Lifecycle Benchmark for Email Marketing / Analyzed 1,387 Brands

Emre Elbeyoglu
8 min readMay 16, 2019


Wondering how customers engage with your brand over time?

Email marketing is a revenue-driver technique generating more than 50 times its return on investment. However, email open, click and click-to-open (CTO) rates continually decline, offering a sizeable gap that marketers need to close immediately. Considering targeted audience preferences and needs , marketers should concentrate on achievable email marketing goals in order to grow their revenue and close the gap.

Benchmark report analyzed 1,387 brands across all verticals using Return Path’s Consumer Network data for Microsoft, AOL, Gmail, and Yahoo subscribers between July 1, 2016, and June 30, 2018. This analysis maps the life-cycle from the initial email received from the brand through the first 12 months of subscription.

Before diving into the key findings of the report, let’s describe the subscriber life-cycle in 4 distinct stages:

The main reason to analyze these 4 distinct stages is to understand how new subscribers interact with an email throughout the 1st year of their relationship with a brand.

Furthermore, measuring data will provide a better understanding of some points like,

  • When do customers disengage with a new program in most cases?
  • How much does email performance with new subscribers change over time?
  • How many new subscribers are retained and how many leave after 12 months?

In a nutshell, Return Path assigned these metrics to understand how well marketers are able to acquire, onboard, engage, and retain their new customers throughout the first year. Of course, you can assess & enhance your program by using these metrics. That is why I want to findings and results of this useful reports!

Hope you find it useful.

1. Acquire: The First Touch

When a customer signs up for a brand’s email program in the first place, the subscriber relationship begins and it is called, “acquisition.”

In the Acquisition step, marketers ensure acquiring good quality email addresses. As I mentioned the importance of valid email addresses to have a successful email marketing results in my previous blog posts, this stage is important to understand that subscribers are positively engaging with messages.

There are some metrics associated with the “Acquire” stage such as,

  • Subscriber quality: Subscriber quality measures whether this email address is actively used or rarely checked.
  • Activated subscribers: The percentage of subscribers reading at least one email from a sender’s email program during the first 30 days.
  • Complaints on initial message: This measures the percentage of subscribers who made a spam complaint about the first message they receive from a sender.

Of course, in order to have a good results we prefer,

  • High quality email addresses which are more likely to be read and acted on.
  • High activation rates with engaging content.
  • Low rate of complaints to decrease potential risks.
  • Opt-out choice included in every communication through email.

Even the top 10% of senders get only 53% quality subscribers.

That means, marketers need to focus on optimizing their email acquisition by gathering active email addresses and by cleaning their invalid email list continually.

2. Onboard: The First Experience

Onboard stage represents subscriber’s first experience with your email program. It is measured by evaluating the value of the email program during the first 30 days. So, subscriber reaction is the key point at this stage.

There are also some metrics associated with the “Onboard” stage such as,

  • First Touch Read Rate: This shows whether customers are taking action with the initial email. So, it is important to understand if they are showing an interest or not.
  • Read Rate: This one shows if the email program can retain subscriber interest after the first message. It is understood from the average read rate over the first 30 days of the subscriber’s experience.
  • Complaint Rate: The average complaint rate shows whether a program has been able to reach subscriber expectations or not.
  • Churn Rate: This one shows the percentage of subscribers leaving the email program during the first 30 days. We can indicate how many new subscribers chose to actively withdraw from receiving additional messages with the help of this metric.

According to the data,

  • The average first touch read rate is quite high at 39%.
  • Average read rate over the first 30 days takes a slight dip to 35% still well above the standard for read rate.
  • Complaints over the first 30 days are significantly lower than complaints on the initial message, but still well above the overall average complaint rate of 0.17%.
  • On average, marketers also lose a full 34% of newly acquired subscribers within the first month.

That means, the first 30 days of the subscriber relationship is significant to have a clear understanding of engagement metrics like read rate, complaint rate, and more.

3. Engage: Communication

The next step of the subscriber life-cycle is engagement. It provides the value of your email program by forming long term relationship with your subscribers. Of course, it is possible only with your relevant and engaging content. In this case, the reaction to emails over the first 12 months is very important.

  • Read rate: This represents the average read rate over the first 12 months of the subscriber experience. This metrics is important to understand if subscribers are interested to your content in the first 30 days.
  • Complaint rate: This metric shows the average complaint rate over the first 12 months of the subscriber experience. It is important to see where you might be losing subscriber interest by comparing your email content in the first 30 days with the content later on.
  • Engaged subscribers: This metric shows the percentage of subscribers who remain engaged with a program over the first 12 months. It is helpful to identify the new subscribers who continue to interact with the email program after 12 months.

According to the data,

  • Marketers are able to maintain a 32% read rate with new subscribers over the first 12 months of their relationship on average.
  • The average complaint rate drops to 1% over the 1st year — likely due to the
    fact that subscribers who complain early on are removed from the list, leading to fewer future complaints.
  • 31 % percent of new subscribers continue to interact with an email program after 12 months on average.

That means, in order to keep the email program engaging with subscribers, you should provide value with your campaigns. In this case, incorporating different campaign types can be helpful.

4. Retain: Relationship

As a crucial step of the customer life-cycle, retention stage shows whether the email program can keep new subscribers interested, or if subscribers begin to disengage due to some reasons. It is possible to observe the reasons behind churn rate through the knowledge about customer wants.

The success of retention shows how many new subscribers remain at the 12 month mark, as well as their level of engagement. In this case there are 3 important metrics associated with the “Retain” stage.

  • 12-month retention: The percentage of newly acquired subscribers who have not unsubscribed after 12 months.
  • Average day of churn: The average number of days before a subscriber churns, among subscribers who leave the email program during the first 12 months.
  • Average days since the last read: The subscribers retained after 12 months and looks at the average number of days between the last read message and last received message. You can identify the period in which subscribers disengage with a program, yet are still receiving mail.

That means, 56% of new subscribers remain on a program’s email list after 12 months. So, the 1st month is a key period for marketers to prove the value of their email program. Also, the average marketer continues sending mail for a full 259 days (more than eight months) after a subscriber disengages with the program.

8 Tactics for Marketers to Have a Better Performance & Results

1. Validate Email Addresses

Considering that the average subscriber quality is 53 %, marketers need to be more proactive about verifying the quality of the addresses they are adding to their list. Don’t forget to have,

  • good IP address
  • good email service
  • clean template code
  • verified domain
  • clear unsubscribe link
  • physical mailing address

2. Get Adequate Consent

You should optimize the opt-in process to ensure new subscribers are actually interested in your email program. The opt-in should describe what the subscriber is signing up for, with no pre-checked boxes or auto-fill fields very clearly. By doing this, you will decrease the the number of complaints and increase the engagement of activated subscribers.

3. Set Expectations

You should let your subscribers know what to expect from your emails. You should be clear about what it entails and showcase the real value of their subscriptions. This will help you to build a proper email list.

4. Track Subscriber Engagement

You should definitely track how your subscribers interact with your messages. Providing a real value only possible by listening to your audience.

5. Segment Your List

Building various segments based on your subscribers behaviors and interests will be helpful to find out much more about them. By doing that, you can create more targeted content and provide a more personalized experience for your subscribers.

6. Provide Different Campaign Types

Email marketing is one of the most important channel for ROI. That is why you should build a long-term relationship with your subscribers by providing different contexts and values. For example, instead of promotional messages, you should maintain the interest with your special offers, birthday messages, holiday newsletters, feedback surveys and much more.

7. Send Win-Back Emails

Marketers should begin re-engaging customers with win-back campaigns. This report shows win-back campaigns have an average read rate of 20%, which means that 1 in 5 inactive subscribers are once again engaging with the brand’s email program.

8. Monitor Life-cycle Data

Life-cycle data provides insights that are unique and different from the campaign based data. To track how your new subscribers are interacting with your program and identify any vulnerabilities, you can reach out a consulting team for a report that measures your life-cycle performance and benchmarks it against the average.

Hopefully, you can boost the success of your email marketing program by using these metrics. I think these strategic tactics will also helpful to increase your return and investment & conversion rates.

Please don’t hesitate to share your experience under the comments below.

Thank you for your time.