A version of this story appeared in Total Annarchy, my fortnightly newsletter that helps you be a better writer, storyteller, marketer. Get it in your inbox; you’ll love it.
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That’s a quote from Paulo Coelho, Buddha, or The Little Engine That Could, the classic children’s tale of a small train that persevered in pulling a heavy load over a mountain after bigger, lazier engines tapped out.
Or maybe the quote is from all three…? (LOL)
About 18 months ago I started manually tracking a specific metric for this newsletter.
Today a version of that metric is increasingly important to marketers, for a few reasons.
It’s a small but powerful metric for email newsletters, one I’ve started to think of as the Little Metric That Could: It hauls a lot of important weight.
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I call the email metric I track Open to Write Back Rate (OWBR, pronounced “Owe-bur”)—meaning, the percentage of people who literally reply to any given issue of this email newsletter after I send it out.
OWBR is my own rebrand of Reply Rate or Response Rate (RR), which some email marketers track to measure the same.
Email expert extraordinaire Michael Barber told me that only a few email providers currently include RR on dashboards, including HubSpot, Salesforce Highrise, and Outreach.
Outreach also measures the sentiment of each RR (Angry? Joyful? Need more drinks in the Bar Car?)—probably through an AI/natural-language processing tool, Michael said.
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Why is this Little Metric the most important email metric right now? For a few reasons, running on parallel tracks:
1) RR/OWBR is a signal of email reputation.
The more people reply to your email, the more your sender reputation improves.
A strong email reputation means your email actually gets into the inbox. It does not get the shaft. It’s less likely to be sent to Spam or Promotions or kicked to the curb.
2) RR/OWBR is a signal for writing resonance.
How inspired are your readers to hit reply and write back to you? Zero?Well, friend. I love you… but your email newsletter is a nurturing tool, not a broadcast platform.
Try harder. You got this.
3) RR/OWBR is a harbinger of a relationship.
How much do they want to have a conversation with you?
Do you feel like a real person…?
Or do you feel like a literal… uh… “solution”?
I suppose I could have said that the metric is a signal of reader engagement. But I really wanted to use the word “harbinger” in a sentence.
4) RR/OWBR is an audience research tool.
It tells you not just who your audience is from a demographic standpoint. But who they actually are. How they found you. What they care about. What they look to you for.
In other words, it tells you a lot about both them and you.
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All that ^^ is why I watch OWBR. So my advice to you:
Work on making your own RR/OWBR into a powerful engine chugging easily over that mountain top!
How? I have thoughts.
1) Use your Welcome email as a trigger to action. Invite your audience to interact with you immediately—in that first email.
Invite them to respond. Set up a system to deal with the responses.
> Important: Don’t make it feel “hard.” Make it simple-easy for a new subscriber to respond.
Example: When you subscribed to this newsletter, I asked you two simple questions:
(1) What path brought you here, and (2) what you hope to learn.
Metrics: 82% of you open that email. The RR/OWBR is 43%—meaning, 43% of you write me back.
Why it matters: I learn all the things I talked about above. I also learn a lot about who my “influencers” are (who is recommending my work); who my audience is; how I can most help.
2) Ask easy questions in each newsletter issue. Again: Be sure they’re open-ended, easy layups: What’s your favorite tool? was in a recent issue (93 of you shared a favorite with me).
I learned the hard way why easy matters.
(Side note: I generally learn everything the hard way. You, too?)
Hard way example: Many, many issues ago I wrote my own Dr. Seuss-inspired poem. At the time I invited readers to do the same. “Write a Dr. Seuss-inspired poem!” former-me said. “It’ll be fun! Hit reply and share it with me!”
I might as well have asked you to map your dreams via a Cartesian coordinate system and then bring them to a bubble over a Bunsen burner. (Impossible.)
3) Optimize your content for Crush, not Crickets. I hate the Bro word “crush.” But in this case it describes when I get a crush of email into my inbox.
Focusing on RR/OWBR makes me fine-tune my approach to optimize for maximum crush. (“Maximum crush”—and now I’ve temporarily entered full BroMode™ whoops.