users, and spam traps. Now more than ever, mailbox providers are looking for ways to combat spam, deliver legitimate messages, and improve the inbox experience for their users. Sender reputation provides mailbox providers with unique insight into the source of each email, making it a key component in the filtering process. Thus, constantly monitoring your Sender Score can help you understand how mailbox providers view your email program, and ultimately improve your email marketing results.

Q: Why do you believe that there is a positive correlation between a high Sender Score and a high open rate?

We’ve known for years that sender reputation is a fundamental part of email marketing success. This study further confirms that as participants with above-average open rates were 12 times more likely to have a Sender Score above 95, compared to those with below average open rates. Unfortunately, our most recent Sender Score Benchmark shows that nearly two-thirds of email volume comes from senders with a Sender Score of 90 or below—so marketers still have a lot of work to do when it comes to reputation. Furthermore, the study concluded that survey participants who report their email marketing effectiveness is improving were more than six times as likely to report a Sender Score of 95 or greater. Monitoring Sender Score is a proactive way to demonstrate a commitment to high-quality sending practices, ultimately leading to improved subscriber engagement and increased ROI from the email channel.

Q: What is the best way email marketers could go about getting to know their email subscribers?

It’s critical for marketers to understand their audience, as this creates the opportunity for deeper, more meaningful subscriber relationships and long-term brand loyalty. But this is proving to be more difficult as overall email volume continues to rise, creating more “noise” in the inbox. One important way email marketers can get to know their email subscribers is by paying attention to engagement signals, like whether or not a subscriber reads, replies, forwards, or deletes a message without reading it. Mailbox providers use these metrics to determine whether email is welcome at the individual subscriber level, so marketers should also pay attention to these important cues to better understand what resonates with their customers. Another easy (and often overlooked) way to find out what subscribers want is to simply ask! A well-designed preference center can provide numerous insights about each individual subscriber, which can be used to create a more personalized customer experience.

About Tom 

Email marketing and deliverability expert Tom Sather has worked with top-tier brands on effective email marketing programs, and to diagnose and solve inbox placement and sender reputation issues as a strategic consultant with Return Path. As the company’s senior director of research, Tom is a frequent speaker and writer on email marketing trends and technology. His most recent analysis of new inbox applications’ effects on consumer behavior was widely cited across leading business media outlets including the Financial Times, Ad Age, and Media Post.


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