Are Your Email Campaigns Above the “Industry Average? 4 Questions to Find Out

Does the “industry average” matter in email marketing? Most small business owners to corporate leaders agree when you market with email you measure the results of the latest email campaign with a comparison of the previous ones. However not all do, instead, they base success on others’ exaggerated email metrics, and misrepresentations that are spread around the internet.

email reportOn the internet, you can find email metrics that make it seem your email campaigns are not as successful as you think you are, especially when you read about others who say: “Our email campaign got a 104% open rate”, or “we are hitting the industry average click-through rate of 37%,”, or “my email campaigns generate a response rate 5 times greater than direct mail!”

While the above statements may not be truthful, they are a reflection of email marketing myths, white lies, and half-truths, creating overblown statistics that continue to permeate the industry. The irony of this is accurate and thorough metrics are one of email marketing’s greatest benefits.

It is important then, that email marketers take a serious look at their email statistics, over time, before concluding their efforts and performance are on exact target or subpar.

To squelch these iffy claims of success, here are some of the not-so-truthful statements the industry has promoted:

  • The version of an email that results in the highest open, and/or, click-through rates in an A/B split test is always the version to use.
  • The current industry standard for average open and click rates is XX.XX%
  • XX% of our recipients always open and read our email.
  • Keeping in constant contact by mailing every day is the best way to keep your list subscriber.
  • Response rates for email are 100% greater than postal mail.

Seemly untruthful statements and small white lies can be caused by different industry terminology used by ESPs. (Email Service Providers). For example, MailChimp may call a list of subscribers, your audience, while IConnect has the term sub-user account, which may only mean something to an IContact user. When a company uses its own terminology, an outsider, one who doesn’t use the product, may misunderstand the intent of use. Therefore, reports generated from mailings, for example, from one ESP to the next may not mean the same thing and or not be easily understood in all cases.

While some terms are exclusive to those ESPs, terms you are familiar with such as open rates, response rates, and conversation rates may have different definitions as well.

Then there are the non-intentional misleading statistics that point to a potentially incorrect conclusion. 

For example, an industry that publishes their average email campaign statistics may be using small sample size, making the results too narrow to be realistic, or a sample that is biased toward the client so it’s only an “industry average’ for that particular company.

Therefore, one may conclude that email marketing untruths are a combination of misleading and misunderstood definitions. This makes it challenging for the average marketer to make sense of it all. To assist with this challenge, consider these 4 common email metrics lies and the reason behind them.

1. The highest open, and/or, click-through rates in an A/B split test is the one to use. In other words, it’s the winner of the test.

chalkboard testA common practice with email marketers, before they mail, is to conduct A/B tests. (FYI, we call these A/B split tests). They compare the effectiveness of an email message, on a test group, using different subject lines, creative styles, offers, and so forth. Often marketers will use these types of tests to determine the version of an email, that either has the highest open rate, and, or click-through rate (CTR). With this information, typically the marketer will send out their campaign using the winning version.

However, the reality is, that the email test version with the highest opens and, or clickthrough rates may not be the best version to use.

We say this having seen our retail customers run split tests where the lower click-through rate results in a higher number of transactions. The reason in these cases; is the low CTR has greater interest to fewer people.

So then, how do you make sure your email stats aren’t misleading you? The answer: track email results beyond opens and CTRs, tacking all the way down to the desired action which can include:

  •  A purchase
  • Downloading a whitepaper
  • Event Registration

This is very simple to do with website tracking, where the marketer can track the actions taken by a recipient.

2. The current industry standard for average open and click rates is XX.XX%

A company will report its success with its email campaigns, as being within or above the “industry average”. They use metrics, such as opens, click-throughs, and bounce rates. This report looks great, and “if you use this product you will get these results…” however, when you dig deeper, you may discover these stats aren’t the “industry average”, in fact, they are just a snapshot of the average results from one company’s client base.

Unless you, as a marketer, have the same or similar profile, “average statistics” will not be a good benchmark for your company’s email marketing program.

Factors that influence these average statistics may include:

  • The type of email sent (newsletters, notifications, transactional, etc.
  • The kind of subscriber (small business, consumer or other)
  • The size of the list, source of the addresses, amount of personalization, relationship with the recipients

These factors comprise most of the parts that define specific metrics for a specific company. Therefore view the “industry averages” as a goal instead of a benchmark. Look at your results: When your first mailing generates a 25% open rate, and the “industry average is 45%, use the 45% as a goal to work toward.

3. XX% of our recipients always open and read our email.

In our company as well as our competitors, open rates are tracked within an HTML message using a transparent pixel gif image that is hosted on a server, just like the viewable images. When the recipient loads or previews their email this transparent gif registers that they did so and counts the email as open. Messages that are opened in an email preview pane, such as the one in Outlook count as an open too.

Opens can only be detected within an HTML message. A text body only message without a multipart alternative, cannot be tracked.

The accepted definition of open rates is “unique emails opened as a percentage of email delivered” Some companies measure open rates based on total opens rather than unique opens (realize some recipients will open an email several times) leading to inflated open rates. In addition, some companies report open rates based on the number of emails sent rather than emails delivered.

Some falsely assume that an open actually means the email has been read, however this is far from reality.

We suggest just setting and sticking to a definition that works for your company and then consistently benchmarking against your program.

4. Our response rate for email marketing campaigns is 100% greater than postal mail.

There are lots of claims that email marketing outranks postal mail every time. That may have been true during the pandemic in areas where people were working every day from home, but the majority of us are back in the office.

Comparing postal mail to email marketing does not work well as there is a place for both. When you integrate the two the results are quite high.

Taken separately, email marketing and postal mail both have low to medium response rates but are measured differently. A response rate for physical mail may include replying to an offer with a phone call, going to the store to use a received coupon, or going online to view the company.

In comparison to postal mail, an email response rate (actually the conversion rate) may include click-throughs, a referral to a friend or, an online purchase. (not to say the postal mail didn’t get that response too)

Depending on how the conversion rate is measured, an email response rate may often look higher than direct mail. AND due to the low cost to create and dispense an email campaign compared to sending 1000 or so postcards, the return on investment using email is much better than the other.

So, does the “industry average” matter in email marketing? What do you think, comment below: