The Crowded Inbox

One of the common questions from marketers today is “How do I make the ISP ensure my email sticks out in the already crowded mailboxes out there?” This is a great question that I think many of the ClickZ authors have answered differently, using such ideas as balanced images to text ratios, opt-in lists, relevant content, and much, much more. However, did you also know the ISPs themselves sometimes know more about their customers’ inboxes than the users do? Did you know the users control their inboxes more today than they did last year?

What I wanted to quickly focus on here is how do you get there, but then stay in the inbox? Overall, spam is down and legitimate email is on the rise. As such, many email providers are creating better methods for their users to sort through the inbox clutter, whether it is good email or bad. There is Hotmail Sweep, Gmail Priority Inbox, OtherInbox, and disposable email addresses, and you should be aware that no longer are just receivers doing all the work to deliver or not deliver your email, but more than ever, consumers themselves are making these choices without having to use the “This is Spam” button.

Hotmail Sweep: If you haven’t heard, Hotmail is looking at taking the old “This is Spam” button and bringing it into the 21st century. Coming to a Hotmail inbox near you will be a new feature called “Sweep,” which essentially does just that: sweeps unwanted email away from your inbox, but without the consequence of taking a negative hit to a sender’s reputation score. Why is Hotmail doing this? It’s simple: many of us know there is a gray area in email that isn’t outright spam, but isn’t something you really care about as well, like a personal note from your friends. Per Hotmail, Sweep is a virtual broom that lets you easily “sweep” the mail you don’t want out of your inbox into either folders or oblivion, leaving your inbox clean. The great thing about the new “sweep” feature for managing gray mail is that Hotmail users can get the same result, i.e., not receive the gray mail they don’t want, but it won’t negatively impact the sender’s reputation score.

Gmail Priority Inbox: Gmail is helping you automatically organize email based on importance. Wow! A mail-organizing tool designed to bring messages users care most about to the forefront. Who would have thought of that? How does Google determine what’s important? Contacts you frequently email and message threads that you typically open or reply to are assumed to be higher priority. The best part, though, is that messages can be flagged as important or marked as unimportant to help the Priority Inbox learn and improve over time. Fortunately, you can also tune importance with plus and minus buttons that appear in the middle of the nine buttons above your email list. How easy is that? The Priority Inbox segregates Gmail into three different categories: “Important and Unread,” “Starred,” and “Everything Else.”

OtherInbox: The basic premise of OtherInbox is that it will identify and organize all the mail that you wouldn’t categorize as critical to read right away. Its solutions let users take control of their inbox, by automatically organizing low-priority messages, such as newsletters, coupons, promotions, and receipts into folders. This enables them to prioritize email from real people who need their attention and summarizes it all in a digest so they don’t missing anything important. This puts consumers in control, but also creates unique opportunities for improving the relevance and targeting of email marketing. OtherInbox also organizes shipping information, payment reminders, and upcoming sales information.

These are just a few of the already growing number of solutions out there today. So what does this mean for you? Well, for starters, relevancy is still a critical piece in ensuring that users interact with your email or, the bigger picture, want to interact with your email immediately. This means that you need to take a look at their digital body language (DBL) and revenue performance management (RPM) to help identify the drivers and impediments of revenue growth and email open rates more often during the sales cycle to ensure you know what sort of message(s) to send next to an individual vs. the typical batch-and-blast model. It has been shown time and time again that sending relevant and targeted email will ensure your email sticks out in the already crowded mailboxes out there.

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