Marketing is one of those fields where KPIs and industry benchmarks are used constantly to prove success to higher-ups and in-betweens.
I get it. Benchmarks can be comforting (or alarming) as guideposts for those doing the work, and those who manage those doing the work.
But when it comes to email marketing benchmarks, the numbers don’t represent the truth to the degree that other fields might, which can make comparing your email marketing performance to industry benchmarks not only unreliable but also outright wrong.
Why industry benchmarks can be unreliable for measuring the success of your email marketing
If you google “email marketing benchmarks,” you’ll find a slew of email marketing platforms offering a report showcasing those hungrily desired industry-level metrics.
Who wouldn’t love to know how their email performance compares to their industry on average? It’s comforting to know something solid like that.
Except it isn’t as solid as you think.
First problem: If you access all the different email marketing platforms’ benchmark reports and compare the data, you’ll find they all provide different information.
I’ve seen open rate averages for the same industry differ by 20% between reporters—especially alarming when the lower advised rate was at 20% to begin with (in this case, comparing email marketing benchmarks for the real estate industry between Hubspot and Mailchimp).
That’s an alarming difference.
Email engagement stats are not 100% hard stats
As the need for more security and privacy controls grows, the authenticity of email engagements diminishes.
With services like Apple’s MPP becoming increasingly common, which pre-fetches downloadable content (and causes a false open report at email receipt), and the growth in security software’s use of server clicks to check the safety of links by causing a false click report at or even before email receipt, engagement stats themselves are not quite as reliable as you’d think.
Additionally, some email-sending platforms attempt to filter out the fake from the real, for which there is no 100% foolproof method, and you can see why some of those benchmark stats can differ so wildly.
Why you shouldn't compare your email performance to other businesses
Even without the top two problems, tens of other factors can differentiate your email marketing experience from others sending similar content so that the effect is night and day.
Here are just some of the factors that could separate your metrics from another marketing team’s metrics:
Audience demographics (age, class, education, etc. can all have an effect)
History with email subscribers
Local vs global
Type of products
In-person vs online
Macro and micro economic factors
The list can continue ad nauseam from there, but I think you get the picture.
There are a lot of elements both within and without your control that can impact the effectiveness of your email marketing success.
Before you get lost in the overwhelming unknowingness of this information, though, let’s switch gears and talk about what you CAN learn from your email metrics.
What email metrics really are and how they should be understood
Yes, there are things that can obfuscate the meaning of engagement metrics, but that does not mean there is nothing to learn about the success or failures of your email marketing from those metrics.
Email stats are a window into the likely user engagement
While Apple’s MPP can cause false opens, it’s known that this service triggers such an open in situations specifically where the mail is being delivered to the inbox.
Your mail is not being regularly opened by this service if your sender reputation is not landing you consistently in the inbox, which means that enough organic opens are occurring there to earn the inorganic ones so that in a way this false data can be helpful still in its own way.
What this shows is that while these signals are not hard, 1-to-1 equivalents of certain activities, they can still signify that a certain authentic and organic activity is occurring (or not occurring if little-to-no activity is being reported).
Authentic engagement is based on your relationship with your subscribers
To have regular engagement from a subscriber, you’ve got to build up a rapport, an expectation that something desired will be provided by your emails.
Just because someone signed up for your newsletter today doesn’t mean they’ll still want it tomorrow or next week, not unless you earn that desire and expectation by building a relationship of attributing value to them.
And let’s face it, a lot of marketers are sending content that wasn’t asked for—ebook downloaders, giveaway sign-ups, and holiday purchasers are not the type of subscribers that will help maintain email reputation by providing authentic, regular engagement to your newsletter content.
Engagement is based on your reputation
I, along with every other email deliverability peer of mine, have filled pages of the internet with this truth around current email deliverability best practices—sender reputation (for sending domain/IP) for most email traffic today is now built from the engagement activities (or lack thereof) of the recipients.
There are other factors that can affect deliverability but even if those are done correctly and positive engagement is not occurring regularly then maintaining delivery into the inbox is going to be difficult if not impossible.
The correlation can be seen here. In order to maintain the inbox, you must maintain a strong reputation, which requires regular engagement, which requires an ongoing fulfillment of the relationship.
Real relationships lead to real results—aka, conversions
Inboxing only matters if your recipients not only open the email, but click it, and ultimately convert through it.
It is important to earn engagement without an immediate payoff, as promotional-only sending strategies are a great way to burn subscribers out of a relationship with you.
But the real sign of success is the engagement that leads to a conversion, and a conversion is a real stat that you can lean on as a sign of success for your email marketing strategies.
This is why the addition of attribution tools in marketing platforms is vital to the future of email marketing, as it helps cut through the clutter of obfuscated and, sometimes intentionally false, data to know if it is actually working and people are actually buying.
To be continued...
Now we’ve got a shared level of understanding on what email engagement metrics are and are not, I can provide more tangible and practical activities that you can take to understand your performance level and healthily set expectations and actions for improvement.