June 11, 2009

Reporting Metrics, Integrating Social Media and More: 5 Questions from our Email Workshop

SUMMARY: Any time a marketer faces a question about their email campaigns, they shouldn’t feel like they're alone. Chances are good that other marketers, somewhere, are wrestling with the same challenge.

In this article, we answer five questions that were raised this week when we hosted an email marketing workshop with a small group of marketers. Includes advice on:
o Reporting metrics to your boss
o When to adopt a social media strategy
o Dealing with an aging demographic
Earlier this week we traveled to Waltham, Mass. to host Email Marketing Essentials 101, the first event in our series of all-day workshops on best practices in email marketing. Over the course of eight hours, Stefan Tornquist, Research Director, MarketingSherpa, shared research data and best-practice guidelines on key elements of successful email marketing, including opt-in processes, deliverability, email design and reporting.

The event also was an opportunity to sit down with a small group of email marketers and learn more about their day-to-day concerns in managing email programs. Some of the most interesting exchanges came when marketers asked questions about particular challenges with their own campaigns.

In this article, we’ve collected five questions raised by the Waltham audience. The answers will help other marketers facing similar issues.

Question #1. My bosses are really focused on our unsubscribe rate -- how can I put that metric into context for them?

This question came from a marketer who had recently launched a new email campaign, and whose bosses were particularly concerned about the campaign’s impact on the unsubscribe rate.

However, she knew that unsubscribe rate is a tricky metric. It doesn’t provide a complete picture of how many subscribers want to stop receiving your email.

Unsubscribe rate only records those subscribers who have completed the process of unsubscribing from your emails, which often involves clicking a link, changing preferences and submitting the changes. Many subscribers won’t bother with those steps, choosing instead to delete your emails -- or worse, clicking a "report as spam" button.

For that reason, a very low unsubscribe rate alone isn’t enough reason to celebrate your success.

Likewise, a higher-than-average unsubscribe rate might be an indicator that your subscribers trust you and your unsubscribe process. They’re confident enough in your email policies to follow the process you’ve laid out.

So if you’re presenting a report to a superior who locks in on unsubscribe rate, make sure you:

- Explain what the metric does -- and does not -- capture.

- Analyze additional metrics that indicate whether subscribers are still engaging with your emails such as:
o Open rates
o Clickthrough rates

Question #2. When should we start with social media marketing? We’re still in the process of revamping our email marketing strategy.

Social media is a powerful channel, but it works in conjunction with other efforts, such as email. You should get your email marketing tactics nailed down first, before you make a big social media push.

Here’s why: Engaging with customers and prospects through social media is another channel for two-way communications, like email. A well-developed email program can help you learn important things about your communication strategy, such as:
o What types of content resonate with your audience
o How frequently they want to hear from you
o How to segment your audience to deliver relevant messages
o How to convert visitors into subscribers who want an ongoing relationship with your brand

Question #3. My audience is getting older -- shouldn’t I be concerned that they’ll be using email less as they retire?

No. Contrary to stereotypes, senior citizens already are avid users of email.

Our 2009 Email Marketing Benchmark Guide found that:
o 58% of seniors said Email is more useful to them than the phone
o 48% of senior said Email is the best way for companies to communicate with them

And 58% mature consumers (those aging Baby Boomers who are approaching retirement) said email is the best way to receive company communications. Those habits will be hard to break.

Question #4. Will I lose my whitelist status if I change the "From" address on my emails?

Yes, in most cases you will. Although some programs allow subscribers to add any sender from your domain to their address book or safe contact list, you can’t assume they’ve taken that step. They are more likely to whitelist the specific address for the email campaign in question.

If that address changes, it will no longer be given an automatic pass to the subscriber’s inbox. So avoid changing your "From" address if you’re concerned about losing whitelist status initiated by subscribers.

Question #5. Will a double opt-in process hurt my list growth?

Adopting a double opt-in process, which requires users to click on a link emailed to their inbox after they provide their address, will ultimately result in a smaller email list. We estimate that 50%-70% will click on a link to confirm their email address.

However, that smaller list may be more valuable to some marketers. Benefits of a double opt-in process include:
o Confirming that your emails are going to a valid address
o Preventing hard bounces, which can hurt your email reputation
o Preventing fake opt-ins
o Complying with CAN-SPAM and most ISP guidelines for best practices

So while a double opt-in will produce a smaller list, it may be a more valuable list. One B2B marketer in the audience said that she chose a double opt-in process to focus on higher-quality subscribers, which was worth losing an estimated 40% of names that drop out at the subscription confirmation stage.

Useful links related to this article:

Email Marketing Essentials 101

Improve Your Marketing

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