We watch our open rates. We track our clickthroughs. But do we really know who we’re e-mailing?
When we capture the all-important e-mail address, we’ve gained access to that person’s inbox (and, ideally, her approval — or at least an absence of disapproval) in order to communicate with her.
Then we start sending e-mails … and more e-mails — and, for too many of us, we never look back. Yes, we track open rates, clickthrough rates, donations, number of new e-mail addresses and on and on. We do a great job of accumulating e-mail addresses and analyzing campaigns.
But we’re leaving out an important part of the analysis if we don’t look at the behavior behind the e-mail address.
Who is the person opening and clicking? Does she click through every e-mail or just the ones that ask her to take action? Is she opening the e-mail and then abandoning it? Does she rally her friends around her cause? Does she download the video? Does she also participate offline?
In the direct-marketing world, we always have had only one goal in mind: Secure a donation. And so our analysis has taken us to ever-expanding realms to understand the triggers for a donor to make a gift. We not only analyze the campaign — from the creative and the technique to the timing and seasonality — but we also analyze the donor’s behavior and the actions each donor takes leading up to her most recent gifts. It’s time we apply those insights to our e-mail lists.
Here are three key metrics and reports to better understand your e-mail subscribers.
1. Overall activity of the file. This isn’t about how many people opened a particular campaign, but how many have opened anything in 12 months or more.
In DM we have proven time and again that recency, frequency and amount are the holy grail of segmentation and the likely triggers for another gift. As a result of these factors and their predictive impact on whether a donor will respond again, we “lapse” donors and decide when we are no longer going to communicate with them in the same way we do with our “active” donors.
Given the very low cost to send an e-mail, the prevailing mindset has been to keep sending to every e-mail address on the list regardless of activity. However, if a large portion of the subscriber base has not opened or clicked through an e-mail in 12 months or more, it’s time to rethink the contact strategy for this group. These people should be treated like potential prospects or removed from the list.
2. Time to engage. The average length of time between acquiring the e-mail address and the addressee opening an e-mail has particular meaning for evaluating new subscribers. The shorter this time period, the more active the e-mail account likely will be. Based on the findings, strategies can be developed to encourage the second engagement.
3. Length of engagement. By analyzing the amount of time from the first e-mail activity to the last open or click, we can establish the average life of an e-mail address and begin to understand how long people stay engaged with our program. This will allow for better acquisition planning. It also makes sense to look at how consistently subscribers engage. Do most cycle in and out of engagement? Can the list be segmented into loyal, seasonal and event-driven segments? Or readers, activists and donors? Whatever the segmentation, the goal is to understand the behavior of the e-mail subscribers and communicate with them appropriately.
A valuable supporter might be a person who spreads the word about a program, but it also might be someone who makes one sizable gift per year, or someone who signs a petition on important issues. Understanding each supporter’s individual value will strengthen your relationships with them and improve results.
Churn and the reasons for it
Take a look at the portion of the file that cannot be e-mailed successfully. Are people being lost from bounceback, unsubscribe or abuse? Analyze the attrition. If most of the e-mail list attrition is due to bouncing back, there are steps that can be taken. The e-mail addresses can be run through an e-mail change-of-address program (ECOA). Stronger e-mail syntax checking can be included when e-mail addresses are acquired on the Web site. Or if the bounce-back rate is particularly high, an alternate e-mail address can be requested at the time of acquisition.
If unsubscribe and/or abuse are the largest sources of list attrition, review current e-mail practices and evaluate the frequency and content of the communications. Are you e-mailing too often? Is the content stale? Surveying unsubscribers just before they opt out can provide valuable insight.
When we look beyond one campaign or one clickthrough and focus on longer-term activity, we can begin to design e-mail strategies tailored to the individual e-mail address and, in turn, cultivate a better e-mail subscriber — and eventually a better e-mail donor. The person behind that e-mail will appreciate that fact that you know who they are. FS