Email Marketing Performance Benchmarks for Conferences and Exhibitions

We have a dizzying array of channels and tools available to today’s B2B event marketers, and the humble email is still one of the most effective. Deployed smartly, email marketing remains critically important when marketing events.

GDPR means event marketers are likely to be sending fewer emails to data subjects in the EU than they did previously, so it is even more important than ever that campaigns are designed for complete relevance, maximum impact and constantly measured against the industry benchmarks.

Conferences & Exhibitions: Email Marketing BenchmarksIt’s also crucial that new campaigns are compared to pre-GDPR results: you should see engagement levels improve. If this does not happen, you need to take a very close look at all elements of your campaign and ask yourself these questions:

  • Is your database strong enough?
  • Is your value proposition and messaging relevant enough?
  • Is your email optimised for opens and clicks?

An essential area for measurement and benchmarking

Whether the purpose of your email campaign is to inform, promote, generate leads, generate revenue or ‘all of the above’, you must be able to analyse your efforts so you are able to:

  1. Determine your email marketing return on investment
  2. Make informed, evidence-based decisions to maximise the performance of future campaigns

MPG have put together a benchmark guide – based on real data from B2B event campaigns – to help you compare how your conference and exhibition marketing campaigns are performing:

The most common reason for low delivery rates is when ‘bad’ contact records – invalid, closed, or non-existent email addresses are present in your database. Now that GDPR is in play, these kinds of contacts should be far less prevalent.  At MPG, we expect to see this benchmark soon increase to above 99%.

How to boost your delivery rate

The simplest way to improve your delivery rate is to remove any ‘hard bounces’ from future email campaigns. Provided you are using ‘legitimate interest’ as the basis for processing direct marketing data under GDPR, you can utilise the hard bounce data to help grow your database by researching the contact associated with the bounced email address.

If the contact has been replaced within their organisation, find the details of their replacement and add these to your database. In addition, find out where the original contact has moved on to and, if still relevant, update these details. This way, from one hard bounce you gain two new relevant contacts for future campaigns. The exception to this rule is where specific countries require opt-in for direct marketing – see the useful guidance on the Linklaters website for latest rules by country.

NOTE: If you do update / add names to your database in this way you need to ensure you are GDPR compliant by informing the individual/s concerned that you have their data – see ICO’s ‘Right to be informed’ guidance for more info.

Watch out for the spam trap

Event marketers must be aware of how the dreaded spam filter can lead to misleading benchmark figures. ‘Delivered’ figures include emails that have reached their intended ISP, but the sender is not informed whether their email arrived in the recipient’s inbox or their junk mail folder.

To ensure emails reach their intended destination:

  • Make your data and messaging relevant – too many ‘unsubscribes’ raises a red flag for email providers and clever spam filters
  • Focus on formatting – avoid using shouty capital letters; overdoing exclamation marks; poorly formatted HTML; excess images (a particular issue with lots of sponsor logos!) and ‘spammy’ subject lines containing terms like ‘buy’, ‘save’ or ‘discount’

As with delivery rates, we expect to see open rates improve with GDPR thanks to better quality contacts.

The most typical causes of low performing open rates are:

  • Unengaging subject lines
    • The best subject lines are direct and descriptive
    • Make the most of your event in your subject lines. If you have a big-name speaker or influential company on board, include these in the subject line
    • Make sure you are getting the most relevant messages in to your subject line so your email really grabs your audience
    • A/B test different variables to learn what resonates
  • Unrecognisable sender name
    • Always use a trusted sender name
    • It’s almost never a good idea for a marketer to be the sender
    • For events it’s far better to use a prominent name in the sector such as a conference producer, event director or editor of an associated media outlet
    • If it is a nurturing email within a sales process, use the relevant sales person’s name
    • Test your emails with different sender names to see what gets results
  • Poor preheader text
    • Most emails are opened on mobiles, where preheader text is visible prior to an email being opened. Weak messaging, repetitive content (repeating the subject line in the pre-headed text) or inappropriate language and tone are just some of the factors which can ‘kill’ your email’s chances of success
  • Inconvenient day / time
    • Timing really matters – especially when it comes to getting recipients to notice and open your emails. Sending them mid-week, mid-day may have been safe advice in the past but now it also depends on user habits and what device they’re reading their emails on – it all comes down to demographics and knowing your audience.
    • A/B test your send times to see what works best

Combined, ‘click through rates’ (CTR) and ‘click to open rates’ (CTOR) give a better indication of overall engagement than simply how many people opened your email.

Crucially, CTOR gives you insight into the success of your email’s content based on the behaviour of the recipients who opened your email. It does not consider reactions to other factors such as subject lines, sender names or email timing, which might affect whether the email was opened or not in the first place. So, we recommend paying more attention to the CTOR than the CTR – as long as you’re also keeping an eye on your OR!

How to improve CTOR rates

What are the most common reasons people don’t click on links in emails?

  • Irrelevant or bad data, or irrelevant messaging
    It is important to think about what your subscribers are expecting to receive from you and ensure that your content is relevant and aligned to expectations.
    Segment your list so that you can send the right content to the right people. You want to make them feel your event is unmissable and by attending they will become better at their jobs. If you aren’t doing this and give them generic content, they won’t click links.
  • Poor design or mobile experience
    Make sure your emails look good and all design elements work mobile as well as desktop. Limit copy length, test the layout, monitor image sizes and avoid Flash or video embeds to ensure none of those elements are hindering your CTOR.
  • Call to actions (CTA) are not prominent enough
    The best CTAs should grab the subscriber’s attention and are action-orientated (create that sense of urgency), eye-catching, legible and concise. Make sure your CTAs sit in the right spot – too early in your email and you won’t have had the chance to make a compelling case for clicking; too far down and you may find people drop off.

Benchmarks are essential to event success

It’s quite simple really: if you don’t constantly benchmark your email marketing performance – ideally using both industry averages (provided in this blog) and your own internal averages – you won’t know how your email marketing is performing or how to improve it!

MPG will be closely monitoring the impact of GDPR on industry benchmarks and we will be updating our guidance here for conference and exhibition marketers towards the end of this year. So, watch this space for updates!

Never miss a new MPG blog post

To be notified when MPG publishes a new blog post please subscribe to MPG updates


You can unsubscribe at any time from any emails you receive. For more information on how we process your data, see our full privacy policy.

Copyright © 2018 MPG | Marketing Pro Group (Marketing Pro Limited) - Your B2B Event Marketing Partners. Registered in England - 06975094. | Privacy Policy