Optimizing for Priority Delivery

While the concept of engagement metrics is not new, the idea of having folders and filters as an intuitive feature in e-mail browsers is. Browsers are now intrinsically organizing mail by where they “think” it should go. Just consider Facebook’s new Messages platform, Gmail’s Priority Inbox, or Hotmail’s Sweep as examples.

These measures reinforce the fact that the power really is shifting to the consumer who will ultimately be more in control of his inbox. E-mail he really wants to read will go to the inbox; e-mail from friends and family might go to a different inbox folder; and e-mail from merchants might get “swept” to some other loosely monitored folder. All of this is being driven by customer behavior. Customers viewing or ignoring messages at their discretion drives the need for marketers to think carefully about who they are talking to, what they are saying to them, and how often they are saying it.

Will consumers consolidate all of their messages to one mailbox? Facebook is working hard to achieve this. Yahoo is revamping its interface to keep its users from drifting away, and it won’t be the last. Does that mean that consumers will drop their other e-mail addresses? Of course not. People have more than one e-mail address for an assortment of reasons: Facebook for friends, Yahoo for retailers, Gmail for marketing messages, Hotmail for Little League, and so on.

Given the fact that people are using several different e-mail addresses, it becomes increasingly important to know which address to engage and for what purpose. Since users are now able to more easily direct their marketing messages to a subfolder, it’s possible that engagement levels will drop off and perpetuate the drift from the inbox. Give your customers a reason not to use the filter feature when they receive your messages.

The key is (regardless of the ISP) to be hyper-focused on keeping your lists clean and subscribers on them engaged with the mail you send. I cannot stress this enough. If people are responding, ISPs will see that the list is engaged. Mailing to non-responsive segments of lists will (aside from degrading response rates, potentially exposing spam traps, and diminishing IP reputation) make the list less engaged. At some point ISPs will react differently to how they deliver that mail. Mailing to cleaner lists also means better response rates, conversions, and happier customers.

The following best practices will help to improve your engagement metrics and delivery to an inbox:

  • Use rigorous data collection practices that make it clear to customers and prospects that they will start receiving your e-mail. For example, when you ask for an e-mail address to send an order confirmation, don’t automatically add that address to your marketing list.
  • Constantly monitor who is opening, clicking, and purchasing, and who is not. Recognize when this behavior changes and take steps to understand why it changed. If after making your best efforts you can’t reengage this segment of your list, suppress them from your future marketing e-mails.
  • Remind your customers to add you to their address book or safe senders list in every mailing. This typically influences delivery to an inbox and has the added benefit of automatically enabling links and images.
  • Practice sound segmentation and send relevant content that is interactive and personalized. Customers inundated with e-mail they are not interested in will likely relegate your messages to some “other” folder where it may be missed.
  • Engage new customers immediately. Remember, you only get one chance to make a good first impression (with the customer and the ISP). Your welcome messages should present a value proposition that compels new customers to click through your links for more information and look forward to future e-mails.

This inbox management transformation presents a variety of opportunities for marketers to take advantage of – but only if we get ready now and start testing what it really means to engage consumers and compete with the clutter surrounding our messages. What steps are you taking to keep your subscribers engaged this year?

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