Chapter 1: Don’t obsess over benchmark studies, but do obsess over making your benchmarks.

Welcome to a new series at iPost called “Don’t do this, do that.”, where some of the best minds in email marketing will use dozens of years of both client, agency, and ESP experience to guide you the email marketer with pragmatic advice.

Chapter 1:

It seems like you cannot go a quarter without hearing from a variety of vendors around their benchmark studies for email engagement. Typically, these studies are used as lead generation for their sales teams because we as marketers are obsessed with numbers and, more importantly, are curious as to how we compare to others. The enormous ego boost we get when we look at the benchmark numbers and know we beat them causes us to peacock around in meetings and add it as a line to our resume when we want a bigger and better job. However, suppose we are below the benchmarks. In that case, we like quickly question the statistical significance and the sample size, all to discredit that particular study to make us feel better.

Either way, benchmark studies make us want to feel good about our email programs, and that my fellow email marketer is a slippery slope.

Benchmark studies serve a purpose for the vendor but not for the industry as a whole. First, vendors might use Open or Click rate numbers but calculate them differently, and in most cases, these studies don’t typically tell you how they calculate their open or clicks. Yes, vendors, iPost included, have their way of calculating an open or click rate, so it’s crucial to align the study calculations with your business. Second, as mentioned above, these studies often serve as a lead generation tool for their sales team, and while I am not personally against that, you as the marketer should be aware of it.

Over the years, I have been asked by marketers how they compare to others in their industry, and while I am always happy to oblige with numbers, I also caution clients not to obsesses over them.

If you want something to obsesses over, then benchmark yourself from the past years of data that you have and strive to exceed one or many metrics year over year as your program grows. If you look at a benchmark study and notice that your open rate isn’t on par with the average open rate for your industry, who cares? Companies don’t make money on open rates, and in my opinion, open rate is the weakest metric for you to obsess over.

It is time for you to make a commitment in 2021 and beyond to look at the last 3-5 years of your program’s engagement numbers and create your benchmark study. It will save you from potentially misleading stats as a way to make you feel good.