For many Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) brands, ecommerce is out of reach. Not because they can’t figure it out, but because they have chosen not to participate in that channel. The most commonly stated reason is to avoid conflicts with resellers. Without passing judgment on any of these reasons or decisions, we must accept that the enterprise has chosen not to go there.

When the ecommerce channel is not available, chances are the brand has no direct ties between most digital marketing activities and sales. While brands can theoretically buy all sorts of data about their customers and where they shop, realistically such data is too costly for many brands’ already-stretched budgets.

This divide – the separation between digital marketing and sales – poses a problem for email marketers. We have been taught that we can best drive results by measuring as close to the sale as possible. In fact, we have proven through solid testing that the further from sale that we measure, the less able we are to predict the outcome. For example, we’ve all heard of tests where the email with the highest clicks did not ultimately drive the most revenue. Yet here we are, miles away from revenue, looking askance at our clickthrough rates and open rates.

What then should we do?

Our first imperative is to redefine our goal. Goals must be measurable to be actionable. If we cannot obtain the data necessary to measure sales, we need to choose another goal that is nearly as important yet which we can measure. For most CPG brands, this goal becomes engagement. It is critical here to recognize that not just any engagement will do. The hurdle must be high enough to make this a sufficient proxy for sales. What we really need is deep engagement. If the brand cannot generate deep engagement, then it is probably not well-suited to a direct messaging channel like email.

Having redefined our goals, our next step is to build our email program to map to those goals. Recognizing again that CPG budgets are stretched pretty thin, we need to be deliberate and precise in creating a plan for every channel, including email.

Many brands fall into one of two traps: either they design beautiful email newsletters and forego testing, or they build test programs to optimize tiny elements within an email program and lose sight of the larger objective in the process. Subject lines are wonderful things, but despite a lot of talk about how influential they can be in final results, only rarely does a subject line test make a significant difference in the end result.

Brands need to rethink their email programs in terms of their newly defined goals. They should be holding their email programs accountable towards engagement goals, to the point that they can develop an “engagement-per-email” metric similar to the revenue-per-email metric used by retailers.

The relationship of goal to metric to tactic should point to some new ideas for CPG brand emails, as well as pointing the way to results worth writing about to the CEO.

Share your ideas in the comments section.

Originally published on  MediaPost.com’s Email Insider blog. View comments there.