Why Marketing Benchmarks Are Bogus

B2B Email MarketingWe like to measure ourselves against something. We want to know that we are doing good work.

Is my my email click rate good? Is my search conversion rate where it should be? Is my brand lift above average?

Ummm, but what are you comparing yourself too? A number in some book or website, based on the results of businesses nothing like yours?

Stop. Now.

Published Benchmarks Are Garbage

Remember, a benchmark just reflects how the companies or marketers in the study are doing. Here are a few of the problems with published benchmarks:

  • Benchmarks are not exhaustive. They represent the results of a small sample of companies.
  • Measurement practices vary company to company and platform to platform. A benchmark averages together these apples, oranges and bananas as if they were all the same.
  • Benchmarks make easy to lie about your results. Even if you found a perfect benchmark for your company (and you won’t) and you beat the benchmark, how do you feel about 40% of companies doing better than you? Is that really something to feel good about?

Comparing Recent Reported Benchmarks

Need more? OK. If benchmarks were reliable data sources, benchmarks from various sources would align. But they don’t. They don’t even come close.

Here are five recent email benchmarks, side by side.

Benchmark Email Performance
Notes on chart statistics: Mailchimp results exclude companies with less than 50 employees. MailerMailer results are based on personalized email copy. All statistics are based on unique open and click rates where indicated.

So enough. Stop measuring your results against published benchmarks.

The One Benchmark That Matters

There is one benchmark you can use: your own historical performance.

  • Finally, a benchmark from a company just like yours! 🙂
  • You have access to all of the intimate, and gory, details of the measurement methodology used.
  • You can find perfectly comparable activities and you have the insight needed into the mix of activities to actually draw conclusions from changes.
  • When you beat the benchmark, it means you are actively improving your results!

So stop measuring yourself against a collection of irrelevant benchmarks. Your own results are the only benchmark that really matters for your organization.

Your Turn

How do you feel about published benchmarks? Share your view in the comments below or with me on Twitter (@wittlake).

Image Credit: Email by Keith Ramsey on Flickr

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  • Alden Cushman

    Hello Eric,
    Provocative blog post! I agree that focusing and measuring internal company processes and outputs and working to improve results are important. I also agree that comparing company specific results to generic results such as
    the email open rates you show has little value. However, I think we agree that
    those are not benchmarks, they are industry averages and managing to an average usually is not a good strategy. However, well constructed and consistent data collection from a number of organizations can result in sets of data that can provide valuable diagnostic assessments of a single organization’s results versus a comparable peer set. When done right, benchmarks provide comparable external context to internal functions that can help identify missing processes, prioritize
    improvement efforts and optimize resources.
    Alden Cushman
    Practice Director, Benchmarking and Analysis

    • Hi Alden, thanks for the comment. When you can benchmark groups of companies doing X versus a similar group doing Y, you can get very valuable insight into the potential improvement certain changes will make.

      Unfortunately and as I’m sure you know, most people just take a brute force approach and assume they should meet or exceed a given benchmark. For instance, they apply a standard SiriusDecisions conversion rate from Inquiry to MQL, instead of looking at the differences in practices themselves and the benchmarked companies. This is the application that concerns me.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  • René

    well said & interesting coincidence – I thought exact the same when I stumbled across MailerMailer’s industry benchmarks yesterday: http://www.emailmarketingtipps.de/2013/10/07/forget-about-email-benchmarks/