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How to create benchmarks for e-mail marketing

How to create benchmarks for e-mail marketing

By R.J. Talyor, an e-mail strategist with, a leading provider of on-demand, one-to-one marketing software, services and integrated solutions.

These days, e-mail marketers face a number of new challenges, including increasing pressure to drive response rates, default image blocking at most major ISPs, creating e-mails for subscribers checking e-mail on mobile devices, deliverability changes and waning subscriber attention in a crowded inbox.

With these new hurdles, response rates on a previously successful campaign might fall flat when repeated. What’s to blame? Marketers often look to subject lines, creative content or other elements of their e-mail campaigns to identify the culprit.

It’s also common for e-mail marketers to search for industry benchmarks to measure themselves against. It seems today that everyone wants to measure up against industry averages and comparative metrics.

To determine just how they measure up, marketers often ask themselves the following questions: What is a good open rate for an e-mail campaign? A good conversion rate? A good bounce rate? The frustrating answer: It depends. “Good” is relative. And “good” last year—or even last month—doesn’t guarantee a repeat.

Response rates depend on a litany of factors including value proposition, frequency, content, audience, age of list—the list goes on. Providing benchmarks without consideration for a campaign’s unique combination of these factors is something my former boss compares to giving an arbitrary response to the question, “How tall should I be?”

And yet marketers still request benchmarks, something to compare their performance against. So, here are some tips to create useful and relevant benchmarks to drive accurate analysis of your campaigns:

1. Go beyond industry averages

Rely on published industry averages as general guidelines, not the end-all measure of your e-mail program’s success. When looking at industry stats, try to find those numbers calculated for your specific industry, list size and/or target audience to ensure that you are comparing apples to apples. And remember, industry averages are just that—average. Aim higher.

2. Establish custom benchmarks

Leverage your own e-mail campaign’s historical data to create tailored benchmarks for open, unique clickthrough and conversion rates. This can be done on a quarterly basis to account for the rapidly changing space.

For a holistic view of your e-mail campaigns, include benchmarks for bounces, forwards, unsubscribes, spam complaint rates and even Web analytics. Because subscribers are the basis for your program, review monthly list growth as another indicator of success.

3. Create a report card

Use Excel, or a similar program, to create a simple report card. Using a line for each campaign, compare your response rates to both your customer and industry benchmarks. With a simple formula, you can create indexes to quickly identify the most and least successful e-mail campaigns.

Create and review these report cards at least quarterly. It’s not enough to simply compile this data and save it on your hard drive somewhere—make sure you act on your findings.

4. Identify trends

With your report card in hand, it’s easy to identify trends in the data. Compare campaigns to identify the type(s) of e-mails consistently performing well or performing poorly. Identifying common elements within top and low performers can help drive testing, messaging and strategic decisions.

Over time, you’ll be able to spot the best day and the best time to send your message, seasonal trends, and creative best practices for your audience.

5. Research outliers

Examine spikes and drops in response metrics from campaign to campaign to identify a cause. You may find a few anomalies; you also may find some key learning to apply to future campaigns. Either way, if you see a surprising number, test any theories on subsequent campaigns to confirm your findings rather than making a decision based on a potential one-time event.

So what are “good” metrics by which you can measure your e-mail campaign?

The answer currently exists in your data. By creating internal benchmarks and monitoring them using a simple report card, savvy e-mail marketers can confidently answer this question in the context of their own e-mail program, and adeptly compare with industry averages. With this data in hand, it’s easy to share with co-workers, bosses—anyone asking!


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