Email scales well. But big vs engaged? Lets consider big first. There’s the obvious like opens and clicks. Current statistics show that average open and click-through rates are in the region of 24% and 3% respectively (click to open rates around 11%) so it stands to reason that all things being equal the larger your delivery the more opens and clicks you can expect.
Then there’s the less obvious. Working with large databases also gives you an economy of scale. Much of the effort in preparing email campaigns is front-loaded – creation of the design, adding the copy and images and proof checking the final layout. This effort is largely the same whether the campaign is being delivered to 5 or 5 million subscribers.
Other scale factors come into play too. Setting up a marketing automation sequence (for example for welcome or birthday emails) can significantly improve effectiveness and consistency. Again the administrative effort is largely the same irrespective of the number of emails which are involved. The more email traffic that is processed through the automation the greater the ratio between set up effort and benefit gained. In fact, once the numbers become significant, marketing automation becomes a must-have – it simply becomes impractical to manually administer on a manual basis.
Large databases also bring other useful techniques into play. Think of split testing (sometimes referred to as A/B testing). This is a really useful technique for testing the impact of things like subject line (and other things too). The campaign is split into two variations with each version being sent to a sample of the total database. The version deemed the most successful (by whatever criteria are defined) can be automatically sent to the remainder of the subscribers. It’s a statistical technique so the larger the test samples are the more representative they’ll be of the overall subscriber population. It also follows that the benefit of the test is magnified the larger the remainder of the population is. The more people receive the more attractive version the higher the opens and clicks are likely to be.
There’s a flip-side though. Large doesn’t necessarily mean successful. There are those who simply blast out huge campaigns (many of them with dubious permission credentials) with the view that the scale of their communication will inevitably deliver a meaningful level of return. Statistically of course this will work – the larger the delivery, proportionately the larger the response will be. However, also the larger the waste and the larger the potential damage caused.
Assuming all of the proper opt-in processes are in place a large subscriber database is of course great. However given the choice between large and engaged – go for engaged, every time. It’s easy to get carried away with delivery numbers and basic campaign metrics like open rates. We’ve already established that on average 75% of (legitimate) emails are typically unopened Remember also that opened doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve been read. It’s what people do next with your campaigns that matters – whether they click the links, travel onwards to your website and interact with your online and other content. Assuming you’re selling, ultimately it’s what, how much and how often they buy from you that really counts.
This is where an engaged subscriber database wins every time over pure scale. Engaged subscribers are inherently in tune with you and your brand. It means that your campaigns are welcome, anticipated and relevant. The consequence is that opens, clicks and ultimately the commercial or other goals that you set for your campaigns are much more likely to be achieved. There’s no short cut to engagement. It starts with good data collection practices; permission, collecting insights and good list management. This intelligence can then be used to create increasingly targeted campaigns. Over time (a relatively short time) you will gain a reputation for delivering valuable, timely information and from there on the spiral is upwards.
It’s not an abstract thing either. You can quantifiably measure your level of engagement and then use this information to further target re-engagement and rewards type campaigns.
Of course a large and highly engaged subscriber base is the ideal situation but that takes time and effort (it’s still worth it). In the meantime strive for quality over quantity every time. They both scale but for many objectives delivery and open without engagement can be a false security.