Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

The power of competitive email intelligence

By John Landsman, Manager of Research and Analytics, SparkPost

Since the beginning of commerce, organisations have needed and sought out information about their competitors. Decades before any kind of digital marketing, competitors were buying and deconstructing one another’s products, collecting and analysing their print and broadcast advertising, subscribing to their direct mail, shopping in their stores, and polling their customers.

If understanding your customers is a central tenet of marketing management, then so is understanding your competitors. Within legal and ethical boundaries, this is a wholly legitimate endeavour – and vital to competitive success. The whole point of the process is to identify competitive successes, gaps, opportunities, and the upside potential of possible remedies and other actions.

Marketing email is fertile ground for demonstrating the need for competitive intelligence – and providing the means for its delivery. However, common methods of garnering information about competitors’ emails, such as signing up for their newsletters or using industry average benchmark reporting, don’t offer full visibility.

There are several insights you should expect to glean from a robust competitive intelligence strategy.

How large are your competitors’ overall email audiences?

This matters because it reveals their number of potential customer impressions. It can also expose under-performance in relation to your competitors of comparable size and market footprint. Take action on it by performing a subscriber acquisition and list health audit. Focus on audience retention and development opportunities.

How many campaigns does each competitor mails, what kind, and when?

Intel like this feeds critical knowledge about the extent, nature, and timing of competitive email programming and provides visibility into strategic customer journeys. It also identifies program gaps and opportunities for you. Leverage these insights in your own event and campaign planning. This should also inform your send-time testing and optimisation strategies.

How large are their audiences for each campaign?

This feeds critical knowledge on competitors’ campaign reach and segmentation and supports targeting estimates.Again, this should inform your own event and campaign planning. Are you segmenting your audience enough? Are you running enough campaigns per segment, or too many?

How targeted are their email campaigns?

This suggests the degree of sophistication in their audience selection and is especially meaningful in relation to relatively large numbers of deployed campaigns, versus relatively small send volumes. Having this kind of information supports enhanced sophistication in your segmentation, targeting, and personalisation. Leveraging competitive intelligence that proves their email campaigns are more sophisticated than yours can not only provide inspiration but may also create a compelling argument for more resources for your email team.

How frequently do their email campaigns touch each of their subscribers?

This reflects competitive contact strategies. Too large a number creates retention risk, but too small a number suggests opportunities to enhance contact. You can take action on this with contact frequency testing and optimisation. Segment your database and try different send times and frequencies for each group. For example, do you get more engagement with emails once a day or three times per week?

Are your competitors’ deliverability and engagement rates better than yours?

Inboxing is strongly driven by message relevance and improved subscriber engagement. It also helps document the business/financial upside to inbox, audience, and message optimisation. This intel can lead to important diagnostic/best practices audits on your own campaigns and help with program and audience planning to ensure you’re engaging the right people with the right message.

How are competitors’ subject lines structured?

Subject lines can affect delivery, and they’re the most critical tactic in driving opens (even if opens can’t always be accurately measured). This kind of information also reveals details of subject line deployment and practice (e.g. wording, length, symbol use) in relation to inbox performance and engagement. Test your own subject lines and offers based on these competitive insights. Don’t forget strategic pre-header text, too!

Do other senders’ audiences overlap with yours?

This reveals which other emailers are competing with you for attention in your subscribers’ inboxes – and for product sales. The best of them will get better engagement. It also provides a profile of your email subscribers interests.Calibrate your mailings to match (or beat!) the quality and sophistication of competitive mailers. Leverage overlaps for new audience acquisition and engagement, as well as possible strategic partnerships.

These are powerful ways you can put competitive intelligence to work for you. Insights and actions supported by robust competitive intelligence have direct financial impact, including demonstrable lifts in inbox rates, open, click, and conversion rates, and average order value. Companies that have and use robust email competitive intelligence can improve email revenue as much as three times. Think about the possible impact of those multiples if you monetise your email and don’t use competitive intelligence.