Browse by...
Home Resources Blog

Are there certain marketing emails from companies that you always open, yet others that you totally ignore?

This is a behaviour I’ve certainly noticed in my own email habits. There are a few regular marketing emails from senders that I’ll always open and read through, yet there are other emails from organisations I always seem to ignore.

Why is that? And more importantly for marketers, how do you get your subscribers into the habit of opening and reading your campaigns as opposed to just ignoring them?

In this post, we’ll explain to you the research behind how habits are formed and give you actionable advice on how to get people into the habit of opening and reading your campaigns.

How are habits formed?

According to author and Stanford graduate Nir Eyal, a habit is an impulse to take an action automatically, with little or no conscious thought put into taking it.

In his book, Nir states that for a habit to be created people must go through a cycle made up of 3 stages: trigger, action, and reward. It is by going through this 3-stage cycle again and again that a habit is eventually formed.

To help you understand Nir’s theory a little better, let’s dive into each stage:

  • Trigger – The trigger is something that draws a person’s attention away from what they are doing, and towards the action you want them to take. In the case of email, it’s usually a popup telling you that you have a new email in your inbox.
  • Action – In order for a user to continue progressing through the cycle, they must take action on the trigger. In the case of email, this could meaning opening their email client and reading your campaign.
  • Reward – The final step in people’s progression through the cycle is reward. Each time they receive a trigger and take action, they need to be rewarded with something.  In the case of email, this could be a discount, some great content, or an exclusive offer.

By continuously going through this cycle of receiving a trigger, performing an action and getting rewarded for it, people begin to get into the habit of opening and clicking on your campaigns.

Then, whenever the trigger occurs in the future (I.e. because you send another campaign) they will instinctively open and click on your email without thinking.

Why forming habits is important

Many people think that the main way to increase the number of clicks and conversions they get from their email campaigns is to get more subscribers.

It makes sense really, more subscribers equals more people receiving your emails and more people to click them.

However, the key to getting better results from your email marketing is not getting more subscribers, it’s getting more engaged subscribers, as it’s these people who will open and click your email campaigns.

And as the diagram below shows, if you add 1000 new email subscribers to your list each month but 500 of your existing subscribers stop opening your emails, then it’s going to be much harder to grow the results you get your email marketing initiative.

So how can you stop this from happening? The key is getting all your subscribers into the habit of opening and reading your campaigns.

How to get readers into the habit of opening and reading your campaigns

In order to get people into the habit of opening and reading your campaigns, you need to move them through the 3-stage cycle as frequently as possible.

Let’s take a look at some actionable tips you can apply to your email marketing campaigns to make it happen:


Your “from” name and subject line are pretty much all you have to work with to try to trigger the cycle when your subscriber receives your campaign, so it’s important you use these wisely.

Use a familiar ‘from’ name

We often get asked what the best ‘from’ name is to use in your email marketing campaigns. Should it be your company name? Or should it come from a specific person inside your company?

lt really depends on who people expect to hear from. For instance, if you were to sign up for our email newsletter would you expect to receive emails from Campaign Monitor or from Aaron Beashel? Given that you’ve signed up for these emails from the Campaign Monitor website, chances are it’s the earlier.

So in order to create an effective trigger, ensure the ‘from’ name you choose to use in your campaigns matches the user’s expectations.

Alex Turnbull, the CEO of Groove, does a great job of this when sending email campaigns to Groove customers. You can see in the screenshot below that his name shows up as “Alex from Groove” in the from field.

Groove email example

The inclusion of the company name ensures people know exactly who this email is coming from, yet the inclusion of Alex’s first name adds a personal touch that makes people think the email is specifically for them.

Promise your reader a specific benefit in the subject line

Your subject line should be relevant to the reward waiting for the reader inside your email. If it’s a sale or a discount, let them know that. If it’s news, tell them about it. Give them a reason to open your campaigns by telling them what the reward is.

Here’s an example from an email I received recently:

The subject line, 20 days until Apple Watch! A special from Bitfountain, tells me there’s a special offer inside related to the Apple Watch. Before I open the email I have a good idea of what kind of reward is in store for me.


The key to getting people to take action on your campaigns is making it clear what the action they need to take is, and then making it very easy for them to take it.

Here are a few tips to help you achieve that:

Make sure your emails are responsive

According to our own research, 41% of email campaigns are opened on a mobile device while 28% are opened on a desktop client and 22% in a webmail interface.

In order for people to take action on your campaigns, you need to make it easy for them to do so regardless of what environment they are viewing your email in.

To do this, make sure the email templates you use to send your campaigns are responsive so that they scale up and down for different devices.

As you can see, the template we use to send our email newsletter is responsive, and it’s easy for users to click through to our website regardless of what device they are on.

Use a call to action button in your emails

Earlier this year, we tested using a button in an email campaign (as opposed to just a text link) to see which link style encouraged people to take action.

Here’s the email with the button:

And here’s the email with just the text link:

The result? We got a 28% increase in click-throughs by using a button instead of a text link.

Looking at the emails above, you can see there are a number of things that make buttons perform better:

  • Size – Often a button will be much larger in size than a linked piece of text, catching the reader’s eye.
  • Design – Buttons often have design elements that links don’t, such as shadows, gradients, and other effects. This can make them ‘pop’ off the page and stand out to readers.
  • Color – Often buttons will have a different color to the background and text, and this contrast draws the eye and makes the reader notice them more.
  • Whitespace – When a button is set away from other elements in the email, the whitespace around it creates an area free from distraction – leading the reader right to it.

So make sure you include buttons in your campaigns to encourage people to take action on your emails and continue to form a habit of doing so.


The final step in the cycle is to reward users for responding to the trigger and taking action, as without this reward, there is no benefit for the user and no habit will be formed.

The kind of reward you offer largely depends on the kind of business you’re operating and what subscribers have signed up for. Some examples of great rewards we see include:

Great content

If you have a blog or are using other content marketing techniques to attract visitors, then relevant, high-quality content is a great reward to offer subscribers.

Campaign Monitor customer BuzzFeed is a great example of this.

BuzzFeeds reward their subscribers for taking action on their email by including highly entertaining, shareable content that their subscribers love to read.

This consistent rewarding of subscribers gets them in the habit of opening and clicking their campaigns, and has allowed BuzzFeed to build an engaged subscriber list that drives millions of visits to their website each month.

Discounts and offers

If you sell something online, then offering discounts on items is a great way to reward users for opening and clicking your campaigns.

Group buying site Groupon employs this strategy effectively in their email marketing program. By consistently offering great discounts they’ve got their subscribers in the habit of opening and clicking their campaigns — always hungry for the latest deal.

It’s work well for them too. According to Forbes, Groupon is the fastest growing company ever created and at last count they had over 115 million subscribers who received discounts and offers via email.


The key to success with rewards is to make sure you mix them up, as this is what keeps people responding to triggers.

If they were to get the same reward every time it would eventually lose its appeal, but not knowing exactly what they’re going to get each time encourages them to keep taking action.

Wrap up

If you want to grow the amount of clicks, conversions and ROI you get from your email marketing campaigns, it’s important to keep your subscribers engaged with your campaigns for the long-term.

One of the best ways to do this is to get them into the habit of opening and reading your email campaigns, and you can do that by following some of the tips and tricks in this article to ensure they respond to the trigger, take the action and get rewarded for it.


This blog provides general information and discussion about email marketing and related subjects. The content provided in this blog ("Content”), should not be construed as and is not intended to constitute financial, legal or tax advice. You should seek the advice of professionals prior to acting upon any information contained in the Content. All Content is provided strictly “as is” and we make no warranty or representation of any kind regarding the Content.
Straight to your inbox

Get the best email and digital marketing content delivered.

Join 250,000 in-the-know marketers and get the latest marketing tips, tactics, and news right in your inbox.


Get started with Campaign Monitor today.

With our powerful yet easy-to-use tools, it's never been easier to make an impact with email marketing.

Try it for free