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Email Council: Data Hygiene

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We asked the DMA Email Council to discuss the following statement “marketing teams have objectives and KPIs around volume. This goes against what we know about data quality and effectiveness.”

We wanted to know if it was true and if so, what we could do to change it.

Here's the verdict.

This topic came about from a discussion at the Email Council regarding a company that became blacklisted at Spamhaus, making them consider their KPIs and data hygiene very carefully.

So here we go…buckle up and hold on tight, this one’s a thrill ride.

For years we have explored the universe, eaten sliced white bread, made a clear definition between genders and regarded open rates as a success metric of email campaigns.

But that has all changed.

It’s a very old mindset, and indeed a short-term view to run KPIs or even depend upon list volume as being one of the main elements needed to hit targets, certainly without any reference to list health and engagement levels.

The fact is that even pre-GDPR, campaigns that relied on a blanket approach to vast amounts of data were hugely outperformed by those carried out to targeted, segmented data sets. Not including the blanket approach or fuzzy marketing in terms of not knowing anything, but including those with loose data matches, against those where behavioural metrics are considered to measure the health of the list in terms of its activity and engagement levels.

In fact, for the smaller businesses out there, list volume is seen as a way to justify spend on email marketing.

Without the volume, it becomes more expensive and many of these smaller businesses seem to think the volume, regardless of any behavioural activity, is pivotal to the effectiveness of a campaign.

It’s understandable until you sit down and analyse where the engagement levels are coming from, however, this kind of investment in time and software makes it a catch 22 situation, and it's often easier and cheaper to just crop-dust those data sets and see what lands.

In real terms it’s a false economy as a proper strategy would reap bigger rewards, not to mention avoid the dreaded back-of-the-hand slap from the ICO.

In fact, since the GDPR there has been some difference in the levels of data hygiene seen, but many smaller businesses don’t seem to care so much or believe anything will ever be enforced.

Large companies are also guilty, protecting their volume as a so-called vanity metric. But again, this approach lack’s long-term vision because the data being used holds very little value without some sort of indication behind those records that determine how active or engaged they are.

Balancing the effort needed to demonstrate the efficiency of using analysed, segmented data set against the time and spend companies have budgeted for isn’t always the easiest of tasks, and some of our council members spend vast amounts of time trying to persuade brands that this is key to moving forward.

When there is buy-in to this approach the results are clear to see, but many businesses are still keen to keep hold of the data sets that no longer provide any worth or value, so has the mindset really changed?

It’s like keeping cards from your birthday last year. Sure, they are quite nice, they look good and it shows how many friends you have, but they take up a lot of room and don’t do anything past the event.

To change people’s mindsets, agencies have done analysis on engagement and open rates etc. to show that a reduction of the volume is more effective.

After all, the number of people you can target will eventually drop as you wear the data out, so why not explain the numbers in terms of engagement levels and returns, rather than the millions of records that do nothing? It lowers the costs of sending, the cost of analysing campaign reports, reduces the time sifting through dull data and in the end provides a more effective campaign strategy.

Many ESPs and ISPs penalise businesses for sticking to this practice of volume over quality. Constantly sending to unengaged recipients damages send reputation and can effectively damage the overall campaign, meaning that even those engaged folks aren’t receiving your beautiful emails.

It’s not just about targeting based on data matching but looking at behaviour to really drill down your data set to ensure its active. This is where the real long-term success lies, both in terms of consistent performance (delivery, reputation etc.) and the eventual reach and revenue that comes with it.

An interesting point was raised by one of the council members that there is also the perception that perhaps the ESPs bounce handling mechanisms are doing that sufficiently enough that the sender doesn’t need to worry about such issues. Couple this with a lack of board-level understanding in terms of expecting the list to grow over time, and you can see why there could be a reluctance to deep dive into the data and start culling away. Especially if you have KPIs around volume, minimum send commitments to your partners or run advertising based on a CPM pricing model.

The conclusion should be self-evident here. List health is important for everything email, and volume is no indicator of success or future success. However, can we say this works for everyone’s business model?

Probably not, but the evidence is there to say that putting in place methods to improve list health, analyse the engagement levels and move away from using list volume for KPIs is an effective long-term strategy for improved campaign performance and increased channel revenues.

- Daniel Lack, Director at Intelligent VC

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