The Q1 2013 Email Trends and Benchmarks Report from Epsilon and the Email Institute was released earlier this month and it includes some interesting data points for email marketers.
The average open rate across all industries is 31.1 percent, a significant boost from the Q4 2012 figure, which was 27.4 percent. This is also the highest open rate since at least Q3 2006 (which is the furthest back that my personal library of Epsilon reports goes).
I know that benchmarks are somewhat controversial. I don't look at them as a measure of success or failure. You can have a very profitable email program even if your metrics are below industry benchmarks. You can also blow away industry benchmarks and be losing money on your email program.
But industry benchmarks give you a view into what other organizations are seeing from their email programs. And they show you trends in the industry that you can use to gauge your own performance.
Open rates typically aren't a success metric in and of themselves - but you should pay attention to them. Increasing the number of people who see your message will broaden this top part of your conversion funnel - and the more qualified prospects going in, the more you should have converting at the bottom.
Here is some very basic analysis I do for clients based on benchmarks. Let's call this a tale of three email programs. All have average open rates of 20.1 percent for Q1 2013. Looking at this, you'll notice that they're all below the industry benchmark, which is less than optimal. But that's not the primary focal point of my analysis - remember, benchmarks are not an indicator of success or failure.
In addition to plotting the actual open rates, I like to look at the "percent to benchmark" figure - to get here, divide your average open rate by the industry benchmark for that quarter.
As you can see, the Epsilon Benchmark is 100 percent; the other lines show how close to that benchmark each company has been each quarter.
Company A's actual open rate has been relatively steady since 2011, hence the almost straight line in the first graph. But the second chart shows us that they haven't kept pace with the open rate increases that the industry as a whole is seeing.
This is something to address - not necessarily to reach the industry benchmark (although that would be nice), but to increase opens each quarter at least enough to keep their percent to benchmark constant. With respect to open rate, this company is in the worst shape of the three. This decline in open rate may be a symptom of a larger problem - over-mailing, ongoing deliverability issues, or some other type of issue with the health of the list.
In the first chart you'll see that Company B's open rate has been rising, which is good. But the steady line here in the second graph tells us that they've just been keeping pace with the increases the industry is seeing in open rates, not exceeding them. So they need to work on testing to boost the open rate.
The company in the best shape here, with regard to open rate at least, is Company C. Historically it's been low, but they've steadily increased it at a faster pace than the benchmark has risen. If they can keep doing what they're doing, they have the best opportunity to meet or surpass the benchmark.
With email marketing it's important to look at the trends as well as your current point in time. Benchmarks provide a way to gauge your performance trends against trends in the industry. If your programs are in line with or surpassing industry trends, that's good. If they aren't, it's an area ripe for testing.
Until next time,
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Jeanne Jennings is a 20 year veteran of the online/email marketing industry, having started her career with CompuServe in the late 1980s. As Vice President of Global Strategic Services for Alchemy Worx, Jennings helps organizations become more effective and more profitable online. Previously Jennings ran her own email marketing consultancy with a focus on strategy; clients included AARP, Hasbro, Scholastic, Verizon and Weight Watchers International. Want to learn more? Check out her blog.