Is Behavioral the New Inbox Placement?

One of the more well-known philosophical questions is: “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”
Its email marketing equivalent might be. “If an email arrives in an inbox, and no one opens it, did it arrive?

So does it matter if an email landed in the inbox — you bet it does!

The philosophical follow-up question is, in a world of limited time and resources, what do you really want to measure, placement or engagement?

The famous traditional marketing adage is “location, location, location” (in the case of email marketing that would be the Inbox). At the same time marketing ultimately was and will always be about consumer behavior and engagement.

With the advent of digital marketing, location in cyberspace brought with it new meanings, manifestations and channels. From search, to SEO, and from blogging to social.
There’s no doubt that location is key for exposure and in the email marketing world inbox means exposure, at the same time without a doubt, the inbox is not your end game.

A recent study by Return-Path reviewed in Marketing Land in September provides some interesting statistics for this discussion.

“83% of permission-based emails worldwide reached the inbox over the past 12 months, with 6% being sent to spam and 11% blocked.”

In a further breakdown by verticals, the research goes on to point out that “Health and Beauty brands scored the highest inbox placement rates with 96% of their emails being sent to the inbox. Retail and Apparel also saw higher than average inbox rates at 90% and 91%, respectively.”

So given these relatively high inbox placement rates it begs the question, what are the engagement rates? It doesn matter if it is Gmail or outlook.

In a breakdown of Gmail’s tabbed inbox placement, regarding read rates — the research concludes that Gmail’s tabbed inbox has had a positive influence. Read rates range from as low as 6% for biotech and up to 35% for Travel, with the average hovering around 25%.

So if 87% of emails are making it into the inbox, but only 25% are getting read, that means, that while location (inbox) is key for exposure, “content is king” still rules as far as engagement. Of course there’s a lot behind “Content is King”, there’s targeting, context, relevance, timing and frequency, all part of the secret formula mix that makes for great marketing and great email marketing.

So at the end of the day, it’s all about engagement.

An article from Andrew Bonar, earlier this year titled “Gmail’s message to email marketers: Focus on engagement“, Provides additional clout to this notion, where engagement and frequency were also noted as important factors for inbox placement.

Which brings us full circle: Placement begets engagement and engagement begets placement.

I would venture to say that there’s a kind of cosmic commonsense to this formula.

Measuring Email Engagement

Email marketing has two intrinsic behavioral engagement KPIs — opens and clicks. If your email is well targeted, with beneficial content, an engaging subject, and pitched at the right time and frequency, for a given target audience, in return you should get good open and click rates. Providing of course, you did all your initial homework to get into the inbox. That starts with great list hygiene, then moving on to steady and consistent building up of your IP sending reputation, your sending domain reputation, and ultimately, your brand reputation.

But if you’ve done all that, then opens and clicks don’t just infer on inbox placement, they actually increase it! As ISPs these days are looking at their users engagement, to determine whether your email will make it into a given recipients inbox or not.

Engagement measuring, doesn’t end with opens and clicks, there’s a whole world of post click behavioral conversion points that can be used to further measure engagement, whether they be registrations, offerings added to wish lists, as well as of course — purchases.

Which brings us back to our original question “Is Behavioral the New Inbox Placement?”
Based on the points I’ve laid out above I would say — “Yes it is”.

And therefore to the follow-up question, in a world of limited time and resources, what do you really want to measure, placement or engagement, I’d have to answer engagement.

I found some further backing to support this notion in an article from just this past summer, on MediaPost’s Email Insider — “What’s Next For Inbox Placement?” — where quote:

“While our industry still isn’t ready to rely solely on engagement metrics to determine inbox placement, the sheer possibility that this may be the way of the future is enough for marketers to take note now. If you aren’t monitoring engagement closely, and adjusting your sending behavior accordingly, you really should start. While I am playing the “what if” game in this post, the reality is that before you know it, engagement will be the one metric that matters most to ESPs and brands, especially if it helps you bubble up to the top of the inbox!”

What do you think? Write to me and LMK.

Noam Rotem

Noam A. Rotem, is a Sr. Product /UX Manager and Head of Technical Account Management at Ongage. Ongage is a vendor-agnostic front-end email marketing platform that easily connects to more than 50 leading email delivery providers and on-premise email solutions.