Goals, Benchmarks, and E-Mail Marketing Success

A big reason email exploded in popularity as a marketing medium is marketers across the board are challenged to do more with less. That plays directly into email’s strengths. E-mail, especially when implemented as part of a multichannel marketing program, can deliver remarkable results cost-effectively.

Despite the reams of reporting data an email campaign can generate, the most frequent question posed by our clients remains, “How exactly are we doing?” Accurately evaluating the success of an email marketing program is even more important as budgets remain under pressure and the overall economic situation continues to challenge all organizations.

Although we seem to be drowning in data, a true measure of an email program’s success is only as realistic as your understanding of your goals, benchmarks, and success metrics.

Defining Goals

Many marketers hit a roadblock when trying to gauge success. It’s then they realize they did not sufficiently define campaign and program goals before execution. Defining goals, the first step in evaluating email marketing success, must occur before you hit “send.” E-mail marketing goals can vary greatly according to company, industry, customer lifecycle stage, even type of campaign (acquisition or retention).

Typical goals include:

  • Increased revenues and sales through promotions and up- or cross-sell efforts

  • More traffic to a Web site, brick-and-mortar retail location, or call center
  • Improved brand awareness and preference
  • Conversions or “actions” (e.g., customer sign-ups in an acquisition campaign)
  • Deeper customer preference and profile information through surveys, promotions, and sweepstakes
  • Relationship building and management via informational newsletters and service messaging

Benchmarks: Three Tiers

Developing sound benchmarks based on valid third-party and internal historical data drives accurate evaluation of email marketing programs. Three tiers of benchmarks have emerged, each of which builds on the previous to provide a holistic basis of producing more precise and actionable follow-up for your organization.

1. E-mail Marketing “Horizontal” Stats

Major research firms such as Aberdeen, AMR, Gartner, Forrester, IDC, Jupiter Research (a unit of this site’s parent corporation), META, and others do a fine job gathering, interpreting, and producing data that distills marketing statistics horizontally across the email medium. Although this data is important when constructing ballpark benchmarks, don’t make the mistake of getting caught up in horizontal email marketing or overall industry statistics such as average open rate and average CTR.

As Jared Blank, senior Jupiter Research analyst, discussed in a recent ClickZ column, “Few statistics in all marketing provide less actionable advice than average click-through.” Understanding horizontal data is the first step in benchmarking, but more precise benchmarks are needed to drive success.

2. Vertical Market Stats

The next benchmark tier lies closer to home: your industry’s specific data. It’s vital to compare apples to apples; email marketing benchmarks across industries are vastly different. A retailer shouldn’t construct benchmarks based on publisher data.

Benchmarks also vary within a vertical market based on campaign type. A consumer packaged goods marketer can communicate with customers using a variety of email techniques: newsletters, coupon or discount promotions, sweepstakes, and surveys. Each technique will typically garner a specific range of results. Trade publications, conferences, and research analysts are sources of strong, industry-specific stats, case studies, and anecdotes to support development of vertical market benchmarks.

Be aware results can vary dramatically based on creative, offer, timing, audience, relevance, length of relationship, and other factors. Vertical market benchmarks and stats on specific communication types within each vertical are important guides to measuring success vis-à-vis the competition.

3. Internal History and Goals

This is where the rubber meets the road. Overall horizontal stats and industry-specific benchmarks may be helpful. However, internal goals and strategies based on your own organization’s past successes, failures, and testing history will ultimately drive competitive advantage.

By analyzing past efforts and constantly evolving your testing strategy based on the performance of those efforts, you’ll craft more precise communications which will influence response and reset benchmarks. Such communications require detailed analysis and identification of specific issues and actions needed to fuel success or elevate benchmarks.

Tie traditional stats into developing a detailed testing strategy. For example, if a service-oriented, retention-focused campaign generated a low open rate (opened/delivered), craft a subject line strategy to improve performance and reset benchmarks.

Revising (and Surpassing) Your Goals

Each organization has a unique set of products/services and selling propositions marketed to a distinctive customer base. So the advice I often offer clients when faced with the infamous “How am I doing?” is “How do you want to be doing?”

These five steps will focus you on setting the industry standard, not following it:

  1. Set you own objectives and measurements for success.

  2. Understand your audience at the individual level.
  3. Always be relevant. Deliver messaging based on each customer’s needs, profile information, and history.
  4. Dissect every element of past campaigns to design a component-focused strategy that can lift response and drive new benchmarks across all aspects of the communication. A list hygiene and address validity strategy impacts deliverability. Better-performing subject lines boost open rates. Improved creative elements and offers enhance your response rate. Cohesive, easily navigable landing pages lift conversion rates.
  5. Test, test, and test again. Once you’ve reset benchmarks, it’s time to set the bar higher and develop a new comprehensive testing strategy for each component.

Remember this is an evolving medium. Complacency is the kiss of death. Leverage email’s content customization and speed-to-market attributes to reach your goals; optimize customer relationships; establish relevant, company-specific benchmarks, and, ultimately, propel competitive advantage.

Until next time…

Al D.

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