Who Does Email Really Well . . . and What do They Have in Common?

 Guy Hanson 

The DMA (UK) has just launched its 2019 Consumer Email Tracker report. This is a “must read” for every email marketer. Over 2,000 consumers were asked 28 questions around the marketing emails they receive. Their responses contain some excellent observations on the state of email – as seen through recipients’ eyes:

  • 59 percent prefer email communications over any other channel.
  • 40 percent now sign-up in-store as part of getting an e-receipt.
  • The average email subscriber has five addresses and gets 57 emails per week.
  • Only 14 percent considered more than half the emails they receive to be ‘useful’
  • 33 percent still ‘often’ question how brands got their email address!

Perhaps the best observation of all was in response to the question: “Which brands/shops/sites do you think do email well?” – eight of the top-10 are Return Path customers (“obviously” you may say!). In terms of what they do well, common themes included: relevant offer, keeps me informed, uses clear presentation, and emails are interesting.

Which is all great, but to be effective, these emails still need to get delivered first–and to their recipients’ inboxes, where they will be seen and engaged with! This is where these best-in-class senders really stand out–average inbox placement rates (IPRs) are a phenomenal 96 percent (seven percent > UK benchmark, and 11 percent > global benchmark).

There are major financial benefits from top-tier deliverability performance like this. Cheetah Digital quotes a value per email sent of ± 4.5p. So for every 1M emails sent, these best-in-class programs are generating an additional £3,200 compared with average senders, showing unequivocally that Return Path’s Certification program is a genuinely self-funding investment.

So it then goes without saying that these best-in-class programs also over-perform against other major email KPIs. Average read rates are around 1.2X higher, and average complaint rates are only 0.6X, when compared with Return Path’s global benchmark.

But as we reviewed these programs, it became increasingly clear—over and above the DMA observations–that there are also a few more ingredients that go into the best-in-class secret sauce. In the next part of this article, we’ll look at five of the most important ones.

1. Serious Segmentation:
Return Path’s State of Email Engagement 2019 report makes a striking connection between list segmentation and deliverability. 66 percent of practicing segmentation achieve Good/Very Good deliverability, compared with only 43 percent where there is no segmentation.

Our best-in-class senders take this further. On average, each unique email send only goes to six percent of their total subscribers, and this hyper-segmentation will be a key factor in the strong inbox placement rates achieved by these programs.

2. High-Performance Hidden Metrics
Mailbox Providers (MBPs) use a variety of “Hidden Metrics” to identify good vs poor senders. These metrics include behaviors such as: recovered from spam, forwarded, replied, added to address book. Gmail is on record as saying that a “not spam” notification is an order of magnitude (10X) more important than a spam complaint.

Our best-in-class senders consistently over-index against these metrics. In this clever example from Marks & Spencer, subscribers are incentivised to share a special online discount code with two other people, and forwarded rates for this promotion are 33X the average quoted in Return Path’s Hidden Metrics of Email Deliverability report.

3. Total Trust
The DMA report shows only eight percent of consumers will use their primary email address for all email marketing, and another 13 percent will use it for trusted brands only. The balance uses their secondary email address for all marketing emails. This has a big impact on subscriber engagement – Return Path’s Frequency Matters report showed over 80 percent of email reads are generated by primary addresses.

It’s a very different picture for these best-in-class senders. On average, 87 percent of their subscribers have provided primary email addresses, which generate virtually 100 percent of their reads. MBPs consider good read rates to be a strong indicator of positive engagement, and the great inbox placement rates achieved by these senders reflect this.

There are also clear variations in sending frequency: Primary addresses receive an average 2.9 emails per week, while secondary addresses only receive 2.0 emails per week. Inactive/dormant addresses receive even less–only 1.3 emails per week.

4. GDPR Was Good!
Industry commentators predicted GDPR would be a great opportunity for brands to build stronger customer relationships. More robust consent, transparent setting of expectations, and simplified unsubscribing would improve data quality and strengthen trust. In Marketo’s excellent Two Tribes of Marketing report, brands were categorised by their approaches to GDPR – “Legal First” or “Marketing First”.

Our best-in-class senders definitely fell into the latter group, as these examples from John Lewis and Tesco show:

  • Transparency around how subscribers originally signed up.
  • Reinforcing the benefits/value from continued membership.
  • Strong customer-first statements (“Your trust is important to us.”)

There are clear benefits – 72 percent of “Marketing First” businesses are exceeding organizational targets as a direct result of uplifts in post-GDPR subscriber engagement.

5. All In The Mix
Adobe’s 2018 Consumer Email Survey 1,000 respondents were asked :“If you could change one thing about the emails you get from brands, what would it be?” Their top answer: “Make them less about promotion, and more about providing me information.”

Unsurprisingly, our best-in-class senders do this really well:

Newsletters, value statements, and customer surveys are all great drivers of engagement. In Epsilon’s Email Trends & Benchmarks report (Q3 2018) report, marketing emails form 75  percent of total volume sent, open rates from non-marketing emails (editorial/newsletter/ research/survey/etc.) are an average 1.4X higher, while click rates are 2.6X higher.

Another really interesting observation is that many of these best-in-class programs send their transactional and service emails from the same domain as their marketing emails.

Many senders avoid this, fearing that fluctuations in marketing email reputation metrics may impact on the performance of these business critical emails. However, for best-in-class senders the reverse may hold true – average open rates for service emails are 3X higher than marketing emails, while click rates are almost 8X higher (per the Epsilon report). “Hidden Metrics” are also much higher so a virtuous circle is created, where the high-performing nature of these emails has a positive halo effect on the marketing emails.

Email marketers are becoming increasingly focused on customer lifetime value. Engaged email subscribers remain customers for longer, transacting more frequently, and spending more. If you’re looking to drive up your customer lifetime value, start today by learning from these best-in-class senders, and mixing some of their winning ingredients into your recipe for email success!

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About Guy Hanson

Guy is a passionate advocate for intelligent use of customer data to drive responsive email programs. With a knowledge base that now spans nearly 15 years, he is a global e-mail expert and thought leader. Leading Return Path’s International Professional Services consulting team, Guy has worked with a broad range of clients across 5 continents to improve their email delivery, subscriber engagement and revenue generated. Outside of work, Guy is the Chairman of the DMA Email Council. In this role, he works with industry peers including brands, agencies, and service providers to promote the best interests of the email industry to a broader audience. He is also a regular contributor to the industry press.

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