The State of Deliverability – New Innovations to Remedy Old Problems

While email is the most cost-effective marketing tool, it is this lack of financial friction that also makes the channel susceptible to spam. The need for ISPs to guard against email from bad actors has created deliverability issues for all email marketers. Often delivery issues are the fault of the email marketers, namely those that fail to practice list hygiene.

Email delivery continues to be a top challenge for email marketers. A survey last year by my firm found that 30 percent of email marketers cited email deliverability as one of their top three challenges. Given this persistent challenge, I sat down with Dave Lewis, CMO of Message Systems, to get his perspective on email deliverability. Dave was the first “deliverability czar” for an ESP (email service provider) more than 10 years ago.

David Daniels: When we first met, you were an early champion of deliverability. Take us back to that Jurassic period.

Dave Lewis: At the dawn of deliverability, all of us were first feeling the pain of having our email blocked. I well remember the thoroughly outraged (but uninformed) clients demanding that their ESPs solve problems over which they had little control – little control because the blocks were usually caused by their clients’ practices as judged by ISPs who were immune from their influence. I spearheaded industry initiatives to educate marketers on the real nature of the issue, and participated in efforts to build an identity system that could be associated with sender practices and establish accountability. I continue push for email authentication and accountability through the Online Trust Alliance, which champions that agenda.

DD: Did you ever think we’d be sitting here more than 10 years later still discussing email delivery?

DL: To be honest, no. As a marketer, I saw deliverability as a detour, not a destination – a problem to be solved so we could move on. I never envisioned it as a discipline and certainly never expected a cottage industry to build up around it. This isn’t meant to demean the very competent people who work this issue every day. Marketing practices have vastly improved, but deliverability remains a frustration for email marketers and delivery specialists alike, absorbing far too much precious time and resource.

DD: Do you think the science and art of deliverability in our industry has changed much over the last decade?

DL: Up to now, the state-of-the-art has pretty much stayed the same. There have been a few tools to predict what might happen when you send email (reputation scores, spam filter checks, and such), but the correlation to what actually happens hasn’t been overly compelling. So we’ve relied mostly on reporting to tell us what did happen, and had to deal with deliverability disasters after the damage was done. Don’t misunderstand; I’m not suggesting that analytics aren’t important. However, the best deliverability reporting is like driving a car using the rearview mirror – you can clearly see the wrecks behind you but not the wall you’re about to encounter. It’s reactive, not proactive. 20/20 hindsight won’t get us past the deliverability challenge and isn’t enough as digital messaging becomes real time.

DD: As you re-engage the topic of email delivery, what are the new innovations?

DL: What’s new is a technology solution that captures, interprets, and applies delivery data in real time – automatically, as it’s happening – to prevent deliverability train wrecks. At Message Systems (Author disclosure: Message Systems is a client of my firm), we call it Adaptive Delivery and see it as the next generation of deliverability management.

DD: Adaptive Delivery sounds too good to be true. In fact, I’ve heard whispers from some of your competitors to that effect. Just a clever Marcom term, they say. What’s your response?

DL: Let’s be clear on what Adaptive Delivery is and isn’t. It isn’t a panacea. There is no technology solution for poor practices. You won’t magically get a higher delivery rate if you’re sending out email without regard for customer content or cadence preferences, not exercising good list management, or ignoring ISP rules for responsible sending. But what Adaptive Delivery will do is give you the opportunity to amend those practices. Or fix simple mistakes in your targeting and other criteria that can cause deliverability train wrecks before they do great damage to your delivery rate and reputation. And if you’ve got a less than stellar reputation, Adaptive Delivery can help you repair it and retrieve some email delivery percentage points.

DD: Does this work on just one mail stream or multiple types of messages: promotional, transactional, etc.?

DL: Yes. If you’re like most senders with a mix of mail streams of varying types, quantities and qualities, Adaptive Delivery segregates and automatically manages them for optimal delivery results – on the fly during the sending process – alerting you to conditions that need to be immediately addressed. Another significant gain is the reduction in deliverability management time and the fewer hassles for all involved. If you happen to be a sender with a good reputation, Adaptive Delivery can manage your email in ways that safeguard it – like automatically adjusting to changed ISP conditions and rules in far less effort than you’d expend otherwise.

DD: The benefits of Adaptive Delivery seem obvious for all senders of email and I’ve been told that you are providing this technology with all new server sales, is that true?

DL: We’re convinced Adaptive Delivery is the next generation of deliverability management and yes, we’re packaging Adaptive Delivery with every new Momentum message management platform – no add-on charge. We want all of our clients to experience its benefits firsthand and gain the marketplace advantage it affords them.

DD: Dave, thanks for your time, it was good to reconnect.

Delivery is a critical topic for the industry, and improving delivery rates advances revenue and response rates. For additional tips on email delivery, get expert advice from my ClickZ peers here.

Until next time,

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