How Engagement Metrics Finally Make Competitive Intelligence Smart

Posted by George Bilbrey on

If your closest competitor’s email campaign jumped off a bridge, would you?  In a marketing channel where creative strategies often seem similar, our first deep look into engagement metrics surprised us. We expected competitive brands to cluster together. Instead read rates and delete-without-opening rates were widely scattered—even in hyper-competitive verticals.

Our first thought was that individual brands’ marketing challenges are so varied, there just aren’t one-size-fits-all approaches. There is certainly some truth to that, but it’s probably not the entire explanation. Part of the problem is also that email marketers know a lot about the approaches their competitors take, but almost nothing about whether they work. (In fact, as The Relevancy Group’s latest research shows, many don’t know definitively whether their own approaches work.) So they choose between imitating an approach that didn’t work, or refusing to imitate existing approaches because they don’t have confidence in any. This is no better because taking the “clean sheet” approach and continually experimenting to optimize it fails to take advantage of existing market knowledge that should offer a starting point and a shortcut to better performance.

The availability of engagement metrics from a large panel of subscribers changes all that. When marketers can see not only how their peers communicate with customers, but also how those customers responded (or didn’t), they learn two things: what’s working, and who’s winning. In other words measuring engagement identifies best practices in email marketing campaign design and execution, and it also identifies best-in-class marketers. So those marketers that measure competitors’ engagement can, when they imitate others, choose to imitate only the best-performing approaches of their best-performing peers, using them as starting points for their own experimentation.

Obviously this is good for marketers that trail the leaders in their verticals, because they’ll vault into best-in-class performance; but it’s also good for consumers and for the entire email ecosystem. As smart marketers abandon messaging strategies and approaches that fail to engage consumers in favor of those that do, end users simply get better email – messages they welcome and respond to. At the very least, they’ll get fewer messages that they ignore.

As more ISPs use engagement as a signal to differentiate between wanted and unwanted email, marketers that learn from best-in-class competitors will find themselves making it to the inbox more frequently. The brand-building benefit of increasing customer engagement is a welcome bonus. The entire email “channel”, already the ROI champion, will become more efficient and profitable for marketers, more relevant for consumers, more manageable for mailbox providers.

Email marketers are smart. They know competitive intelligence hasn’t lived up to its potential. By incorporating engagement, now it can.


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About George Bilbrey

George Bilbrey is the founder of the industry’s first deliverability service provider, Assurance Systems, which merged with Return Path in 2003. He is a recognized expert on the subjects of email reputation and deliverability and is active in many industry organizations, including the Messaging Anti-Abuse Working Group (MAAWG) and the Online Trust Alliance (OTA). In his role as president of Return Path George is the driving force behind the ongoing innovation of our products and services. Prior to Return Path, George served as Director of Product Management at Worldprints.com and as a partner in the telecommunications group at Mercer Management Consulting. He holds a B.A. in economics from Duke University, and an MBA from the Kenan-Flagler School of Business, University of North Carolina.

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