Relevancy, Reputation, and Engagement: The Evolution of E-mail Delivery Management

In the 12 years that I have been in the email business, there has been very little innovation in terms of the technology used by marketers to deliver successful email campaigns. That is not to say that a revolution in email marketing software is necessarily needed, but it is just a statement of fact.

You have a database platform that provides a central location to hold and manage consumer contact and preference information, as well as offering segmentation capabilities for targeting your campaigns – albeit with different levels of sophistication; you have a platform that allows you to build your email message templates and content, whether they be static or dynamic; you have an SMTP ‘engine’ that allows you to distribute these messages and control the technical aspects of delivery; and then you have a reporting and ‘analytics’ engine that provides you with the quantitative insight into how your campaigns have performed.

At the technology level, despite what email service providers (ESPs) may tell you during a hard-sell process, very little has changed on the sender side. Fundamentally we do the same thing, and have done so for more than a decade – the only difference is that we package the code in different user interfaces and with different logos.

However, over this same period of time much has changed on the receiver side – and by that I mean at the ISP and mailbox provider level; and it is an ESP’s ability to guide a marketer through this very fluid landscape of dos and don’ts, and their ability to help build strategies that work across borders and languages that ultimately make an email marketer successful.

So what has changed?

In the early days of the email universe, when China had only 10million Internet users and Gmail was not even a twinkle in the eyes of Larry Page and Serge Brin, the world of deliverability was focused on the ability to get ever-increasing volumes of email out the door. Early adopting consumers loved to receive email offers and promotions driving open rates upwards of 40 percent to 50 percent in Asia Pacific that we can only dream of today for promotional mailings, and click rates that were the envy of the nascent digital marketing community. It was just assumed that no matter how much email a brand sent, that it would end up at the Inbox as the concept of junk mail and spam folders was still very new. You just needed enough servers and the right electronic connections with the ISPs to get your messages out of the door and in front of the recipients. It was a time when email marketing was dubbed “The Killer App”.

Fast forward to 2011 and we live in a vastly different digital landscape where it is estimated that four in five emails sent globally are true spam, or messages that are irrelevant to consumers and ones that they have no desire to receive, despite opting in at some point in the past.  No longer is it about ‘how do I get email out of the door?’ but it is a question of how relevant is your messaging and how engaged are your consumers that ultimately helps mailbox providers the world over decide whether your email gets to the inbox, the junk folder, or even makes it through the gates at all.

So here are the top five things to consider when starting to address your deliverability woes.

1. Get your infrastructure in order
Ensure that the infrastructure you are using, whether in-house or outsourced, is able to comply with the varying requirements of ISPs and mail box providers around the globe and at the individual level. From Domain Keys, to SPF and Sender Score Certified, to the number of connections and maximum volume an ISP will allow you to deliver over a certain period of time. Make sure you are across it all – or the organisation that handles your email platform is.

2. Find a permanent home

It still shocks me how many large brands and marketers still think that switching IP addresses regularly will help them with their delivery issues. It simply will not. ISPs like consistency and a dedicated IP address can provide that.  It makes it easier to recognise a brand and to monitor mailing patterns, and with many local ISPs now also employing reverse lookups on an IP address before they consider delivering your mail, you must be recognised, always.

3. Don’t deliver to the dead

It is not just a question of ‘who you are’, but ‘what you do’ that matters.

Reputation is a key component to your ability to get delivered – and it is not the size or brand awareness that your company commands that defines your reputation. It is all about what you do as an email marketer – your mailing behaviour. Do you continually mail to dead email addresses or SPAM traps? Do you honour unsubscribe requests from consumers? Do you follow local legislation requirements with regards to labeling or content of emails? If all of this is new to you, then I suggest a quick check of the IP addresses you use to deliver your email through at www.senderscore.org from ReturnPath. Providing a scale from 0 to 100, it will allow you to see at a glance if you are having reputation and delivery issues.

4. Keep it relevant, and engagement will follow

As ISPs look to the next line of defence, and the definition of SPAM evolves to include emails that are no longer relevant, it is key that you focus on the consumer, and the reason they signed up to be part of your email programmes. What may have been relevant 2 months ago may now be of no interest to a consumer if they have bought that car or electronic gadget, or have taken that holiday already.  Put the consumer front and centre and ensure you build a communication strategy that is lifecycle driven so as to ensure relevancy.

5. Never be afraid to ask for help

Rarely does an organisation have the knowledge, skills or manpower internally to manage all aspects of deliverability. The moment you believe you have a problem look for help – and even if you think your email marketing efforts are delivering on expectations, it never hurts to go for a checkup. Just minor improvements can scale dramatically your revenue and bottom line.

So remember – there is no one magic bullet that can ensure you flawless deliverability every time – and an ESP that tells you it can solve your problems just with technology will never be able to deliver over the long term.

If you do have declining response rates and ultimately ROI, these are clear indicators that you have issues. Take action quickly, and start to look at what really matters – your customers. The more they are engaged with you in a meaningful relationship with two-way communication, the better. After all engaged customers are the best customers.

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marc jacobs
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