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10 Key Findings from IBM’s 2016 Email Benchmark Study

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by: Loren McDonald (@LorenMcDonald)
10 August 2016

Email BenchmarkIf you want deeper insights into today's email marketing landscape, just check the statistics in IBM Marketing Cloud's “2016 Email Marketing Metrics Benchmark Study,” which examined messages sent by nearly 750 companies and 3,000 brands in 40 countries.

Besides helping you benchmark your own email program on key metrics such as open and click rates and unsubscribes, this year's report also presents data you can use to focus your messages more successfully to different audiences and at different times of the year.

We present these findings several ways (mean, median, and top and bottom quartiles), across global regions (seven geographic areas) and sliced by industry vertical (17 total) for more detailed and precise comparisons.  

Following are a few highlights from the report:

Open Rates

1) The mean unique open rate was 21.8 percent across all senders, 41.6 percent across the top quartile senders and 7.9 percent in the bottom quartile.

2) Emails sent in the Schools & Education category had the highest open rates with a mean 30.9 percent across all senders. Although not the lowest, Retail & Ecommerce (20.5 percent) and Media & Publishing (19.3 percent) are near the bottom, typically a result of their higher sending frequency.

3) Among top senders, the average transactional email open rate shot up to 73.5 percent, confirming the huge opportunity for marketers to drive additional interactions within these high-engagement emails.

Click-Through Rates

4) Mean click-through rates on transactional emails were more than twice non-transactional messages: 8.8 percent versus 3.3 percent.

5) The mean click-to-open rate, which measures click-through rates on opened email messages, was 13 percent for all senders and 29.5 percent for top-quartile senders.

List Churn Metrics

6) Among top-quartile senders hard bounces barely register, but they reach 1.83 percent for senders in the bottom 25 percent.

7.) The overall mean unsubscribe rate is 0.127 percent. As with hard bounces, top-quartile performers recorded virtually no unsubscribes, while the rate hit 0.199 percent for bottom-quartile performers.

For additional open, click-through and list churn metrics, including regional/industry breakdowns, download the full report.

New Research: Holiday Metrics, Client/Device Usage and Engagement Rates

IBM Marketing Cloud's 2016 benchmark study looked at several new statistics. Below are three sets of findings from those data studies:

1) Nearly half of all email messages around the world are read on mobile devices.

For the first time, we compared how recipients across geographies and industries differ in how they access their email (via webmail, mobile or desktop) and how much time they spend looking at messages, which we characterized as the "engagement/read rate."

Client/device usage: The UK and “Rest of World” regions had the highest mobile readership, at roughly 55 percent. Canada and Australia & New Zealand topped the desktop readership category, with each area tallying 25 percent.

Engagement/read rate: Among industry sectors, Retail & Ecommerce (47 percent) and Schools & Education (43 percent) had the lowest “Read” rates (recipients spent at least eight seconds looking at them) as well as the highest “Glanced” rates (read more than two seconds but less than eight).

Tip: If your read rates are lower than average, test a more visual approach to your messages and incorporating customer-centric content that adds value and isn’t just focused on selling.

2) Non-holiday emails outperformed holiday-period messaging.

In the Retail & Ecommerce sector, we compared open, click and list churn rates on holiday emails – those sent during the heavy shopping period corresponding to the roughly six weeks from the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday through Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve – versus non-holiday messages.

The mean open rate was 18.8 percent lower during the holiday season, and the mean click-through rate was 28.6 percent lower for holiday messages.

Tip: Personalization is essential in heavy email periods. Use the data you have on your customers – their behavior as well as their preferences – to create personalized and therefore more meaningful and valuable messages.

3) The “frequency math effect” surfaced.

Thinking about the results we just reported, does it suggest that you should pull back on frequency of holiday messaging? 

Not necessarily. You might be seeing the "frequency math effect" in action:

Tip: Look at both per-message statistics and cumulative metrics for an entire period to gauge the impact of frequency variations. This way, you’ll be able to more accurately determine whether cadence changes have driven an overall net positive or a negative impact.

Want more? Check out the full “2016 Email Marketing Metrics Benchmark Report,” get all the charts, and discover tips for turning these numbers into action.

More Email Marketing Tips:

1) Tip Sheet: “Transactional Emails: 10 Tips for Driving Value and Engagement

2) Blog: “4 Strategies That Bring Customers Back to Buy Again and Again

3) Ebook: “15 Post-Purchase Emails That Build Loyalty and Drive Revenue


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