Can Email Engagement Be Measured?

Open Reach Discussion Paper Cover

Download the ‘Open Reach’ Email Marketing Metrics Discussion Paper

Engagement is somewhat a holy grail for marketers, but what exactly is engagement? Is there one metric or set of metrics that can directly tell you whether or not a customer is engaging with your brand’s email efforts?

Some say that opening an email is a mark of engagement, others suggest that answering your call to action signifies engagement while some profess that sharing about your brand or discussing your brand online with friends is the only true sign that brand engagement has been successfully achieved.

‘Open Reach’: A New Way To Think About Email Marketing Metrics

The Direct Marketing Association (DMA), in a recent discussion paper (download right), have claimed that while all of the above metrics do constitute engagement in some way, ‘the challenge comes in measuring all of these engagement points, which ultimately cannot be 100% achieved’.

Email Has A Very Long Conversion Tail & Drives Sales In Other Channels…

It is important that marketers remember that as well as using all of the above metrics (which can be easily measured using platforms like dotMailer’s), email correspondence may actually drive interactions in other channels like in-store, via search or through your website. These interactions will not usually happen immediately after an email send, but at some point in the future.

As a result, the DMA say that ‘a re-think is needed’ because the metrics we currently use actually measure the engagement of individual campaigns and not how engaged our customers are. They go onto say that this error in measurement ‘promotes the wrong behavior in email marketing’.

Our Obsession With Open & Click Rates Is Making Us Blind…

The authors of the paper maintain that the real issue with the current metrics is that they don’t really take into account the customer base and how it is engaging over any given time.

It is of course true that a recipient of your emails  may open one email and still be engaged with your brand even if they don’t click, read or perform a call to action for months afterwards.

Marketers can (with relative ease) impact their campaign open rates positively by sending a segmented email; however, by doing this, we are not actually increasing upon the number of customers that opened the email.


The table, right (taken from the paper) illustrates this point well. It clearly demonstrates that although the campaign open rate is higher with a highly targeted email, there are actually less engaged customers.

So, What Is A True Measure Of Engagement?

The Magic Formula:Formula

The paper puts forward an interesting new Engagement Metric that measures customer interaction over time and across the whole customer base. They call this ‘open reach’ and calculate the customer engagement rate as:

Customers engaged in a quarter divided by the number of ‘mailable customers’

The length of time (we’ve used a quarter or 3 months in the above example) will vary depending on the sender’s frequency, says Dela Quist, one of the paper’s authors. Dela says that if you mail once a month, then you can use a year to measure your open reach, whereas if you send more frequently, every day for example, you ‘can do it in a shorter period, say a quarter or six months’.

If you’d like to read more from one of the discussion paper’s contributors, check out Skip Fidura’s blog: ‘Open Reach: Better, But It Wont Work For Everyone’

Also: feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn:

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