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Connecting the data

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Compared with the results available from traditional, offline media, metrics on e-mail campaigns offer marketers a virtual gold mine of information about how the target audience responded to the effort.

One significant trend this year is integrating data about actions recipients take in an e-mail with data about subsequent actions they take on a marketer's Web site.

"We're seeing a lot more organizations tie Web analytics data into what they're doing in e-mail, and using that Web analytics data to make e-mail communications more intelligent and measure bottom-line results, such as revenue per e-mail, when you have revenue that can be directly measured," said Morgan Stewart, director of strategic services at ExactTarget, a provider of e-mail marketing solutions.

Marketers have much more data available to them than they did previously, and these data are accessible in real time, said Tricia Robinson-Pridemore, VP-market and product strategy at StrongMail Systems, a provider of e-mail delivery software and appliances. "It used to be available in a 24-hour increment or even a seven-day increment," she said. "Now, you can log into your e-mail system and start looking at analytics immediately."

Plus, she said, it's gotten a lot easier to examine data not just on a campaign level but on a recipient level. "You can see everything they're getting and what they're reacting to," she said. "[You can determine] 'here are my most profitable recipients; here are the ones that are doing the best within the e-mail channel, in terms of sales and in terms of contact or click-through.' There are just more analytics available to the marketer now."

Still, many marketers may not be taking advantage of the data available to them, said Julie Katz, a researcher at Forrester Research. Marketers often want to determine a conversion rate—knowing how many leads they generated and how many made it further down the sales funnel—but not many actually track that, she said.

"B-to-b marketers, even though lead management is so important to them, are not as sophisticated as they could be with tracking all these metrics," Katz said.

Part of the problem is that marketers don't communicate with the sales team enough to capture all the necessary data adequately, she said.

One reason for this, Katz said, could be that compared with b-to-c marketers, many b-to-b marketers manage their e-mail programs in-house. "A lot of b-to-c marketers have outsourced the technology and the delivery function of e-mail, and so that's off their plate and they can focus more on the metrics and increasing their open rates and conversion rates from e-mail," she said.

David Hallerman, senior analyst at eMarketer, said many marketers still struggle with defining metrics, such as open rate. "In e-mail programs that have a preview pane, the mere act of the e-mail being previewed is considered an open, even though no one has really looked at it," he said.

Plus, marketers must decide if they'll use unique opens—which count a recipient that has opened an e-mail three times, for instance, only as one open—or total opens, he said. "The metrics you get have so many layers of definitions," he added.

Delivery rates present a similar challenge, Hallerman said. Some mailers or ESPs use the total number of e-mails sent minus total failures; some use the number mailed less bad addresses; some say only those delivered to the in-box—not the spam folder—have been delivered.

"Even [with] base metrics like that, on which other metrics are often calculated, you have to know what definitions you're working with and which definitions your ESP is working with," Hallerman said.

Beyond that, marketers must look at some kind of a response, Hallerman said. "Looking at what, in the end, you're trying to do with a particular campaign or ongoing series of messages to your audience and tracking it back is both difficult and essential," he said.

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