web storytelling — April 7, 2014 at 5:01 pm

The Fascinating Story Of What My Data Is Saying About You




For those of you who have been receiving my weekly email blasts over the last year and a half, here’s what my data analytics is saying about you. 

The Top Line

1) A lot of you are losing your jobs

Every week there are many new “non-existent” addresses.

2) Your open rate is remarkably consistent

Even as the overall list gets smaller over time due to opt-outs and job losses, the percentage of you who open the emails is stable.

3) Your click-through rate varies

The number of you who actually click on the links within the emails varies with the subject, but it’s hard to determine a clear pattern as to what actually engages you enough to click through.

4) You don’t want to be sold

Emails that explicitly try to sell you on my storytelling services—-be it consumer research, video production or educations seminars—performed less well that emails that linked to more general topics.

5) As a new business generator, the campaign has been marginally successful

The campaign has led to a few new projects and opened the door to some prospective new clients, but it hasn’t been a game changer.

The Data In More Depth

Who You Are

I began sending you emails in the fall of 2012. You were one of a little over 7100 people on my mailing list. About 1,000 of you were friends and colleagues I had known throughout the years. The rest were names I had culled from TheListInc.

About 50% of you work in marketing and communications, from CMOs to product managers to creatives to business development officers. Within that group, many of you are in the healthcare space.  About 20% of you work in market research, either within corporations or with your own companies. Another 20% work in human human resources, professional development and training. The remaining 10 percent are comprised of CEOs, trade association managers and friends in a variety of fields.

How I Know What I Know About You

I have three sources of data. The emails are sent out through ConstantContact, which enables me to track who of you open my emails and who take the next step to click on the links to video and essays like this one. ConstantContact also lets me know who unsubscribes and who no longer has a valid address.

My second source of data is StatCounter, which measures how many of you click on the links. Unlike ConstantContact, it does not say who you are, but does provide me with your server address and, at times, the name of your company.  As I’ll discuss soon, the data from click-through data on StatCounter is always at odds with that provided by ConstantContact.

The third source of information is anecdotal, made up of your email responses to me, comments you may leave on my posts, and telephone discussions I have had with a few of you over this last year and a half.

With these three sources of data at my disposal, I have noticed certain patterns that tells me something about what engages you, what you like and who you are.

But perhaps even more interesting, if not a little disappointing, is the lack of patterns where I suspected some might be.

So let’s get into it.

How Many Of You Open and Click Through

Getting an accurate handle on this presents a problem from the outset. Even though ConstantContact tells me how many of you opened an an email, and then how many of you clicked on the link within the email, my StatCounter data says something different.

For example, the open rate according to ConstantContact ranges from about 10% to 25%, with an average of around 12-13%. The click-through ranges from as low as low as 4.5% to as high as 35.3%,  with an average of about 14-15%.

But it gets complicated. My StatCounter data on click-throughs is sometimes close to double what ConstantContact is reporting. Since StatCounter only reports click-throughs and not opens, can we surmise that the open rate is also close to double what ConstantContact reports?

Added to this is the problem of junk mail filtering. I flag most of the email coming to me as junk, and I assume many of you do as well. That means a great many of the emails may be getting through to you, but you never see them. The StatCounter click-through data also suggests that many of you have some kind of filter that prevents ConstantContact from tracking you.

This makes it nearly impossible to tell what the actual open and click-through rate is. But if we assume, for the sake of argument, that StatCounter data is accurate, the actual open rate might be more in the range of 20% and the average click-through more like 25%.

And if we factor in the emails that are getting through but not seen on account of junk-mail filtering, the ratio of opens to actual recipients might actually be a lot higher.

This is what I hope. But from the data before me, there’s no real way to tell.

For the sake of simplicity, I’ll use the ConstantContact data throughout the rest of this piece.

You’re Remarkably Consistent

Aside from the kind of blatant sales pitches I sent out early on in the campaign, no matter what I’ve send out since, whether it’s funny or serious, whether I send it in the morning or the afternoon, on a Tuesday or a Friday, whether I’ve been sending out emails every week or have taken a break for a month, whether the headlines are 4 words or 8 or 11, the open and click-through rates remain about the same, no matter how we determine the absolute amounts.

Moreover, as I’ll explain soon, my list has dropped in size from about 7100 to about 5250. More than half the drop is on account of people opting out. This would suggest that my open rate should increase, as the number of opens would now be divided by a smaller number of you, who apparently, maintain an interest in what I’m sending.

But the open rate has remained the same. Curious, indeed.

Who Of You Open and Click Through

There is also a relatively stable pattern as to who opens and clicks through. I can break this down into two groups.

The first group I’ll call fans. These comprise about 1/3 of the opens and click-throughs. Many are friends or colleagues I’ve know in the real world, but there are some of you who open and click through my emails regularly, even though we’ve never met.

The second group I call revolvers. These are people who seem to randomly open and click-through. They are interested one week, and not the next. They may reappear months later.

It’s hard to find a pattern here, though in certain cases when, for example, an email asked whether or not Cadillac was committing class warfare with a recent TV spot, it was easy to understand why a number of GM employees opened and clicked through.

Once again, what is interesting is the apparent stability of the data. No matter what I send out, the split between fans and revolvers is about the same, even though the revolvers change from week to week.

Many Of You Appear To Be Losing Your Jobs

Each week I get data from ConstantContact telling me about addresses that are suddenly “non-existent addresses.”

Since July 2013, on average 42.5 addresses no longer exist from week to week. This could be on account of people retiring, or resigning, or moving to other companies.

But I assume in this economy it is more likely that they were downsized.

During the period from 8/21/13 through 12/4/14, a time of the year when many companies announce layoffs, the average increase of “non-existent addresses” was 71 per week.

These presumed layoffs have decreased the size of my list, which started with about 7100 and is  now at 5264.

The other factor is opt-outs and blocked emails.

Many Of You Have Opted Out, But Increasingly Less

1163 of you have opted-out since the campaign began. That’s close to 16% of the original list.

Since early 2013 the number averages about 15 per week, though its been about half that over the last couple of weeks.

A good many opt-outs occurred at the beginning of the campaign. This was to be expected. You saw yet another email campaign coming your way and decided to stop it at the pass, so to speak.

What’s curious, however, is why the opt-outs continue today. If you’ve gone on the ride with me this long, why drop out now?  Was it something I said?

Which brings us to the issue of content and its relation to opens, click-throughs and opt-outs.

At times it appears to have an effect, at other times it seems to be irrelevant.

But one thing I know for sure.

You don’t want to be sold

My early emails were sales pitches, with headlines like “A Practical Method For Creative Problem Solving.”  Although these performed relatively well in terms of opens, they clearly turned you off in terms of substance.

Few of you clicked through and many opted out.

In early 2013 I changed my strategy to content that that was less about selling and more about entertaining and informing. The open and click-through rates jumped dramatically and the opt-outs dropped as well.

This film I created for Fidelity, for example, was introduced to you in an email with the headline: “This Corporate Video Is Laughable” It had an 18.3% open rate, a 26.3% click through rate and an opt-out rate less than one-half of what I had seen the week before when I sent you a sales pitch with the headline “Is Your Company Too Uptight To Innovate?”

Whenever I would return, as way of experiment, to the earlier sales-oriented emails, opt-outs would rise, though not always. The open and click-through rates, however, would remain on the consistent level I discussed earlier.

You Want To Be Informed About The Issues Of The Day

My biggest hit, in terms-of click throughs, was an email leading to a brief film I made explaining the Polar Vortex and the extreme cold wave we had earlier in the year. It had nothing to do with me selling Smarter Storytelling nor even with storytelling as a topic.

Once again, the open rate was within the highly constant 12-13% range. But this film received and amazing 35.3% click through rate.

Does this suggest I should be sending you weekly emails about the weather?

You Like Funny

Along with the Fidelity video I referred to above, other big hits in terms of click-throughs was this funny film about a conference call, which got a 22.7% click through rate and yes, the standard 12-13% open rate.

But to complicate matters, other funny videos like “Tap Into Money,” with the email subject line “Hilarious Video Reveals Internet Con” got far fewer click-throughs.

You Like Celebrity

My early sales pitches about creativity and innovation may have performed just so-so, but once I brought John Cleese into the picture—not only a celebrity but a funny celebrity—the click-throughs rose, in this case with a 19.3% score along with the too-be-expected 13% open rate.

Yet, once again, it’s not that simple. Kurt Vonnegut explaining story shapes received an 11% open rate with 13.6% click-through rate.

So maybe you like John Cleese more than Kurt Vonnegut?  Or creativity more than stories?

You did like when you were told that a video or article was itself a celebrity, having gone viral. This email about one of my articles on creativity and listening, which had some viral momentum, got a higher than average 14.6% open rate.

You’re Worried About Losing Your Job

A email with the heading “Be Positive or Get Fired,” which led to a video summarizing Barabara Ehrenreich’s critique of Positive Thinking and its almost authoritarian role in the workplace, had a 26.3% click-through rate with a 13% open rate

You Don’t Care If I’m Naughty Or Nice

As I said above, I moved from sales pitches to a content marketing strategy back in 2013. The less I discussed my own work and the more i discussed storytelling or simply brought you stories, the better the campaign performed.

But that persistent 12-13% open rate bothered me.  It seemed to be impervious to anything I published. Perhaps if I sent you something truly outrageous, there would be more opens.

So I figured I’d take a risk and send out a spoof commercial for Smarter Storytelling in which brand Guru Dr. Carlos Mandelbaum make a ground-breaking sales pitch:  “Hire Us And We’ll Kiss Your Ass.”

This would have to break through, I figured. Sure, a lot of you would opt-out, but that would actually be a good thing. If you couldn’t get this joke, chances are we wouldn’t be right for one another in a business context anyway.  And if I could bring my email list under 5,000 I could save $25 a month from Constant Contact!

But to my surprise, all the video got was the standard 12-13% open rate with less than average click- throughs. And even though I got a couple of nasty emails from offended executives, there were only 13 opt-outs, below average.

The opt-outs were even lower on a recent post I sent you about Cadillac Committing Class Warfare. This, too, was deliberately provocative and after getting the normal 12-13% open rate, garnered an impressive 22.3% click throughs.

So What Does It All Mean?

The data I’ve collected over this last year and a half confirms what many marketers have already been saying: we’re all publishers now. All companies are, in a sense, media companies. You can’t engage by selling, at least in the medium of email. Rather you need to entertain, educate and provoke.

But it’s not so clear what kind of content does the trick. Although I’ve given you examples of some of my top hits, I couldn’t say for sure that my next funny post would work, or whether writing repeatedly about the precarious state of your job in this economy will win me fans. Being outrageous may work, or it might not.  Giving useful tips might work.  Then again, it might not.  Perhaps I just need more data. Or perhaps it’s all random and Louis B. Meyer was right when he said “nobody knows nothin'”

What I do know is that I’ve developed a small but loyal following. Some of have written to me to say how much they enjoy what I send. And I’ve had the chance to speak with a few on the phone who also have also been more than appreciative of the weekly emails and the articles to which they link.

That’s a good thing, and it encourages me to keep going.

As for business, as I said at the outset, all of this has been helpful, but only at the margins. It has brought me a few new opportunities and opened doors to a few more. I hope that trend continues.

And it’s changed me. Whereas I started out thinking of the email campaign as a way to market my storytelling business, now I see it as something valuable in itself. I enjoy the rigor of sending out a post each week and I feel I have a bigger canvas to work on than I did at the beginning of the campaign. I’m now approaching you more as an audience of readers than as a list of prospective clients.

So learning something about you has helped me learn something about myself, and I thank you for it

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