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Measuring Email Success Beyond Opens and Clicks

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The following blog post was written by Jeffrey L. Cohen, Director of Content Strategy at Cheetah Digital.

There’s a sign that hangs over many a marketer’s desk. Maybe it was cross-stitched by a distant relative with their own love for measurement or maybe it was purchased late one night scrolling through inspirational signs on Etsy.

Measure what matters.

In email marketing, we can measure everything. Open rates, click through rates, revenue per email for every single email and every single subscriber are just the start. Email marketing platforms let marketers track every metric imaginable in dashboards, reports, PPT slides, Excel sheets. It’s no wonder that marketers can feel a bit overwhelmed with all the options.

That is true in all aspects of digital marketing. When everything is trackable the challenge is to figure out what matters. The answer to that really depends on who you are. Different metrics matter to different people in an organization.

Running campaigns day-to-day

The email marketing manager or campaign manager – depending on the size of your team – is the person responsible for planning campaigns, building or making sure they get built properly, and ultimately sending the emails. There are plenty of others involved in these emails, but the manager is the one who is responsible for the day-to-day operation of email campaigns.

This is also the person most interested in the day-to-day metrics like opens and clicks. These metrics are the lifeblood of the email marketing industrial complex. But guess who cares about them besides the operational owner of the email program and their immediate team? No one.

These day-to-day metrics are critical to running the email program. Yes, the email marketing manager really does need to know how every email performs, both individually and as part of a campaign. But just listing the numbers in a spreadsheet is not even helpful to them. Every metric needs context.

They need to understand how each performs against other current and past campaigns. Small changes in open rates, click through rates, even unsubscribes can have a huge impact on the business. Closely monitoring those operational metrics are signals that things might be changing with your subscribers.

In fact, it is the insights that are derived from analyzing these results that really make a difference. This is how marketers know what is successful so they keep doing it, and what they should stop doing because it doesn’t work. These are where opportunities exist to test subject lines, revise creative, review offers, or add interactive elements. Using metrics to run an email program does not get any more granular than this.

Measure the marketing team

It is very easy to take all the metrics needed to run an email operation and push them up to the larger marketing team and to marketing leadership. The only problem is that is not the best way to report on the success of email.

A spreadsheet showing email by email performance or campaign by campaign performance is not what other marketers need to understand the results that email is driving. The key word is results.

Email results need to be reported to the larger marketing team the same way they are reporting. This means focusing on downstream numbers. Rather than what happens with the emails, report on what happens as a result of the emails. Does the email program bring in new customers, nurture returning customers, and generally drive sales?

One way to think about this is to create a marketing dashboard that distills all programs down to handful of numbers. If one of those numbers is sales, then you must agree on an attribution model. Everyone wants credit for a sale, but establishing rules means that everyone on the team has buy into the approach.

It can also be helpful to share some overall numbers how email, in general, is performing, especially how it compares to previous trends and industry benchmarks, but these ought to be high-level numbers that show continued growth. If these trends are heading in the wrong direction, a testing plan should be included in your reporting.

Make the CMO smile

And finally, when you are thinking about reporting email program metrics to the CMO, the best way to make them smile is to show them a positive return on the investment in the email program. And make sure you are following the agreed upon departmental attribution plan.

Since ROI is about money, start with the sales that can be attributed to email. Subtract the costs associated with email from all the revenue generated by email and divide that by the costs or investment – (revenue – costs) / costs – and express the result as a percentage. A positive result means you made money from the email investment and that’s the goal. When you are thinking about ROI for larger investments – which may include email marketing software – positive ROI can be achieved by including sales over longer time periods than monthly or even quarterly.

When thinking about how to measure the success of your email marketing, it is just as important to consider who you are measuring for as to consider what you are measuring.

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