Road to e-mail hell paved with good intentions
E-mail's dirty little secret is out: Marketers can't always trust
their results. That's the inescapable conclusion looking at mailer
and e-mail service provider survey results in the white paper just
issued by the Email Experience Council (EEC) called "The State of
Email Metrics & Bounce Management."
As Deirdre Baird, president/CEO of Pivotal Veracity and chair of the
EEC Deliverability Roundtable that fielded the survey and published
the results, has said, "These results paint an alarming picture and
should serve as an industry wake-up call to address our inability to
define, calculate, view and act on key metrics."
The EEC survey findings hone in on widespread problems in three areas:
Conflicting metrics: No consistency in calculating key performance
metrics (delivery, open, click rates) makes it impossible to
establish industry benchmarks or compare results. Variance with the
delivery metric is particularly troubling since it's often used in
calculating other metrics.
Inconsistent bounce data and definitions: While Internet service
providers are rightly faulted for not providing accurate and
standardized bounce data, the lack of industry consensus on what the
key terms mean or how to apply them suggests that many marketers
couldn't make good use of the data anyway.
Inadequate bounce management: Everyone agrees that e-mail
deliverability is very important, but many lack the reporting systems
to see or understand their results and act on them. They're flying
I worked closely with Ms. Baird on this EEC initiative and would echo
her sentiments. The findings run counter to what I've always known
as a key tenet of direct marketing, namely that things should be
measurable. OK, things are measurable in e-mail, but what value are
measures if everyone is using a different yardstick and not
disclosing what yardstick they're using. Or saying it's the same
yardstick but using one with different markers or no markers at all.
So how did we get ourselves into this state? While it's human nature
to represent things in their best light, I don't believe deception is
the primary cause. Our metrics evolved over time as well-intentioned
mailers and service providers sought to measure things in the ways
they thought best using the tools (often not the best) at their
And while some methods may seem strange to me, I don't impugn the
motives of those who use them. All of us have opinions on the best
metrics to use, and that's precisely the problem. Our differing but
equally good intentions are leading to an e-mail hell for all of us.
Good intentions also don't cut it for those who lack adequate tools
to capture or report on the data that are needed to calculate the
metrics in the first place. They're probably already in e-mail hell
and will need more than a few "Hail Marys" to escape it.
So where do we go from here?
First, we have to admit our condition as the requisite step toward a
cure. Second, we have to look beyond our individual biases and
preferences in agreeing on the core metrics. Undoubtedly, this
second step will be the hardest. But if e-mail hell is the
alternative I believe it is, then we'll get over it. And let's be
honest about whose interests are served by perpetuating our current
metrics mess. It's certainly not the mailers and service providers
who are producing good results.
To facilitate industry consensus and be a catalyst for change, the
EEC is calling for a diverse task force to address this metrics
challenge. It would represent a cross-section of our industry -
mailers, service providers, trade groups, analysts and influencers -
with a mission to examine common calculation methods, identify terms
that more adequately describe the underlying metrics they represent,
educate the market on limitations inherent in each and provide
meaningful guidance on the ones most appropriate to different e-mail
marketing endeavors. I endorse this approach as our best path forward.
As said in the EEC white paper, e-mail and e-mail marketing have
grown up. E-mail is no longer the plaything of the techies, and e-
mail marketing is no longer a backroom operation targeting a niche
Today, e-mail is the pivot point for online communication and
commerce. And e-mail marketing is a significant, highly
sophisticated channel that drives serious revenue for companies.
Let's get our metrics aligned with that reality and get off the path
to e-mail hell. There's a much better place for us to end up.