Like most of you, I've spent some time and money on e-mail benchmarking. And also like most of you, I've come to realize its not always the best way to measure your success. While charts and reports are unfortunately a necessary part of this business, they may not be the best guide to help gauge the success and growth of an e-mail program.
Why? Well first, these statistics are usually aggregate by category. There is not a clear distinction between companies or brands within vertical and subsequent categories. Then, there's the accuracy of the source of list, method of permission, type of communication, intent, and the fact that the overall sophistication of e-mail marketing by sector is so scattered. It's very rare that all of these factors could line up to provide an accurate reflection of your program let alone a benchmark on which to measure your success.
Next, while statistics might be considered impersonal, they are in fact very personal to you and what it means to your business. Most of the time, there is little context as to what other's benchmarks mean, how they were derived, and if they are unbiased. I often wondered, but could never prove, if the analysts used biased data for the benefit of the report or industry in general, which could be argued with all the differences in how deliverability is being reported today.
So, now that we've put the industry charts aside, how will you survive? When factoring the statistical validity of your program or the value of benchmarking, here are a few guidelines to keep in mind:
While benchmarking will always exist and be seen as interesting and useful in this business, your success is not dependent on a third-party method of reporting statistics. Your success is dependent upon your ability to improve your own benchmarks and derive meaning from those learnings.