The Danger of Email Marketing Benchmarks

February 15, 2010

A recent article from BtoB Online about email deliverability reminded me of how dangerous this whole thing of email marketing deliverability numbers can be. Studies from multiple email marketing service providers show different numbers when it comes to delivery rates, bounce rates, open rates, clickthrough rates, and more.

I work for a B2B software company and we do regular email blasts. Our open rates average 30%. Is this good? If I were to look at benchmark data from MailChimp we are doing way better than their published rate of 18% for companies in the software industry.  If I decided to spend the money for MarketingSherpa’s Email Marketing Benchmark Guide their benchmark open rate would probably be different.

Comparing Apples and Airplanes

You know that comparing different industries is irrelevant and that emailing B2C is nothing like B2B, but when you see reports that paint a good or bad picture about how email is doing in your industry, you tend to look at it carefully. Just beware of that inevitable question “why are we not getting the same results?” from your boss. Reading these isolated numbers and trying to use them as your overall goal will only lead to frustration. Yes, looking at different email marketing metrics is good to give you and your team an overall sense of how others are doing and also to spot trends but you should set your goals based on your overall objectives and historical performance.

Instead of asking how to match the industry averages, ask instead:

  1. How can we improve deliverability?
  2. How can we improve open rates?
  3. What can we do to improve clickthrough rates and, more importantly, to get people to buy/download/register?
  4. What are the most important metrics we should track?

The last question is probably the most important. The more you try to track, the less you will be able to do. Focus on the 3 to 5 key metrics for your email marketing program and the rest will follow. Evaluate how you are doing on a monthly and quarterly basis and try to improve every time. Analyze the results you get by segment (geography, products purchased, industry targeted, job titles, etc.) and start fine tuning the message, email design, subject line, date and time sent, and other relevant variables to each segment and you will start creating your own baseline.

OK, if you insist, here are some links to benchmarks I found online. A good starting point is the major email service providers (ExactTarget, Silverpop, Lyris, Eloqua, ConstantContact, Emma, etc.).

As I said, look at them but don’t bet on them or try to set your goals based on what others are supposedly doing. Industry benchmarks are only useful for bathroom reading.


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