The following blog post was written by Andrea Short, Senior Strategist at BrightWave.
If you aren’t doing some level of reporting on your email program, you are doing it wrong. Whether it’s a raw data export or highly complex aggregated report, what is often missing is the real meaning of the numbers. During a session at BrightWave’s annual conference this year, EiQ: The intelligent email gathering, one panelist put it perfectly when she said, “A number is just a number without a story.” So how do we tell that story in an insightful way that will resonate with as many people as possible?
Step One: Think About Measurement Up Front
It may seem counterintuitive to think about reporting before there’s anything to report on, but reporting begins with reason. Why did we send this campaign? What is the purpose of the email channel at large? These questions need to be answered before a campaign ever goes out the door. Our teams find it useful to restate high-level program goals on the client-facing dashboard along with the individual performance metrics. This helps ensure that every campaign ultimately ladders back to one of the stated goals.
Additionally, it’s important that key email performance indicators are outlined at the outset of campaign planning. Knowing whether or not a campaign was successful shouldn’t be arbitrarily determined after the fact. KPIs can (and should) vary by campaign type and generally tell you the following at a bare minimum:
Open Rate: A measure of awareness. Something in the From Name, Subject Line, Pre-Header, or Preview Pane piqued the user’s interest enough to entice the open.
Click Rate: A measure of interest or intent. The content was relevant enough to elicit the subscriber to take the next action.
Conversion: A measure of final action. The overall experience was positive enough to convince the subscriber to take the ultimate action.
(It’s important to note here that a conversion doesn’t always indicate a sale. A conversion can also be a lift over time. For example, the goal of a welcome or onboarding series can be to set a foundation for keeping customers engaged over time. Conversion would be measured against a control group to prove at the 30, 60 or 90-day mark those who received the welcome/onboarding are engaging at a higher rate than those who did not.)
Step Two: Add Context to Every Metric
At BrightWave, we strive to present our findings in a way that provides an exceptional level of detail in an impactful and easy-to-digest format. This requires not only a combination of visuals and text that appeals to a broad audience but also provides a reference point for every metric presented. This is key! A 31% open rate may mean something to those closest to the program, but to an upper-level executive, it’s just a number. It is up to us to give those numbers context. Providing this context also proactively alleviates the potential problem whereby raw numbers can be interpreted differently by various individuals in an organization.
We need to be able to answer questions like, “Why is this number important? What does it mean for this campaign? …how about the program at large?” It is critical to provide a definitive comparison point to give every metric meaning. These reference points allow you to prove the value of the program and tell a much more compelling story than a single point-in-time metric.
At a basic level, we generally track trends in three ways:
Month-Over-Month metrics help to show lift from single campaign efforts. Did you send to a new segment this month? Run a highly successful subject line or content test? Execute a new triggered campaign? Any impact from those efforts will be reflected immediately.
Year-Over-Year comparisons demonstrate the health of a program over time and remove seasonality. For example, if you are a flower shop, performance metrics are likely to spike in February compared to January. What we want to know is, “Did we outperform our Valentine’s Day efforts from last year?”
Baseline numbers are great directional tools. Knowing how your campaigns performed in aggregate during a specific quarter or year gives you a base from which to set goals and measure performance going forward. It’s beneficial to be as specific as possible with each of these. While it’s great to know that the program aggregate was a 27% open rate last year, it’s much more meaningful to understand that event campaigns had a 16% open rate while promotional campaigns came in at 32%.
Adding these reference points to your reporting will allow you to provide a new level of depth, more easily identify trends, and more visually and impactfully tell the story to anyone willing to listen (or look!).