The new year is already full of new rumors. It's easy to get distracted or confused, especially when there are "best practices" that don't seem to match your experience or customer behavior. Here are facts you need to challenge even the most confident of colleagues - and to ensure your e-mail program is optimized for reaching the inbox and earning a response in 2010.
Revenue equals subscriber interest. Too many marketers are lulled into a false sense of security by the seemingly unquenchable revenue generated by the e-mail channel. Take a hard look at your file. The data will show that most purchases are made by only a portion of the file. That means a lot of unsatisfied subscribers and missed revenue. Even simple segmentation (e.g., post purchase, pre-renewal, prospect status) goes a long way toward engaging the rest of the file - and earning higher revenue overall.
Permission-based marketing messages are delivered to the inbox. Actually, the global e-mail deliverability benchmark report, produced by my company, found that 20 percent of legitimate commercial e-mail never reaches the inbox in North America, and 15 percent goes missing in Europe. Permission is not enough. Senders must track and improve the key metrics that affect e-mail deliverability like complaints, unknown users, and file responsiveness.
Inbox placement is all about engagement now. Actually, it's always been about engagement; that is, what complaint data (clicks on the "report spam" button) reflects. Some ISPs have announced subscriber level data as part of the "cocktail." For instance, Hotmail has a panel, Yahoo is experimenting with click-through rates as a qualifier of subscriber activity, and several global ISPs use "This is not spam" data (clicks from the junk/bulk folder) as a way to track false positives (messages in the bulk folder that subscribers want in the inbox). There will likely always be new metrics introduced into sender reputation calculations - because spammers are always changing their tactics. Today, however, the most influential factor remains complaints.
My e-mail service provider handles inbox placement for me. Sorry, but marketers must own their own sender reputation. A good e-mail broadcast vendor will maintain a solid infrastructure and help you authenticate, track complaints, and manage bounces properly. But no vendor controls your data sourcing, frequency, or content strategy - all of which contribute to sender reputation. Do not get complacent. Ensure you have data to actively manage and optimize inbox deliverability. Sender reputation is not a one-time project - it's an ongoing measure of your current practices.
Changing the content or subject line is a good way to get a block lifted. Content is actually a very small contributor to filtering decisions, and only plays a big role when it's egregious, like a subject line that is misleading or has excessive punctuation, or if the message contains one big image. Most legitimate marketers don't use these tactics. Sender reputation (measured free at www.senderscore.org) reflects the combination of factors - including content - that result in blocking or reaching the inbox.
Reports showing high "delivered" rates mean my messages reach the inbox. This is such an unfortunate language barrier. "Delivered" for most reports is simply a measure of the bounce rate. Inbox placement (or inbox deliverability) is a different number and reflects what percentage actually reaches the inbox. In addition, don't be salved by average inbox placement across all clients of your broadcast vendor. Be sure you know this number for your own campaigns.
Seeding campaigns is enough to monitor sender reputation. Seeding is essential - it's the most intelligent proxy available and an efficient way to quickly track inbox placement rates. Do it. However, it's not enough to truly manage sender reputation. You need to understand the impact of the entire sender reputation data set, including how feedback loops, blacklists, authentication, and unknown user rate affect your reputation. Two free sites that can get you started are www.senderscore.org and www.senderbase.com.
Deliverability monitoring is unnecessary if you have e-mail accreditation. Accreditation (or certification) is not a silver bullet - sender practices still matter. Only marketers with the best sender reputations qualify for third-party certification programs and get the benefits of bypassing some filters and having images and links on by default. Only those who continue to maintain these standards stay certified. Monitor the important factors contributing to sender reputation to alert for issues or quickly correct missteps.
Sender reputation is irrelevant for B2B (define) marketers. It's just as important. Corporate system administrators use the same data as Yahoo and Gmail - in fact, corporate filters like Postini and Cloudmark access and contribute to the same sender reputation calculations. Therefore, reputation tracked via the Web-based domains can be a good indication of your overall sender reputation, even if it only represents a portion of your file.
It's impossible to get subscribers to add a brand marketer to their address book. It is hard. It's a little like asking a stranger to be your best friend. But it's worth the effort, as this is one of the few ways to get images and links on by default. (The other is to qualify for third-party certification.) Try placing the invitation prominently in the sign-up landing page, the welcome message, in every message footer, and in occasional special mailings. Consider an incentive like a white paper or coupon.
Use the comments section below to let me know if that is helpful to your planning and program audits or if I can clarify any of these myths for you.
Stephanie Miller is a relentless customer advocate and a champion for marketers creating memorable online experiences. A digital marketing expert, she helps responsible data-driven marketers connect with the people, resources, and ideas they need to optimize response and revenue. She speaks and writes regularly and leads many industry initiatives as VP, Member Relations and Chief Listening Officer at the Direct Marketing Association (www.the-dma.org). Feedback and column ideas most welcome, to smiller AT the-dma DOT org or @stephanieSAM.