Learning to Love the Open Rate

With each new campaign, media buyers and planners continue to explore the possibilities of email marketing, analyzing how consumers react to and interact with this method of advertising. Every drop broadens our understanding of how to pique people’s interest. We’ve learned a lot already, but if there’s one thing we still need help with, it’s elucidating for our clients the best ways to measure campaign results. If we’re unable to do so effectively, then our days of experimenting with clients’ ad budgets will be over.

At the crux of this issue is the client’s overall interpretation of how Internet advertising works. Many advertisers have a tendency to lump all methods of online marketing together, and so they expect to be able to employ a standard formula for measuring results across the board. It’s probable that this attitude is a product of the Internet’s notorious reputation for being a marketing medium through which consumer actions can be measured precisely. Advertisers may well have complete faith in the branding power of offline advertising, but online advertising gives them that long-awaited opportunity to measure just how efficiently their ad dollars were spent. And since it is possible to make such measurements, clients will settle for nothing less than solid, factual results.

This puts marketers in a difficult position. One of the most interesting things that our experience with email marketing campaigns has taught us is that, contrary to popular belief, the success of an email campaign can’t accurately be measured by click-through rates alone. This is not an easy argument to make to our clients (many of us have experienced a comparable struggle trying to convince them that, click-through rates aside, banners have branding value). Fortunately, there’s another way to measure results that gives marketers a more complete understanding of a campaign’s success — and gives advertisers those hard stats they’re looking for: the open rate.

The idea of using open rates (the percentage of users who open and view an email whether they perform an additional action or not), to measure the effectiveness of a campaign stems from the venerable principle of branding. Just as a banner ad can promote brand or product awareness in addition to being a tool for triggering an immediate consumer action, simply viewing an HTML email message can have that same lasting effect on consumers. When an HTML email contains branding cues such as company logos, colors, or an advertiser’s slogan, knowing that a consumer has opened and viewed the ad, regardless of the actions that follow, is knowing that you have conveyed a message. We may never know whether that consumer was intrigued enough to visit the advertiser’s Web site or purchase the product at a later date, but we know that we captured the person’s attention, if only for a moment.

Often, the nature of the email ad creative actually dissuades users from clicking, in which case the click-through rate becomes even more irrelevant. If a message contains detailed product information or acts as a promotional device to publicize an upcoming event or sale, what motivation do consumers have to click through to a Web site that will likely provide them with the same information yet again? When a consumer stands to find out all he needs to know from your email message, then open rates are the truest measurement of campaign success.

Buyers must make certain that our media vendors can indeed provide us with these stats when we need them. Not all sellers automatically assume that these numbers are of interest to their clients and, therefore, sometimes neglect to tag ad creative and track the consumer response. Once the emails have gone out, such an oversight can’t easily be rectified, so, as a precaution, add a clause to your contract that protects you from this potential disaster.

Selling the concept of open rates to advertisers requires the same approach as campaigning for the value of the ad impression, which is essentially what consumers are getting. If we can convince our clients to start viewing open rates as an important method of measurement in HTML email campaigns, then a click-through rate will be considered gravy. Adopting this outlook does, of course, pose a problem in campaigns where text email messages are deployed and open rates can’t be measured. Yet as the number of consumers who can support HTML emails continues to increase, this dilemma becomes more and more inconsequential. In the meantime, let’s encourage advertisers to embrace the open rate — there’s little doubt that they’ll like what they see.

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