How to Drive Maximum Engagement Through Email Marketing (with Jordie van Rijn)

Apr 21, 2017 · 11 min read

We all know the effectiveness of email marketing, but do we really know how to use it?

As marketers, we send out so many emails to try and engage subscribers and customers because we know that engagement drives conversions and sales.

But the reality is many of our emails are ignored and the high engagement we were looking for just isn’t there.

So how can we drive engagement through email marketing?

I’ve teamed up with one of the leading email marketing influencers, Jordie van Rijn, to uncover the secret to driving engagement through email marketing, and I think you might be surprised at what he had to say.

In this post, you will learn mine and Jordie’s best tips for email marketing engagement along with five examples of engagement emails that will get your subscribers active in no time.

Don’t know what marketing emails to send?

Not every type of email works for all businesses. I know how hard it can be to find inspiration and create your own unique email campaigns, so I’ve got you covered.

Download our personal swipe file of e-commerce emails and find inspiration in some of the best email campaigns we’ve seen.

About Jordie: Jordie van Rijn is an independent email and marketing automation consultant with over 13 years of experience in the field. He is also the founder of, an international blog and platform for finding the right email marketing suppliers.

How to effectively measure engagement

When creating email marketing campaigns, we marketers usually have a specific goal in mind when it comes to open rates and click rates.

We’re on the edge of our seat waiting to see those percentages climb higher and higher.

Jordie argues that when a marketing plan mentions engagement as a goal, it is often measured as activity per campaign such as increasing average open rates, click-through rates, and conversion rates.

However, those numbers only tell us about engagement with the email campaign and not the engagement with the subscriber.

Focusing only on open/click-through rates does not reflect an accurate level of interaction or revenue potential of the campaigns.

Jordie says to make it more concrete, it’s much more effective to check total people that have opened or clicked your emails in, say, the last 30-days.

These metrics are referred to as email open reach and click reach.

So instead of looking at campaign measures and focusing on increasing opens and clicks per campaign, Jordie advises it’s better to focus on increasing reach and looking at how often the same people engage with your emails.

Then you can focus on creating much more tailored campaigns to your inactive subscribers.

Jordie uses dog training as an analogy: If they hear a bell every time they get fed, they’ll automatically expect food next time they hear the bell.

Pavlov was the first to experiment this effect, and he was able to encourage behavior without direct reward.

Now, I know your subscribers aren’t dogs, but he holds a valid point: Replace the bell with your email marketing message and you have a potential goldmine waiting to be tapped.

Thus, you should ask yourself the following questions whenever you’re creating a new email campaign:

  • What does your email trigger?
  • What is the anticipation you have built up?
  • Have you previously engaged with your subscribers in a way that makes them anticipate good content, or have you engaged with them in a way that automatically makes them ignore your emails?

It’s not just about getting high open rates and clicks rates for each individual campaign, it’s about measuring engagement over time.

How to measure long-term engagement

Even though reviewing long-term engagement is more effective, many marketers don’t go beyond average opens and clicks.

To measure long-term engagement, you should look at all your subscribers’ actions.

These, not only include open and clicks, but also downloads, social shares, comments, purchases, and so on over a longer period of time such as six months or a year (depending on the amount of data you’re gathering).

I know this is a daunting task, but this data is super useful in determining which subscribers are most active, or inactive, and thus need different types of email campaigns.

Another important way to measure engagement is looking at the click-to-open rate (CTOR).

This is the percentage of subscribers who click through after opening your email.

You can use this metric across different campaigns to see how effective your content, call-to-action (CTA), and creative are.

As with everything else in marketing, you should start testing once you’ve identified this metric, to improve your CTOR.

These tests could include your CTA, images, inline links, the number of links and images, colors, copy, and more — the sky’s the limit.

Moreover, you should try segmenting your email list into corporate and personal domains (Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, etc.), and then experiment with send times.

These two types of email accounts are used for very different purposes and at very different times.

So why not see if you can optimize your email marketing send times based on the email account type?

Try sending to corporate email accounts during business hours, and personal email accounts at night and on the weekends.

This tactic is also very effective in preventing (or at least reducing) churn.

Optimizing your send times (among other things) for your win-back emails can have a huge effect on the success of your win-back emails.

Jordie’s favorite marketing tools

As marketers, we’re always on the hunt for new and better tools to help us make our jobs much easier. That might be beside your normal toolset.

So, I asked Jordie what some of about his favorite additional marketing tools, are. Here’s what he recommends:

Pro tip from Jordie: What is the biggest mistake that marketers make concerning email win-back?

Jordie argues that every email is a win-back email.

You want to win the right to come back with another message and get the reader’s full attention.

Promotions are predominantly action-oriented, but emails can also be more relationship-focused or informative.

Creative marketers mix it up and do combinations of the two, looking at the full spectrum of engagement.

You have to pick the right re-engagement tactics. The best timing is right before they disengage.

Send these 5 emails to increase email engagement

On to the question you’re all asking: “What emails do I send?”

There are many different ways to engage subscribers and customers based on the business you’re in and the audience you’re serving.

In the following, I’ll give you 5 examples of emails that can increase engagement and examples of how other businesses have done it.

Let’s have a look:

1. The motivational nudge

Giving your subscribers a little motivational nudge once in awhile is a great engagement tactic.

There are a few ways to do this.

You can decide to use social proof in your message as Duolingo does in some of their emails:

Source: Really Good Emails

They show their subscribers how “successful” they are by telling them how many people are already using the Duolingo for Schools.

They’ve even included two testimonials from experts on the topic (in this case school teachers) to make their message more trustworthy.

We tend to follow the crowd, which is why social proof works well in combination with promotion.

Another idea is to give your subscribers inspiration to come back as Typeform has done in one of their emails:

Source: Really Good Emails

They use an emotional appeal in the beginning of the email and then offer the receiver inspiration with their Template Gallery.

2. The user insight

Providing insight into how your subscribers have engaged with you or used your product or service can increase engagement further, and keep them on board.

Here’s one of my favorite examples from Lyft:

Source: Really Good Emails

Not only do they summarize your activity, but they also include fun facts about your use of the service and award you with badges:

This user insight email is doable with all types of online stores and businesses.

Show people the products they’ve purchased and award them with a funny title or a discount and encourage more engagement.

3. The celebration

Celebrating milestones is a great way to keep subscribers and customers engaged.

Who doesn’t want to hear that they’re doing great or have achieved something awesome?

I know I do!

That’s why we have an entire email flow for Sleeknote customers where we celebrate their milestones.

Here’s an example of one of our celebration emails:

Even though this is an engagement email, we decided not to include a link in the email, as we wanted this email to focus on the customer’s success.

Our hopes with this email flow, is, of course, to remind customers of the results they get with the product and thus, keep them engaged.

4. The personal suggestions

This one can be a bit tricky.

You don’t want your subscribers or customers to think you’re spying on them, so this might not work for all businesses.

However, in most cases, these emails are great for driving engagement because they are super personal.

Based on what you know about your customers, you can suggest similar products or offer them new ways to use their already purchased products.

Netflix, for instance, uses this tactic to send users an email every time a new series that a user might like.

This one from my inbox reads: “Rikke, we just added a new show you might enjoy.”

They customize the suggestions based on what content you’ve previously watched on Netflix, and add your name, which personalizes the email (and I must admit, they’re pretty spot on with their suggestions).

You can make suggestions based on previous purchases.

For instance, if a customer has bought mainly summer dresses, you can send an email with suggestion to accessories that go well with those dresses, or maybe even show your newest arrivals in that category.

5. The seasonal one

You can also engage people with seasonal emails.

Seasonal emails are specific to events, holidays, and so on, and are thus super effective when it comes to engaging your subscribers and customers.

Why, you might ask?

Because events and holidays are always a good excuse to buy new things.

You might need a new baking tray to roast your Thanksgiving turkey, or a new dress for New Years Eve, or perhaps you’re looking to save money on Christmas presents.

Here’s a great example of how to use holidays to engage subscribers:

Source: Really Good Emails

This email from Barkbox is simple, but effective. The call-to-action is clear and they’ve even added our (least) favorite Christmas song to make the email holiday specific.

Another favorite of mine is this Halloween themed email from Crate & Barrel:

Source: Really Good Emails

It’s highly relevant to the season, and they show an array of different Halloween related products for inspiration.

Whichever of these campaigns or other you want to send, always remember to personalize.

The secret to personalization

Here’s Jordie’s “secret magic tip” on personalizing emails:

Be inclusive.

We always talk about targeting as a way to improve the effectiveness of our emails, hitting the bull’s eye. However, increasing the size of the bull’s eye is just as effective.

With every email, you should also ask yourself: How can I make this attractive for people who are not in theright time, right person, right messagegroup.

No matter how great your data is, the biggest part of your recipients will not belong to this group.

For example, Jordie received an email from his bank to discuss a mortgage for buying a house. The offer was to make an appointment, and then he could win a weekend trip and other small prizes.

This message was too specific and would only be relevant to a small group of people. Needless to say, they could have done much better.

So to recap: If you’re sending out bulk emails, make sure you’re not excluding people by being too specific.

However, segmentation can get you a long way, and thus, make your email campaigns more specific while they’re still relevant to all the people you’re sending them to.

Jordie’s future predictions for email marketing

Finally, I wanted to know what Jordie thinks email marketing will look like in 2020:

Email marketing is going strong. Jordie says that he takes stock every year on how people envision the future of email marketing, and he thinks the outlook is bright.

He argues that there are three things companies need to do to be more innovative with their email marketing:

  1. Be more creative with the use of triggers
  2. Start with more dynamic elements (like animations, dynamic content, and so on)
  3. Use automation for more personalized communication

Jordie says that for the ambitious marketers, 2020 is already here.

Adoption will be driven by the increased use of tools, and development of knowledge from practitioners, and not by the next hoverboard, VR or 3D printer.

The real surprises Jordie expect to come are from the unexplored application of data and bots.

Don’t know what marketing emails to send?

Not every type of email works for all businesses. I know how hard it can be to find inspiration and create your own unique email campaigns, so I’ve got you covered.

Download our personal swipe file of e-commerce emails and find inspiration in some of the best email campaigns we’ve seen.


There is no easy way to engage subscribers and customers.

It takes time and effort and in most cases a lot of failures to find the golden road to success.

However, it’s my hope mine and Jordie’s tips will help you get a little closer to finding that golden road.

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