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Welcome to E-mail Marketing

16 min read


Welcome to E-mail Marketing

Despite all the great new channels, tactics, and technology e-mail marketing remains one of the main campaign tactics used in most countries around the globe. It is often an underestimated channel leading to an inefficient usage of it.  In this article, we will introduce you to e-mail marketing and how to become an e-mail delivery hero.

If you first want to get a general understanding of e-mail deliverability, before continuing with the details in the article, you can take a look at the embedded microlearning video to get started.

Microlearning video: Introduction to E-Mail Deliverability 

Table of Contents


Before we jump into the details, we need to understand what e-mail marketing is actually about. It is usually considered as a direct marketing discipline. As such, it is based on the exchange of digital messages addressing the ultimate marketing goal of sales conversions.

Often, e-mail marketing is considered to be dead or irrelevant. However, the numbers paint a different picture. In 2018, an all record high of 73% of all European Union internet users were using e-mail for some kind of communication (source: statista ). You can also see this trend going up on a global scale: 293 billion e-mails will be sent by the end of 2019, and around 347 billion will find their way into people's inbox by the end of 2023 (source: statista ). This upward trend does not necessarily apply to all regions and cultures. China is probably the most prominent example not following the global trend and relying on other direct marketing channels like WeChat instead of e-mail.

The global growth trend can be explained by some of the key benefits of e-mail marketing:

  • Broad acceptance and high reach within B2C and B2B industries
  • Low cost for the sender of the e-mail
  • Low touch channel in regards to prospect/customer fatigue
  • Low commercial and technological entry barrier into digital tactics
  • Easy to combine with other tactics and channels to increase cost and conversion efficiency
  • Easy to measure results and therefore easy to optimize

The key benefits, as well as the global upward trend, need to be seen from the perspective of the type of e-mail. Not every e-mail is a marketing e-mail. Most senders and e-mail marketers will distinguish between transactional and pure marketing e-mails. The line between the two is not always clear and will vary depending on your organization and legal considerations per country that you operate in. Some companies with sophisticated transactional and marketing e-mail engines do not distinguish between the two except for legal aspects. Combining the two usually comes with additional complexity in regards to technology, governance, and processes. Therefore, we recommend to start with a clear distinction. The below can serve as indication to get you started:

Characteristic Transactional E-mail Marketing E-mail
Definition Triggered by a user in a transactional system. The usage of the system can happen directly (for example, user is placing order in webshop) or indirectly (for example, call center agent creates a ticket on behalf of the caller). The nature of the e-mail is always personal. Triggered by a marketing system based on either a scheduled campaign with a predefined audience or a trigger-campaign that is based on marketing relevant triggers. The nature of the e-mail can be personal, but does not have to be. The marketing triggers can overlap with the transactional ones.
Target Provide information as requested by the user. Provide information, incentives, and call-to-action to contribute to the main marketing objective, sales conversions.
  • O rder confirmation
  • Claim request confirmation
  • Personal data change confirmation
  • Change of terms and conditions
  • Newsletter
  • Product Launch
  • Education on product usage
  • Birthday congratulation

Be Successful with E-mail Marketing

image one: e-mail success funnel

To be successful with e-mail marketing, you need to know how success is defined and how to measure it. Most e-mail marketers have one key goal in common, engagement. Engagement can be broken down into opens and/or clicks. The goal of recipient engagement is independent from the type of e-mail you send, the audience you want to address, the creative content you put in place, and so on. This is the one goal every e-mail marketer has in common and it should always be a priority.

As indicated in image one, the e-mail success process is like a funnel. If you want to achieve good results for your engagement target, you will need to take care of three dependent steps upfront:

  • Send: The send is indicating that a message is on its way. Just because a message is sent, it does not mean that it will reach the recipient. In addition, you might experience that not all of your intended recipients (contacts or e-mails) actually get a sent message. Key performance indicator to measure success: 

    • Sent-Rate: A sent-rate shows the ratio between the number of messages sent compared to the number of e-mails in your campaign recipient list that you intended to reach.

  • Deliver: The deliver step can be compared to a person knocking on a door and asking to enter. This is where the decision will be made, if your message is allowed to enter or not. Key performance indicators to measure success: 

    • Hard-Bounce-Rate: A hard bounce indicates that it is not possible to reach the recipient and not worth trying again. The figure tells you the ratio between number of hard bounces divided by the number of messages sent. Based on experience you should keep this rate below 2%.

    • Soft-Bounce-Rate: A soft bounce usually indicates a temporary delivery problem, for example, the recipient's inbox is full. It is worth to retry to send the message. The rate tells you the ratio between the number of bounced messages divided by the number of messages sent. Based on experience you should keep this rate below 2%. Having said that you might see peaks during the sending process.

    • Complaint-Rate: A complaint indicates that a message was marked as spam or junk by an individual user. Complaint information depends on the so called feedback loop. Not every e-mail provider is offering a feedback loop and some of them only offer a limited version, for example, gmail is only returning aggregated complaint stats instead of individually identifiable complaints. Therefore, it is not the most reliable figure, but you should still measure and monitor it. The rate tells you the ratio between the number of complaints divided by the number of messages sent. Based on experience, you should keep this rate below 0.2%.

    • Delivery-Rate: The delivery rate shows the ratio between all messages delivered divided by the number of messages sent.
  • Place: The place or placement step means that the message made it inside. This does not mean that the message is appreciated. It can either be placed in the inbox or spam. Key performance indicators to measure success: 

    • Spam-Placement-Ratio:  Your messages make it into the building, but they might be automatically guided into the wrong room. The actual spam placement and reasons for it are kept as a secret by most e-mail providers. Usually you will not get a clear count to calculate the exact ratio. Therefore you need to work with multiple measures to approach it as close as possible.

    • Inbox-Placement-Ratio: The inbox placement is exactly what you want to achieve. The ratio is exactly the opposite of the spam-placement-ratio. Therefore, this figure is generally difficult to determine.

Technical, creative, and functional activities need to be performed to get your e-mails placed in the inbox of your recipient. The sum of those activities is often described as the art of 'e-mail deliverability' or 'inbox placement'.  All of those activities are only hygiene factors compared to the most important one, engagement. Engagement by itself has the biggest impact on inbox placement. It is all about making sure that your campaigns and messages are relevant for your recipient. If they are relevant, your recipients will open and click on your message and your reputation will sky rocket. This is ultimately the best measure to keep your inbox-placement rate high. Please check out in the conclusion section below for follow-up articles on how-to ideate and build engaging campaigns.

The Technical Process Behind the E-mail Success Funnel

image two: terminology and process

In the last section, we have learned that good e-mail marketing heavily relies on the art of e-mail deliverability and engagement. To better understand on how to become a master of e-mail deliverability, we need to look into the technical components of our e-mail success funnel. Image two is highlighting the four core components you need to know about as well as two pre- and follow-up steps:

  • Input: Your starting point is usually a campaign with the corresponding elements 'creative content' as well as a 'target audience' (also known as the e-mail list).
  • Marketing Automation Engine (MAE): In some cases, your MAE is actually merged with the e-mail service provider (ESP). However, we tend to look at the two separately, since often you will find amazing MAE or ESP providers, but neither one is superior in both functions. The MAE is much more than only an e-mail sending machine. Your MAE should cover all of your technical automation needs around data, decision, and distribution. By doing so, it is never limited to the e-mail channel. As mentioned in the last section, good e-mail marketing is all about engagement and engagement relies on relevance. Relevance can only be achieved by applying a holistic approach covering all aspects of customer experience and not only e-mail marketing. The SAP Marketing Cloud falls under the category of a MAE.

  • E-mail Service Provider (ESP): The ESP is a service or company that is providing e-mail services for marketing and transactional e-mails. ESPs come in all kind of different shapes and formats. Some combine the MAE and ESP function in one solution, while others are only providing an API with very basic managed services in the background (for example, message queuing for throttling, bounce collection). As of release 1905, SAP Marketing Cloud is integrated with SAP Digital Interconnect, Amazon Simple E-mail Service, Alibaba Cloud DirectMail service as well as Inxmail. You will also notice that SAP Marketing Cloud can be connected with basically any ESP through the 'Generic E-mail Interface', allowing you to chose your preferred option from the approximately 500 ESPs in the market. You can find all technical details here .

  • Internet Service Provider (ISP): In the context of e-mail marketing, the ISP is referring to an e-mail provider for end-users, for example, Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail. The ISP customers are your e-mail recipients. A good ISP will do everything they can to protect their customers from unwanted messages (spam).

  • Individual E-mail Inbox: This is where you want your messages to end up. Each ISP customer has their own, personal, and private inbox.

As part of your technical process, you might use additional tooling (for example, automated creative content scoring) that is supporting your e-mail success. Depending on your MAE and ESP, the below might be partly covered already. However, our experience has shown that is worth to use some best-of-breed solutions such as:

  • Bounce Checker: We use the bounce-check service from NeverBounce to minimize the risk of bounces. It is a great tool that can be used either once or on an on-going basis. We highly recommend to use it at least for every net new contact list or for the ones that you want to re-activate after a long period of inactivity. Please be cautious, since the bounce checker itself will not guarantee good results. You should follow the additional recommendations in the articles cross-referenced within the conclusion section below.  

  • Creative Content and Configuration Checker: We use Litmus to cross check the completion and quality of the technical configuration process (DNS setup, DKIM registration, and more) as well as for any potential violations against the ISPs spam checks for message content. The message content rules can also be applied manually, but since the ISPs constantly change their spam-identification logic, we recommend to keep using Litmus on an ongoing basis. Furthermore, we use the content previews for the body and subject line, since only properly rendered messages have a chance of high engagement rates. As we learned before, high engagement rates are the ultimate deliverability boost.

  • Actual Spam Analyzer: As mentioned in the section above, it is very difficult to actually measure the inbox placement rate. You will find many tools that are going to provide an indication of your spam-rate, but not give you the actuals. The ISPs usually keep this kind of information under disclosure. Luckily one of the major ISPs, gmail, is providing a great service called 'Google Postmaster'. It helps you to analyze your e-mail traffic and placement rates. If you are in the B2C industry, this tool is a must-have for you. Regardless of the fact that all ISPs use different logic for their placement process, you can use this tool to get a strong indicator for all the other ISPs.

Most likely, your e-mail marketing process will include many more components, such as digital asset management and creative tools. This article, however, focuses on the essentials to avoid overcomplicating things.

Now, it is time to learn on how to put the above into practice. Let us learn on how to become a deliverability hero.

Become a Deliverability Hero

image three: how to become a deliverability hero

By now, you should have a solid feeling on what success for e-mail marketing is all about. Let us start to dig a little deeper and find out how to become a real e-mail deliverability hero.

You will need to focus on four aspects: 

  • Become a Trusted Sender: Trust is the currency in e-mail marketing. The right setup of your ESP and a solid warm-up plan is essential. You will find all details here.
  • Use the Right Audience: Identifying the right audience for your e-mail marketing campaigns will make the difference. It is important to know what kind of tactics will help to clean up your contact list initially and keep it healthy over time. Follow our best practice here.
  • Create Relevant Content: ISPs have come to know the behavior of spammers and senders of unsolicited e-mail. The usual suspects employ a typical style of building content which is then sanctioned by the ISP. We have created a list of best practices that will help you to avoid pitfalls while showing you how to increase your content quality to appease mailbox providers. To dive in, please go here .

  • Be Relevant: The best driver for a high inbox-placement rate is recipients who engage with your message. The best way to achieve this is to create highly relevant campaigns. If you need ideas on how to do so, please follow our approach to ideate campaigns with design thinking. A step-by-step guide can be found here.


In this article, you learned what e-mail marketing is all about. We introduced you to the generic success process of e-mail marketing and the essential components of e-mail delivery. You got a brief look into 'how to become an e-mail deliverability hero' and learned about the critical importance of deliverability aspects. The following articles will provide you with the best practice to become a deliverability hero:

In case you need further support, please refer to our dedicated 'E-mail Deliverability Guidance' service. You will find more details in the fact sheet that is linked in the services section of this article.