Stop Delivering Nightmare Brand Experiences

Does this sound absurd to you? “We’re waiting for our engineering team to build an argument for protecting our brand against email fraud.” It should sound absurd, but it probably sounds familiar, too. Lots of marketing organizations depend on their technology departments to defend the brand online. It’s not the right approach.

There’s a temptation to focus on the technical side of the email security story, assessing points of vulnerability and mitigation protocols. This makes sense: the countermeasures available to brands to combat fraud are technical standards and analytical solutions that can’t be implemented or ideally used without proper training and support from outside the marketing organization. The danger of viewing email fraud protection as a technology issue is that it can misdirect the conversation away from the problem and the reason to fix it: your brand experience.

As a marketing executive, the brand experience is what keeps me up at night. Every customer interaction is part of that experience: every website visit, every transaction, every conversation with an associate, every support call…and every email message. As marketing becomes more and more measurable, every element of the brand experience is analyzed and scrutinized like never before. We map customer journeys across channels, segment by device and location in real time, and test and optimize email message content before campaigns are fully delivered. The pressure to get it right at every step, in every interaction, every time is immense – especially when we have access to data that tells instantly how we did. Email marketers know right away when a campaign isn’t measuring up or delivering its share of a great brand experience. And if a lackluster customer newsletter is a blemish on the brand experience, a machine-translated Viagra pitch is a bullet hole.

That’s exactly what DMARC was designed to prevent. The founders of the anti-phishing standard DMARC (Domain-Based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance) saw the email fraud threat on those terms – serious enough to erode trust not just in individual senders but in an entire communication channel. Theirs is a technical solution, of course, but it’s a solution to a brand experience problem first and foremost – a highly effective solution. (Full disclosure: Return Path is a founding member of

DMARC has made much progress in its three years. Leading financial brands, social networks, global retailers, and government agencies are now actively monitoring the email sent under their names and proactively blocking millions of suspicious messages before they reach consumers. And there’s been a shift in the phishing landscape, making protected brands more difficult , less profitable targets for criminals who prefer to move on to easier opportunities. Statistics show that since DMARC’s introduction, phishing attacks are concentrated on smaller brands, with fewer messages, more frequent changes, and shorter durations. On the other hand, there are more of them; the Anti-Phishing Working Group’s most recent report found that the number of phishing attacks in H1-2014 rose to their highest counts in more than five years.

To me there’s a bigger story than the numbers tell on their own, though: DMARC is eliminating the kinds of trust-killing brand experiences that marketers lose sleep over.

Although DMARC represents a relatively simple response to email fraud, many marketers have been slow to implement it, and their reasons aren’t absurd: they need at least some cooperation from IT partners to take full advantage of it – and IT doesn’t bear the cost of email fraud, at least not directly. Also, DMARC can’t stop all email fraud – just a really big part of it.

On the other hand, measuring the performance of your marketing efforts and their impact on the brand experience is usually complex and relatively expensive – but worth it because customer relationships are marketing investments. Those investments are absolutely worth protecting. As a marketer, your good night’s sleep depends on it.

Image via Shutterstock.

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