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The E-mail Marketing Hype Cycle
Submitted by elannert on 2012-09-17T16:49:55
We have been doing e-mail newsletters for clients since 2005. In the last few years, we’ve had 25 different clients across a variety of industries focused on B2B marketing. Recently, we started to build a highly interactive calculator that would allow clients to project their traffic and the results they’re likely to get from investing in content-driven marketing - e.g. blogs and newsletters. In the process of building that model, we went back and looked at our real data to figure out how long it takes to build different audiences and a following of subscribers and blog visitors.
We found one of the most interesting things when we looked at newsletter performance for all of our clients over time. It followed a very predictable pattern from the moment we started working with them through the next 18 months or so. We knew what it felt like to be in these places emotionally. When you first launch a newsletter, you get a great open rate and a great click rate, then it drops pretty consistently over the next six months. While that’s happening, we’re working with the client, and we all feel like, “Oh my God, what are we doing wrong?” We try changing things, and then, all of a sudden, it magically kind of bottoms out, and then it starts to grow again, and it grows for the next six months until it levels out at a steady rate that’s not as quite as high as the original height when you first launched, but substantially above where it was at the bottom.
Every client follows the same exact pattern. It’s fascinating to see something happening over and over and over again, independent of factors like the industry, how consistent the content is, how big the client’s business is, etc. The conclusion we’ve drawn is that there is an e-mail marketing cycle that has nothing to do with your strategy or your content. It’s just a natural curve, and its eerily similar to the patterns Gartner documents with technology ‘hype cycles’.
This chart shows the average for all clients open rate + click rate over the first 18 month period of using email marketing:
From a planning and client expectations standpoint, we are finding this to be a goldmine. Instead of looking in the rearview mirror and freaking out or celebrating prematurely, we can establish this as a baseline that changes over time and compare our actuals to a fact-based plan.
This is a fundamental change for us from using *static* benchmarks (in the past we have used a blend of our own averages and those provided by our email service providers).
The reality is that it’s impossible to maintain the initial interest with your seed audience. However, after going through what we call the “valley of despair”, you recover and get to a more sustainable place. Now, if you never make that curve, or if it takes too long to make that curve, then there are issues to work on. But otherwise, it’s just a part of the cycle.
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