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The CMO’s guide to digital benchmarking

By Ian Harris

With nearly 13 million Australians now subscribed to the internet, every retail business needs a strong digital presence to stay relevant in the marketplace. Marketing executives face the challenge that the medium is evolving fast, making it difficult to quantify the success of online strategies. Establishing benchmarks is key for every business in order to keep up with the market, create internal goals and targets, and better evaluate the success of campaigns. The following is a breakdown of the different facets to consider when it comes to digital benchmarking from an online marketing perspective.

The challenge of benchmarking

Being able to set the right digital benchmarks can be challenging given the ever-evolving nature of the digital sphere. The brands and online destinations that you are competing against for clicks are not what you’d expect, a new strategy can quickly become tomorrow’s old news, and audiences can migrate from platform to platform very quickly.

However, benchmarking should never be avoided by retailers looking to generate online growth. Identifying and examining the competitors in your market space will give you insights into your position in the market and how your competitors are driving traffic to their sales platforms. It’s also important to take your own past campaigns into account when establishing benchmarks for your business. Your past success will set a good foundation and ensure you’re not chasing unrealistic targets.

Web traffic and analytics – crunching the numbers

One of the most fundamental elements of setting benchmarks is to identify the purpose of the customer’s journey, and what your business wants to achieve. To do this, goal setting is essential so that you’re not wasting resources on pillars your business is already hitting.

As an e-commerce marketer, the goal is always to hit the ‘Holy Trinity’, which will drive the metrics you need to monitor: a positive trend in traffic, conversion, and basket value. Those analyses should be based on the competition and your own past campaigns, and can be provided by many existing tools or consulting firms, depending on the depth of analysis you need.

Digital benchmarking on key channels

When setting digital benchmarks, it’s important to consider all the key channels at your disposal to reach the consumer and optimise its experience.

Email marketing

While it can be a highly effective way to reach your customer base, email marketing can be tricky to benchmark. They all depend on what you have to sell, how well-structured the content of your Electronic Direct Mail (EDM) is, and the prevalence of other campaigns you are running at the same time.

When it comes to EDMs, you also need to set benchmarks within benchmarks. A high open rate is a step in the right direction, but if only a small percentage clicks through, you may have to reassess your strategy or your targets. There are plenty of tools available for going deep into analysing the results of your EDM, but in many instances, employing the services of a company that specialises in data analysis might make more sense.

Online customer experience

To achieve maximum conversions, your website must be fresh and current. Your digital team should be constantly looking for friction points that limit the customer experience, and figuring out how to remove them. Setting a user experience benchmark requires detailed examination of the competition, as well as constant reviews of your company’s website so it is up to date and reflects the brands evolution. Constantly running A/B tests on your website is essential. This will quickly demonstrate what users are responding to, and which elements of your design and functionality should change. The tiniest change can sometimes lead to better performance.


When establishing a benchmark for SEO, it is important to compare apples with apples. There is no point in comparing your results with a major competitor that has a much bigger budget than yours. However, the more information you can gather from your competitors, the better. Having insight into their strategy will allow you to target alternative keywords and search terms that will cost you less to compete and help you to surface higher in search results pages.

Deciding which metric to focus on depends on your goals for growth. You may set a strategy to create more content and boost organic traffic, having found this leads to more repeat visits and higher sales.

Social media

Social media is a cornerstone marketing strategy for consumer-facing businesses, especially in the retail sector. Benchmarking the competition on social media can be tricky because of budget gaps, so it’s better to examine the evolution of customer engagement on your own channels, and set targets that align with your wider social media strategies and budget. However, if you want to have a look at the competition, most social media or related companies offer analytics tools that makes benchmarking easy.

A key approach when it comes to benchmarking is being consistent with metrics and compare like for like. As online platforms drastically evolve, so should the benchmarks for your digital marketing strategies. You should constantly review data from similar campaigns your business has run and gather information you can from the competition, but most importantly track all your results to see the areas your business can improve.

Ian Harris is the Head of Digital at Salmat, a marketing services business.

This story first appeared on sister site, Inside Retail Australia.

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