Hot Fun In The Summertime

Here in New England, we like finding things to complain about. Traffic, taxes, the cost of housing — it doesn’t much matter. If it’s got at least some potential for misery, we’re all over it.

The one complaint which garners the most air time by far however, is weather. Perhaps because it’s the only concern that runs no risk of ever being fixed (unlike the Red Sox), weather is where we invest the bulk of our collective grumbling energy.

Weather is such a large topic among New Englanders in fact, that years ago we decided to divide it into several handy subcategories: too hot, too cold, too humid, too snowy, to name just a few. My personal favorite however, is “too variable.”

Now for those of you who don’t live around here, you may question the validity of this as a weather subcategory to begin with. After all, unlike the tidy too hot, too variable isn’t really a gripe about today’s weather in the first place — it’s a complaint about today’s weather relative to yesterday’s weather.

Be that as it may, last week, when the temperature dropped drastically from one morning to the next, my 9 year old daughter Emily (a born and bred New Englander) wasted no time in lodging her complaint:“It was twice as warm yesterday as it is today,”she exclaimed, supporting her observation with the fact that the outdoor thermometer had indeed dropped from 90 degrees to 45 in a mere 24 hours.

Mathematically of course, Emily was 100% correct — 90 is indeed twice as big as 45. In terms of it being twice as warm however, maybe not.

You don’t need to be Gabriel Fahrenheit (who says I don’t do research) to know that the numbers on a thermometer are arbitrary. The fact is, were the United States on the metric system like the rest of the world (Note to rest of world: Don’t hold your breath), one look at her thermometer and Emily would have said, “It was four and a half times as warm yesterday as it is today”the difference between 32 and 7 degrees Celsius.

As with temperature, your E-Newsletter also has standard tracking metrics associated with it. And here too, the ease of crunching numbers on the path to insight may sometimes lead to misguided, if not mathematically accurate, conclusions.

Click through rate (CTR) is a good example of this. Simply put, CTR is the number of readers who click on a given link within your newsletter divided by the number of people who opened the newsletter (English majors, try to stay with me).

It’s easy to calculate but what does it really mean? When DoubleClick determined in its e-mail trend report at the end of last year for example, that the average CTR was 8.2%, did that suggest that holding 8.2% up against your own results is meaningful?

Not necessarily. Here’s why:

• CTR varies wildly for a given message depending upon such variables as who sent it, who it was sent to, how many click “opportunities” were within the message and what the purpose of the message was to begin with. Lumping these all together to come up with an e-mail marketing standard is about as useful as telling me that the average time of day is 5 P.M. The numbers may add up, but with so much variation across the board, it’s not particularly helpful.

• All clicks are not equal. While I do believe that in general, the more readers click the more engaged they are, and the more engaged they are the more likely they are to ultimately buy something, it’s not always the case. Many times a link gets clicked simply because it’s particularly intriguing,and if you’re not in the business of selling stuff directly through your newsletter (i.e. you’re a professional service provider looking to build a relationship), the CTR numbers don’t necessarily predict future behavior.

Consider the fact that the single highest clicked link in the history of this newsletter was a link to a photo of Rolling Stones’ guitarist Keith Richards, along with a warning for readers to, “brace themselves before clicking.” This one item had a 10% CTR, and yet I think it’s safe to say that it led to very little incremental E-Newsletter work here at Blue Penguin.

• The only valid comparison is you compared to you. Just as the pediatrician advises against comparing your child’s head size to those of other infants, I also recommend you resist the temptation to compare your numbers to somebody else’s. With all the variables involved in format, frequency, content, audience, intention and more, the only reasonable way to measure progress is to see how your newsletter tracks over time against itself.

Bottom Line: I love data as much as the next guy, and there are few things I’d rather do than pull all the numbers together into a clean, clear, visually appealing bar chart. Just keep in mind that charts and data are only meaningful to the extent that they measure what you think they are measuring.

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