How to Use Competitive Intelligence To Level-Up Email Content

By John Landsman, Manager of Research Analytics, SparkPost, a MessageBird company

In a world saturated by digital communication, cutting through the noise is not an easy feat. When it comes to email marketing, we tend to look closely at understanding our customers to reveal what might captivate their attention. However, what we don’t do enough is spend time analysing our competitors’ activity.

Within legal and ethical boundaries, this is a wholly legitimate endeavour – and vital to competitive success. The idea is to identify competitive successes, gaps, opportunities, and the upside potential of possible remedies and other actions.

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

1. The size of your competitors’ overall email audiences

This matters because it reveals their number of potential customer impressions and can 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, focusing on audience retention and development opportunities.

2. The amount of campaigns each competitor mails, what kind, and when

Consider gathering knowledge about the extent, nature, and timing of competitive email programming to pull insight and visibility into strategic customer journeys. Leverage these insights in your own event and campaign planning. This should also inform your send-time testing and optimization strategies.

3.How large their audiences are 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?

4. How targeted their email campaigns are

This data suggests the degree of sophistication in your competitors’ audience selection – especially if it is in relation to relatively large numbers of deployed campaigns. Leveraging this competitive intelligence provides inspiration to help inform your segmentation, targeting, and personalisation. Such insight may also help you create a compelling argument for more resources for your email team so you can match or overtake the efforts of your competitors.

5. How frequently their email campaigns touch each of their subscribers

This information reflects the strategies that your competitors have in place; too large a number creates retention risk, but too small a number suggests opportunities to enhance contact.

Take action on this with contact frequency testing and optimisation. Segment your database and try different send times and frequencies for each group: do you get more engagement with emails once a day or three times per week?

6. Whether any of your competitors’ deliverability and engagement rates are better than yours

Inboxing is strongly driven by message relevance and improved subscriber engagement. This 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.

7. How competitors’ subject lines are structured

Subject lines can affect deliverability, and are most critical 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 such as wording, length, symbol use, etc.

Test your own subject lines and offers based on these competitive insights.

8. Whether competitors’ audiences overlap with yours

This reveals which other emailers are competing with you for attention in your subscribers’ inboxes – and for product sales. This is where your competitive intelligence insight can be most impactful. You can also use it to help create 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.

How is competitive intelligence usually managed?

The most common among competitive intelligence tactics is simply signing up for competitors’ emails, which is quick, cheap, and easy. However, it is by no means a complete representation of all the email that the sender is deploying as it just shows the emails being sent to those who signed up. For the mailings that a subscriber receives, there is visibility into the mailer’s subject lines, creative, and offers – but there’s no such insight into other mailings, or into the audience size or performance of any mailings.

Industry average benchmark reporting also offers insight. Published by some service providers and industry research organisations, these reports show email performance by vertical and sometimes also by email type. They offer guidance as to activity and performance trends and standards, usually at quarterly or semi-annual intervals. However, they offer no visibility into what content and other tactics actually drove the performance they report.

Email marketers may seek other guidance from marketing analysts and research services, but these are often ad-hoc projects, offering only superficial insight into tactics and their impact within a limited time window.

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So what’s missing from this picture?

  • A platform with queryable, statistically valid, real-time activity and performance data.
  • Describing campaign-level mailing activity across a comprehensive representation of commercial emailers.
  • And showing exactly what’s being mailed, including subject lines, creative, and detailed body content.

This is the only approach that can reliably identify email audience and message optimisation opportunities. By harnessing these insights you should expect to have the knowledge to develop an email marketing strategy which, when put into action, has an advantage against its inbox peers.

To download the full guide on the power of competitive intelligence, visit the SparkPost website.

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