Obama vs. Romney: Using Read Rate to Gauge Presidential Email Campaign Performance

 Julia Peavy 

Last month, Margarita Golod’s blog post on email engagement rates of Top Level Domains introduced some exciting new metrics Return Path is generating from email campaigns sent to OtherInbox users. During the past few months, I’ve been lucky enough to work with this data and am particularly excited about one specific metric: the read rate.

While email marketers have long been tracking open rates, read rate is a metric that can provide marketers with some additional insights into their program (as well as those of their competitors).  So, what’s unique about read rate? In order to register an email open, an image must be rendered (usually via a piece of code in the email).  If a subscriber doesn’t have HTML enabled on their email client or the email is text only, an email open won’t register (even if a subscriber has opened the message). Read rate, on the other hand, doesn’t rely on image rendering in order to register this metric. Read rate is based on real subscriber mailbox behavior and is registered when an email provider like Gmail or Yahoo marks the email as read within the email client.  So, messages that don’t have images enabled or are text only will still register as “read.”

So, what’s the real reason I’m so excited about this new read rate metric? While marketers have long been able to track campaigns sent by their competition via seed accounts, access to campaign performance (via engagement metrics like read rate) has not been possible. Because these data points are based on real subscriber mailbox behavior, we’re able to use read rate (as well as other proprietary metrics) to truly measure our clients’ email program against their competition and identify key engagement trends and areas for program optimization.

With the US presidential election a little more than four months away, I thought it would be interesting to see how the candidates are engaging with their subscribers via email using read rate.  Over the past 30 days, subscribers received 66 email campaigns from the mittromney.com domain. These campaigns had an average read rate of 16%. There were 564 emails sent from the barackobama.com domain and they had an average read rate of 10%.

So, why might the average read rate be lower for the barackobama.com domain? In addition to the higher volume of campaigns (which could indicate more Obama emails in individual inboxes), the largest email campaign for the Obama campaign was ten times larger than the largest campaign sent from the mittromney.com domain.  Less targeted campaigns as well as the potential age of the file might be some of the reasons for less engagement with the Obama emails.

In addition to looking at the overall email engagement rates for the presidential email programs, I reviewed specific emails with the word “Wisconsin” in the subject line. There were six email campaigns from the Obama campaign that had a 13% read rate. The Romney campaign sent only one campaign that included “Wisconsin” in the subject line which also had a 13% read rate. Apparently, the Obama and Romney audiences are equally engaged (or disengaged) on the topic of Wisconsin.

What are your thoughts on the new read rate? What would you do with access to your competitors’ read rates?

Closely monitoring your competition and their campaign performance is a powerful way to improve your email program strategy. Understanding read rate, list size, targeting practices and other engagement metrics can help you develop an email program that outperforms your competition. Stay tuned for our next blog on this topic.

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About Julia Peavy

Julia Peavy is currently the Director of Partner Services at Return Path. In this role, Julia is responsible for supporting Return Path’s partners and helping improve the client experience through consistent, quality, and scalable services. When Julia's not helping partners and their clients, you can find her on the slopes, trying to lower her handicap, looking for bargains, or watching one of her boys' many sporting events.

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