Beyond Deliverability

E-mail marketers, I urge you to imagine a world in which you didn’t have to concern yourself with deliverability. No spam filters stand in between you and your target audience. You can know, with considerably certainty, that the emails you send will actually reach their destination. Even better, imagine that recipients could be confident that emails that appear to be from you actually are.

Yes, this is the controversial potential future that has set tongues wagging up and down the email industry. Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you know I’m talking about AOL’s plan to implement Goodmail’s CertifiedEmail.

All week, we’ve been inundated from industry players seeking to weigh in, mostly against the plan. Some of the folks with the loudest voices compete with Goodmail; others’ businesses may be threatened by the implementation of such a scheme; still others are genuinely concerned about the effect a two-tier system would have on those who couldn’t, or shouldn’t have to, pay. With all of the chatter and the press coverage, there’s been plenty of misinformation along for the ride.

AOL’s back-and-forth regarding its Enhanced Whitelist hasn’t helped matters, nor has press coverage that often either got it wrong entirely or used headlines that provoked fear among both senders and recipients. Now that things are beginning to settle down a bit, perhaps there’s room for consideration of the positive effects, or potential positive effects, of the implementation.

Goodbye to Deliverability

For as far back as I remember, deliverability has been a specter hanging over the email marketing industry. A recent JupiterResearch email marketing forecast expects the problem will continue, with wrongful blocking of permission-based mail accounting for $107 million in wasted spending in 2006.

Because of this problem, a vast, complex industry has sprung up to address it. E-mail service providers (ESPs) are obliged to offer, or partner to offer, deliverability services. Stand-alone companies, too, help marketers test emails for their likelihood to get caught in filters, optimize for better delivery, determine when messages are getting caught, and provide ISP relations staffers to intervene on marketers’ behalf. There’s a lot of money getting spent (and made) here.

Optimization for ROI

These folks are doing good things, in many cases. They likely help marketers with better list hygiene, ensuring fewer consumer complaints. Because they represent a critical mass of marketers, they can work with ISPs to ensure the senders’ point of view is represented. And I’m sure there’s much, much more that I’m not mentioning here.

But I can’t help but wonder if marketers would be better served by taking that money and that energy and applying them to (1) guaranteeing delivery via a certification system and (2) optimizing messages for ROI. How many times do marketers change language, layout or images for fear of triggering spam filters? What if they didn’t need to concern themselves with getting into the inbox? Would that open up new opportunities to boost response?

Additionally, the Goodmail system, at least as it’s being implemented by AOL, could enhance the trustworthiness of the email relationship, especially for spoof-prone domains. JupiterResearch’s David Daniels points out he’s not surprised the American Red Cross is participating in the charter program for CertifiedEmail, given the organization’s likelihood to be spoofed in the wake of natural disasters. Now, AOL users will see a special symbol next to verified Red Cross email, ensuring recipients know they can confidently click and donate, without worrying about being scammed. Might that work for other types of conversion, as well?

Bringing E-mail In-house

While deliverability obviously isn’t the only reason marketers outsource email, it’s certainly one reason. David from JupiterResearch tells me he’s talked to folks that find the prospect of paying for guaranteed delivery, but then bringing their email operations in-house, an economically attractive option. That way, they can amortize the software over several years and gain more control over the costs they’re incurring. Could we see more ESPs begin to offer hosted versions of their sending engines, which marketers could use in-house? It’s a possibility.

I’m not saying marketers should pay for email delivery, but such a model could change the game dramatically and negatively impact some current stakeholders. No wonder there’s been so much uproar. Where there is change, however, there are opportunities.

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