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How an Apology Increased Our Email Open Rate by 50%

Email marketing is here to stay. As a marketing strategy many ‘experts’ have been predicting its downfall for the last few years, citing content marketing and social media as superior options. There’s no doubting the value of either of those two options, but with more than 91% of consumers checking their email at least once a day, email is still a very big deal.

Furthermore in 2014, two out of three online consumers in the US made a purchase as a result of receiving a marketing email. The success of your email, fundamentally comes down to one sentence you will write and that is the subject line.


Case study of the ‘sorry’ email

In our example, we had an issue that affected the usability of our site over one weekend. How do we approach this we thought? Fix the issue then sweep it under the carpet and pretend nothing happened? Maybe. What if we just put our hands up and apologized? Scary stuff. We went for the latter and in an email campaign titled We’re sorry [first name] we received the results below to a list of over 1000+ subscribers.

We offered a discount on the email as a way of an apology, which was used frequently, admittedly a more clear call to action for customers to click through could have been used.


So how did this work? A template we followed to achieve these results came courtesy of Alex Williams of Trendline Interactive.

C = Curiosity
U = Urgency
R = Relevancy
V = Value
E = Emotion

With any subject line you should include at least two of the five letters in C.U.R.V.E. In this particular case, we used the elements of curiosity and emotion. So what are some good real life examples of the above?



Have I got what it takes? Maybe I have, I’ll definitely open it to find out. Make your customers feel they’ll be missing out if they don’t click through.



Calling for your customers to make immediate action is a great way to increase open rate. Incidentally, this email was in my junk folder. Try to avoid characters and C4P$ LOCK!!!!



Pretty self-explanatory but it’s the sole reason the person has signed up for information from you in the first place. A guide to content from Moz? I’ll have a read of that.



Relevance alone just isn’t enough. You must be adding value and showcasing your knowledge and insight to your customers. It’s worth signing up for Digital Marketer and following by their example, as they tick lots of boxes.



If you can play on people’s emotions in your subject lines, you’re on to a winner. Breaking news, people like to feel good about themselves and tell others about it. Whether that’s because of a new house, car or they’ve visited a top 10 beach.

The ideal length of a subject line

Interestingly, the example of the subject line that we wrote was the shortest subject line that we had written.

This got us thinking, because I’ll admit, the length of the subject line didn’t originally spring to my mind as that significant, but research shows that emails titled with 5-14 characters are seen to be more successful. A very good example of short, yet descriptive subject lines is Topman.


Science of creating subject lines

What’s interesting about email subject lines is that it’s almost a science. You A/B test, experiment, evaluate and then draw a conclusion. We’ve seen varying results since that email, but our average open rate for that list has increased significantly.

We are not advocating that perhaps something goes ‘astray’ on your site and you have an excuse to send a sorry email, but it’s definitely a good way of turning a situation on its head.

Also results differ depending on what industry you are in, a good article from Smart Insights highlights this.

A good way of testing subject lines before you use them is by utilizing Mailigen’s Subject Line Advisor. This allows you to select the industry you are in and generate graphs on varying subject lines.

Let us know if honesty has worked for you before and what other tips you have used to increase open rate in your emails.

About the author

Richard Protheroe is a content marketer for Veeqo who supply cloud-based Inventory Management Software for retailers selling on multi-channel platforms such as eBay, Amazon, Shopify and Woocommerce.

How an Apology Increased Our Email Open Rate by 50%
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