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The Secret to Increasing Your Email Open Rates Up to 70% with Max McShane, Head of Digital at Octopus


When you start an email campaign, the first and foremost concern is to make sure more people open your emails.

Well, not all would respond — but even if every fourth email you sent is eventually opened, you are somewhat in the safe territory. In other words, the ideal email open rate is between 15% to 25%.

But sadly, many companies are not close to achieving those targets. If that’s the case with you, it’s time to rethink and learn from an expert.

Max McShane, Head of Digital at Octopus Energy, shares some key insights on creating personalised emails which will prompt the receiver to open them, and act upon.

To understand it better, we divide out interview with McShane into three broad sections:

Firstly, we share the reasons why email open rates are falling. Secondly, McShane shares seven key tips for creating email campaigns with a high response rate. Thirdly, the lessons one can learn from the insights shared by McShane.

What’s Inside?

  1. Why Your Campaign May Not Be Doing Well
  2. 7 Useful Tips for Creating Email Campaigns With a High Open-Rate
  3. The New “Can’t Trust Open Rate” Reality 
  4. Lessons Learned
  5. Who is Max McShane?

Why Your Campaign May Not Be Doing Well

Your email marketing campaign may be performing badly because you are sending irrelevant mails, or sending them at wrong times, or perhaps sending it to wrong people, and importantly, the content of your mails is too impersonal. Sending an email should feel like having a real conversation with your customer.

With that in mind, let’s dive into what Max McShane, Head of Digital at Octopus Energy, has to say in this interview. He has the secret to creating personalized emails that will stand out in subscribers’ inboxes and speak directly to them.

Depending on your industry, your email open rate should be between 15-25%. But the reality is that many companies aren’t even close to achieving these numbers.

One of the foremost common reasons why open rates decline for email campaigns may be the following:

  • Email deliverability problems
  • A not relevant or intriguing subject line
  • Lack of quality content within the email
  • Wrong send times
  • Sending too many or too few campaigns
  • Incorrect target audience
  • Lack of personalization

Of course, there is always room for improvement with any marketing method. If you’re looking for some tips on how to intensify email open rates? We’ve got you covered for that too. Max McShane reveals how they managed to increase their email open rates with a few simple tricks.

7 Useful Tips for Creating Email Campaigns With a High Open-Rate

The optimum will depend on the industry you are in. Those in the energy providers tend to hit the average email open rate, which is around 20%. As a comparison – ours at Octopus Energy is about 60 to 70%.

You can create email campaigns with high open rates if you stay true to your mission, set the right goals, and design the process thoughtfully.

These are our guiding pillars:

  1. Never send shit
  2. Focus on subject lines
  3. Test and iterate
  4. Never send a ‘no-reply’ email
  5. Test different tactics
  6. Think about the wider experience
  7. Focus on customer happiness

1. Never send shit

First and foremost, never send any frivolous stuff. Imagine you receive something which is not worthwhile for you, would you want to receive anything ever again from the sender afterwards? Certainly, not!

Also, don’t use asterisk. It gives a sign of suspicion that something is hidden, or not articulated clearly. It implies a footnote, and the reader will expect to see small print somewhere within the email. Where others might hide things in small print, we make them big and bold and put them at the top of an email. A good example has been when there was a rise in the wholesale cost of energy, we explain loud and clear what’s happening and why. 

Another rule we follow is talking to customers the way we would like someone to speak with us. If you do this well, you build trust and when you gain the trust customers are more open to hearing about and trying new things.

2. Focus on subject lines

Second tip he shares is to emphasise on a substantive subject line. Remember that there are broadly two types of subject lines: one where you demand an action, and second which is purely for the customer’s knowledge i.e. For Your Information (FYI).

The mail receiver must know whether the sender of the mail is expecting some action or you sent the mail merely to apprise them of something substantive.

3. Test and iterate 

Third key point is to test and iterate. McShane shares with us that one can first experiment with some email campaign to a small group and assess the results based on the receivers’ response. Later, the campaign can be scaled up and experimented on a larger group — say 500 people.

Remember that your experiment can either succeed, or else, you will learn a lesson.

We send emails to smaller groups, test their performance, get feedback directly to our inboxes and then iterate. We look at the email replies and what actions receivers are taking. Based on that, we go back to the email copy and change it. 

Next, we send the campaign to a slightly larger group – maybe 500 up from 100 – review replies and make changes again. By the time we’ve scaled it up and the email goes to the majority, we have these emails completely optimized based on feedback. It’s like publishing a minimum viable product (MVP) for emails and then building improvements.

4. Never send a ‘no-reply’ email

The next key tip is to refrain from sending an email from ‘no-reply’ ID. When you send a mail from such an ID, you practically alienate your customer and undermine the possibility of their feedback — which more often than not, is ‘valuable’.

And as McShane points out, and rightly so, you are supposed to reply to each email sent by the customer. And this can be made possible only when you allow the customer to reply.

Nothing quite says I don’t care about the customer more than cutting off two-way communication with a no-reply email. Not only are you silencing your customers but you’re cutting off valuable feedback.

The magic here comes from the previous point. Every iteration we create has a smaller response rate than the last. That’s because we’re answering all the questions people have in the body of the email and creating self-serve options for the things that they want to do meaning the number of replies we get is minimal.

5. Test different tactics

The next tip is to try different tactics such as experimenting with timers, sequencing, sending times, reminders, discounts and amounts in a bid to increase the conversion rate.

Based on his experience at Octopus Energy, McShane suggests email marketers to first try everything manually. send the emails, pull the logs, and match this with our database to see what emails best drive conversions. And when something seems to be working, the process can be automated via developer’s team automate the process

6. Think about the wider experience

Another important tip is to not get too carried away with some metric, and instead focus only on the long-term goal of giving a well-rounded and good experience to the customer.

Goodhart’s Law says that any metric that becomes a target is no longer a good metric. This is because it is common tendency to cut corners and manipulate the system solely to improve the metric. If profit is the sole target, customer experience will inevitably take a hit and taint a brand’s image.

Also — when you emphasise too much on improving the quality of experience for the customer, rest everything will likely fall in place.

To create a closer relationship with customers, everyone on our team has access to the customer experience platform and is encouraged to jump in and help. This gives everyone first-hand experience with what customers want. 

7. Focus on customer happiness

Last, but certainly not the least, tip is to focus on the customer’s happiness. When every act of marketing including email marketing is aligned to customer’s happiness – your chances of success would surely be higher. 

Octopus Energy is a renewable energy provider with the goal of fast-tracking the transition to zero carbon emission. Our Founder and CEO, Greg Jackson, set ambitious goals – getting 100 million people on our platform, Kraken.  

When Greg created Octopus, he worked hard to fast-track the transition to green energy and help people pay less. He set 2 KPIs for the company: customer happiness and the number of people who use our services and we never sacrifice one to improve the other. 

When the leadership team has genuine good interests at heart, and everyone aligns their goals, the sky’s the limit!

The New “Can’t Trust Open Rate” Reality 

Recently, Apple made a privacy change requiring email marketers and campaigners to rethink their deliverability, reporting, and content strategy.

The update is coming with iOS 15, which means that you won’t be able to track opens for Apple’s Mail app subscribers precisely. 

In other words, Apple will automatically load images. It will seem that subscribers are opening our emails when, in fact, they aren’t. 

Many of your subscribers (around 30% as estimated) will fall into this category, making it challenging to isolate these email addresses in your targeting and reporting accurately. 

It’s expected that other email providers like Gmail and Yahoo will soon follow this practice.

What can you do?

  1. Define your inactive list using clicks as the most obvious metric. 
  2. Record and save the last accurate open for every subscriber.
  3. Customize your content and channel strategies.
  4. Include a like/dislike button to collect feedback on your email content.
  5. Instead of asking subscribers to fill out a form, ask them to reply directly to the email.
  6. Ensure it is simple for someone to unsubscribe from your list.
  7. Try quick polls or quizzes to generate engagement. 
  8. Invest in SMS and other channels.

Lessons Learned

  • Don’t send emails you don’t believe in and won’t add value to your customers – it’s humans communicating with humans. 
  • Talk to customers the way you would like someone to speak to you.
  • Test email campaigns to smaller groups and, based on their feedback, optimize the emails before sending them to a larger group.
  • Don’t send a ‘no-reply’ email – it will cut off the two-way communication instantly.
  • Your primary focus should be customer’s needs and wants and not KPIs.

Who is Max McShane?


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