Email Marketing Case Studies: How 4 Companies Increased Their Open Rates

Written by Neil Patel on January 16, 2016


Out of all the digital marketing channels at our disposal, email is the most powerful. Whether you’re a B2B or B2C marketer, if you embrace email marketing, you’ll find that your efforts and financial investment will pay off big time.

Sure, you can generate leads to your business using other means. After all, there are businesses that thrive without an email list.

However, the benefits of email are substantial and striking, especially compared to social and search channels. It’s estimated that you get a $39.40 return on every $1 invested into email marketing.

But, it’s not enough to send emails now and then. You have to make sure your email open rate is the best it can be.

After all, if people don’t open your emails, you won’t achieve your goals.

There are lots of tweaks and tactics that’ll help you improve your email open rate – for example, segmenting your list could be useful. Another study shows that including a recipient’s name in your email subject line increases open rates by up to 18.30%. Just take a look at Quick Sprout’s open rates for proof:


You also can’t just send scripted emails to your subscribers and expect to get results. Knowing what your subscribers want and crafting a persuasive email for them makes all the difference.

Above all, you have to provide immense value. Otherwise, they’ll ignore your subsequent emails.

Of course, you’re building an email list because you want to build your business.  You should sell, but only when it’s necessary and when you’re confident the product will truly help them.

Download a PDF version of email marketing case studies to learn how 4 companies increased their open rate.

In this article, I’ll show you 4 case studies on how different brands and sites increased their email open rates. You’ll learn exactly what steps they took to get some impressive results. Let’s begin … 

1. MailiGen increased email open rate from 20% to 29% by resending emails

Over the past 3 years, many marketing experts have declared email marketing to be dead, or at least increasingly ineffective.  Hopefully, your competition has read this nonsense and is following it.

We keep seeing huge growth in many aspects of email marketing. One study by Email Marketing Gold revealed that the ROI for every $1 invested in email marketing can be up to $40 – far more than other channels.


You need to develop an effective email marketing campaign, because that’s where the results come from. Brands that aren’t seeing great results from their email list are most likely doing something wrong.

It’s possible their email subscribers don’t trust them. Building rapport is crucial if you want to convert subscribers into customers. This is especially critical when you’re selling a product.

Mailigen is a provider that helps companies improve their email, mobile and social efforts.

These three aspects of digital marketing are the building blocks that you need if you want to thrive.

But just offering an email marketing solution doesn’t mean your subscribers are going to open your emails. You’ve got to be creative.

And creativity begins with a deep understanding of your target audience. Remember that they’re not just email subscribers, but real people who have a need that is hunting for a solution.

Back to the Mailigen case study: The company used to struggle to improve its email open rates. Its normal open rate hovered around the industry average open rates that hovered somewhere between 10 – 20% for e-commerce, publishing and media. But Mailigen wanted more.


So how did Mailigen increase its open rates from 20% to 29%?

Interestingly, the company used a simple technique that most email marketers don’t use: “Behavioral segmentation.”

I already talked about email segmentation and how you can use it to improve your conversion rate in previous posts. One of the most effective ways to segment a list is through user behavior.

Behavioral segmentation is all about grouping your email subscribers distinctly and create relevant and high-value email messages for them.

To implement behavior segmentation, you must first collect user behavior data, such as which types of content a select group of people prefer, when they usually open their emails, whether or not they respond to your emails and the like.

The deeper the segmentation, the better the outcome.

Mailigen selected subscribers who hadn’t opened their emails and resent the email with an improved headline:

First step: The company crafted an email to their subscribers about using symbols in email content. The subject line read “Make your emails stand out with symbols.”


Second step: This email performed fairly well, producing an open rate of 20.5%.

Mailigen wanted to see if they could improve on that rate. So they used their latest feature of behavioral segmentation to map out their email list.

A week later, they selected all those who hadn’t responded to the first email and tweaked the subject line to be more compelling – “send emails with awesome symbols in subject.”


The content of the email remained the same and the email was resent to those who ignored the first one.

About 8.6% of those who didn’t open the first one responded. Altogether, the same email newsletter generated a 29.1% open rate, just by implementing this simple strategy.

As a content marketer, blogger, information marketer, product seller or author, you can learn a lot from Mailigen’s email marketing strategy.

When sending emails to people, ask yourself this question: “why did they subscribe in the first place?”

If you’re able to answer that question, you’ll be way ahead of your competition, because some of your competitors don’t take that into consideration. They just wake up, create an email, paste the text into their email editor and blast it out to everyone.

That might have worked in the past, but in today’s marketing world where the average attention span is 8 seconds, you need to grab attention, persuade people to act and provide them with products and services that work.

List segmentation is powerful. If you need more proof, here are two more brands that followed the same approach:

i).   Wok to Walk case study: Wok to Walk, a health food company, sent a newsletter with a subject line that invited recipients to call, make inquiries and order a meal. This email generated an open rate of 18.1%.


Like Mailigen, they then analyzed their email statistics and selected email subscribers who didn’t open the previous email.

This group of subscribers became a specific and high-converting segment. The same email was sent – but the subject line was changed to better suit this new segment by including a phone number, making it easier for people to call even if they didn’t open the email.


This second email got an additional 7.7% of subscribers excited, resulting in a higher level of email engagement.

ii).    Sending SMS to unresponsive subscribers: Another vital aspect of increasing email open rates is reaching out to people on the go.

In 2015, mobile usage surpassed desktop and laptop usage. So, for many markets, traditional email may not work as well as it used to. As millions of people began to use mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets more often, they began logging in to their inboxes less frequently and surfing the web more.

Your text messages, however, will always reach them and a text message can be read whether or not the mobile phone has an active internet connection – totally different than when email is involved.

A client in the pharmacy industry implemented this underutilized email marketing strategy.


After sending an email newsletter and getting a 23.7% open rate, they decided to send SMS to those who hadn’t opened the email. This dramatically increased their open rates.

To get the most out of SMS marketing, here are a few tips to live by:

i).   Focus on one message per SMS: You really need a SMS text campaign. Conveying your marketing message in a more personal way will set you apart from the competition.


One of the mistakes a lot of people make when sending SMS to their customers is including too many messages into a single text message.

Don’t do that. Instead, keep it to one message per SMS. For example, if you sell smartphone cases, your SMS should be focused on one particular case and not every new case that just arrived in your last shipment.

More important, you’re limited to 160 characters. Quite frankly, that isn’t a lot of space to express yourself and recommend every product.

Make the message worthwhile. Tell people why they should check out a particular item, feature, product or service. You’ll get more people taking instant action.

ii).   Time your SMS correctly: Text marketing is accessible and more affordable than email marketing. Text messages are opened faster and more frequently than emails. According to Tatango, “90% of all incoming SMSes are read within 3 minutes.”


As a personal way of communicating with real people, SMS puts your message in people’s pockets and purses instantly.

Just as we have different software tools that let us track our social media activities, followers and engagement, you can use relevant tools to track your phone subscribers. It’s estimated that 98% of text messages are read when they’re sent at the right time.


Get to know when your subscribers are most active – when they log on to Facebook, Twitter and so on.


The beauty of text messaging is that you can reach out to hundreds or thousands of people immediately, depending on the size of your list.

That said, it’s vital to time your SMS correctly.

Tools are good, and I encourage you to use them. But the only way to be 100% sure of when your subscribers are ready to receive your SMS is by testing. Study your SMS statistics and analyze when people mostly engage with your text messages.

In other words, look at the time and day that your subscribers respond to your text messages. In 2013, text messages surpassed internet, email and mail messages in terms of click-through and conversion rate.  This was due in large part to proper timing.


iii).   Make it easy for customers to purchase products: Over 8.6 billion emails are sent every day. Customers receive too many messages, both email and SMS. As a result, getting them to buy can be difficult.

But by simplifying the entire process and giving people a good reason to trust you, you can increase your revenue through SMS text marketing.

It’s not enough to craft a persuasive text message (within the range of 160 characters). You need to make it easy for customers to buy.

Data from WeMakeWebsites found that 21% of customers who didn’t make purchases cited the time the checkout process takes as their primary reason for abandoning the cart. People won’t buy your product if the process of buying takes too long.


Your ability to move people from opening your message to purchasing your product is crucial to your success. Do all you can to learn that skill.

In reality, people don’t buy what you sell. They buy “why” you sell it. So if your text message is vague, underwhelming or overwhelming, you don’t have a “why” factor – and people will switch to your competitors who do have it.


One of the ways to encourage customers to buy when they receive your text message is by offering a discount.

But if you offer a 20% discount and force your customers to jump through hoops to get it, they’ll go somewhere else.

A quick note about promotional codes: Most people offer promotional codes that are difficult to remember.

Keep yours short and easy to remember. Ideally, codes should convey the value that you’re delivering. For example, DEAL20 is far easier to remember than DEAL832077.


2. Digital Marketer increased email open rates by 3X with subject lines

Is it possible to increase your email open rates by 3x whenever you send a newsletter? That’s exactly what did.


A responsive email list of customers is the only bulletproof approach to building a sustainable business. You may not be able to build a sustainable business if you only focus on Google and organic search.

Digital Marketer is one of the leading marketing blogs out there. I’ve mentioned them several times in my posts and Ryan Deiss, the CEO, has done a great job over the years.

Digital Marketer used “11 tricks to double email conversions,” and you can do the same thing.


Digital Marketer boasts of making money when their emails arrive in people’s inboxes. But they don’t do this solely for the money – that would just tick off email subscribers.

Instead, they engage people via email, teach them how to do a particular thing (e.g., increase Facebook ad conversions) and enhance trust.

Sending millions of emails a month helps Digital Marketer understand their prospects and customers. This experience enables the company to segment subscribers by interest, pinpoint the exact solutions they’re looking for and deliver amazing value these people will never find elsewhere.

Digital Marketer is a rare brand, and they’re exceptionally good at email marketing. Take a look at their statistics:


Here’s how Digital Marketer increased its open rates by 3X:

1).   Use proven email subject lines: Not all emails will be opened. It’s just the reality of the situation. Most of your subscribers are also subscribed to other email lists, too.

So you have to differentiate your subject lines from the generic ones your subscribers often receive on a daily basis.

According to Richard Lindney, who wrote the Digital Marketer case study, every successful email subject line falls into one of these four categories:

  • Direct or benefit-driven
  • Scarcity or urgency
  • Proof or credibility
  • Blind or curiosity

Let’s briefly look at each of these subject lines:

a).   Benefit-driven subject lines: The subject line has only one purpose: to state the benefit the recipient will get by opening the email. One of the 5 things customers look for in a product is its benefits. The same is true of emails.

Here are examples of benefit-driven or direct email subject lines:

  • How to Write Blog Posts that Convert
  • Start building your landing pages for $1
  • A native ad in 60 minutes or less
  • Steal these email templates….

In my inbox, I can see some emails that offer or promise some form of benefit. I feel obliged to click on them. After all, there’s nothing for me to lose (except the time it takes to click and scan, maybe) and I could potentially gain benefits.


b).    Scarcity-based or urgency email subject lines: If there’s a need to act now – say, a discount that expires on a particular upcoming date – you may want to use the urgency subject line style. It communicates urgency and gets people to act now.

If the recipient fails to act now, they’ll miss out on something great  And people don’t like to miss out.

In fact, the fear of loss is more powerful than the joy of gain. This is where urgency subject lines outperform direct or benefit-driven subject lines.

Digital Marketer recommends that you use urgency/scarcity based subject lines every so often in your campaign to get more opens:

  • Closing Down Soon!
  • You’re going to miss this?!?
  • Final Notice (just hours left)
  • 85% Off Sale ends at midnight

I usually find these types of subject lines in my inbox:


c).   Proof or credibility subject lines: I know that you have results you can share with your prospects and that many people or businesses have benefited from your services and products.

ReferralCandy shared the 12 ways you can infuse credibility into your marketing and get staggering results.


Now’s the right time to leverage that credibility. It’s social proof that you know what you’re doing. The same thing is at work behind video tutorials: they’re a form of proof to prospects that you know your stuff.

You can simply speak about other people’s successes in your subject line. Craft it in such a way as to get your recipients to believe those results are possible for them, too.

This type of subject line is best written as a case study. And remember that case studies are one of the 15 types of content that drive traffic, sales and revenue for business owners.

Here are some of the proof-based subject lines that helped Digital Marketer increase their open rates 3X:

  • Mom of two “makes” $10K in 4 days
  • This guy makes 6 figures per month?
  • 23,247 leads in less than 30 days

Model these subject lines to create your own. Off the top of my head, here are a few I came up with:

  • 250 comments “generated” $25k in 30 days
  • 16,736 leads in less than 30 days
  • This average guy makes 5 figure income monthly?

d).   Blind or curiosity-based email subject lines:  These subject lines have an almost magic-like ability to make people want to open. After all, if you hint that you know a secret, people will want to know it.

The curiosity gap is a powerful copywriting technique that can dazzle your audience. It recently led to a 927% increase in clicks on a pricing page.

You’ve probably already noticed yourself that blog posts promising “secrets” or “tricks” often get a lot of social shares and comments. Curiosity leads to higher open rates.


When writing email subject lines using this method by not revealing all the information in the subject.

Some of your recipients are lazy. The moment they get the idea behind your email, they’ll delete it or otherwise move on.

So use these subject lines to tease the recipient. Here are a few typical examples:

  • Less________= More Sales
  • Why he paid Facebook $37,973
  • 1,322,956 free clicks from…

A few more examples from my inbox:


2).    Using Unicode Symbols & Personalization: Digital Marketer also used Unicode Symbols to increase personalization. People decide to join email lists, not because they love getting emails but because they feel they can benefit from them.

Dan Zarrella of HubSpot asked readers why they joined certain newsletters over others. He found that 38% of survey responders opt-in if they feel they will receive relevant emails that can improve their lives and business.


But if the subsequent emails lack the captivating power of a compelling subject line, subscribers will stop opening the emails.

And it’s going to take a greater effort to prove yourself again. The first impression is critical.

To ensure that your emails stand out, Digital Marketer advises that you use Unicode symbols – emoticons, objects, etc.

Facebook and other social media networks know the value and impact of Unicode symbols in communication. You can double click and paste Facebook Unicode symbols on your Facebook page – your fans will love it.


These symbols (sometimes called glyphs) will add flavor to your subject line. It may look funny, but humor is one of the reasons why content gets opened, shared, and forwarded.


Richard says,  

You should not overuse symbols in your subject lines, but don’t ignore them either. You can find free symbols to use at

Personalization: According to Adobe, 60% of marketers struggle to personalize content in real time, yet 77% believe real-time personalization is crucial.

To avoid any of these scenarios, personalize the email subject line. When asked to prioritize one capability that will be most important to marketing in the future, one-third of marketers answered: “personalization.”

Take a look at these two subject lines:

You’ll lose $3,000 in a week if…


Philip, you’ll lose $3,000 in a week if…

The personalized version that contains the recipient’s name “Philip” will most certainly outperform the generic one.

Side note: To make personalization easier, effective, and systematic, you should set up opt-in forms to collect first name and email address, like Marie Forleo does:


3. David Huffman boosted open rates by 15 – 20% with content-packed emails

Sometimes in marketing, the things you don’t regard as phenomenal will often have the strongest impact and results.

Could sending content-packed emails really boost open rates by 15 – 20%? It may seem unlikely, but it happened to David Huffman.

David is a content webmaster for Deaconess Health System in Evansville, Indiana. Though his case study at Content Marketing Institute is a little dated because there are better email marketing tools these days, the concept hasn’t changed.


As marketers, we may see email as a way of connecting with customers in order to sell them stuff. The consumer, on the other hand, values their inbox highly. It’s where communication is built with other people they feel passionate about.

David used a smart technique to boost open rates. He set out on a six-week test of email marketing to see what would happen. Within this period, David and his team ran an A/B split test of a headline.

The goal was simple: to re-engage “cold leads.” He wanted to build up strong interest in them and show the benefits of their program using new and improved content, thus giving them the right information they needed to make buying decisions.

Specifically, David wanted these “cold leads” to enroll in their program.

The metrics were split into two categories:

  • Primary: number of people who enrolled into the program (re-converted leads).
  • Secondary: click-through rates, average open rate and unsubscribes.

So how did they do it? They decided to send one useful email to subscribers every week for six weeks – alternating between non-gated (no form) content and gated content with a heavy call to action (e.g., click here to download eBook).

Their results were pretty impressive:

  • Conversion rate on gated content increased by 5%, and 40 leads reconverted
  • Generated 7 enrollments (equalling around $100k ROI)
  • Saw zero unsubscribes
  • Click-through rate increased by 3.5%
  • Open rates were consistent. Within the 6-week timeframe, open rate was in the 15 – 20% range, which were consistent with industry benchmarks for the education sector.

David listed these takeaways from his experience:


4. Gregory Ciotti saw a 59% increase in email open rates with a single call to action

When you’re writing a subject line, everything is critical. Punctuation, capitalization and formatting can all influence subscribers. Interestingly, what looks like common sense isn’t always the best choice.

For example, should you offer a 10% discount or simply tell subscribers they can save $20?

Many people believe the higher perceived value works best. Depending on the price, a 10% discount might be worth more financially, especially when the product is a high-ticket item.

But the subscriber wants to get the instant result right now – and that $20 savings might be preferable to them.

Here’s an infographic on subject line “do’s and dont’s”:


However, the only way to be sure is to test. And that was exactly what Gregory Ciotti did.

Gregory Ciotti is one of those content marketers who don’t give up or call it quits in the face of adversity. He increased email open rates for Sophistefunk newsletter by 59%.

How? By being specific with one call to action. Based on this simple tactic, his click-through rates increased dramatically, as did overall engagement.

If you want people to take action when you send email, you need to include a high-converting call to action. The CTA is the gateway to your landing page. If you fail to include a button or link (preferably), you’ll lose potential sales.

Here’s the results of his email newsletter:


The bottom line is to test your CTAs. Don’t rely on just one and expect to see significant open rates. You should continually split test all components of your email campaigns.

There are great email marketing solutions that allow split testing. Informz split tested their subject line and increased open rates by 26%.


Gregory followed one simple rule of thumb: Only one call to action for each email blast.

If you do this, coupled with the other tips from the case studies here, you’ll definitely increase your open rates.


When it comes to email marketing and creating a memorable experience for subscribers, there are a few experts and case studies that we can learn from.

But what really counts is your commitment. Whether it’s SEO, content marketing, social media, direct marketing, paid advertising or email marketing (and I advise you do all if you have the resources, so that you can make maximum impact), decide that you’re not in it for the quick bucks.

Of course, if fortune smiles on you (and I hope it does this year), you’ll start to see significant results from your efforts.

I’m sure you know the popular email cliché — “the money is in the list.” Well, I’m here to tweak it and make it better. In other words, “the money is not in the list, but the relationships you build with real people.”

Build relationships. Plant seeds that will grow into a system that’ll grow your business. It’s no longer about sending quick newsletters to your subscribers or scheduling follow-up emails for the next 30 days. Truth be told, subscribers are used to those and they’re tired of them.

They want an experience – a personal touch from someone who truly cares.

They know you’re in business to make money (we all are), but money is just the by-product of the help you give to a specific group of people over a period of time.

Which email marketing case study did you learn the most from? Share your best tips for increasing open rates.