Green envelope amongst other white envelopes

Developing a strong email campaign is a vital part of any content marketing strategy. Even in a world where we’re constantly bombarded by messaging from a multitude of platforms and attention spans are on the wane, email can still be an incredibly powerful tool when used effectively.

Research from Salecycle shows that 50% of people buy from marketing emails at least once a month, and there are considerable rewards on offer for successful campaigns, with email marketing revenue estimated to reach almost $11 billion by the end of 2023, according to Statista.

As Dialogue’s Digital Production Lead Vicki Sherman says: “Email has proven to still be an effective form of marketing, setting the parameters and delivering the expertly-crafted content for your audience is key to a successful campaign.”

So, it’s clear that there’s an inherent value to email marketing, and you can use our helpful tips to help craft a suitable campaign for your brand. But once you’ve got the emails written up and ready for distribution, how do you evaluate the success of your strategy?

Establishing your KPIs

Before you can begin to evaluate the effectiveness of your email campaign, first you need to identify what your key performance indicators (KPIs) are; in other words, the metrics that you’ll be focusing on.

As a starting point, here are some examples of KPIs that are typically measured for email campaigns:

  • Open rate: The percentage of recipients who opened the email.
  • Click-through rate (CTR): The number of clicks divided by the number of emails sent.
  • Click-to-open rate (CTOR): The number of clicks divided by the number of emails opened, multiplied by 100 (as the latter can be diluted by low open rates).
  • Conversion rate: The number of recipients who took a desired action (such as making a purchase or filling out a form) divided by the number of emails sent.
  • Delivery rate: It's the percentage of emails delivered divided by the number of emails sent.
  • Bounce rate: A hard bounce can be a permanent bounce such as recipient no longer exists, where as a soft bounce can be temporary, such as an out of office message has been applied to the recipient's account.
  • Spam complaint rate: The number of recipients who marked the email as spam.
  • Subscriber engagement: The amount of time subscribers spent interacting with the email, i.e. forwarding, replying or clicking links.
  • Growth rate and unsubscribe rate: A good indicator to understand how good the campaign is performing, ensuring that you're delivering the right content for your audience by capturing the percentage of recipients who might unsubscribe, comparing against the percentage of new subscribers.
  • Revenue generated/ROI: The total amount of money generated from the email(s). 

It’s important to remember that the KPIs that will be appropriate for one brand may not be as relevant for another, so you’ll want to think carefully about what it is that you’re aiming for, and which KPIs will help you measure that.

Furthermore, different email campaigns will call for different KPIs: for example, a fundraising campaign will have a specific revenue goal, whereas longer-term email strategies may not be quite as straightforward to quantify.

There are also specific drawbacks or limitations to some KPIs. For example, open rates aren’t as reliable since the iOS15 update to Apple devices, which restricted user data on opens. Some email service providers, such as Salesforce, will also mark any ‘unknown’ as being opened, so this metric can be inflated.

Click-through rate (CTR) is another example. While undoubtedly useful, it can be diluted if you have a low open rate, which is why some marketers choose to focus on CTOR rather than CTR.

It’s worth taking the time to carry out some detailed analysis in order to pinpoint the right KPIs for your strategy.

Setting benchmarks

Once you’ve established the KPIs you would like to measure, you’ll want to determine benchmarks for each one. The easiest way to do this is by comparing with other brands. Many email providers provide statistics broken down by industry, so that you can see where your brand fits in with its competitors, and whether your campaign is performing above or below the average.

Of course, a benchmark is only a guide, and so while these will be a useful starting point for your analysis, they shouldn’t be used as the only point of comparison. Over time, you’ll start being able to use your own performance metrics as a benchmark for future campaigns. As Vicki says: “The real marker of success is having an audience that is engaged and refining the performance by improving your own metrics.”

Mixing things up

As well as measuring your email performance against your chosen KPIs on an ongoing basis, it’s good practice to try out different things as you create new email campaigns, so that you can build up an idea of what works for your audience.

A/B testing is a worthwhile exercise to help you nail down what’s working well and what isn’t. The concept is simple: you split your audience into an A group and B group, and then create two versions of your email with one variable changed – for example, the positioning of a call to action with a clickable link. One version goes to group A, and one to group B, and then you track your KPIs to see how they compare – in this example, you’d adopt whichever model had higher click-through rates for the call-to-action link.

You’ll also want to ensure that you’re keeping up to date with the latest email techniques and using these to your advantage wherever possible. For example, elements such as personalisation and automation can improve user experience significantly.

Long-term considerations

Effectiveness of email strategy can be considered on both a campaign-by-campaign basis and a long-term level. For example, monitoring your number of email subscribers over time will give you a good idea of whether you are engaging – and retaining – your audience successfully. If you find your subscriber rate is trending downwards, it’s a clear sign that something isn’t going as well, and you can then dig a little deeper and analyse the metrics of specific emails to see what needs working on.

Evaluating success on a broader level

While tracking specific metrics is undoubtedly useful in evaluating the impact of an email strategy, it fails to take into account those less tangible – but no less valuable – measures of success for a brand, such as awareness, recognition, loyalty and advocacy. As Vicki explains: “If your email contained a discount voucher code, you would expect it to be shared more frequently compared to something like a newsletter. However, I would argue that a newsletter share is actually more valuable, because it shows that the recipient has engaged and enjoyed your content enough to want to pass it on.”

In other words, the definition of success when it comes to email may be much more nuanced than it initially seems. Just as with KPIs, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach.

Finally, when evaluating your email strategy, it’s important to see the bigger picture. Remember that email is just one of a series of customer touchpoints for a brand, and you need to consider the impact that your emails are having within the context of your overall marketing strategy. For example, it may be that your email campaigns don’t generate much revenue when compared with social media posts, but they help generate traffic to those social channels, which in turn leads to generation of revenue – it’s all part of the customer journey.

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