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UK DMers Advance New Engagement Metric

2/12/13

By Ken Magill

A group of UK Direct Marketing Association members have advanced a new metric they claim is the best way to measure email engagement.

Dubbed open/reach, the metric is the number of people who have opened a marketer’s email messages at least once over a given period of time, say a quarter or a year.

“It’s the cumulative unique open rate. Everyone who opens gets counted once,” said Dela Quist, CEO of Atlanta- and London-based agency Alchemy Worx.

The length of time that should be used to calculate open/reach depends on the sender’s frequency, said Quist.

“If you mail once a month, then I would say a year,” said Quist. “If you send every day, you can do it in a shorter period, say a quarter or six months. Ideally you want to do it quarterly so you can measure quarter on quarter and year on year. You can also do it on a rolling basis.

“Anything less than 10 messages doesn’t give enough of a longitudinal view into what’s going on,” he added.

In recent years, so-called engagement has been an increasingly hot topic among email marketers, as in they should send email that drives more engagement so receiving ISPs are more likely to properly deliver their campaigns.

Typically, when marketers talk about engagement they’re referring to opens, clicks and conversions and the need to drive these metrics up.

However, the UK DMers advancing the open/reach metric claim this is a flawed approach to measuring engagement. For one thing, they say, it drives marketers to needlessly trim their lists and limit their mailings to people who have a known propensity to open and click.

As a result, they say, seemingly dormant addresses held by perfectly viable prospects get needlessly suppressed from campaigns to which they may well respond.

“The desire to maximise open rates is driven by the concept of only sending an email to someone if the brand knows in advance they will open it,” the group said in a paper advancing the open/reach concept. “However, this level of advanced knowledge is never going to be a reality.

“First, open rate is a notoriously unreliable metric,” the paper said.

An “open” is recorded when the receiving machine calls for graphics from the sender. As a result, messages can be opened and not recorded as such, or they can render in the preview pane without having been opened, yet be calculated as having been opened.

“Setting that aside,” the paper said, “open rates can never be 100 percent, in which case it leaves a question as to what open rate should be achieved and is maximising open rate indeed the best thing to do?” the group continued. “Click through and conversion rates are more reliable metrics but there again, 100 percent action cannot be achieved. In fact, the best way to maximise either of these rates would be to send to only those with the highest propensity to take action, which leaves those with little propensity on the sideline with no possibility of taking action.”

But why use such a flawed metric as the open rate as a foundation for a supposedly better metric?

“It’s a proxy that’s good enough for me because the error rate is constant,” said Quist. “It’s not like people randomly turn their images on and off. In addition, the main reason to focus on opens rather than clicks, which are a more accurate metric, is email’s nudge effect. While not every open leads to a click in the email an open can and will nudge some subscribers to convert via another channel – in store for example.”

Adopting the open/reach metric with the intention of constantly working to nudge it up will result in more effective marketing, according to Quist.

“You begin to understand that every message you send is a reactivation massage,” he said. “Every time you send a message, some people who have not opened for a long time will open your message. And you just get better at observing which massages have that effect and which don’t.”

Kath Pay, principal of London-based email marketing consultancy Plan to Engage, added that open/reach offers a broader look at the overall health of an email marketing program than campaign metrics.

“We are often so campaign oriented,” she said. “Whereas when it comes down it, if you’re sending out a weekly email and you’re getting 30 percent open rates, chances are the 30 percent in the first week is not going to be the same [openers] as the second week. You might have an overlap but there are still going to be different people.”

The open/reach metric, she said, offers a subscriber overview as opposed to a flawed campaign by campaign view.

“People are too quick to jump on the inactive bandwagon,” Pay said, referring to email marketing conventional wisdom that says marketers should remove inactive addresses from their files.

“Even if you find out they are inactive, don’t remove them,” she said. “Engage with them differently.”

Adoption of the open/reach metric is not yet an official position of the UK DMA, Pay said.

Other advocates of the open/reach metric and co-authors of the whitepaper explaining it are Tim Watson, founder of email marketing consultancy Zettasphere and Skip Fidura, client services director, dotDigitalGroup.

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