When is an open email not an open email?

Stack of papers on a deskSince launching our feature forum as a place where we can better understand the demand for improvements to our products, we’ve had some really interesting conversations with clients that have helped us look differently at things we take for granted.

Just such an example arose recently around the discussion of how dotdigital reports email activity and how email marketers should monitor their campaigns.

So let’s look at the question that was posed:

When is an opened email not an opened email?

Once upon an email

In the early days of email, marketers used the ‘open’ metric as a way to differentiate email from other marketing channels and as a result, it was pushed hard as the channel’s key USP.

At the time, it was quite novel to be able to attribute an open to a recipient and have cradle to grave tracking of a marketing campaign – digital or otherwise.  Email was sold as the solution to the 50% problem – “I know 50% of my marketing spend is wasted. I just don’t know which 50%.”

Email was also the only channel where you knew who was sent the communication, who received it (as defined by ISP acceptance, which is also not the most accurate metric), who opened it, who clicked on it, and ultimately who bought as a result.

The times are a-changing

They were the days before default image blocking, so the only false negatives came from people who received plain text versions.  Now of course, the opportunities for false negatives are much greater with more email clients switching off images by default.  At the same time the use of the preview pain has increased the instances of false positives as rendering takes place automatically.

In the grander scheme of things, all the standard email stats (delivers, bounces, opens, clicks, etc.) are process metrics, which are useful for diagnosing the health of an individual campaign or even an entire programme, but (and this is where it gets interesting) it’s important to remember that these metrics are not a measure of an email’s effectiveness or a campaign’s success.  To really supply useful figures that prove success, you need to start looking at things like ROI and ROE (Return on Engagement).

It’s a debate that has been raging within the email community since the mid-2000s but was picked up in earnest by the US DMA in 2008:

Should we continue to call these things opens and if not then what are they and how should they be considered?

This has not really taken off in the UK market yet but we are closely monitoring it with interest. Would love to hear what the followers of this blog think and where they see the debate going in the future. How are you reporting the success of your email campaigns?

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