A client asked me how her campaigns compared to industry standards. It is a common question and there are many resources available. The DMA compiles statistics and reports on response rates. Most recently they published the DMA 2007 Response Rate Trends Report. MarketingSherpa produces reports such as the 2009 E-Mail Marketing Benchmark Guide. Then, of course, there are websites offering benchmark rates for e-mails such as www.bronto.com.
Just because there are resources available does not necessarily mean that you should use them. Finding the right benchmark rate requires finding comparable campaigns. That means looking for rates based on campaigns having the same:
1. target (i.e., business or consumer)
2. channel (e.g., direct mail, print ad, web banner, e-mail)
3. industry (e.g., retail, financial services)
4. message/offer (e.g., sales)
Even if you find rates for campaigns that meet all of those conditions, how can you be sure that the campaigns are truly comparable? As noted in a recent Molecular blog post, you do not always know the context of the numbers.
The question of industry standards can also obscure another great resource, your own past campaigns. Again, you need to consider the factors above, but these will also provide a benchmark against which you can measure the success of current campaigns.