Analytical Grit: Honestly Define Your Email Audience

May 1, 2016
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Psst! I can teach you a fail-proof way to lift your open rate to well above 50 percent, allowing you to produce some pretty spectacular trending charts and impress your marketing stakeholders.

What's more: you can begin seeing results with your very next campaign.

What marketing magic can accomplish this amazing feat?

It's easy. Simply redefine your audience to include only those who have opened your emails in the past 3 to 6 months.

Would I recommend following this advice? Not at all.

The Goal

Every email marketer has (or should have) the same overarching goal: Increase Conversions.

For content marketing-like newsletters or event outreach, this means increasing the number of visits to a website landing page or the number of webinar sign-ups. For retail email marketing, conversion is measured by the number of people who purchase and/or the revenue per thousand emails sent. When customers open your emails, it makes all of these more likely, but not guaranteed. You need subscribers to take one more step—to read, to click, to purchase.

Your definition of success will determine a lot about how you target your audience—and this is where the temptation comes in.

The Temptation

When open rate is too important, you may be tempted to cut back your audience to include only subscribers who open regularly. And it works! Open rates respond well… but opens are not the goal—conversions are.

This is not to say a high open rate isn’t a goal. A high open rate often corresponds to strong visitor and revenue streams. But if you put too much focus on opens, you leave out large areas of potential customer engagement.

Another reason to be wary is that email open rate has become a little squishy as a key performance indicator over the past few years, but that’s a discussion for a later date.

The Reality

Some people don’t open all of their emails. Let’s face it, lots of people don’t open marketing emails, and with the proliferation of marketing emails, this problem isn’t going away any time soon.

But don’t fear a lower open rate. Remember that there are different types of people in your audience. In fact, there are different audiences within your audience. Some engage frequently with marketing emails, and some don’t.

To build a successful email marketing practice, you need to keep the audiences within your audience in mind, and reach out to each of them regularly, sometimes with different messaging and on a different cadence.

For those who are used to and proud of their strong open rates, this could be a little painful, especially if you need to explain it to stakeholders.  

When you honestly define your email audience to include not only the engaged but also the may-need-a-nudge-to-engage and the don’t-engage-much, your open and click rates will definitely drop. On the bright side, you will be monitoring a truer picture of your marketing efforts and opening your program up to more potential growth.

The Tasks

To jump into the fray of outreach to not-that-into-you subscribers, you have some work to do:

  • Learn about the audiences within your audience. Analyze the data around those who are always easy to engage, and get a clearer understanding of those who don’t respond or those who respond only if the subject line or content is shocking or very special.
  • Create a wider variety of messaging to reach these different audiences. This can increase costs temporarily as you ramp up to reach a more complex audience. But the differentiation—which is really just segmentation marketing—leads to better understanding and better results
  • Test, test again, and then retest. You can look at the data and strategize, but no real knowledge will come until you test—as scientifically as possible. When marketers segment their audiences based on any specific audience information, the efforts are more successful. People don’t want email blasts that are the same for everyone.
  • Reconsider your audience on a regular basis. Should you expand it? Should you make it smaller? Always come back and align your goals, costs, and knowledge of the audiences to make sure you are hitting the sweet spot for your overall marketing strategy.

The Reward

Good News! Email is still a relatively inexpensive marketing channel and still boasts the highest ROI of any channel.  

So if you can live with a lower average open and click rates and send to a larger, more complex audience, you will set yourself on a solid path to continued growth.

As you work to engage those who are not already engaged, you will continue to expand your audience and true conversions rather than just pushing some lines upward on a chart.

For more about defining conversion and measuring success, be sure to keep tabs on Avinash Kaushik’s excellent blog, Occam’s Razor, and this classic post about measurement in email marketing, in particular.