Marketers are always striving to deliver “best practice” marketing—marketing based on tested, tried-and-true data. But, for many marketing activities, marketers simply don’t have a strong benchmark to reference. This scene often feels too familiar:

You: Yes! Our last email campaign had a 5% click rate!

Your Boss: Is that good?

You: Umm…it’s better than our last one.

Your Boss: But is it GOOD?

You: Hmm…let me get back to you.

You go back to your desk and begin to fumble around random marketing websites containing “best practice” campaign performance stats. After an hour of research you’re left with more questions than you started with. Are these stats relevant or even reliable? What should I be doing differently?

Introducing Marketo Institute

Marketo Institute was started in 2014 by Marketo Co-founder Jon Miller. His vision was to gather data across all Marketo customers and provide marketers with fact-based insights and data-driven best practices to help them succeed in an ever-changing digital world. In short, the purpose was to help you answer the “Is it GOOD?” question.

Like Jon, I’m a data nerd at heart. We share the same passion for the SCIENCE of digital marketing, which is why he’s handed me the enormous mountain of customer data (220+ billion activities across 3500+ Marketo customers) to carry out the vision of helping marketers like you. Over the next several weeks, I am going to write a handful of blogs to share what I’ve learned from this data and will pull out best practice trends and correlations.

…And the first blog starts NOW! What is the topic, you ask? Well, it’s email performance! Yay! Specifically, we’ll be diving into whether batch, nurture, or trigger is best. This email performance “throwdown”, if you will, answers the most common question I get asked by customers: Which type of emails should I concentrate my marketing efforts on, and how much lift can I expect? Let’s get started…

Types of Emails

There are three types of email campaigns, each with their own use cases:

  1. Batch Emails: Also known as “batch and blast”. These types of emails don’t have any “intelligence” built in. Instead they just gather a list of contacts and send them the same email. A great example of this is your company newsletter—it goes to everyone, no matter what.
  2. Nurture Emails: This is a series of targeted emails based on personas (e.g. by industry, role, use case). Nurture emails are primarily used to lead prospects through the sales funnel and warm up leads for a sales handoff.
  3. Trigger Emails: These are personalized emails that are delivered based on prospect actions. Some range of email “intelligence” is built in based on behavior (think of it as a two-way conversation of listening and speaking). An example of a trigger email would be this: a prospect visits your events webpage and then, based on that activity, receives an email invitation to an event in their area.

So, before we move forward with the email throwdown, go ahead and place your bets! Of the email campaigns that you’ve created, which type performed the best—batch, nurture, or trigger?

Which Earned a Higher Click Rate and Click-to-Open Rate?


This chart represents average click rate (top half) and average click-to-open rate (bottom half) across all Marketo customer email activities in 2013-2014. Average click rate is around 19% for trigger, 4% for batch, and 6% for nurture. Average click-to-open rate is around 35% for trigger, 12% for batch, and 14% for nurture.

Post throwdown, we can see two big takeaways immediately from the data:

  1. Trigger emails perform 3x better than any other email type. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that’s done trigger emails. The power of personalized messages based on behavior is powerful. Imagine looking at a pair of shoes online. You add it to the shopping cart but decide not to buy. An hour later you get an email for 25% off that exact pair of shoes! Serendipity telling you to buy those shoes? No, sorry, that’s just intelligent marketing.
  2. Nurture emails perform about the same as batch emails. This one is surprising. My initial bet would have been that nurture emails performed much better than batch (especially for click-to-open) simply due to the fact that they are targeted towards a specific audience for a specific buying stage. But then I thought about how my past companies did nurturing: forcing a target audience down a pre-determined linear funnel, then rinse and repeat. This is no different than a series of segmented, pre-timed batch emails, and the data shows it.

Key Take-aways

Now before you run over to your marketing operations team and tell them to cancel all nurture campaigns, here are a few things to consider:

  1. Nurture emails CAN perform better than batch. The results were so surprising I decided to take a look at how our (Marketo’s) demand gen team does email campaigns. I found out our nurture emails perform MUCH better than our batch. But this takes time and resources, because you have to really know your segmented audience, the messaging has to be really relevant, and you have to utilize a ton of top-of-funnel content because no one likes a hard sell. Bad nurture programs act like batch and blast; good nurtures are built for the long-term and take time to realize results. That’s why it’s called “drip campaign”—not “firehose campaign”.
  2. I’m going to make all of my emails trigger-based! Creating a trigger campaign for EVERY possible prospect interaction is impractical (unless you’re Amazon…or have the budget of Amazon), so just focus on the important ones. Look at your key lead drivers and put some email intelligence behind the behaviors you’re interested in. Good examples are late funnel high conversion points such as webinars, where several personalized triggers around invitation, reminder, and follow-up could mean more qualified leads.
  3. Why do batch emails in the first place? Batch emails are the cheapest, quickest way to communicate to your prospects and customers. There’s definitely a time and place for batch and blast. Creating nurture or trigger-based company newsletters or product release notes doesn’t make sense. However if you’re still using batch emails to push prospects through the funnel then you should definitely consider focusing more resources on other more engaging and relevant email type

Do you have any questions about this blog, or do you have any suggestions on which data-based topic I should dive into in my next blog? Leave your comments below!