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Beyond benchmarks: 8 steps to improved email performance

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What's the average open rate? How many clicks do the best companies get? And how are your email programs performing against those of your peers? These are some of the questions most commonly asked by marketers. The best b-to-b digital marketers use benchmarks in evaluating their marketing initiatives to see if they're improving compared with past performance, outpacing the competition and contributing to the company's overall goals. Benchmark data can be helpful in providing marketers with a baseline scorecard to understand how far they need to travel in their performance-improvement journey. Benchmarking can provide average email response rates, but response rates vary widely depending on the approach and the content made available. In addition, companies that help recipients by providing behavior-based content—content that is meaningful, personal and relevant—rather than blasting out one-size-fits-all promotions are far more likely to find themselves in the top quartile. Marketing automation is also a key part of the equation, since those tools enable marketers to deliver effective campaigns that help serve up this kind of engaging content. With this in mind, here's an eight-step guide toward optimizing your digital marketing programs, based on how your own performance compares to benchmarks. 1) Understand these are process metrics. Process metrics measure activity prompted by email messages. They can be used to drive improvement in areas such as creative, deliverability and list hygiene. But if you want to fully optimize your program, you'll also have to look at output metrics such as revenue, leads generated, cost savings, order size and number of content downloads. These metrics measure how well your email campaign delivered against your individual company's business goals. 2) Compare your metrics to benchmarks. The average click-through rate so far in 2012 is 5.4%. But the goal isn't to meet the average; being average is not enough. Aim higher and look to meet or exceed the key metrics for the top quartile in your industry. In an increasingly competitive marketplace, average has become the new bottom. Understanding that is the first step toward becoming a top-tier, world-class marketing organization. 3) Find the gaps. Where are you lagging? What could you do differently to improve and what do you need to get there? And when you do get there, there's always room for improvement. Be forward-thinking. Know that “catching up” will simply build the foundation for you to go beyond that point and become a top performer in your industry. 4) Lobby for bigger budgets, more resources. Based on the last point, approach upper management to secure the arsenal you'll need to take your email marketing program up a notch. Have a firm handle on how process metrics are tied to output metrics so you can build a clear case for how, for example, improving clicks and unsubscribe rates will help marketing contribute to company goals. 5) Focus on the big issues. Don't spend excessive resources on, say, bumping up your open rate one percentage point at the expense of tackling your largest opportunities for improved ROI. Instead figure out the single most critical aspect of your email program to drive significantly more revenue or conversions and focus on that. For this, the output metrics are central. 6) Use the tools at your disposal. Many b-to-b marketers simply don't take advantage of the tools offered by their digital marketing platforms. Consider using such tools as automated A/B testing; customer and contact scoring; Web analytics; tracking; dynamic content; relational tables; personalization; API/vendor integrations; automated marketing tracks and programs; social-sharing links; and progressive Web forms to move the needle on your marketing efforts. 7) Tweak and optimize. To optimize processes, remember that tweaking the things that don't work well is key. Take a close look at the changes you've made. What changes have yielded big dividends and which have fallen short of expectations? Don't hesitate to review, then evolve your efforts in order to improve. 8) Compare again. Revisit your metrics to see if you've moved into the top quartile, if you've exceeded your campaigns from one, six and 12 months ago, and if you've impacted conversions and revenue. In short, gain an understanding of benchmark data, which will serve as a base to help you figure out where your efforts stand and set your goals. These steps can help you meet, then exceed current benchmarks. After all, why just settle for average? Loren McDonald is VP-industry relations at marketing automation company Silverpop. He can be reached at lmcdonald@silverpop.com.
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