How to get 60+% email open rates

As a relatively new grandpa, I’m getting a refresher course in the universal truth that “kids say the darnedest things”.  Here’s a snippet of a recent conversation with my 4-year-old granddaughter Agnes:

Agnes:  Grandpa Mike, you shouldn’t be drinking that Coke Zero. Sugar isn’t good for you.
Grandpa:  Actually, Agnes, Coke Zero doesn’t have any sugar in it.
Agnes: (With utmost confidence and an incredibly serious look on her face)  Oh Grandpa… I’ve done a LOT of research on this and you are wrong.  There’s a lot of sugar in Coke Zero.”

Agnes has used the “I’ve done a lot of research” line several times recently… when she actually learns to read, she’s going to be a force to be reckoned with.

Well, two can play that game.

Let’s talk a little today about email marketing… it’s a topic of universal interest among golf course operators because it’s a core component of most marketing programs.

I’m not claiming to be a deep expert in this field, but… I’ve done a LOT of research on email marketing lately and I’m happy to share a few tidbits from my findings.  You may not agree with these points, but hopefully these will get you to put your thinking cap on regarding how you can enhance your email marketing program.

#1 – To paraphrase Winston Churchill… email marketing is the worst form of direct marketing, except for all the others.
You may have seen or heard from pundits lately that email marketing is dying and is being replaced by social media or other emerging digital media.

Au contraire, mon ami.

Think about it from a practical viewpoint.  Virtually every golfer you know has an email inbox and visits it at least daily, often in real time from a smartphone.  No other media has even close to that kind of mind share.

And self-professed “legendary marketer” Andrew Wood blogged recently:
“Almost nothing that worked 2 years ago works now!  Website traffic has gone down every year since 2008; Facebook has changed from a fantastic free tool to nothing more than classified ads, pay to play… with 1% of your fans seeing an average post; email still works but with open rates at their lowest point ever and collecting new data harder and more costly than ever it’s a shrinking return”

Wood went on to trash marketing automation, SEO, Google ads, newspaper and magazine ads, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, apps and bots.

Delivering emails is cheap and easy and the tools for analyzing results in terms of open rates, clicks, etc. keep getting better.  But as Wood points out, getting good value from your email marketing is getting harder. You will have to work smart to achieve good results.

#2 – Content is king… if you engage people, they will open and read.
According to research by Mailchimp, the LOWEST average open rates (14%) are achieved by Daily Deal/E-Coupon blasters and the HIGHEST average open rates (28%) are achieved by blasters that they categorized as “Hobby” emails.  In other words, hobbyists will engage with content about their passion twice as often as people will engage with bargain basement messages.

That’s good news… you don’t have to offer discount after discount to get people to open your emails. You do, however, have to provide them with interesting, relevant content.

Writing good content is hard… and time-consuming.  Many course operators have told us that they would send out more emails if they had access to more and better content, but that they don’t have the time and/or the skills to create more/better content themselves.

Some course operators use content mills like GolfNow (think Golf Channel) to deliver more content. Others hire 3rdparties to create content and manage their email blasts.  The Land of Lakes Golf Marketing Alliance introduced by Apparation in 2019 is providing a Content Farm as one of its resources.  Be on the lookout for ways to improve your content… if you stand pat, you are likely falling further back in the pack.

#3 – Hey, what about that subject line?  How can we achieve 60+% open rates?
There is no way to guarantee that you can get to 60% open rates… and I won’t lie to you and say that Apparation always achieves that level of success, but we do tend to outperform industry averages.  Here are three suggestions on how you can improve your engagement with your audience, sifted down from the many suggestions we found in our research.

  1. Write good content and in particular spend time developing enticing subject lines.  Why did you open this email?  Did the subject line play a part in your decision?
  2. Be like most great business brands and deliver a consistent experience… in terms of length, writing style and topics covered.  If people know what they’re going to get, they’ll be more likely to consistently open your blasts.
  3. Choose your audience and your timing wisely.  If you ever want to know what it feels like to get a 100% open rate, send a blast to your mother and to your 3 closest friends… even then there’s no guarantee!  You’ve probably heard the conventional wisdom… “he who has the largest database wins”.  But that’s only true if the large database is used wisely.  For email blasts that are going out frequently (2-4 times a month or more), your audience should consist of your regular customers or people you believe you can turn into regulars.  People who play your course infrequently or who live outside a small radius should be on a less frequent email rotation… if you send too many messages to them, they will either ignore them or they will unsubscribe.  The ‘core’ for most local golf courses is about 2,500 people… resort/destination courses need to cast a wider net.

We hope this food for thought has stimulated some valuable thinking about your email marketing strategy. If you have some feedback or if there are some related topics that you’d like us to cover in an upcoming message, please post your ideas below.

In the meantime, we hope your next blast gets a record open rate… and if you ever get frustrated with the limitations of email, just consider what we’d do if our best option was still a telegraph.


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