When you saw the headline for this post, what did you think? Perhaps you thought…
To Get Your Campaign Opened?
In the age of Mail Privacy Protection, that’s an increasingly empty goal, even for B2B brands that have much less exposure to MPP than their B2C counterparts. But even prior to MPP, getting an open didn’t necessarily mean that the subscriber found the email valuable—or indeed that they spent much if any time considering the content of your email. After all, plenty of emails are opened and viewed for less than a second as subscribers flip through the messages in their inboxes.
To be fair, there are many scenarios where an unopened email generates positive subscriber actions, like direct visits to your website and calls to your sales reps. But brands don’t do a great job of connecting those dots, so it’s rarely a spelled-out goal.
Regardless, no, getting a campaign opened isn’t the most important job of an email marketer. Perhaps a metric farther down the funnel?
To Get Your Campaign Clicked?
Getting an email click is a much better measure of interest than an open. Since the body content of your email contains many more details than you can squeeze into your envelope content, a click is a much more reliable signal that they’re truly interested in learning or reading more about what you’re promoting.
For most email newsletters, a click is likely the most common campaign goal. However, I’d argue that getting a click isn’t the most important job of an email marketer either.
To Get a Campaign Conversion?
Now that we’re at the bottom of the interaction funnel, we’ve reached a metric that’s truly aligned with business results. Whether it’s an email conversion for a webinar signup or report download, for example, or a sales conversion that has either value from a lead generation perspective or direct business value.
But even here, at the bottom of the funnel, there are problems. First, conversion rates for a single email campaign are quite tiny. For B2B brands, sales cycles can be very long, so sales conversions can be far between for a single customer. And second, B2B SaaS and services companies should be much more focused on customer retention as a marketing goal, which makes sales conversions an even less important goal for most email marketing campaigns.
Those facts help us realize that your most important job as an email marketer is…
To Get the Next Email You Send Read!
Email marketing isn’t about campaigns. It’s about relationships. That’s why the sender name of an email has a bigger impact on whether an email is read than the subject line.
Am I suggesting that ongoing email engagement is more important than conversions and revenue? No. I’m suggesting that if B2B email marketing programs have healthy open and click engagement rates, then conversions and revenue will naturally follow.
They are a leading indicator of lots of beneficial developments. For example, strong email engagement leads to:
Watching your list churn and keeping it low is a great check on whether you’re focusing too much on the email you just sent or focusing on respecting and retaining your subscribers so they read your next email. It’s the difference between maximizing a campaign and maximizing a relationship.
Short-Term vs. Long-Term Focus
Let’s look at a few examples of these two approaches in action.
Subject lines. A campaign-focused approach would probably use a vague, “clever,” open bait–type subject line in the belief that if more subscribers open an email, then more subscribers will subsequently click.
On the other hand, a brand with a relationship-focus would use a subject line that clearly describes the content of the email. That would allow subscribers to decide if an email is relevant to them without needing to open it first. Respecting a subscriber’s time pays off in the long run, because if subscribers feel like their time has been wasted or that they’ve been tricked, they don’t tend to stick around.
List building. A campaign-focused approach would gravitate toward list buying, contact scraping, passive and hidden permission grants, and other tactics that often get B2B brands into deliverability trouble. A relationship-first approach would focus on earning explicit opt-ins through helpful, valuable, and unique content.
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Email frequency. A campaign-focused approach would—perhaps unsurprisingly—want more campaigns, because even if a high frequency depressed response rates, the total response would be higher. I’ve even seen proponents of this approach argue that You want unsubscribes, so turn up the frequency until all you’re left with are your most die-hard fans.
However, a relationship-focus would recognize that while some subscribers are hot leads or superfans, others aren’t…at least not yet. The former has value now, while the latter will have value in the future. The best approach here is to use segmentation and automation to ensure that subscribers receive emails at a frequency that matches their current engagement level and lead score.
Metrics. A campaign-focused approach would zero in on the metrics of individual campaigns, typically viewing them in isolation. A relationship-focus wouldn’t ignore campaign metrics, but would also look at subscriber-centric metrics and list health-oriented metrics, such as lifetime value, subscriber churn rate, distribution of subscriber tenures, MQL-to-SQL conversion rate, and click reach (i.e., percentage of subscribers clicking at least once in past 30 days, 90 days, etc.).
At the root of all of this is the fact that brands—and B2B brands, especially—are generally playing a long-game with their email marketing, because their businesses are a long-game. Sure, everyone wants to maximize this quarter’s sales, but prospects often take months or even years to convert. And once they do convert, the relationship with that customer hopefully spans many years, too, during which it needs nurturing.
The temptation to yield to short-term pressures can be tremendous, especially during downcycles. However, succumbing to those pressures has long-term costs, which for email marketers include damage to your sender reputation and a smaller list size and active audience size. All of those directly lead to lower future revenue and lower customer satisfaction, weakening your competitiveness.
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Chad S. White is the Head of Research at Oracle Marketing Consulting and the author of four editions of Email Marketing Rules and nearly 4,000 posts about digital and email marketing. A former journalist, he’s been featured in more than 100 publications, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Advertising Age. Chad was named the ANA's 2018 Email Marketer Thought Leader of the Year. Follow him on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Mastodon.