How engaged are your customers with your brand? This seemingly simple question has puzzled email marketers for some time.

Most marketers have customer engagement listed as one of their top priorities. Engagement might even be the core of their email marketing strategy. But at the same time there is never been a clear definition of what email engagement actually is. Let alone what the most profitable way is to increase it.

Engagement email marketing

To actively improve email marketing email engagement we have to define what engagement means in the context of your business. And step two: find the best ways to improve it.

What defines customer interaction and engagement?

First let’s have a look at the stages of email marketing engagement.

The DMA discusses the different stages of email marketing engagement in their latest email marketing discussion paper. The stages shown here are (primary) Interest by subscription, Attention by opening emails and Action by clicking. Conversion is shown across all stages, because sales can happen even when not (measurably) engaged via email.

The email engagement stages are concentric circles for a reason. You cannot get to the highest stage of engagement without first passing the outer stages. Think of it as a funnel, but seen from above. A customer first needs to opt-in before they can receive your emails and open and click.

A better way to look at email engagement

Marketers tend to use the most easily accessible metrics, same for statistics that indicate email marketing engagement. The question is, are these the right metrics? Spoiler alert: not quite. Most often email marketers look at:
* confirmed open rate per send,
* click through rate per send,
* conversion rate per send.

Problem with these is that we should be measuring customers, not campaigns. So what is the alternative? The DMA proposes different metrics called open reach and click reach when measuring concerning email engagement. (download the email engagement white paper here)

– If it is customers we want to engage, then it is customers we must measure – not campaigns.
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The rationale is that customers exist for a longer period of time, receiving a series of communications and interacting multiple times. This means we should move away from campaign (single shot) based process metrics like confirmed open rate to gain insight into this longer relationship and the activity of the database as a whole.

Engagement Email marketing is more than just activity

As we see email engagement is about the activity in the customer relationship, including conversions. Therefore the different stages in email engagement can be used in the context of customer loyalty email marketing and taking a staged approach to improving email marketing conversions. More activity does not always mean an equal increase in revenue, but it is still often perceived to be.

Open Reach en Click Reach

So we want to know the level of activity across the complete email marketing base and gauge email marketing engagement. The DMA proposes a metric a marketer can use to increase the activity of his / her email database, called open reach. The same can be calculated for clicks called click reach.

I would have used a more descriptive name for the metric, so you instantly know what it means. Like for instance: cumulative unique confirmed opens. That way it would be in line with the SAME standards, but that is just a small detail. (Are you reading this Tim?)

Example of Open Reach versus confirmed opens

The open reach looks a lot like the open measurement per campaign. But the difference is that it is measured for a period of time. This totally changes the way we are going to optimize the open reach. You will be aiming for at least one interaction per customer, instead of the highest number of activity per email – a big difference. For instance, steps can be made to improve the match between email and audience for the non-responsive part of your email database.

In this example from the DMA paper, you see the number of opens. Dark green are the new opens, light green are the ones that have opened before. Although some of the campaigns do have a higher open rate, the increase in open reach is minimal

By sending that email, you are not increasing the email engagement of your total database, but are engaging more intensely with the same people over and over. If your goal was to increase engagement of the complete database, other action is needed. Especially on the inactive part, like changing to a better email send time or verifying emails.

Defining activity based email marketing engagement

Marketers have been using activity based analysis in email marketing, most commonly to signal the “super inactives” or “sleepers”. But the discussion about how to measure and increase email marketing engagement is long overdue. The writers of the DMA paper Tim Watson, Kath Pay, Skip Fidura and Dela Quist deserve credit for making people scratch behind their ears about the email marketing practices they have been using.

As Tim put it: “The need to overhaul email metrics is long overdue. Whilst email has involved massively in volume and sophistication metrics have not moved on. Classic open and clicks campaign metrics are no longer adequate. To move email forwards needs the industry to define a better measure of engagement.”

How are you measuring email marketing engagement? Do you agree we need to change and use other our metrics? Be sure to leave a comment below.

Image: Pexels Edmond Dantès CC0