Email Benchmarks & Measurement Challenges

Inability to measure/prove return on investment (ROI) represents a major obstacle to securing digital investment.1 Unfortunately, almost half of all email program owners are not confident about their ability to measure (ROI).1 In a recent webinar we polled the audience with this question and their responses were consistent with broader industry research:


In this article, I’ll summarize a range of great recent research that validates email’s continued #1 ranking when it comes to delivering ROI. I’ll also explain some of the challenges that increasingly make measuring email ROI tougher than expected!


For program owners defending the effectiveness of email as a direct marketing channel, here are some good news numbers from recent benchmark reports:

  • 90% say email performs an important strategic role for their businesses.2
  • 82% of marketing programs use email for promotional campaigns.3
  • Almost 2/3 of marketing budget holders are increasing email spend in 2015.3
  • 3 out 5 attribute at least 10% of total customer spend to their email programs.4
  • Email has the lowest cost per acquisition (CPA) for all major direct marketing channels.3
  • Email has the highest ROI for all major direct marketing channels.3
  • 2 out of 3 respondents rank email as “excellent” or “good” for ROI effectiveness.4
  • The average order value (AOV) generated by email is $182.5
  • The implicit value of an email address is $0.08 per broadcast.5
  • 30% of email program revenue is now generated by triggered emails.2
  • The majority of email marketing revenue will come from [this source] when more than 5% of email volume is triggered emails.6

So there’s a really strong case for brands to critically evaluate their lower performing direct marketing channels (mobile, telephone, social, PPC, direct email, etc.) and re-direct more budget to their email programswhich are clearly most effective when it comes to delivering ROI.

However, while these stats are great for email in general, program owners must also be able to prove the same holds true for their own activity, and this is where things can start to get a bit more difficult!

Measurement challenges

Email has always been highly valued by its practitioners for measurability, and this still holds trueonly PPC/paid Search ranks better in this regard.1 However, the increasingly multi-channel behavior of consumers makes measurement a more complex task. Here are some reasons why:

  • Opens, click-throughs, and conversions are still the most commonly-used metrics for evaluating email effectiveness.7 The results from our poll was consistent with this research too:


  • Worryingly, program owners are less focused on metrics that measure the long-term health of their liststhis includes KPIs such as opt-out/complaint rates, bounce rates, and inactivity rates, all of which scored <20%.7
  • However, less than half of consumers now say they will click-through from an interesting email.8 (This measure will be substantially worse for less interesting emails!)
  • Common alternatives include: going to the website via another route (35%); going to a shop (30%); visiting a comparison website (15%); and reviewing social feedback (5%).
  • 3 out of every 4 will at least occasionally read the subject line and then delete the unopened email. 2 out of 5 do this regularly.8
  • Almost 20% will register a spam complaint as a result of a bad customer experience or loss of trust in the brand.8

It’s clear the most commonly monitored email metrics are becoming less reliable indicators of effectiveness. Merely being present in the inbox may be enough to create awareness, subscribers may take multiple routes to purchase and external factors – which program owners can’t control – exert influence over subscriber behavior.  

Value metrics

The missing measurement piece is usually the ability to map a financial value against each key performance indicator. What is the value of a delivered email?  An open? A click-through? What is the value of an email address? This was another question we posed:


This highlights the value of a metric like Experian’s “revenue per email” ($0.08). From a number like this, “revenue per open”, “revenue per click”, and “lifetime value” can all be calculated. Most major email platforms will offer some form of “track to purchase” reporting, and we highly recommend implementing this functionality if possible.

But while this is easy to talk about in theory, it’s often harder to achieve in practice and we regularly work with our customers to help them measure and prove the value of their email activities. Watch for part 2 of this series where we’ll consider how to build an email ROI model, what to do if there isn’t a direct relationship between email effectiveness and sales revenue, and the challenges that are posed by attribution.


  1. Econsultancy Marketing Budgets Report 2015
  2. DMA National Client Email Report 2015
  3. DMA Response Rate Report 2015
  4. Econsultancy Email Marketing Industry Census 2014
  5. Experian Marketing Services Quarterly Email Benchmark Report Q1 2015
  6. Salesforce Marketing Cloud Blog (Chad White – “The New Litmus Test: Do You Have a Great Email Marketing Program?”)
  7. Salesforce Marketing Cloud State of Marketing Report 2015
  8. DMA Email Tracking Report 2014

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