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Defining Success for Email Programs

  |  May 19, 2014   |  Comments

There are different ways to define success for email marketing campaigns, but what do they all mean, and which is the best for your company?

I have been in the email and digital marketing space for a long time. The start of my career was seeded in the data-intense direct mail space before making the leap over the digital divide. The good and bad of the email channel is that engagement is very trackable. We can see who has opened a message, when they opened it, when they clicked, where they navigated next, all the way through to purchase or abandon. As data-driven marketers, we get drunk on this type of data - but are we losing sight of the actual purpose of what we do?

Defining Success by Engagement Rates

Too often, brands determine the success of their email marketing programs by only evaluating engagement rates. After all, if recipients are engaging by opening and/or clicking your emails, have you not achieved your goal? Realistically, no. Unless of course the goal of the message is to simply get eyes on the brand.

While engagement metrics are great leading indicators of email channel success, understanding how consumers engage beyond the email message is also helpful in defining future content and targeting considerations. Further, tracking how these types of metrics trend over time can help identify potential highs and lows in customer engagement cycles. However, analyzing these trends is just the beginning to understanding the factors that drive the success of the email channel.

Defining Success by Revenue

Many brands value their email marketing program based on the revenue that is attributed to it. For the purposes of this conversation, let's put the attribution issue aside and just address the flaw with measuring revenue. Email has largely become a discount channel, and as such drives a pretty strong return on investment (ROI). Unfortunately, there are not many marketers accounting for the revenue loss associated with the discount. Many have accepted that discounting is a fact of life while others are so deeply engrained in the channel that they have lost touch with the concept of profitability and are squarely focused on the revenue. While revenue is a great leading indicator of channel success, it does not necessarily equate to profit. Rather, analyzing the cost of a sale is a great way to determine the effectiveness of each email send.

Defining Success by Incremental Behavior

In the end, the goal of your marketing efforts (and in turn your email program) should be to encourage or motivate an action that would not otherwise have been taken. If you are only providing a discount to customers that would have taken action at full-price, have you truly been successful?

Determining incremental behavior isn't necessarily difficult to do in the email space, but it certainly isn't the most desirable option. It requires a brand to hold out a control group and suppress them from their regular mailing cadence, often times for a lengthy period of time. I hear a lot of brands sigh heavily when a control group is suggested, as it minimizes the sending universe. However, there is significant value in measuring this behavior.

Even more powerful is the combination of measuring incremental behavior along with the lifetime value of a subscriber. This helps to not only determine the incremental impact that sending the next email may have on your subscriber base, but also measure the long-term value realized by maintaining this type of relationship with customers.

I've outlined a number of different approaches for measuring the success of your email marketing program. It will pay to put a combination of these approaches to work when it comes time to measure your program.


Kara Trivunovic

As an email marketing veteran dating back to 1999, Kara Trivunovic has been actively involved in programmatic email development, execution, and strategy in a variety of senior positions on the client, agency, and provider side. She was founder and principal of The Email Advisor, a respected email marketing consultancy focusing on email strategy and channel optimization that was subsequently acquired by an enterprise email service provider in 2009. Over the course of her career, she has had the opportunity to work with a variety of brands and global organizations structuring a variety of custom email education programs, conceptualizing and implementing new and innovative email programs, optimizing contact strategies, and developing staffing and budget plans. Kara currently serves as the vice president of digital solutions at Epsilon.

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