Meet The New KPIs, (Not) The Same As The Old KPIs

Email marketers have a trusty handful of metrics they track regularly.  Most marketers will track opens, clicks and conversions on a program-by-program basis.  Some more sophisticated marketers will use holdout tests to provide a better view of the revenue that can be attributed to the email channel. (For many of our clients, only 50% of the revenue attributed to the email channel through a holdout test actually comes from subscribers that have clicked on an email).  Other marketers take a look at more subscriber-focused sets of metric such as open reach (percent of subscribers that have opened within a period of time).  Sophisticated marketers will also keep an eye on their inbox placement rates since it’s hard to know if falling performance is due to creative and tactics or due to low inbox placement rates.

These are great metrics.  We’re used to them and they work.  However, we’ve found that when our clients are asked to set targets for the next year or quarter, the approach taken is typical and less-than-optimal.   They simply assume an X% (insert semi-random number here) improvement from what they’ve been able to achieve in the past. Wouldn’t a better way be to benchmark yourself to the best-in-class marketers in your vertical or across all email marketers?



One limitation of this solution is that the broad benchmark reports available in the marketplace make it hard to know for sure that you are comparing yourself to mailers with similar business models and email approaches. Fortunately, there are ways to understand performance relative to best-in-class mailers using what I call “panel data": the email equivalent of Nielsen or comScore reporting.  

Email panel data provides an understanding of how your mail is performing relative to your competition (direct competitors in your market as well as your indirect competitors -- all the other email that goes into your subscribers’ inboxes).  With panel data, it is possible to track other sorts of measures, too.  I believe that some of these should be added to the key performance indicator (KPI) dashboards of the future.  The following are some candidates that have proven useful to a few cutting-edge marketers:

  • Relative list size: How big is your list compared to your exact competitive set when adjusting for other factors (most important, Web traffic to your site – a measure of efficiency of organic acquisition)?
  • Percent of list “active in email” relative to the competitive set: Some subscribers put you in their “catchall” mailboxes that are used to collect less critical mail -- and mostly ignored.  What percent of your mail is in these catchall accounts?  How does that compare to your competitive set? What are they doing differently with their acquisition and activation practices to drive better results?
  • Relative read reach: What percentage of your subscribers have read at least one message over the last 1/3/6/12 months compared to the competition?
  • Relative frequency and inbox placement: How often are you mailing your subscriber base relative to the competition?  If they are mailing more frequently, whom are they mailing more frequently (actives, inactives), and does  this appear to be hurting their inbox placement?
  • Relative read rate : For the same classes of messages, when mailed to “active in email” subscribers, how are the read rates for key program types relative to the competition?

Panel data is a relatively new resource for email marketers.  My predictions could be off by more than a little bit.  However, these metrics have already proven to be transformational for a handful of marketers already quietly making use of panel data.  The next time you are asked, “What should our goals be for the new year/quarter?,” consider using panel data and some of the metrics listed above as a way to answer the question.

1 comment about "Meet The New KPIs, (Not) The Same As The Old KPIs".
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  1. Jessica Graeser from HouseLogic, June 10, 2013 at 6:31 p.m.

    What are some sources for email panel data, if not Nielsen or comScore?

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