Email Auto-Filtering - What's a Marketer to Do?

  |  January 22, 2013   |  Comments

Consumers are increasingly fatigued on email clutter. But there may be a solution to it.

There has been a lot of conversation recently around the increasing presence of auto-filtering for managing inbox clutter. With companies like OtherInbox, SaneBox, and AOL Alto, the reality of your email communication being filtered out of the inbox and into a folder may be a reality you already face. And if not, it will be one you will likely face soon as adoption of these types of tools continues - both by consumers and business users alike. While there has been a lot of conjecture around this reality, very little has been shared around the considerations we need to make as marketers, such as how it will affect our engagement rates, offer adoption, and impressions on subscribers. Let's dive into these considerations a little deeper.

You've Been Relegated to the Folder

Whether it's a folder or a "stack," your email marketing message has found itself tightly aligned with other email communications from competitors and other vertically aligned organizations. Many systems have default categorizations that look at a variety of information within the marketing message and the email envelope to tuck the message away neatly for the recipient. There are a number of challenges associated with this, but one of the biggest is that it doesn't matter when you sent that message - you aren't appearing at the top of the inbox. You may be at the top of the "travel" or "shopping" folder - right alongside the likes of your competitors, or the other four messages you sent in the last seven days. The landscape and view of how and when your subscribers see your email is changing. Does this fact impact your business? For some of you the answer is absolutely. For others, you may be less concerned.

Pre-Disposition to Engage

Let's take a more positive look at what this might mean for a marketer. Let's say you are a travel and hospitality organization and your email has been placed into the "travel" category. The act of the subscriber clicking into the "travel" folder means that she is likely already in the mindset to engage with a travel offer or communication - otherwise she would be in the "social" folder or someplace else. While the impressions may be slightly more limited, it's very possible that a recipient looking at messages with a very specific focus might just be more inclined to engage than if the message were in the inbox.

Why Can't You Be More Spontaneous?

Every "pro" has its "con." One of the advantages of sending messages that resonate with the customer, leveraging behavior and predictive opportunities, is to "remind" the customer that she wants to engage, subconsciously. By removing the message from the inbox and placing it in the "travel" folder, the consumer has to make a conscious choice to look in the travel folder. Sometimes the mere act of seeing a great deal in the inbox is enough to drive the engagement - even if the consumer didn't "know" she was looking for it. The ability to engage spontaneously is greatly minimized, if not removed completely, by email auto-filtering.

Longer Offer Periods May Be a Reality

Unless the consumer is regularly checking a specific folder (or all of her folders), the days of last-minute deals catching the eye of the customer may be gone (or greatly impacted). Imagine if a customer opens up the travel folder only to find a number of deals from you and your competitors that are all expired. This reality may frustrate consumers. A potential solution here is to use technologies and partners that optimize and render content at the moment of an open (Moveable Ink is an example). While it has historically been applied in very specific situations, the need for such an ability may increase if auto-filtering really takes hold.

Do Your Analytics Need to Change?

Delivery and inbox placement aren't going to be enough to gain proper insight into what is happening with your email. And the reality of an open action occurring days (vs. hours) after a message has been sent is a strong reality. If you're starting to see great lag times in engagement metrics or decreasing engagement, it may be time to consider the possibility that auto-filtering (or auto-foldering) is impacting your performance.

There isn't a lot of fodder out there right now about how to combat, address, or embrace the possibility of auto-filtering really taking off, but it's important to start thinking about it now. Consumers are increasingly fatigued on email clutter. This just may be their solution to it. How are you going to address it?

Image on home page via Shutterstock.

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Kara Trivunovic

A 12-year email marketing veteran, Kara has been actively involved in programmatic email development, execution, and strategy in a variety of senior positions on the client, agency, and provider side. Most recently, Kara was founder and principal of The Email Advisor, a respected email marketing consultancy focusing on email strategy and channel optimization. Prior to launching The Email Advisor, Kara led strategic services for the email division of Premiere Global Services, where she worked with global organizations structuring a variety of custom email education programs, conceptualizing and implementing new and innovative email programs, optimizing contact strategies, and developing staffing and budget plans.

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