Anyone who knows me knows that I’m an avid (some would say insane) fan of baseball. If you’ve ever talked to me for more than about 15 minutes, there’s a pretty good chance that I’ve used a baseball metaphor or analogy to explain something.
I’m here to tell you today that managing your email program is just like managing a baseball season.
When I went from coaching my son’s youth team to coaching college, one of the most challenging lessons for me to accept was that winning the season and winning the game did not mean the same thing. A college team will play 3-5 games every week for several months in a regular season. This puts a significant strain on the resources you have.
When the season starts, the team’s typical objective is to make the playoffs and win the championship. You’d think that this would mean that your goal should be to win every game (realizing that no matter what you do, you won’t win every game).
The reality is that if you want a real chance at winning the season, you have to make decisions that are suboptimal to win every game. This is why managers choose to sit their best players for games, are careful not to overuse their pitchers, and more.
Okay, so how does this baseball analogy apply to email marketing?
A few months ago, I reviewed our email performance, and I had what a friend of mine refers to as a “blinding flash of the obvious.” It hit me we were judging our email performance with the wrong metrics. Like most marketers, our primary email performance metrics viewed things through the lens of each individual email. When viewing our email performance for the fourth quarter, we would take each email’s performance and find the average.
For us, in a typical 90-day period, we’ll likely send six nurture emails to our general audience. We call our general nurture The Smart Growth Roundup. In it, we highlight some of the best insights we’ve seen from others and highlight some of our best content. The email is geared for our broadest audience. The people receiving this email are not involved in any other direct play or other contextual lead nurture.
Here’s the performance of The Roundup emails for the last 90 days:
Historically, we would have reported that this email’s average open rate was 35.18%, with a click-through rate of 5.55%—nothing to write home about.
But, do we — do you — expect your contacts to open EVERY email you send them? Of course not. There are email newsletters I pay to receive, and I don’t open every one of those emails, so it would undoubtedly be an unreasonable expectation that every email we send would be opened.
We don’t send The Roundup to be opened or acted upon every time. We send it to nurture, to maintain awareness and engagement. For Imagine, we’ve defined engagement as actions within the last 90 days.
When we view the performance of The Roundup from the perspective of how well it’s supported engagement with the audience over the last 90 days, the numbers become quite different:
- An open rate of 69.35%
- A click-through rate of just under 40%
What’s interesting is that since we’ve changed our approach to measuring the performance of this email, we’ve increased the 90-day open and click-through rates, with basically no change in average email performance (actually, if measured by the average performance of each email, the performance is slightly down).
What about sales emails?
The impact here is even more profound.
We run sales plays that involve the combination of emails, phone calls, social interactions, etc. for a defined period of time with a specific theme/message. A typical sales play will consist of 4-5 emails.
Here’s the performance of one of the plays:
- Average open rate = 18.61%
- Average click-through rate = 3.26%
Technically, it’s a bit higher as the order of this is based on the number of emails sent, so the first 3 emails were sent to more contacts.
We certainly don’t expect a contact to open or act on every email in a play — we want them to take action on one email.
When viewed through the lens of “play performance,” here are the results:
- More than 50% of contacts opened at least one email.
- More than 20% clicked, and an additional 11% replied to the email.
- Viewed on a company basis (rather than the contact), nearly 70% of companies had one contact open at least one email, and more than 30% clicked or replied
This play is focused on a specific issue that is either relevant for a company or not. As such, it is just an average performer when it comes to email engagement. Where it excels is in its performance after the click, which is another element in how we measure the effectiveness of our email efforts -- but I’ll save that for a future blog post.
The Right Way to Measure Emails
The danger of metrics is that it’s easy to mistake the metric for the objective. I often say an email isn’t successful because it had a 10% click rate; it had a 10% click rate because it was successful.
Realize that the way you measure activities will disproportionately impact everything done with that activity. The simplest or easiest measurement is rarely the right one.
When designing your email strategy, be clear on each email’s purpose and then determine the metrics that align with that purpose. Remember, you want to win the season, which doesn't necessarily mean winning each game. While that can be hard to remember -- who doesn't want to win every time? -- you'll benefit more from taking the long view.