I remember the first email I ever got.

It was sent and received on the same computer — a test from my parents written to their children’s new shared AOL account.

Thanks to both my own and the email marketing world’s immaturity, emails such as that one were the only contents of my inbox for several years.

Drip by drip, that began to change for me, and every other email user out there. The word “spam” was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2000 and since then, the drip has turned into a flood.

It’s estimated that more than 225 billion emails are sent every day. The growth is spectacular — more emails, more email users, and more email accounts per user are stacking up at staggering rates.

And many of us are creating those additional accounts to segregate and manage the vast quantity of marketing emails we receive — from brands we care about and want to hear from (but not too often) and brands we’ve never heard of (and aren’t sure how they heard of us).

So what about the marketers on the other side of that send button?

We’ve Settled Into Low Expectations

Email spam blockers are becoming smarter and more people are signing up for services that roll-up their subscriptions so they’re easier to manage. As a result, bounce rates have been increasing year over year.

With the average open rate for marketing emails at less than a fifth of what is sent, and the click through rate just about half of that, most marketers have settled into low expectations.

We ooh and ahh over the slightest upward changes our analytics show us — delighted with increases of less than a percentage point.

It needn’t be this way.

Marketers can beat the spam filters, the inbox exhaustion, and the jaded recipients. It all starts with gaining a little perspective.

Take the Test

For the next month, take on the following challenge.

Create a folder in your email account. Every time you open a marketing email, forward that email to the folder. If you click on the offer in the email, star it as well. Ask a couple of coworkers, friends, and family members to do the same.

At the end of the month, collect all of the emails and do an evaluation. Gather up the subject lines.

How were they similar? We’re any of the same words used? Were they personalized?

Then evaluate the difference between the emails you opened and clicked on versus those you didn’t click through.

Where was the CTA placed? Were there images? And what was the general theme of the content?

If you clicked, chances are the content wasn’t asking you to do anything, in fact, it was probably offering to give you something instead.

Email as a Gift

The majority of emails the average adult receives are asking for something — complete this work task, pay that bill, call your mom — our inboxes have have become a burden, a to-do list we’d rather avoid. And because of that, most marketers’ emails go unread, lost to either the mass deleters or those with unopened mail in the six digits.

The best way to stand out is simple — give instead of ask; take something off the to-do list rather than add to it; offer a way to make life easier and they will open it and click.

So how do you make your emails a gift?

Start by thinking about your customers (bonus points if you actually ask them in a survey).

What are their pain points? What do they need? What do they have to do, but hate doing?

Then insert yourself as the solution.

Here are a few ideas you can set up in your marketing automation software to get started:

  1. Monetary: Provide a special offer of savings on services or products that you’ve already tracked their interest in through your analytics. This is probably the simplest and most common gift email marketers use today.
  1. Exclusive: Give your loyal customers something that no one else can have — early access to a sale, a special invite to an event, or a free download that’s locked to anyone else.
  1. Knowledge: Share insightful, engaging content with your customers. This could be a white paper or article that you’ve written yourself that addresses one of the pain points you’ve identified.
  1. Curation: If you don’t have the capacity to create your own excellent content, try curating content your customers might enjoy so that they don’t have to go around searching for it. You’ll position yourself as an expert, and show that you’re not just about promoting yourself, but about raising the bar of your industry overall.
  1. Happiness: Life is stressful, so why not interrupt that and create some goodwill? Think of small pieces of positivity you can send your customers — birthday greetings, motivational quotes, random bits of trivia, funny or heartwarming stories.

If you create email that’s a gift instead of a drag, your customers will look forward to it like you probably look forward to your annual snail mail birthday card in a vast stack of catalogues and junk letters.

So go on, raise your expectations, take the one month challenge and change the way you send email.