I have a few clients that have previously asked for industry standards for their email marketing campaigns. Their questions sound a little like this:
“What should our open rate be?”
“Is there a click rate we should be hitting based on our industry?”
“What numbers are our competitors reaching with their email campaigns?”
My response is twofold:
A. I provide reports like these:
- Mailer Mailer Email Merketing Metrics Report
- Epsilon North America Email Trend Results
- Collection of Numbers from eMarketer
B. I offer up a rather diplomatic “who cares.”
While I sincerely appreciate the need to feel that one is on the right track or headed in the right direction, relying upon numbers from others to gauge your own performance is mere folly. To be clear, email marketing benchmarks do provide some value. However, here are five reasons to exercise caution when evaluating market trends for email performance.
1. One Man’s Metric is Another Man’s Mishap
Don’t let your focus on industry metrics take concentration away from knowing your own list patterns.
Get to know your list. Utilize email testing programs to uncover how and when the audience would like to receive messages. Spend time creating quality, rather than stressing about quantitative metrics. Your recipient list is like a thumb print or a snowflake or any other analogous one-of-a-kind thing you can conjure.
Don’t lust after someone else’s metrics. Fall in love with the process of improving your own.
2. What Kind of Email Messages Are We Talking About Here?
Many of these benchmark studies don’t to a very good job of articulating what kind of email messages are studied. For example, transactional or triggered messages are likely to elicit a much stronger response (2-4x higher open and click rates) than messages sent sporadically to less than anticipatory audiences. Based on the nature of your program, comparing your email marketing performance numbers to a study may be like comparing apples to rubber band balls.
3. Benchmarks Don’t Consider Your Program’s Maturation
Are you just building up a program from scratch? Are you starting to rekindle relationships from a list long ignored? If so, industry benchmarks may not be fair.
Campaigns and email programs in the beginning stage of development may or may not suffer from seemingly “low” email metrics. Programs with a long history of providing outstanding, valuable, useful and relevant content to an audience eager to receive such messages cannot be compared fairly to a program in the infancy stage.
4. Once You Reach the Bar, Do You Stop Climbing?
To consider the opposite angle, let’s say our program’s metrics are outrageously positive in comparison to the benchmark data. Do we stop striving to improve? Do we pop champagne bottles, tell each other how special we are, and spout tears of joy? Hell no.
Maintain the course. Keep testing, keep generating great stuff the audience would want to share, and keep improving the numbers. “Good enough” is a term used by losers mistaken for winners.
5. Don’t Ignore the Ultimate Determinant of Success
I’ve never seen a benchmark that I fully trusted or believed that covered profitability from email. Isn’t that really end goal for every campaign? How can we ultimately utilize email marketing to positively impact the bottom line? No benchmark study can ever tell you if you are reaching the profitability threshold. Only you can do that.
What I have witnessed firsthand is the impact a new study can have on marketers. Some become so obsessed with improving open rate or click conversion rate that they lose site of real business metrics. Don’t be one of those guys.
Your Best Benchmark
Please know that I don’t think every email benchmark report ever created should be ignored outright. I’ve shared them, discussed them at length and I’ve even included relevant findings in presentations I’ve delivered. However, your best benchmark has nothing to do with your industry’s performance or the results your competitors have achieved with email marketing. Your best benchmark is your most recent campaign. Do better today than you did yesterday.
Like any relationship that is truly worthwhile, the bond you have with your email subscribers and recipients is one that should strengthen in good time. Pay attention to continuously fortifying those connections. In the end, that’s what will determine if your email campaign is up to snuff.
4 thoughts on “Why Email Benchmarks are Either Useless or Dangerous”
I’m so glad I don’t have to answer this question anymore. I’ll just send anyone that asks a link to this page. Great post.
Thanks, Michael. Enjoy the long weekend!
Brilliant – You put my thoughts into words. Since I’ve started email marketing I’ve been given benchmarks to achieve, and clients always ask how they’re stacking up to others but it always results in a cat-and-mouse chase that makes us forget about the actual *point*.
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