Don’t think of an email with low performance as a failure, but instead as a point for reflection.
When I was in high school, I was able to write and turn in well-performing papers without too much hard work or additional thought. If something scored a little lower than usual, I would consider it a fluke and not think about it much more. I tended to glide by without too much of a second glance.
When I got to my college World Literature class, however, I was hit with a hard truth. My casual attitude toward the work I was putting in led me to a rude awakening when my professor sat down and picked apart my work with a critical eye. I had leaned on my ability to *ahem* BS my way through a paper and it got me what I can now recognize as a justly awful grade.
I recognize that grade was fair now, but only after I did some reflection and looked back through my work, examining the notes from my professor explaining the failures in logic, grammatical errors, and just plain bad writing that was at the paper's core.
Often, we get complacent in what we do, the amount of effort we put into a particular project, or even the processes through which we set out to accomplish a task. After all, if it worked once, why shouldn't it work again?
Thankfully, email marketing, like submitting an assignment in college, gives you direct feedback on your efforts. Sometimes it isn't as clear as notes on your paper in red pen, but if you look at your send data and the marketing email content you can sometimes find some figurative "red pen".
Finding the "Red Pen"
When comparing the performance of marketing emails, there are often many avenues you can explore. Sometimes the most obvious cause for a low-performing piece is the timing of your send, however, you can reflect on all facets of a piece to get the full picture. The data and metrics from your marketing efforts can tell a story.
Very realistically, the reason for "underperforming" email isn't singular. All of your contacts are individuals and may have had their own reasons for not clicking on an email, but you can examine the different parts of your marketing efforts and use the trends you see when engaging your contacts to find the best way to communicate with them.
When to Send
As my teammate, Chris, discussed in his fantastic deep dive into email send times, The Best Time To Send An Email According To 10 Years of Data, if you are strictly sending emails during business hours, that might not be the best approach. We have some suggestions in the aforementioned blog post, but often the "red pen comments" will be visible right in your account.
Review when a piece was sent, then look at when most of your contacts opened that piece. It may benefit you to adjust your send time to more closely reflect that.
Subject Line and Content
Apart from the send time, the Subject Line and actual Content of your piece would be the next great place to check.
You may want to check a low-performance piece's subject line against the subject line of your past "heavy hitters". The subject line can be just as pivotal for an open as the send time and a bad subject line could kill your open rate.
Your marketing email's content could even be the culprit. If your email is directly comparable in every other way to a really successful piece in the past, it could come down to what you have to say in your marketing email. Simplifying your email or reorganizing your marketing email's content from most important to least important could definitely help.
Your Contacts Themselves
It may even come down to the group of contacts you are sending to. If you are reaching out to contacts that haven't opened your emails in years (or ever), it may be time to say goodbye to these contacts. After all, if they were never going to open your email, why should you keep them negatively affecting your statistics?
Final Note: The Red Pen isn't bad and you shouldn't feel bad
One personal takeaway: just because a marketing email underperformed doesn't mean you did a bad job. Looking for the "red pen" also doesn't have to be a negative experience.
We can all improve, but the individuals who seek out that improvement are often the most successful.