What is benchmarking in email marketing and should you pay attention to it?


Posted by: Ben Hocking on 4th March 2020


If you want to improve something, you need to understand it. And context is everything when developing understanding.

Let’s say my business reported £100,000 turnover last year and I task you with evaluating my performance based on that figure. Without context this figure holds no value for analysis. What did I earn last year? How has the economy performed? Were there any unexpected events that derailed progress? Numbers in isolation are worthless, it’s only with context that they can tell stories.

The same applies for key metrics in email marketing. An open rate needs context, which is where benchmarking comes in.

Benchmarking is there to provide guidance as to what is an industry-accepted standard and give an indication as to where your company stands in comparison. However, as a tool, benchmarking’s effectiveness is regularly called into question.

“We’re our own company; we don’t need to emulate another.”

There’s no denying benchmark figures need to be approached with a degree of caution, but when used appropriately, they can highlight where you rank in terms of industry competitors. This information can then help you to generate ideas as to what you need to do to catch up, or in an ideal scenario, work out what you are doing right and how to stay ahead.

There are countless sets of benchmark figures that exist for email marketing, but which should you follow? Here’s a rundown of the main ones to look out for:

 

Acoustic

Acoustic’s 2019 Marketing Benchmark Report analyses ‘thousands of brands to establish industry standards’.

The truth is in the details and that’s where this report comes into its own. As well as a comprehensive analysis of industries, they study geographic trends to a far greater degree than Campaign Monitor (limited analysis) or Mailchimp (no analysis).

Another area where this report shines is the variety of statistics presented. Whereas other reports focus merely on mean percentages, Acoustic looks at median, top quartile and bottom quartile percentages. While mean should be considered the most important statistic, there’s value in the other three presented by Acoustic, particularly top quartile as this gives a guideline to those who are excelling in your industry rather than just a metric to meet the average.

Acoustic’s 2019 report can be downloaded using this link

 

MailChimp

Reviewing millions of emails, if there’s one thing that Mailchimp’s report doesn’t lack, it’s a significant sample size.

Because they’ve compiled data ‘from 1-person startups to Fortune 500 companies’, the report has relevance for a wider audience although it might not be a targeted enough approach for some. Would a Fortune 500 company want to compare itself to a startup in their industry? It will appear in the metrics but is that relevant to them?

It’s also worth bearing in mind these metrics have been formed from Mailchimp data alone. This can work both ways as you might use Mailchimp and only want to concern yourself with that specific platform but anyone wanting to get a wider perspective on the industry might have to find a supplementary report.

 

Campaign Monitor

Similarly to the Mailchimp report, Campaign Monitor’s report is solely based on email marketing campaigns from their platform. This leads to an analysis of over 30 billion emails across 171 countries.

Besides the usual statistics, Campaign Monitor provides detailed metrics concerning the days of the week and how open rates and click through rates vary per day. This does take benchmarking to that next step where you can make decisions based on the metrics rather than merely use them as a guide.

The three reports listed here are a few of the biggest in the industry. However, further research will show even more options that might be more relevant to your business and the industry you belong to.

The classification of industries is perhaps one of the biggest challenges for those creating reports, which is consequently an issue for those reading them. Since there isn’t a consensus on industry groups, each report will form its own list.

For example, let’s say you own an automotive company. The industry to which the company belongs will be different for each report listed here:

Acoustic:

Automotive

Mailchimp:

Travel and Transportation

Campaign Monitor:

Automotive and Aerospace

 

Which report do you follow? The inclusion of Aerospace might imply you should eliminate Campaign Monitor’s report but if that’s the platform you are using, you might think it’s the most relevant.

Then there’s the vast difference between the statistics given:

Open Rate (Mean):

Acoustic:

48.20%

Mailchimp:

20.44%

Campaign Monitor:

12.60%

Without questioning the legitimacy of the statistics given, this only increases the uncertainty over which one to listen to.


All of this is to say that benchmarking is highly useful but should not and cannot be taken as gospel. Simply put, there are too many factors in play.

The statistics themselves are great to monitor and follow but the importance of the prose that supports them cannot be overstated. Key takeaways from the reports, and industry insights can help you to put the numbers in context and subsequently improve your email marketing performance.

This is where reports such as DMA’s Consumer Email Tracker show their worth. While it doesn’t contain average metrics, the report has a heavy focus on trends and behaviour such as email account behaviour, what’s important when determining whether to open an email or not, and the reasons behind why consumers give you their email addresses.

With expert opinions scattered throughout, this is perfectly used in unison with benchmark data, taking ‘This is how I am performing’ to ‘This is how I am performing and this is what I need to improve going forward’ Ultimately, that’s what it should all be about.

 

If you want to find out more about benchmarking, how your email marketing strategy is performing, or learn what you could be doing to improve your email marketing campaigns then we’d love to hear from you.

About the author

Ben Hocking

Ben Hocking is one of our Email Marketing Campaign Coordinators and, with a background in business management, brings both diligence and expertise to our clients.