E-Mail Marketing Evolved

Since the passage of the 2003 CAN-SPAM Act, discussion around e-mail has simmered down. It’s hard to believe e-mail actually vied with the Iraq War for mainstream media headlines just a few years back. E-mail has become, relatively speaking, marketing wallpaper.

That’s why we at ClickZ decided to revive our E-Mail Marketing Conference. E-mail may not be in the limelight, but it’s still the leading online activity and a core component of almost any interactive marketing effort.

Where Are We Going, Where Have We Been?

Spam may be far from over, but it’s already spawned a legacy: deliverability. Though only one session at our conference was dedicated to the topic, deliverability remained a dominant issue in every discussion we had this week.

Earlier this week, I chatted with Craig Spiezle, director of Microsoft’s Technology Care and Safety Group. Spiezle said he’s “excited” about authentication and the level of adoption it’s achieved by e-mail marketers, upwards of 85 percent. This week, Microsoft added its version of SPF, Sender ID Framework, to the company’s Open Specification Promise program. This allows anyone to create products or services based on the technology.

Authentication is free. It’s required of Direct Marketing Association (DMA) members as well as members of the Email Sender and Provider Coalition (ESPC). As Spiezle said, “I’ve yet to come across any large marketers who aren’t using it.”

It’s a very different story with smaller marketers. A show of hands at our event indicated very few of them are aware of, much less using, SPF or Sender ID.

As Spiezle put it, “A lot of small businesses may only have a 1,000 people on a mailing list. But there are millions of those people.”

Do you send e-mail for marketing purposes? Get accredited. It’s free. It takes 10 minutes. There’s no excuse not to do it now, so sign up here.

List Quarantine

JupiterResearch’s David Daniels estimates e-mail marketing spend will be $950 million on this year. Given that level of investment, you’d think marketers would segment their lists with great care and attention, but the overwhelming majority are sticking with plain-vanilla demographic and geographic segments. There are plenty of other ways to slice and dice a list, of course, including ways that keep an eye on deliverability.

On a deliverability panel, SubscriberMail’s Jordan Ayan, Goodmail’s David Atlas, and EmailLabs’ Stefan Pollard all stressed the importance of segmenting lists by IP address and segregating new addresses from old ones until they’re proven clean and deliverable. Mix the bad with the good, and you risk damaging your reputation — and your ability to get delivered.

Spiezle also recommends segmenting lists for deliverability. IP address and SPF record are two criteria to use; another is keeping new addresses in quarantine until they’re proven clean. That way, untested new addresses taint neither core lists nor your sender reputation.

Shifting Views on Opt-In

Though never widely adopted, double confirmed opt-in has long been regarded as the gold standard. Jeanne Jennings pretty much echoed the sentiments of a panel of e-mail experts when she said that three years ago, she was adamant all lists be double opt-in, but recently single opt-in suffices for many of her clients.

I reluctantly agree. But double confirmed opt-in still makes for better lists and more committed recipients. Excellence should always be among the alternatives.

ESPs That Fire Their Clients

If you’ve been fired by your e-mail service provider (ESP) lately, you’re not alone. If you’ve been fired by more than one ESP, your e-mail marketing days may be over.

In off-the-record discussions with leading e-mail service providers, I learned firing clients who insist on deviating from best practices is a tough call these vendors are increasingly called on to make.

Kissing clients goodbye is seldom easy, but it’s necessary when they ask you to do things that comprise not only their integrity and reputation but, by extension, the integrity and reputations of your other clients. And of course, that loops straight back to the deliverability issue.

And though they may be competitors, the ESPs talk to one another. When a client’s in turnaround mode and sending out requests for proposals, odds are the prospective new vendors know why. Painful as it may be to turn away new business, that’s exactly what’s happening out there.

It’s well known that e-mail marketing is a job for professionals. Marketers who don’t stay aboveboard risk being shunned by the legitimate e-mail community. Some pretty impressive brands have joined these ranks already. If e-mail is part of your marketing arsenal, you’d be well advised not to get on an ESP’s do-not-e-mail list.

Want more e-mail marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our e-mail columns, organized by topic.

Related reading