New Research Shows Marketers Who Focus on Subscriber Engagement Get More Email Delivered to the Inbox


Return Path partners with Demand Metric to study marketers’ understanding of subscriber engagement, the tactics they use to improve engagement, and how these things impact email deliverability and overall effectiveness.

In partnership with global research firm Demand Metric, leading email solutions provider Return Path today released a new research report, The State of Email Engagement. Following on the results of last year’s The State of Email Marketing report, this new research sought to understand the impact of subscriber engagement on email deliverability, as well as the tactics marketers are employing to improve engagement.

Email remains the go-to marketing channel for many organizations and a key contributor to marketing effectiveness. In fact, survey respondents who reported their organization are experiencing revenue growth were more likely to identify email as one of the most important or the most important marketing channel (68 percent), compared to organizations whose revenue is flat or declining (58 percent). Successful marketers also understand that subscriber engagement is the key to ensuring that email reaches subscriber inboxes. Findings from this new research highlight this critical relationship, and demonstrate that marketers who embrace the importance of subscriber engagement also enjoy better email deliverability and greater overall email effectiveness.

Demand Metric researcher John Follett said of the study’s findings, “Marketers clearly value email and understand its importance. Nearly two-thirds of our study participants rated it as one of the most important channels—or the most important channel—in their marketing arsenal. However, in many cases, these same marketers are surprisingly unaware of the impact that subscriber engagement has on the success of their marketing program.”

Other key findings from the report include:

  • Marketers who understand that mailbox providers use engagement data to filter email report better deliverability. More than half of the survey participants were neutral or disagreed with the statement, “Mailbox providers use subscriber engagement to determine where to filter (e.g., inbox, spam) the email you send.” However, marketers who agreed with this statement were much more likely to report good or very good deliverability.
  • List segmentation is a major driver of deliverability. Almost 80 percent of study participants report that they are doing some degree of list segmentation. Less than half of those who don’t practice list segmentation report good or very good deliverability, compared with two-thirds of those who segment their email lists.
  • Email personalization has a positive impact on engagement. The vast majority of study participants (80 percent) personalize marketing email content at some level. Marketers who personalize email content reported a 16 percent higher open rate and nine percent higher click-through rate than those who do not personalize.
  • Marketers have not yet embraced engagement metrics in measuring success. While open and click-through rates provide some insight into engagement, other metrics are important to get a more complete picture. Three-quarters of survey participants are currently tracking opens and clicks, while less than one third are tracking read rate (30 percent), forward rate (15 percent), and complaints (13 percent).

“Over the past several years, there has been a marked increase in mailbox providers’ focus on subscriber engagement as part of the spam filtering process. This study confirms that keeping subscribers actively engaged with your email program is a major factor in email deliverability and overall effectiveness,” said Tom Sather, Return Path’s senior director of research. “By embracing engagement metrics like read rate, forward rate, and complaint rate, marketers can gain unique insights that can improve deliverability and enhance customer relationships.”

The complete report can be downloaded here.


Research for this study was conducted via an online survey administered between December 10, 2018, and January 21, 2019. During this period, 256 responses were collected, 221 of which were complete enough for inclusion in the analysis. Only valid or correlated findings are shared in this report. The respondent breakdown was self-reported as follows: 46 percent mostly or entirely B2B, 12 percent mostly or entirely B2C, 33 percent blend of B2B and B2C, and nine percent nonprofits.

About Demand Metric

Demand Metric is a global marketing research & advisory firm serving a membership community of 100,000+ senior marketers with primary research & benchmark reports, technology research & advice, consulting services, training, events, productivity apps, and a library of 500+ practical tools and templates. Demand Metric’s core focus is to help B2B marketing organizations improve internal capabilities and connect their activities to revenue growth.

About Return Path

Return Path analyzes the world’s largest collection of email data to show businesses how to stay connected to their audiences and strengthen their customer engagement. We help mailbox providers around the world deliver great user experiences and build trust in email by ensuring that wanted messages reach the inbox while spam doesn’t. To find out more about Return Path solutions, visit us at or request a demo.


About the Author:

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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