Report: The Newest E-mail Benchmarks

Anyone who’s been reading this column for a while knows I’m a huge fan of benchmarks.

It’s not that meeting or exceeding the benchmarks makes your e-mail marketing a success (or that failing to meet them makes your campaign a failure). It’s that benchmarks allow you to:

  • Create quantitative projections in an absence of your own past metrics.
  • Identify areas where your e-mail program is stronger than average.
  • Focus your optimization efforts on areas with the most potential for upside.

The true measure of the success or failure of an e-mail campaign is how well it meets your bottom-line goal. Typically, these are things like lead generation or direct sales. But using benchmarks to analyze the activities leading up to these goals, namely deliverability, opens and clicks, can help you optimize your efforts.

So without further ado…

Epsilon recently brought back one of my all-time favorite resources, the Epsilon Email Trends and Benchmark report. This version covers the third quarter of 2008 and was published in January.

I like this report for many reasons. First, Epsilon clients include National Geographic Society, AOL, Fender, Unilever, and Northwest Airlines. These are larger companies doing relatively sophisticated e-mail marketing, so their customers are very similar to the types of clients I deal with in my consulting business.

Another reason this report is special: the data is compiled from more than 200 different clients in a variety of industries that sent to more than 6.2 billion e-mail addresses in the third quarter. The large sample size evens out high and low spikes that might skew results.

But the best reason to love this report is that, in addition to aggregate benchmarks across all industries, it provides data specific to 16 different industry segments. Clients often ask for benchmarks that reflect their specific audience and business; if their industry is covered, it’s a great apples-to-apples comparison.

Epsilon includes historic as well as current figures; it’s interesting to see the changes in aggregate metrics over time. For instance, deliverability has been up and down in the past two years, but the Q3’06 figure, 93.5 percent, is almost the same as the Q3’08 benchmark of 93.6 percent. The more things change, the more things stay the same.

Open rates and CTRs (define), however, have declined. Open rates in Q3’06 were averaging 23.9 percent; in Q3’08 they are reported at 19.8 percent. CTRs during the same period fell from 7.3 percent to 5.9 percent. But there’s some good news: the differences between Q2’08 and Q3’08 are neutral or positive. Open rates have remained steady at 19.8 percent, while click-throughs were up from their Q2’08 average of 4.7 percent.

The differences in key metrics between industries are more pronounced than you might expect.

Deliverability figures ranged from 86.1 percent to 97.5 percent. Winners here were the consumer publishing/media general group, with deliverability of 97.5 percent, and the retail apparel industry, with 97.3 percent deliverability. At the other end of the deliverability scale, we find the consumer products pharmaceutical sector (86.1 percent) and the financial services credit card/bank segment, with 89.0 percent of e-mails assumed delivered.

With respect to open rates, the financial services general industry topped the list at 29.9 percent. Consumer services telecom was second at 27.6 percent. Bringing up the low end was the retail apparel industry at 14.9 percent (good deliverability, but low open rates) and the business publishing/media general segment, with open rates averaging 15.8 percent.

CTRs showed the greatest variation, with the highest rate (11.0 percent) being more than five times the low rate (2.0 percent). The consumer products goods sector led the pack decisively with that 11.0 percent showing. Tied for second were the consumer publishing/media general segment and the consumer services telecom group, with CTRs of 8.7 percent. The nonprofit/education general sector averaged just a 2.0 percent CTR, with the next-to-last retail specialty sector and retail apparel industry showing nearly twice that at 3.7 percent and 3.8 percent, respectively.

If you’re into numbers like I am, this report is well worth downloading and looking for in the future. Best of all, it’s free.

Until next time,


Join us for The Future of E-Mail Marketing, Thursday, March 12, at 1 p.m. EDT. Presented by ClickZ Expert Jeanniey Mullen, Zinio CMO, this Webcast will tell you how e-mail marketing has changed and teach what you need to know to create the best success for your efforts.

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