As consumer experience transforms on the social web, we need to consider developing the next generation of email marketing metrics.
Metrics matter. All employees associated with an enterprise rely on metrics to keep score. Regardless of position or area of responsibility, the tracking of performance metrics helps us keep track of how we perform our jobs. Email marketing is no exception, and the metrics and key performance indicators we track have helped to define our channel for years. Delivered, opens, clicks, conversions. With these metrics, marketers have a simple funnel that allows them to calculate the contribution of almost any email program as long as they have a clear understanding of the segment they are targeting and the average value of a conversion.
Next Generation Marketing Metrics
That said, as consumer experience transforms on the social web, we should consider developing the next generation of email marketing metrics. There is no doubt that email marketing is profitable and offers an outstanding return on investment. Even with a 50 percent reduction in overall contribution, email would remain profitable for sophisticated marketers. We need to move beyond the traditional and test new ways in which we can be accountable to our enterprises. Here are some ideas already in place and others yet to be broadly tested.
Advocacy score (already in place within some brands): Email subscribers have raised their hands and asked to engage with your brand. By the definition of permission marketing, they have an affinity of some kind for the products and services you provide. Typical reports on opens, clicks, and conversions provide insight into each subscriber's singular value to the brand. But what about those customers who are truly passionate about their relationship with you? Those email subscribers that blog, post, tweet, IM, etc. – and not about where they stopped for a cup of coffee, but about the new product your brand just released or how blown away they are by the service they received from your business.
I have received emails recently from companies like Netflix and Discover Card that ask me to refer friends. If I do, and those friends buy, how are these companies tracking that data? If it's only as a traditional "conversion," then they are missing a huge opportunity to identify and leverage advocacy. In the years I have been doing email marketing, I have seen very few companies that identify advocates as a segment/target within their programs. In the age of the social web, this is a huge miss.
Data from email, Facebook applications, communities, and other online outlets now allow brands to identify and track advocates, not based on the level of generic chatter they create online, but based on their specific attitude and comments about a brand. Use advocacy as a metric; track it, grow it, and traditional metrics will grow exponentially along with it.
Frequency factor (being discussed within some brands): The questions of frequency and cadence have long been at the forefront of email marketers' minds. What is the right amount of communication over a specific time period that optimizes performance? The answer is almost always the same: it depends. Highly relevant promotional messages can be delivered at greater frequency, transactional communications even more so.
The interesting thing is that no standard metric exists to help brands make decisions on cadence. In the past, this has not presented a real problem, but as organizations move towards "Right-Time Messaging," the question of frequency becomes even more complicated. The trend towards right-time messaging is resulting in a plethora of new email programs that are triggered in real time based on database events, web browsing activity, or interaction with previous email programs. In the world of right-time messaging, an email marketer can quickly lose track of exactly what messages have been delivered to whom.
Growing investments in multi-channel campaign management systems will continue to make messages more automated, triggered, and relevant. All while clouding the "frequency" question. Brands must work with email solution providers to build a level of program insight that reports in "metrics per message." Much like "click-to-open," all metrics will need to be viewed per message at an individual and aggregate subscriber level. This can be represented by: "Open rates remain high at level of frequency X but diminish at level of frequency Y." The frequency metric will also need to be filtered by message type.
Marketers will need to see the positive or negative effect on program performance based on the increase or decrease in the kind of mail they send (triggered, transactional, broadcast). Real money is invested every year by email marketers in frequency management and testing; let's build it into the metrics we track and make it easier on everyone.
Device preference (only the most sophisticated): Digital communication between brands and their customers is changing. The mobile engagement experience will be one of the most fundamental shifts in online relationship management, and brands need to be prepared.
For the email marketer, consideration must go beyond how email messages are triaged or formatted on mobile devices. Email marketers have visibility into how messages are typically consumed by their subscribers, and this data should be used to create new engagement opportunities that are uniquely designed to specific devices. I no longer check weather on the computer, TV, or newspaper. Rather, I flip on the iPad and open up my Weather Channel application. I no longer look to old travel itineraries delivered by email to confirm flight times or hotel reservations; I open up my TripIt application on my iPhone. I do not wait for bank statements or email alerts; I leverage Mint.com's mobile application to get everything from mortgage payment status to bank account balances.
Most marketers are just starting to consider how to deepen engagement on the mobile device. Email marketers should lead the way in determining where to invest in mobile applications based on the preferences they track in their programs. Even more importantly, we should begin to ask the important question: "If 30 percent of our email recipients read our emails on an iPhone, how can we enhance the consumer experience by creating an engagement strategy based on the iPhone platform?" The brands that figure this out first will build a sustainable competitive advantage.
These are only a few ideas of metrics that need to play a larger role in the email marketer's decision process. If there are others that your organization are already implementing or contemplating, I am sure the ClickZ readers would love to hear about them.
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Ryan Deutsch was vice president of strategic services, StrongMail, up until July 2011. There, he worked closely with senior e-mail marketers at large brands to help them increase subscriber engagement and improve program effectiveness. Before that, Deutsch served as vice president of marketing automation at Premiere Global Services, where he was instrumental in managing customer relationships with numerous global brands. Previously, Deutsch held senior sales and marketing management roles at Twelve Horses and Springdot.
An online marketing veteran and industry thought leader, Deutsch has more than 14 years of direct marketing experience across the catalog, retail, and publishing industries. Deutsch is a regular contributor to marketing industry publications, including MediaPost, DM News, BtoB Magazine, and Chief Marketer, and is a frequent speaker at industry events, including the DMA Annual, eTail, Email Evolution Conference, ad:tech, and the MediaPost Email Insider Summit.
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