Don’t Overvalue Channel-Specific Metrics

For most industries, and some in particular, you need to take a step beyond traditional metrics to truly measure email's impact

Opens, clicks, and subsequent online conversions are some traditional metrics email marketers use to judge whether or not a campaign was successful. We’ll run a few tests to find the right subject line or content setup, and then pore over the numbers to see how well the campaign performed. Turning these numbers into visually interesting graphs can make us feel good (or bad) about the direction of our email programs and help us focus on hitting a few key goals (especially important for the bosses upstairs).

It’s important to remember, though, that these traditional standards for email marketing success are neither the only, nor, sometimes, even the most relevant metrics you can use to determine if your campaign made the impact you wanted. So much of that depends upon the type of industry you’re in, and how your customers engage with your brand.

For instance, what if your customers rarely if ever buy your product online? That’s typically the case for the U.S. beer industry. While there are some retail stores that sell beer online, very few breweries do so. And, for the ones that do, it’s doubtful that a high percentage of their sales come via their website.

Traditional metrics don’t tell the whole story

What does this mean for their email campaigns? Well, while they may get opens with an intriguing subject line announcing a new beer release, there may not be much need for people to click through, and likely none of them is going to buy online if they do. So the metrics probably indicate a meager click rate. Does that mean the campaign was a failure? Not at all. You’ve informed your subscribers about the new beer; maybe you even told them some local shops or bars that will soon be carrying it. They didn’t buy it straight from your email, but your email is what prompted them to head to the store/bar or directly to your brewery to make a purchase. You sold beer because of the email, but your metrics are largely blind to it.

And a version of this can happen for almost any business, where email subscribers learn about a sale, event, or new product via email, but then convert in person rather than clicking through and making a purchase online. That means your metrics data are going to be incomplete if you have some sort of in-person sales presence, even if they’re generally an accurate representation of your campaign’s success.

Measurement still matters

Does all this mean we should throw up our hands and forget about measuring and improving opens, clicks, and direct conversions? Of course not. But it’s especially important for industries where online sales are negligible (auto repair, grocery shopping, alcohol sales, and food service are a few other examples) to remember that email is still a powerful tool for them even if the traditional metrics might indicate otherwise. They should look at overall sales figures in the days following an email campaign, and see if there’s a positive effect. If you don’t send an email, do you see lower sales numbers? Are you able to see at the customer level whether someone who received your email converted? Tracking like this is never going to be neat or perfect, but don’t dismiss email’s impact just because it’s hard to measure.

Like all marketing channels — even those where ROI can also be notoriously difficult to pin down — email marketing gives you the opportunity to engage on a personal, one-to-one level with customers and subscribers. It allows you to provide real value to them, not just shout with your bullhorn about how great your company is. That helps build long-term trust and loyalty, along with providing you with a brand-visibility boost. In a way, you’re the shopkeeper asking your regulars how their kids are doing, or how their weekend to Napa went. Email and other communications channels have shrunk the world and provided brands with a way to reach out with a hand rather than tossing the widest net and the most broad message possible. You can connect with individuals in a personalized way that appeals directly to them.

There’s always value in that. It may be tough to reliably measure sometimes, and some industries can be tempted to do away with it altogether because of that. But we’d urge you to stick with it, because these are your ways to delight your customers with content that helps them, and they’ll look forward to hearing from you. And the next time they’re ready to be a customer, you can bet your name will be on their lips.