Email Marketing: Key Issues Behind the Scenes

OK, I admit it. I needed a break from writing the traditional email marketing case study this week. So instead of the usual problem-solution-results column, I thought I’d give you all a look at a couple of issues behind the scenes.

I got an email message recently from Eric Winter of Timberline Interactive. “You consistently refer to the ‘open rate’ of various campaigns, but I haven’t found any place where you tell how this valuable stat can be determined,” Winter said. “What I have tried is to serve a tracer pixel (image) to my mail lists, but people have questioned the validity of this technique since many people have a preview pane in their email applications that renders HTML regardless of whether the message is ‘opened.'”

Not Perfect, but Useful

Since I don’t have hands-on experience, I turned to one of the pros for some answers. Clint Kaiser of Blue Ink Solutions, a company I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, had this response:

    The HTML open-mail metric is admittedly “unreliable” for some purposes. The user has to keep in mind both the shortcomings inherent in the technology and the value that the metric can provide. What the metric does not do is provide an exact count of emails opened for the purpose of reading the message…

    But in aggregate, the data can provide useful information with regard to trends in individuals opening their mail. For example, if an open rate for a daily message has been static at 5 percent for months, but a variable is changed (let’s say the subject line) and the number immediately jumps to 11 percent for several weeks after that (or conversely to 1 percent), the measurement is of use.

    As for the technology itself, typically a single clear pixel is used for determining the open rate. That does have limitations depending upon what type of information is being gleaned.

    One interesting way I have seen it used was to establish who wasn’t opening their mail. The publisher was looking to pare down its list to ensure the highest-quality readership base for the advertisers: quality over quantity. The publisher studied which users hadn’t opened their mail for X period of time, sent them a warning that unless they responded to the alert message, they would be permanently removed from receiving the mailing. The publisher then proceeded to purge. I’ve also seen it used to establish optimal days of the week and times of the day (also trackable via the pixel) to send out messages for the particular list.

Relevance: The Key to Good Will

I was also forwarded some interesting email from a reader who had been spammed. A software company had notified its customers about an “outstanding offer” on some computer hardware. The problem is, this particular customer had opted out of the database several months before. Or so he thought.

We here at ClickZ have said it before: If you’re considering sending out messages to consumers, make sure they’re relevant and that you respect consumers’ wishes. Otherwise, you might receive a response such as this. (The following is excerpted from a message sent by Madigan Pratt of Integrated 1-to-1 Marketing after first complaining to the offending company and receiving its response):

    While you promise you will never again solicit me in this way, you fail to mention that you won’t solicit those, who like me, have opted out of your mailing list. This seems to leave the door open for you to violate that trust again and again with others…

    Had you ever taken the time to request a profile, you would have learned that our company is primarily Mac, and would not have been interested in PCs… [and] you never mention the fact that the offending email didn’t have an “unsubscribe” option. Had I, or others who chose to opt out, clicked on one of the links, would you have considered us to have opted back in? I sincerely believe you need to look a little closer at the activities of your marketing department.

It sounds like some marketers need a little reminding. The next time you contact customers, make sure you follow the basic ethical tenets of email marketing. They include sending relevant information and letting recipients know how they can unsubscribe from your database.

I’m going to be a bit out of commission for a week or so, and it may take me longer than usual to respond to reader email messages. As you’re reading this column, I’ll be lying on my couch, eating bonbons and reading the latest Michael Connelly while I recover from surgery.

No, don’t be alarmed, I’m completely healthy. You see, I was matched up as a bone-marrow donor to a teenage girl with leukemia. It’s a fantastic program, so I’m telling everyone I can about it. If your personal beliefs and commitments permit, I suggest you consider signing up for the National Marrow Donor Program.

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