A Big Step Toward a Common Language
By Ken Magill
A years-long industry-wide effort at standardizing definitions of email metrics is getting a major boost this week as Responsys becomes the first large, enterprise-focused email service provider to formally adopt them.
Dubbed the SAME Project, or Support the Adoption of Metrics for Email, the initiative’s standards are the culmination of an effort that began in 2007. Over the years it has involved a who’s who list of email marketing executives.
Most notably, the effort began with Loren McDonald, vice president of industry relations, Silverpop and David Daniels, founder of The Relevancy Group as co-chairs. Stephanie Miller, formerly of Return Path and now vice president of digital messaging for Aprimo, also played a leadership role.
Current co-chairs are now Luke Glasner and John Caldwell of Red Pill Email.
The project—undertaken by the Direct Marketing Association’s email experience council’s Measurement Accuracy Roundtable—standardized the definitions of metrics in three key areas: delivery, opens/render, and clicks.
“Responsys … is pleased to support the eec’s SAME Project in the adoption of standardized metrics for email marketing,” the company said in an emailed statement.
Glasner said he believes Responsys’ adoption of the standards may lead to other large enterprise ESPs adopting them. He said that previous to Responsys, the vendors that have adopted the standards in the year they’ve been out have been those aimed at small- to medium-sized businesses.
“Responsys lends a certain level of credibility to our project,” said Glasner. “We feel that with the addition of one of the leading ESPs, maybe that will encourage some of our other ESPs that have been sitting on the fence” to adopt them.
The need for standards became glaringly apparent in a study the eec conducted in 2007.
For example, there was no standard meaning for “delivered.” The study found that 79 percent of email service providers surveyed defined “delivered” by deducting all failures from total mailed, while 21 percent calculated it by deducting hard bounces—where the address no longer exists.
Email marketers were in even further discord on the “delivered” metric, as 63 percent defined it as total failures subtracted from total mailed, 11 percent defined it as simply total mailed and 10 percent defined “delivered” as only those emails that made it into the recipients’ inboxes versus their spam folders.
After several years of debate, the SAME Project determined that even the term “delivered” was a misnomer because what happens to email after it is accepted by recipients’ servers can be difficult to tell.
As a result, the SAME Project has adopted the terms “accepted,” “accepted rate,” “bounce,” and “inbox placement rate” as more accurate terms for metrics to be used related to email delivery.
According to the SAME Project, “accepted rate” is: “The total amount successfully delivered to the server divided by the total email deployed (unique records). The amount successfully delivered is the total amount attempted minus all failures, including hard bounces.”
The standards were developed to address two main concerns: No standards makes benchmarking difficult and when marketers migrate from one vendor to another it is not uncommon to find that the new vendor calculates metrics differently than the previous one.
“If we can’t agree on these metrics, email will never get any respect,” said Glasner.
Heather Blank, vice president of strategic services at Responsys, said standardized metrics will help email marketers and vendors get higher-quality benchmarking and trending data.
“Right now everyone tracks things differently so there’s a lot of confusion,” she said. For example: “When Marketing Sherpa surveys clients, a lot of those clients are looking at things differently so there’s not a lot of quality to that data. Also, when clients move from one provider to the other, there are a lot of challenges around legacy reporting and trending. We think this will help out there, as well.”
Blank added that she wants to see a SAME Project-like effort undertaken for social media.
“I’d like [the industry] to quickly get ahead of the charge on normalizing the types of metrics we want to look at on some of the emerging channels such as social and mobile,” she said.