There’s more to understanding customer engagement than opens and clicks.
“Customer engagement” is a big buzz in marketing circles lately. But what does it truly mean, particularly in terms of your email marketing efforts? Many financial services marketers define email engagement solely with open and click-thru rates. But digging deeper can give you a more complete picture of how much your customers are interacting with your emails and how effective your email campaigns are in building and maintaining those valuable relationships.
Why Financial Email Engagement Matters
Building customer engagement with your emails is critical for a number of reasons. For one thing, internet service providers (ISPs) consider a recipient’s interactions with a sender’s email when determining sender reputations. A good reputation can help increase inbox delivery for all of your emails. That’s important not just for marketing content, but also when you need to send news, alerts and other time-sensitive information.
In addition, when recipients engage with your emails, they increase personal awareness with and connection to your brand. They learn to recognize your communications in their inbox and are more prone to open them based on past positive experiences. This improves the chances that your messages will reach their intended audience and, ideally, lead to increased interaction and conversions.
Finally, by tracking all the components of customer email engagement, you learn what is and isn’t working. You can then use that knowledge to keep improving the creative, messaging, offers, calls to action and other email elements to maximize performance and results.
7 Essential Financial Email Engagement Metrics
There is, unfortunately, no single metric that lets you measure email engagement in one fell swoop. Instead, you need to paint the picture by viewing multiple key performance indicators (KPIs), like the seven defined below. Most if not all email deployment platforms track the first six of these metrics automatically, making it fairly simple to keep tabs on them. How you track the seventh, conversions, will depend on your objectives and in-house capabilities.
Note that we’re also including some financial services benchmarks for each metric, based on an IBM Marketing Cloud study.1
This is the number of people who open your email divided by either the total number of emails sent or the number successfully delivered. Typically, open rates are based on an email’s from field and subject line, although preheader and preview copy can also influence the rate. Opens can be defined in different ways. For instance, some platforms don’t record an open if images don’t download or if the email is viewed only in the preview pane. Thus, it’s not one of the most reliable measurements available.
- Benchmark: 23.3%
Click-thru rate (CTR)
This is the number of clicks on links within an email divided by the number of emails successfully delivered. This metric is connected to the email’s copy, graphics, overall design and calls to action. However, since it’s based on delivered — but not necessarily opened — emails, it can also be influenced by factors that impact opens, such as the subject line.
- Benchmark: 12.0%
It’s interesting to note that a single email can have a fairly low click-thru number compared to its CTOR.
What’s more, an email can have a high click rate with a lower open rate, yet still have a good CTOR. Yet, a good open rate with low clicks can push down CTOR.
In Real Life: What a Click Can Tell You
Click rates (CTR or CTOR) tell you about more than engagement. They give you a glimpse into your clients’ interests and what’s relevant to them. It can also inform your design choices and help determine whether non-critical links should stay or go.
When CCG helped a healthcare financing company analyze the clicks for its cardholder newsletter, we found:
- “My Account” was the most clicked link, indicating that people wanted account information — and that this peripheral link should be a keeper
- At least two to three of the four newsletter articles ranked among the top four links in every issue, showing that cardholders were highly engaged with the value-add content
- In fact, readers consistently clicked more on value-add content compared to stories related to the company
- Each newsletter article was targeted to a different audience segment; analyzing clicks by segment showed that each segment had the highest clicks for its targeted article
- Read – email is open for 8 seconds or more
- Skim – open for 3-7 seconds
- Glance/Delete – open for 2 seconds or less
In general, a longer read time equates to greater engagement. However, Email On Acid points out:
“[A] higher skim rate is not always a bad thing! If someone opens an email and the text is concise and the call-to-action is crystal clear, they may only need to read the email for 3-7 seconds before taking action and clicking through.”
A short read time combined with a high click-thru rate or high CTOR still indicates a highly engaged reader.
- Benchmark (read rate):18.0%
In Real Life: Smashing the Average
As part of our comprehensive analysis of the healthcare financing company’s multiple email campaigns over a year, CCG found that the average read rate was well above average.
- Read = 67%
- Skim = 15%
- Glance/Delete = 18%
Forwards and Unsubscribes
These both measure interaction, but in opposite ways. You want a higher number of forwards, which shows engagement since customers value your email enough to share it. On the other hand, a high unsub rate shows your recipients are disenchanted with what you’re sending. It’s a red flag for you to assess not only your emails, but also your list, frequency, timing and overall email communication strategy.
- Benchmark (unsubscribes):0.14%
A conversion is perhaps the ultimate sign of email engagement. After all, it means someone has opened the email, clicked on your call to action and followed through on that action.
While we often think of conversions in terms of dollars, they can relate to any objective that you have for your email or campaign. It could be stated in terms of downloads, website traffic, form completions, offers used, accounts opened, information requested, event registrations and so on.
Financial Email Engagement: The Long View
Customer engagement is a long-term prospect. So it makes sense to measure email engagement not only for a single deployment or even over one campaign, but over an extended period that includes multiple emails and campaigns. This gives you a much more accurate view of total customer engagement with your email program as a whole, versus gauging the effectiveness of one email. After all, a customer may not engage with one email, but could interact with three others. By taking a long-term view, you’ll see this type of information.
Many organizations define long-term engagement by the number of customers who have opened or clicked in an email within a specific time period, such as three or six months.
It’s important to note that email engagement tends to be higher when someone is newer on your email list — for instance, a new customer or a new subscriber to your e-newsletter. Over time, it’s normal to see engagement drop off. But by spotting this trend, you can also take action to re-engage those customers before they completely disappear.
Financial Email Engagement: New Perspectives
Taking a long-term view is just one way to gain different and valuable perspectives on your customers’ email engagement behaviors. You can also consider engagement based on:
- Customer segments
- Specific messages and offers
- Viewing device (e.g., desktop, mobile, web)
- Webmail platforms (e.g., Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo!)
Taking these views into account along with the seven essential engagement metrics discussed earlier will help you better understand what’s working and what’s not, giving you the opportunity to make improvements and increase your customers’ email engagement. And when you improve engagement, you also gain valuable information for enhancing your efforts to build and maintain customer relationships overall.
In Real Life: The Power of Creative
When evaluating email engagement metrics, it’s easy to focus on content, which does play a critical role in determining opens, clicks and read time. But all the elements of design can also strongly influence engagement.
For the healthcare financing company’s e-newsletter, CCG ran a test of the control design against a creative refresh, which altered how the story teasers were presented. The challenger won, boosting CTR on the teasers by 9 percent and CTOR by 12 percent. In addition, the click pattern itself altered in the new version — it had nearly double the percentage of clicks on the main article, which was now positioned in the upper left rather than across the top as the header or hero image.
Customer engagement isn’t just this year’s buzz term. It’s essential to building deeper, longer-lasting customer relationships. If you need help evaluating or enhancing your financial email engagement, we can help. CCG’s financial marketing experts have more than 40 years of expertise in building customer relationships. Our capabilities and services connect strategy, data analytics and creative — including email content, development, coding, deployment and testing.