How to Harness the Power of Email Competitive Intelligence

Partner Content


Organisations of every type have always needed and sought out information about their competitors. Long before the existence of any kind of digital marketing, competitors were buying and deconstructing one another’s products, collecting and analysing their print and broadcast advertising, subscribing to their direct mail, shopping in their stores, and polling their customers.

Understanding your competitors is as key to marketing management as understanding your customers. Within legal and ethical boundaries, it is a wholly legitimate endeavour – and vital to competitive success.

The idea is to identify competitive successes, gaps, opportunities, and the upside potential of possible remedies and other actions.

How is competitive intelligence usually managed?

Marketing email presents an ideal opportunity to show the need for competitive intelligence – and provide the means for its delivery. As this channel has grown, senders have used various competitive intelligence tactics.

The most common among these is simply signing up for competitors’ emails, which is quick, cheap, and easy. It shows the emails being sent to those who signed up, but it’s by no means a complete representation of all the email that the sender is deploying. For the mailings that a subscriber receives, there is visibility into the mailer’s subject lines, creative, and offers – but there’s no such insight into other mailings, or into the audience size or performance of any mailings.

Industry average benchmark reporting also offers insight. Published by some service providers and industry research organisations, these reports show email performance by vertical and sometimes also by email type. They offer guidance as to activity and performance trends and standards, usually at quarterly or semi-annual intervals. However, they offer no visibility into what content and other tactics actually drove the performance they report.

Email marketers may seek other guidance from marketing analysts and research services, but these are often ad-hoc projects, offering only superficial insight into tactics and their impact within a limited time window.

So what’s missing from this picture?

  • A platform with queryable, statistically valid, real-time activity and performance data.
  • Describing campaign-level mailing activity across a comprehensive representation of commercial emailers.
  • And showing exactly what’s being mailed, including subject lines, and creative, and detailed body content.

This is the only approach that can reliably identify email audience and message optimisation opportunities. These are some insights you should expect to glean from a robust competitive intelligence strategy and how you can take action on what you learn.

 How large are your competitors’ overall email audiences?

This reveals their number of potential customer impressions and can expose underperformance in relation to your competitors of comparable size and market footprint. Take action on it by performing a subscriber acquisition and list health audit, focusing on audience retention and development opportunities.

How many campaigns does each competitor mail, what kind, and when?

Such intel feeds critical knowledge about the extent, nature, and timing of competitive email programming and provides visibility into strategic customer journeys.

Leverage these insights in your own event and campaign planning to also inform your send-time testing and optimisation strategies.

How large are their audiences for each campaign?

This feeds critical knowledge on competitors’ campaign reach and segmentation and supports targeting estimates. Again, this should inform your own event and campaign planning: are you segmenting your audience enough? Are you running enough campaigns per segment, or too many?

 How targeted are their email campaigns?

Having this information supports enhanced sophistication in your segmentation, targeting, and personalisation. Leveraging competitive intelligence that proves competitors’ email campaigns are more sophisticated than yours can not only provide inspiration but may also create a compelling argument for more resources for your email team.

How frequently do their email campaigns touch each of their subscribers?


Too large a number creates retention risk, but too small a number suggests opportunities to enhance contact.

Take action on this with contact frequency testing and optimisation. Segment your database and try different send times and frequencies for each group: do you get more engagement with emails once a day or three times per week?

Are any of your competitors’ deliverability and engagement rates better than yours?

Inboxing is strongly driven by message relevance and improved subscriber engagement. This can lead to important diagnostic/best practices audits on your own campaigns and help with program and audience planning to ensure you’re engaging the right people with the right message.

How are their subject lines structured?


Subject lines can affect deliverability, and are most critical in driving opens . This kind of information also reveals details of subject line deployment and practice in relation to inbox performance and engagement.

Test your own subject lines and offers based on these competitive insights.

What other senders’ audiences overlap with yours?


This reveals which other emailers are competing with you for attention in your subscribers’ inboxes – and for product sales. It also provides a profile of your email subscribers’ interests.

Calibrate your mailings to match (or beat!) the quality and sophistication of competitive mailers. Leverage overlaps for new audience acquisition and engagement, as well as possible strategic partnerships.

These are powerful ways you can put competitive intelligence to work for you. Insights and actions supported by robust competitive intelligence have direct financial impact, including demonstrable lifts in inbox rates, open, click, and conversion rates, and average order value. Companies that have and use robust email competitive intelligence can improve email revenue as much as three times.


To download the full guide on the power of competitive intelligence, visit the SparkPost website.