Consumer Network Panel Data: Just the Facts

Posted by Joanna Roberts on

Since 2012, Return Path has differentiated itself in the email industry by having Consumer Network subscriber panel data. We use this data to give our customers deeper insights about their email deliverability and engagement at a subscriber level. I’ve blogged about why an email marketer needs subscriber panel data in addition to seed data to monitor deliverability, and at Return Path, we truly believe in the value of subscriber data to help marketers make smart decisions about their email programs. This level of data is still relatively new in the industry however, and so there continues to be questions and false assumptions made.

As Product Marketing Manager for our Email Optimization solutions, it’s important to me that email marketers truly understand the value of our Consumer Network data and why you should want this additional level of insight into your email campaigns. In this blog, I’ll address some common misconceptions I’ve heard in the industry. Got additional questions? Feel free to comment below.

Myth: Only 24 percent of email addresses in the Consumer Network panel are considered “primary” email accounts, and that makes the data less relevant.
While the first part of this statement is actually true—our panel is made up of approximately 24 percent primary mailboxes and 67 percent secondary accounts—it’s the second part that needs to be addressed. The makeup of our Consumer Network does not make it any less accurate. In fact, it actually makes it more true-to-life and representative of your subscriber list, especially since the panel is made up of real people that signed up for your email program.

Using our Frequency Finder tool, Return Path customers can determine what percentage of their subscriber list is made up of primary vs. secondary email addresses. And guess what? For many marketers, about half their subscriber list is made up of secondary email addresses. This obviously varies by company and industry, but the data tells us that marketers should be concerned with inbox placement and engagement at secondary email accounts, in addition to primary accounts. Our Consumer Network panel does an excellent job at giving you deliverability insight into both types of accounts.

It’s also important to note that, when we show deliverability and engagement metrics based on Consumer Network data in our solutions, we are showing that data based on the crossover between your subscriber list and our panel list. In other words, we can only show you data for those panel subscribers that are also on your mailing list. So, if we are showing you data based on secondary mailboxes, that’s because your subscribers have signed up for your email program using their secondary addresses. And that’s the data that’s most interesting—data from your actual subscribers, regardless of which email account they used to join your email list.

Myth: Because deliverability results based on panel data can be affected by individual-level filtering, the data can be misleading.
This statement is accurate in that Consumer Network data does show deliverability results at a subscriber level, meaning that individual user-level filtering could impact the results you see. But this is exactly what makes our panel data interesting, as you can see how your actual, live subscribers are receiving and reacting to your emails. We believe it’s important to know if your actual subscribers are marking your emails as junk, as that will help you to test and improve your campaigns. That’s a level of insight that you don’t get with seed addresses, as there is no live person behind seeds.

However, we also believe that it’s important to use both seed and panel subscriber data to assess and monitor your email deliverability. While Consumer Network panel data is interesting and valuable to see how your actual subscribers are viewing your emails, seed addresses are interesting to show you how mailbox providers, like Gmail or Outlook, are treating your emails based on your reputation metrics. Using both seed addresses and subscriber panel data, only Return Path is able to show you your comprehensive deliverability rates based on IP address and domain reputation, email authentication, infrastructure, and subscriber engagement.

Myth: Consumer Network panelists didn’t grant permission for Return Path to access their mailbox data.
This is an important one to address, as there are serious legal implications here. Each and every member of the panel has explicitly granted permission for us to view and report on their mailbox behavioral data. Through this permission, we can view how active a panelist is in their mailbox, which helps us determine if it’s a primary or secondary account, and what they do with the emails they receive. Before we share this data in our deliverability and engagement solutions, we remove or obfuscate any personally identifiable information (PII) so that our panel members’ identities stay protected.

Myth: Return Path’s panel hasn’t been updated in awhile, and having old data in the panel could skew the results you see.
Consumer Network subscriber panel data is never old—it is constantly refreshed through the addition of new panelists, which adds to the volume, breadth, and depth to our data.  Everyday email users agree to anonymously contribute their behavioral and online purchase data in exchange for the use of our free, popular productivity apps in our Consumer Network.

Our consumer apps are regularly updated, providing incremental value to attract new users. The increased value of our consumer apps coupled with our marketing strategies repeatedly attract real-life consumers, which fuels our Consumer Network subscriber panel.

Myth: Subscriber panel data isn’t actionable, it’s more of a nice-to-know.
We know that mailbox providers are making inbox vs. junk folder placement decisions based on subscriber engagement. Consumer Network data is powerful because it shows marketers how your actual subscribers are treating your mail, and how mailbox providers are delivering your mail based on that engagement.

There are several ways a marketer can use this data to make impactful changes to their email program. Here’s a great example from our service team: one of our large entertainment customers was seeing consistent delivery to the inbox based on Gmail seeds, but through our Consumer Network panel data, we were able to see heavy bulking, especially on one set of domains. Using Google’s new Postmaster Tools, our service team was able to confirm that our panel was reflecting much more accurate results than seeds in terms of this customer’s deliverability to Gmail and there was indeed a domain reputation issue. With this confirmation, we were able to move forward to help the customer fix their domain reputation and get delivered to the inbox at Gmail. This is a great example of how Consumer Network data allowed us to identify and resolve an issue—if we were relying on seeds alone, we may never have detected a bulking issue at Gmail.

As more and more mailbox providers move to using subscriber engagement to determine email placement, the more important having visibility into actual, live subscriber data becomes. With our Consumer Network data, only Return Path is able to provide customers with this level of visibility and insight into their deliverability and enable them to make smart decisions to improve their ROI from email.


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About Joanna Roberts

Joanna Roberts is the Senior Product Marketing Manager responsible for Email Optimization product positioning and ensuring our solutions meet the needs of our customers and partners. She has over ten years of experience in email marketing and enjoys working with marketers to optimize their email program strategy. First as an Account Manager, then as a Director on our Channel team, and now in her Product Marketing role, Joanna helps marketers and partners use our Email Optimization solutions to ensure the right message is being sent to the right inbox at the right time.

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