Email Manners: A Tale of Two Senders


When it comes to sending habits, we come across a lot of people and companies that really want to get their email delivered, but they’re not always doing the right things. Creating and maintaining good habits with your email is going to help make sure that your email program is successful.

Having a good email program isn’t something that you can set and forget. A healthy and effective email program is constantly changing and evolving so that recipients stay engaged. We’ve created some examples of two different email senders:

  • Jerry – Jerry tends to just “send it” without planning or thinking of the consequences. Jerry looks at his email list as simply a pool of people he’s trying to get engagement from, he’s not interested in creating a relationship with his recipients, he’s only interested in getting his emails out so that his contacts make a purchase or return to his site.
  • Olivia – Olivia is a thoughtful and intentional email sender. By trying to build a relationship with her subscribers, Olivia provides her recipients with informational and valuable messages. She sets clear expectations around the types of emails they’ll receive, and removes unengaged recipients if they’ve demonstrated a lack of interest.

Below are 10 different examples of how these two senders handle their email programs and the emails they send.

Chapter 1: Set the Right Expectations at Opt-In

  • Jerry sends as much email as he wants, when he wants, and he sends to his entire email list. Instead of setting expectations for email content and cadence upfront, he leaves this out because he doesn’t want people to unsubscribe.
  • Olivia sets clear expectations from the first interaction. After subscribers complete an opt-in form, they get a welcome email that explains what kind of email to expect, and how often it will be sending.

The most advanced email programs use the opt-in experience to set expectations with subscribers. It’s like the start of a respectful relationship. Subscribers should have the opportunity to indicate what kind of content they’re interested in, and how often they’d like to receive messages. As a sender you should respect those preferences. In our 2019 Email Benchmark and Engagement Study, participants overwhelmingly preferred to provide their email preferences at the point of sign-up.

Chapter 2: Quality Recipient Funnels

  • Jerry applies the traditional marketing and sales funnel to his email program. His primary goal is to get as many people as possible in the top because he knows there will be leakage along the way and only a small fraction will convert.
  • Olivia doesn’t see her email funnel like the traditional inverted triangle used for sales and marketing teams. She sees it as a straight line or tube. Instead of trying to bring in as many contacts as possible, she is comfortable filtering out who goes in at the top because her primary goal is to fill her email pipeline with quality contacts. Her subscribers are more likely to go on to convert.

If you want your email program to be successful, you should focus on quality over quantity. When you do this, you make your funnel more efficient because you’re only speaking to people who are actually engaged with the business. You won’t experience as much leakage as you move through the funnel because the contacts in your list have a strong likelihood of converting when they reach the bottom of the funnel.

Chapter 3: Personalization

  • Jerry creates one or two versions of each email and blasts them to his entire database. He doesn’t have time to create highly personalized messages and feels that he can reach most of his contacts with a generic message.
  • Olivia uses engagement data to personalize her messages by paying attention to what recipients open, read, and click so she can deliver more of that to them.

Personalization doesn’t have to be that complicated. You can personalize emails with tools you already have at your disposal, like list segmentation. Start by creating segments for contacts who display different engagement behavior (clicking links to specific products or opening emails about particular topics). Use that information to build email content for those distinct email segments so recipients are getting information that’s much more relevant to them.

Across both the U.S. and the U.K., 26% of study participants said that personalization is something that would make an email very memorable. Another 38% of participants said that personalization would make the email somewhat memorable.

Chapter 4: Email Service Provider

  • Jerry chooses a popular email service provider without digging in to their claims to see if they can support the amount of email he sends.
  • Olivia knows how important it is to find an email provider that can handle the volume of messages she sends. She looks past the obvious choices until she finds a custom MTA with the capability to send a much higher volume of email, like Twilio SendGrid.

Even well-known email service providers fall short when it comes to their technical capabilities. Many have relatively low email throughput, and aren’t able to handle volume spikes around popular sending days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday. If you go this route, you might ultimately see your email engagement metrics suffer because your emails aren’t being delivered on time.

Twilio SendGrid’s mail transfer agent (MTA) can handle a throughput of 50 billion emails a month with 99.999% uptime. That means we can get messages to recipients even on the busiest sending days of the year when other email service providers fail.

Chapter 5: Email Cycles

  • Jerry treats email as an afterthought. He used to think that email was a dead communication channel, but once he realized that he was wrong, he simply threw it into his overall marketing mix and started sending email blasts to his customers.
  • Olivia understands the value of email, and plans her approach to email communication thoughtfully. She understands what her customers are expecting to receive, and only sends wanted mail to her recipients.

The most effective email programs deploy different email campaigns at each stage of the customer lifecycle. For example send a series of welcome emails that explain your products and services to new customers. Or let them know what they can expect from future emails. Pay attention to where your recipients are in the customer lifecycle with your brand, and send them targeted campaigns to increase your open and click-through rates and foster a positive relationship with your recipients.

Chapter 6: Email Content

  • Jerry loads up his email content with 3rd party ads in hopes of generating revenue. His emails look messy and cluttered, and his ads distract from his original email content.
  • Olivia keeps her email content relevant and brand-focused. She provides her recipients with valuable content and keeps 3rd party advertising to a minimum.

While it may be tempting to stuff 3rd party advertisements into your email content in hopes of generating revenue, doing so can irritate your recipients and hurt your sending reputation. You should keep your email content clean, relevant, and brand-focused in order to yield higher open and engagement rates. Put your recipients first, and only send them emails that are beneficial valuable to them.

Chapter 7: Sending Frequency

  • Jerry sends his contacts lots of messages about deals and sales, and frequently pushes them to make a purchase or return to his site. He sends them multiple messages a day.
  • Olivia collects recipient message preferences and sends them the email they want, whether that’s a monthly newsletter or weekly discounts. She sends messages that are purposeful and wanted.

If you’re sending your contacts multiple messages each week, or even daily, they’re going to become frustrated. Over-sending and creating email fatigue can lead to contacts unsubscribing from your list or even marking your email as spam. Instead, focus on providing your contacts with value within your emails.

Most of our study participants in our 2019 Email Benchmark and Engagement Study said they would only like to receive promotional emails from retailers once a week, and just a few say they are fine with daily emails.

Chapter 8: Engagement Drop-Off

  • Jerry assumes that any drop in engagement is simply an issue with his contact list. He may even increase his sending to “correct” things.
  • Olivia recognizes that a drop in email engagement can be a sign of a bigger authentication problem, or even filtering changes implemented by inbox providers.

Keeping an eye on your recipient engagement data is something that we encourage all senders to do. However, engagement only gives you a limited view of the overall health of your email program. Make sure you’re looking into other potential causes in any engagement drops. For assistance, our team of email experts can help diagnose any email issues.

Chapter 9: Authentication

  • Jerry doesn’t see the importance of proper authentication, so he either foregoes it altogether, or does the bare minimum to get his email out.
  • Olivia knows that by authenticating her email, she’s giving herself the best chance at those messages reaching the inbox correctly.

By setting up SPF, DKIM, and DMARC, you’re telling inbox providers that you, and only you, are sending the emails from your domain. If you fail to authenticate your email correctly, a lot of inbox providers will block or drop your messages.

Chapter 10: Sunset Policy

  • Jerry doesn’t have sunset policy. He sends to addresses that haven’t engaged in email in years, and he views the total list volume as something that should only grow over time.
  • Olivia recognizes that people may lose interest in her brand and her emails over time. She has a sunset policy to remove people if they don’t engage for a certain amount of time.

Implementing a sunset policy is one of the most common suggestions we give to our senders. While it may seem counterintuitive, allowing unengaged recipients to leave your contact list actually improves your email program. When you continue to send email to contacts that don’t open or click on the messages, inbox providers see that people are uninterested in your emails. That means they’ll start blocking and filtering all of your email, which means the people who are interested, won’t get to see your messages.

Chapter 11: Conclusion

Having a successful email program doesn’t have to take a lot of work, and it’s not overly complicated. The best thing that you can do to ensure your messages are delivered correctly is to think of your recipients first when implementing a new email campaign, or making changes to your existing infrastructure. By putting recipients, and the things they’d prefer, first, you’ll be much more likely to have successful, engaging emails. If you’d like to dive into even more deliverability advice, read our 2023 Email Deliverability Guide.

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