Virtually all marketers face some challenges with their email marketing, according to a study [download page] from Return Path and Demand Metric. The survey indicates that marketers – who use email primarily to communicate with customers and prospects and to build brand awareness – are struggling most with the competition for attention in the inbox.
This challenge is unlikely to recede: one analysis forecasts daily business email volume to grow by 4% annually from 2017 through 2021.
But while marketers are tasked with standing out in the inbox, few are employing competitive intelligence as a means to gain an advantage. In fact, fewer than half of respondents have visibility into any of the following advanced intelligence data points: the days of the week that are busiest for their subscribers; which other brands are emailing their subscribers; and their competitors’ campaign metrics.
Many also fail to monitor their competitors’ efforts. Fully two-thirds (65%) of respondents with below-average open rates don’t monitor such efforts, and about half (47%) of those with above-average open rates also fail to do so.
The most common way of checking up on the competition is by subscribing to their lists using an alias, a method employed by 30% of respondents that enjoy above-average open rates. (Previous research has likewise found this to be the most common tactic for monitoring the competition, as well as being judged the most important.)
What Marketers With Above-Average Open Rates Do
If inbox competition is the main challenge, then it stands to reason that the goal is to stand out enough to at least generate an email open. So what are marketers with above-average open rates doing that their less-successful peers aren’t?
The study divided respondents into 2 groups: those with open rates above a DMA benchmark of 16%, and those failing to meet that rate. Both groups, interestingly enough, were about equally likely to say that inbox competition is a challenge, suggesting that success in driving opens doesn’t mean that marketers can relax.
Nonetheless, the results show that the groups diverge in their efforts in some interesting ways.
Both sets of marketers employ email personalization to the same degree: two-thirds of each group count this as an email marketing tactic. But those with above-average open rates are more likely than those with below-average rates to engage in email list management (70% vs. 64%), with this being the leading tactic among the group with above-average open rates.
In fact, marketers with above-average open rates are more likely than the others to adhere to several email marketing best practices surrounding email list maintenance. Those range from honoring “opt out” requests to validating email addresses and ensuring that invalid emails have been removed. Worth noting is that participants with above-average open rates are half as likely as those with below-average rates to purchase email addresses to add to their list.
The more successful marketers (in terms of open rates) are also more apt to use inbox placement technology and blacklist technology. Additionally, they are more likely to report appearing on certified whitelists and to have gone through an email certification process, though fewer than half have done each of those.
Finally, the biggest gaps in email tactic use between both groups relate to A/B testing, email deliverability optimization and multivariate testing, each of which are performed by at least 50% more of the group with above-average open rates.
Other Email Marketing Challenges
Of course, getting attention in the inbox is just one challenge, albeit the leading one, and marketers face other obstacles too.
The second-most cited challenge experienced by marketers is simply staffing/resourcing constraints. That brings to mind an email marketing study last year in which 64% of marketers said they don’t have enough time or personnel to do the marketing they would like. It may be that marketers are hoping to employ many of the tactics listed above, but don’t have the time or the money to do so. Few seem to be relying on outside help, too, as just 28% say they outsource to support their email marketing efforts, whether exclusively (2%) or in tandem with in-house efforts (26%).
Beyond competition for attention and resource constraints, fewer marketers indicated that they are experiencing challenges in other areas. Only about one-quarter are having trouble with poorly defined metrics (26%) or low visibility into email performance (26%). Similarly, just 1 in 4 report email deliverability issues (25%) – despite room for improvement in this area – or poor email performance.
However, in each of those cases marketers with below-average open rates are seeing more problems than those with above-average open rates.
On an encouraging note, just 1 in 7 survey respondents (14%) are facing issues with lack of executive buy-in. Perhaps they can use that buy-in to obtain more budget?
About the Data: The Return Path and Demand Metric results are based on 428 responses collected, of which 290 were complete enough for inclusion in the analysis. Half of the respondents come from mostly or entirely B2B-focused companies, compared to 20% at mostly or entirely B2C companies and 23% at those targeting a blend of B2B and B2C.