As I talk with clients and prospects about their email practices and delivery issues, there is one type of question that is nearly always asked: "What kind of (blank) rate should I be getting?" Depending on the company I am talking to, this question could be about delivery rates, open rates, clickthrough rates or even conversion-to-sales rates.
These types of questions have become more frequent as the metrics themselves have received more and more coverage in the industry press. Last month, the Email Experience Council (eec) -- the Direct Marketing Association's email arm -- announced that it would be taking over the Email Measurement Accuracy Coalition (EMAC), which has been working to determine how these rates should actually be calculated. For me, that is the most important question that must be answered when a client asks me about any email metric; before I can make any sense of a client's situation, I have to first understand how the client is determining its rates.
The standardization of these numbers is important for the industry, and especially for senders -- not only for properly evaluating the services of a prospective provider, but also for making sense of all the studies that discuss these numbers. For example, say a company comes out with a study that finds that for industry "x", the average delivery rates are 85 percent and open rates are 5 percent. Without standardized metrics, how do we know if all of the companies that were surveyed actually determine their numbers the same way? What if the open rate for one company was determined by number of messages sent, while another was calculated by number of messages delivered? Depending on their independent delivery rates, this discrepancy could have a huge effect on the results.
After determining how they calculate their rates, the next thing I usually have to ask my clients is why they care so much about what other companies' rates are, and why they feel their rates should be similar, if not better.
Do I think it is a good idea to set goals, trend what is happening with your campaigns and continually test? Absolutely. But does that mean that when putting together those numbers you should be basing them on your competitors or some study that someone published? Absolutely not.
Maybe you have an 83 percent delivery rate, but, according to the latest study, those in your industry average 88 percent delivery rates. Should you try to get to that 88 percent delivery rate? Sure, but why not try for something higher? Or, maybe achieving those rates isn't currently possible because there are certain divisions within your company that refuse to follow best practices. Without changing the way those divisions do business, you aren't going to be able to reach those goals.
Let's look at the opposite side of this coin. Say your industry average is still at 88 percent, but you have a delivery rate of 92 percent. Does that mean that you shouldn't keep working to possibly get to 95 percent? Since you are already better than the average, why worry about continuing to improve?
As you look at all your numbers, remember that while it's good to know what others are doing, it's more important to track how you are doing and continue to improve -- no matter what your numbers are.
Here's the other thing to remember when reviewing various reports, surveys and other data points that may or may not make you feel good about your programs: You can never control what someone else does; you only have control over your own actions. That means, as always, report on this information for your own company, or perhaps your own division. Then watch it, track it and use it.
Use it to set goals every six or 12 months. If you do this, you will be headed down the right path to improve your numbers no matter what they are. I firmly believe there is always room for improvement, and setting goals is the way for you and your company to fulfill that mantra. Others might be doing something better or worse than you, but that is no reason for you to change your business practices. Instead, take a long, hard, objective look at your practices and stick with the good ones, get rid of the bad ones and keep growing. Keep improving, no matter what any study says.
Your customers don't care what people think your delivery rate should be or how much you should be making off each email. Instead, they only care that you are doing the right things by them and giving them a positive experience. If you focus on that, and that alone, there's a good chance you'll not only reach some of those industry averages, but even beat them. Good luck and good sending.
Spencer Kollas is director, delivery services for StrongMail Systems. .