It’s true. Your email marketing open rate is wrong.

If you’ve paid much attention to the debate over the accuracy of that metric during the last several years, you probably already know that. If not, the basic premise of the challenge is that an open is really just a “rendering” or “downloading” of image(s), meaning there are a number of ways that your email can be consumed without it being counted as an open (i.e. text version, image-disabled preview, etc.). Conversely, a good number of your opens are likely emails that hit an inbox where images were enabled in the preview, but the email was given no actual attention by the user.

That’s not to say that watching your open rate isn’t useful, and at here at DEG we would never tell you not to measure it. In fact, using the open rate as a sort of Dow Jones-esque indicator of the overall trend of your program is quite valid. The future of inbox measurement, though, is not in the open rate, or even necessarily in the long-heralded click-through rate, though the latter will continue to be a KPI for email marketing’s foreseeable future.

The new school of email analytics is far more about a combination of data points that marketers have been empowered to view by a recent wave of innovations by companies like Litmus, Return Path, and Moveable Ink. These new capabilities allow us to measure:

What mobile devices and/or email clients were used to read the email: Was your email viewed in Outlook? In Gmail? On an iPhone? How about Android devices? The answer is probably yes to all of these, but we now have the ability to see the precise breakdown of what technologies are being used to access and consume our email content. The impact of having this visibility can manifest as creative optimization, content hierarchy, segmentation strategies, and much more. For most email marketers, this will prove the most important advancement in analytics and measurement since the first click tracking in the early days of email as a marketing channel.

Where the email was opened: New measuring capabilities allow us to understand exactly what our geographic distribution of readership looks like for any given email. For brands that may have little understanding of where their subscribers live, work, and travel, this information can be especially enlightening. Understanding where your subscribers are consuming your communications can open a world of content relevancy opportunities. For example, if 25% of your list is consistently opening your emails in French-speaking Canada, perhaps you should consider offering a French version of your communications.

Whether or not the email was read: Of the emails that are reported as opened, you can now understand how many users actually read through the email, how many simply scanned the content, and how many opened and immediately closed the email without consuming any content.

If the email was deleted: In addition to knowing whether the email was actually read, we can also see whether it was deleted. This has particular importance when considering the impact of inbox engagement on deliverability. If your email is consistently being deleted without being opened or read, it can negatively impact your access to the inbox, and it may be time to reduce frequency to a segment, or cut bait altogether.

Whether the email was shared: Many marketers have been tracking forwards for years using forward-to-a-friend mechanisms referenced within their email creative as a call-to-action. However, the typical user is far more inclined to use the forwarding capability native to his/her desktop, webmail, or mobile email client. Thanks to new tools, we can now see the total number of times our emails are being forwarded using both methods.

If the email was printed: Even with the sharp rise in smartphone adoption and the coinciding advancement of mobile-friendly point-of-sale technologies, many brick-and-mortar companies still rely heavily on prompting customers to print an email for some form of on-premise redemption or exchange. In the past, our only visibility into this conversion process had been comparing opens to redemptions, leaving the question of whether our creative was successfully prompting the print action. Now, we can see that additional step of the process, helping us to identify the proper optimization points.

All of these advancements represent opportunities to optimize your email marketing, but successfully leveraging them requires good planning, a solid learning agenda, and dedication to testing. Welcome to the new school.

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