This post is being republished from the Real Insights Archive.

Much of email marketing is organized around the click rate. We know that if our subscribers click on our emails, then the emails are doing their job of driving activity, registrations, readership and engagement.

But what if nobody clicks on our emails? Does that mean that the emails have failed?

Not necessarily. Just because we don’t have evidence of engagement doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Engagement is like the loch monster, or UFOs, or God. A lack of irrefutable evidence that they exist is not the same thing as evidence that they do not exist.  You can’t disprove the existence of something.

Of course it is easier to believe our emails are working when we see the evidence laid out in front of us. But if we think of our experience as email consumers instead of marketers, we can at least find anecdotal evidence that the mere acts of receiving and reading can drive engagement, regardless of clicks.

Consider these scenarios, where emails may not be clicked, but the message contained within the email is still delivered:

Subscriptions in Stereo: A husband and wife both subscribe to a local daily discount service, such as LivingSocial or Groupon. Mrs. Subscriber is checking email on her iPhone at home in the morning and remarks to Mr. Subscriber, “Hey, do you want to try that new tapas place? We can get 50% off.” Mr. Subscriber loves tapas, so his wife buys the deal on the spot. Later that day, Mr. Subscriber sees the same email at his desk, which he reads to make a note of the address. Does he click? No. Is he engaged. Surely.

Meeting Multitasking: Your co-worker has taken to bringing his iPad into departmental meetings. “To take notes – my handwriting is atrocious,” he explains. But you know the conference room has wi-fi and you see him spending as much time in his Inbox as he does on his meeting notes. He’s adroit enough to toggle back and forth between the apps, but knows that if he clicks on a link within an email he’ll be discovered. He does manage to clean all the unreads out of his inbox, but fails to click-through when he might otherwise. Your email may have registered with him, but circumstances conspired to thwart the click.

Extreme Anticipation: It may be that your subscribers are so well attuned to your emails that they know which they can ignore because they expect a follow-up reminder. For example, an organization may have several different registration deadlines with discounts in advance of its annual meeting. The deadlines always fall on a Friday, and the organization sends out reminder emails on Monday of the deadline week, and again on Thursday, without fail. The meeting is highly anticipated and has many repeat attendees. As a consequence, many subscribers have learned the Monday-Thursday reminder schedule for the deadline emails, and know that Monday’s email can be read but not clicked, and that they’ll get a tickler on Thursday that they do intend to click through to register.

Understanding this helps combat metrics myopia – the condition where an emails entire value is summed up in a number visible in an analytics report. The impact of email is more complex than a single number can communicate. If your emails are not driving the clicks you would like, consider the above scenarios as explanations. But look also for other metrics that give some insight into whether or not the engagement exists regardless of the click-through: are people still attending your conferences? Is your unsubscribe rate low? Has your open rate held steady? Is your business growing? Your email may be contributing to engagement, but doing it subtly.