In the age of Mail Privacy Protection (MPP), high open rate is an increasingly empty goal, even for B2B brands that have much less exposure to MPP than their B2C counterparts.
But even prior to MPP, getting an open didn't necessarily mean that the subscriber found the email valuable—or that much (if any) time was spent considering the content of your email. After all, plenty of emails are opened and viewed for less than a second as subscribers flip through the messages in their inboxes.
To be fair, there are many scenarios in which an unopened email could generate positive subscriber actions, such as direct visits to your website and calls to your sales reps. But brands don't do a great job of connecting those dots, so such actions are rarely a spelled-out goal.
Regardless: no, getting a campaign opened isn't the most important job of an email marketer.
Perhaps it's a metric farther down the funnel...
To Get Your Campaign Clicked On?
Getting an email click is a much better measure of interest than an open. Because the body content of your email contains many more details than you can squeeze into your envelope content, a click is a much more reliable signal that recipients are truly interested in learning or reading more about what you're promoting.
For most email newsletters, a click is likely the most common campaign goal.
However, I'd argue that getting a click isn't the most important job of an email marketer, either.
To Get a Campaign Conversion?
Now that we're at the bottom of the interaction funnel, we've reached a metric that's truly aligned with business results. Whether it's an email conversion for a webinar signup or report download, for example, or a sales conversion, that conversion has value from a lead generation perspective or it has direct business value.
But even here, at the bottom of the funnel, there are problems.
First, conversion rates for a single email campaign are quite tiny. For B2B brands, sales cycles can be very long, so sales conversions can be far between for a single customer.
And second, B2B SaaS and services companies should be much more focused on customer retention as a marketing goal, which makes sales conversions an even less important goal for most email marketing campaigns.
Those facts lead to the realization that your most important goal as an email marketer is...
To Get the Next Email You Send Read!
Email marketing isn't about campaigns. It's about relationships. That's why the sender name of an email has a bigger impact on whether an email is read than the subject line.
Am I suggesting that ongoing email engagement is more important than conversions and revenue? No. I'm suggesting that if B2B email marketing programs have healthy open and click engagement rates, then conversions and revenue will naturally follow. They are a leading indicator of lots of beneficial developments.
For example, strong email engagement leads to...
- Better deliverability, because mailbox providers junk and block emails from brands that send to too many subscribers who haven't opened, clicked, or otherwise engaged with their emails in a long time
- Reduced list churn, because when subscribers are engaged, they're more likely to stay subscribed, which also boosts your list growth
- Expanded audiences, because more engaged subscribers make selecting active mailable audiences in the age of Mail Privacy Protection easier and safer
Watching your list churn and keeping it low is a great check on whether you're focusing too much on the email you just sent or focusing on respecting and retaining your subscribers so they read your next email.
It's the difference between maximizing a campaign and maximizing a relationship.
Short-Term, Campaign Focus vs. Long-Term, Relationship Focus
Let's look at a few examples of those two approaches in action.
1. Subject Lines
A campaign-focused approach would probably use a vague, "clever," open-bait-type subject line in the belief that if more subscribers open an email, then more subscribers will subsequently click.
On the other hand, a brand with a relationship-focus would use a subject line that clearly describes the content of the email. That allows subscribers to decide whether an email is relevant to them without needing to open it first.
Respecting a subscriber's time pays off in the long run: If subscribers feel like their time has been wasted or they've been tricked, they don't tend to stick around.
A campaign-focused approach would gravitate toward list-buying, contact-scraping, passive and hidden permission grants, and other tactics that often get B2B brands into deliverability trouble.
A relationship-first approach would focus on earning explicit opt-ins through helpful, valuable, and unique content.
3. Email Frequency
A campaign-focused approach would—perhaps unsurprisingly—want more campaigns, because even if a high-frequency depressed response rates, the total response would be higher. I've even heard proponents of that approach argue that You want unsubscribes, so turn up the frequency until all you're left with are your most die-hard fans.
However, a relationship focus would recognize that although some subscribers are hot leads or superfans, others aren't... at least, not yet. The former has value now, whereas the latter will have value in the future. The best approach, therefore, is to use segmentation and automation to ensure that subscribers receive emails at a frequency that matches their current engagement level and lead score.
A campaign-focused approach would zero in on the metrics of individual campaigns, typically viewing them in isolation.
A relationship focus wouldn't ignore campaign metrics, but it would also look at subscriber-centric metrics and list-health-oriented metrics, such as lifetime value, subscriber churn rate, distribution of subscriber tenures, MQL-to-SQL conversion rate, and click reach (i.e., percentage of subscribers clicking at least once in past 30 days, 90 days, etc.).
* * *
The premise at the root of this analysis is that brands—B2B brands, especially—are generally playing a long game with their email marketing, because their businesses are a long game.
Sure, everyone wants to maximize this quarter's sales, but prospects often take months or even years to convert. And once they do convert, the relationship with that customer hopefully spans many years, too, during which it needs nurturing.
The temptation to yield to short-term pressures can be tremendous, especially during downcycles. However, succumbing to those pressures has long-term costs, which for B2B email marketers include damage to your sender reputation and a smaller list size and active audience size.
All of those consequences lead directly to lower future revenue and lower customer satisfaction, weakening your competitiveness.
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