You’re going to see a lot of “here’s your email marketing strategy in 2024” articles in the next month or so.
This is not that.
Yes, email and engagement are the central pillar of content marketing. Yes, permission-based marketing has a power that other channels just don’t, and email is the way most users give brands permission. But when we’re talking about what’s important in 2024, email content strategy is not the biggest misstep we tend to see. Most people have a reasonable idea of what to send to their customers — but they don’t know how to measure success.
You’ve probably heard the phrase “what gets measured gets managed,” and it’s true. But measurement is meaningless without a clear understanding of context.
You need measurable email marketing success. Here’s how to get it.
Rates vs. Results
A lot of email marketing “experts” in previous years have claimed “we increased open rate to X” or “we changed click-through rate from X to Y.” In the last couple of years, smart email marketers have gone away from these kinds of numbers. Why?
First, email inboxes are saturated. Most B2B inboxes receive over 120 emails per day. Your audience is getting flooded, and that makes it much harder to stand out from the pack.
Measurements are less accurate, too. Some email tools report emails in the preview pane and the expanded inbox as opens — “opens” that real eyeballs may never see. Apple Mail is responsible for roughly 50% of email opens, and since 2021 Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection software has been automatically opening emails.
And beyond the issues with audiences opening your emails, “rates” don’t necessarily equal results. Sure, a high open rate looks good on your case study when you’re trying to convince people to let you work for them. But if the open rate doesn’t lead to downloads, sales or other results, it doesn’t matter.
Quantitative vs. Qualitative
Measurable email marketing success comes back to qualitative analysis, not quantitative data.
Quantitative data analysis focuses on the numbers, not necessarily the meaning behind the numbers.
Qualitative analysis is based on comparative insight, asking questions like “Is this a better option?” or “What’s worse?” It’s interpreting the data you have, both anecdotal and quantitative, to draw conclusions.
Quantitative interpretations are less accurate than ever, for a multitude of reasons. Spam filters are more restrictive, iOS has hurt open rates, Gmail is segmenting the inbox so less people see your emails … a lot of factors stand in the way of dead accurate numbers. Quantitative can still give you general ideas about the what, but it’s not good at the why. You can’t just look at the numbers or even the trends of the numbers.
In email marketing, opens, click-throughs, deliverability stats and unsubscribes are useful. But the real holy grail of data is the comparative, or the qualitative insight that can be derived from those stats. Are sign-ups coming from customers and their friends or new sources? Which URL got more productive traffic? Which subject line generates profitable results? Why?
You could see a drop in open rates that’s completely irrelevant to the quality of your content — not bad content or a fatigued audience, but simply the result of a change in the way email browsers share data. Or you could see a 10% rise in subscriptions to your list, but your industry is growing at 25% overall … despite the fact you’re getting “good numbers,” you’re underperforming.
Don’t just focus on “number goes up” and “number goes down.” Focus on what those numbers mean.
Creating Measurable Marketing Success
Knowing what the numbers mean isn’t a matter of looking at a spreadsheet and deciding what works. It requires reviewing the numbers, comparing them against current and previous campaigns, and connecting them to tangible goals. Here’s the process:
- Define your goal. Always have a tangible goal. Make it an action, not just a number. Measure it and compare it to itself so you can get some insight on how you’re actually doing. Email is ideal for moving users through a marketing funnel and bringing people closer to the brand. Consider using click-throughs, downloads or sales as your goal; contrast them against each other to figure out which is going to work best to help you achieve your marketing goal.
- Decide the target for the goal. Don’t just say “more downloads” or “more click-throughs.” Decide on a target number, then work towards it. If the offer is something you’ve already been offering, consider the current metrics in your target as you’re deciding on a target number.
- Collect data. Once you’ve begun working toward your target, keep a record of how your emails have performed. Check them against each other. Excel or another spreadsheet program is the best way to do this; look for outliers that over- or under-performed your expectations.
- Create a hypothesis based around that data. Check which subject lines, which body copy and which links are performing the best. Compare data to itself. Figure out what your audience is most interested in. Look at the outliers, good and bad. Then create a hypothesis based on ONE variable — for example, “our subject lines perform better when we personalize them to our audience, instead of making them generic” or “our links perform better when they go directly to the download page as opposed to a landing page first.”
- Test. Once you have the hypothesis, test. A/B testing is a great way to gain insight and guide qualitative decision-making.
- Analyze results. Don’t freak out about changes in “the numbers,” either good or bad; sample sizes and unreliable data can account for swings in data, especially if you have a small list. Analyze over a period of time to give yourself more data points to choose from. If you don’t already have a good idea of sample size, consider 8-10 emails.
- Apply results and test again. Once you know the results of your mailing, you can re-test. Send new emails based on your findings from the previous round to verify results.
Using the Power of Permission
Email marketing uses the power of permission to reach your audience in a way that few other marketing channels can. Make sure you’re measuring your results effectively, then using those results to inform your marketing efforts.
Don’t know how to do that? We can help. We have decades of email marketing experience we want to put at your disposal; just drop us a line, anytime.
Rainmaker Digital Services