Email or e-Fail?

Email marketing often seems like the dodgiest area of marketing. Against all the odds, every day brings emails informing me that I have managed to win lotteries I never entered. I have lost count of the number of widows seeking to transfer their fortune from exotic third world locations, and strangers looking to sell me in bulk the personal details of random people.

Spam has made us all distrustful of emails. Unfortunately, B2B sales and marketing largely rely on email for client interactions. Establishing trust and regular communications via email can be vitally important for B2B sales.

When email marketing first came into vogue, or disrepute, it was a completely unregulated market. Anyone could send anything. ISPs did little or nothing to limit email transmissions, and many clueless marketers decided to generate enormous volumes of untargeted e-Fail trash at very little expense. Regardless of the reputational damage, they dutifully started clogging inboxes.

Norman Rockwell Postman
Norman Rockwell – Postman reading mail 1922

Of course, politicians eventually acted, and in Australia we are now 10 years down the road from the SPAM Act, which  made it illegal to send unsolicited emails to Australians. Up to that point, most organisations were only tinkering with email marketing. When the act came into force, it was still very common for companies to rely heavily on individual sales reps spamming their personal email lists with the latest jokes and product offers. Now Facebook and Twitter are the refuge for that style of spam.

Of course, you just have to look at recent ACMA prosecutions of spammers to realise that the Federal government clearly isn’t t trying very hard to prosecute companies that break the law. So while the tiger has teeth, it rarely seems to be awake.

If nothing else, the mere existence of the SPAM Act ended up convincing many businesses to lift their game, and weave email into the formal mix of regular corporate communications.

To understand how well your own email campaigns are performing, and whether clients view your material as e-Fail, there are several metrics you should be measuring.

1. Bounce Rate / Delivery Rate

First you need to check how many emails are actually being returned automatically, or bounced.

Most systems automatically categorise them into “soft” and which are “hard” bounces. Soft bounces are typically situations where a temporary factor prevented delivery of the email, like a mailbox reaching a storage limit. A hard bounce is permanently undeliverable, and is typically caused by an invalid address. You should remove hard bounces from your marketing list to reduce the risk of being flagged as a spammer.

2. CTR (click-through rate)

Email marketing is a powerful method for generating a response. Most email campaigns are aiming to entire readers into clicking on links to their website, often to specific pages with article downloads or product offers.

The click through rate of each link is therefore a critical measurement, and can be used to help determine the reader’s interest in particular topics.

3. Conversion Rate

The conversion rate is vitally important for transaction oriented situations. It relates the number of people per campaign that performed the desired final action, such as downloading a file, purchasing something, or filling out a survey, to the number of emails sent.

The difference between the Conversion rate and the CTR can indicate the effectiveness of the website landing page, or willingness of prospects to complete the steps required for the given action.

4. Open Rate

It might seem a little Zen, but what is the point of a marketing campaign if nobody ever sees it.

Open rates can be distressingly low for many marketing emails. Depending on your target audience and industry, it typically varies from 15% to 25%. Lists that are highly targeted with email content tailored to match can greatly improve open rates.

From a technology perspective, there are limitations to the measurements of open rates. If a recipient is blocking image downloads in their email viewer and chooses not to click any links, then most systems will think the email was never opened. This problem also occurs for plain text emails.

5. Transaction recency

It is worth measuring how recently your organisation has had an interaction with the person receiving the email. Some email marketing systems can do this automatically, which allows you to further segment your email list. For recipients who rarely open emails and or click, you might get better results by segmenting them from the usual list, and sending them material designed to prompt feedback or re-engage.

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