No Law of Averages

Two years ago, the question I heard most from email marketing clients was, “What’s the average click-through on an email campaign?” Today, the question I hear most from email marketing clients is, “What’s the average click-through on an email campaign?”

Effective today, I’ll no longer answer that question. Few statistics in all marketing provide less actionable advice than average click-through. List quality, product, brand affinity, and price point all have major impact on response rate. Why should a marketer selling a $5,000 product shoot for the same CTR as one selling something for $50? Did the “average” marketer cull her list? Was the list built through careful targeting or through sweepstakes?

I’ve never understood what strategic decisions can be made by learning 4 percent (or whatever, lest you think I’m divulging the answer) is average. If you have 5 percent click-through, does that mean you’ve done the best you can do and should cease testing messages and segmenting your audience? Does it mean you’ve exhausted all tools at your disposal to improve your email campaigns? Are you really shooting for average?

I recently worked with a large banking client who was starting a newsletter campaign. They asked for average click-through on the type of acquisition campaign they were creating. I hemmed and hawed, but they insisted I provide an average. I threw out a number and later learned they were thrilled when they bested it by 2 percent. I now face the challenge of convincing them the hard work lies ahead, simply because they beat an imprecise benchmark.

This isn’t to say marketers shouldn’t monitor CTR. An understanding of the general downward trend in click-throughs provides some insight as to why your CTRs may be declining. Certainly, marketers can learn from watching their own click-through percentages over time. A declining click-through might imply a list is tired, subject lines aren’t compelling, or the sender line isn’t clear, among other factors.

That said, the easiest way to increase CTRs is to take a whack at the size of your list. If you cut out every person who didn’t open the past seven emails you sent, I assure you your CTR will increase greatly. After all, only interested consumers will now receive your email.

Cleaning your house list should be part of any email marketing routine. There’s no sense in continuing to send email to people who haven’t opened a message in a year. Before cutting people loose, try a final plea to engage their interest. Send a note asking if they’d still like to receive your messages, or try an offer that’s hard to refuse. If a final request for engagement is ignored, remove them.

I know some marketing managers focus on list size rather than quality. In a few cases, this is not a bad thing. The rest of us should send fewer messages to more interested consumers rather than barrages of messages to a mixed bag of customers.

Once focused on your campaigns (rather than everyone else’s), what can you do to increase response rates? In coming weeks, I’ll discuss insights you can gain by analyzing customers’ behavior toward your email marketing. A recent Jupiter (a unit of ClickZ’s parent corporation) survey showed 75 percent of email marketers ignore behavioral data when segmenting their audience. There’s lots of work ahead to get your click-throughs up. I’ll even share how HP saved $750,000 a year with behavior-based service alerts (and that’s only the tip of the iceberg for that hardware manufacturer).

Until then, each of you should take the advice Yesmail’s Ed Henrich shared last month at the Jupiter Advertising Forum: Testing your subject lines, day of week, and sender lines will take you very, very far toward email marketing success. Ed and I are shocked by how many companies don’t test messages. Test each campaign that goes out. Your CTRs will thank you.

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