Heading Down the S.A.M.E. Path at SubscriberMail

When we first heard about the eec’s S.A.M.E. project last year, our minds immediately flashed back to conversations with email marketers from years past regarding the confusion caused by email metrics. The idea that standardization might become a reality was something we welcomed with open arms.

This isn’t a knock against those marketers mentioned above, either. With so many elements to consider each time a campaign is sent, email marketing is already challenging enough without the added complexity of "fuzzy" reporting metrics. We’ve talked to marketers who wondered how their click rates were holding steady even as "open rates" were decreasing. We’ve talked to marketers who didn’t think a message could be considered "open" until it was viewed outside of the preview pane—after all, it’s just supposed to be a preview. Then there were the people who asked about improving their "read rate" — a misleading synonym for the already-misleading "open rate" metric. Their confusion was understandable, and frustrating from our perspective because such an avoidable issue was causing headaches for the marketers that power our industry.

By committing to adopt the standards of the S.A.M.E. project, we forced ourselves to reevaluate the way metrics were presented to SubscriberMail users. Even though we offered a pop-up window explaining that an "Open" merely indicated that images had been rendered for a given message, the fact remained that we were still using the term "Open" on our reports to avoid causing confusion/uproar by changing such a familiar label. The S.A.M.E. project gave us the push we needed to take that risk, replacing "open" with the more accurate label of "render."

Along the same lines, we had long discussed the idea of combining the number of recipients who rendered images with the number of recipients who did not render images but did click a link(s) in a given message. In our discussions with email marketers, we always came back to the issue of image blocking and how open (render) rates did not necessarily indicate how many recipients engaged with their messages. Implementing the eec’s "Unique Confirmed Open" metric improved our reports by including this more accurate representation of overall engagement.

Once the S.A.M.E.-related updates were in place and approved by the eec, we were faced with the difficult prospect of rolling out changes to the reporting metrics on which our clients so heavily depended. As email marketers ourselves, we took this very seriously—our system users depend on the metrics provided by SubscriberMail to show the success of their marketing efforts, and we did not want anyone to think those historical metrics had been eliminated or skewed in any way. Through email alerts and phone conversations, we explained to clients why they would soon see changes to their reporting metrics, and what those changes meant. We explained that largely the same data was being presented in our reports, but it was being presented through labels that more accurately reflected the nature of the data collected. And, in some cases, new metrics were available to make our reports even more valuable.

Of course, we fielded a few phone calls post-release, but to our surprise even those inquiries were born more out of curiosity than any kind of panic. In the end, our clients proved that they were ready to embrace clarity over convention when it came to their email reporting metrics. When every email service provider does the same, we’ll have done our job of moving the email marketing industry forward with a more knowledgable and better-equipped user base than ever before—and we can finally retire the "open rate" debate once and for all.

— Dave McCue
Marketing Manager