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Archive for September, 2009

email_1…When an email marketer drops the D-word during our meetings, I know it’s time to cancel my train home as it’s often as big a topic as ‘How are you going to increase ROI from email?’

Increasingly we find that companies do acknowledge that responsibility for email delivery sits primarily on their side, but they still tend to turn to the supposed ‘expert’ ESP sat on the other side of the table to advise and guide them. And I’m no delivery expert, but to contend with such Big Questions I keep up to date with best practice developments: there is plenty of online resource material to draw on, such as the insightful Return Path blog, The Watercooler.

There’s good news in the industry: the ISPs are gradually shifting their inbox policing methods in favour of legitimate, reputable senders.

The latest in-depth ISP report by Pivotal Veracity is particularly gratifying as it reinforces the message that we in the industry have been pedalling for a while now:

A Sender’s reputation is increasingly based on the Domain, as well as the IP address.

Which means that a ‘Good Rep’ is in a company’s control, especially if the following key influencers are addressed: the spam complaint rate, unknown user rate, spam trap rate (mailing to old/dead addresses) and bounce rate. Many tools have been developed to track these via feedback loops, so the legitimate marketer now has more control than ever before of his reputation. Furthermore, they can take this reputation with them if they move to a new ESP.

Of course, the flip side is also true: the less-than-scrupulous who would skip from one ESP to the next and ‘buy back’ a ‘Fresh Rep’ with a new IP address are being flushed out, which can only good news for the email industry as a whole.

IP-based reputation filters are still commonplace with ISPs so a whitelisted IP or IP range is still the foundation upon which to build a good reputation, but moving to a new IP which requires ‘warming up’ first will be phased out or require less data over a shorter time period  to achieve full status.

Another interesting development at the ISP’s is their factoring in of customer engagement to build a ‘Good Rep’ – again, how refreshing for us senders! AOL will use clicks, move to personal folders and a click on ‘not spam’ to prove a good rep; Yahoo will check if emails in spam folders have been clicked on as a sign that they are in fact legit. Customer engagement is fast-becoming a key metric at both the sender and ISP-receiver end.

Finally, authentication with Domain Keys or DKIM is still the best way to ensure inbox placement (with the exception of Hotmail which uses it’s own ‘Sender ID’ authentication model). This can be easily implemented by the ESP or client-side. To attain a further level of inbox placement, accreditation via the Sender Score Certification (from Return Path) programme can guarantee Hotmail delivery, with images and links switched on and no throttling limitations.

So, back to how I answer the Big Question, ‘How are you going to improve our deliverability?’ (the speeded up version):

  • A Good Rep is the basis of Good Delivery, and…
  • It’s in the Sender’s Domain
  • Complaints must be monitored, ideally via feedback loops
  • Implement DK/DKIM
  • If Hotmail addresses are a large %age of the list, consider the Return Path certification

…Plus a quick ‘crib’ of the things all good email marketers should be doing as standard:

  • Clear and transparent opt-in process – no legacy data or dodgy 3rd Party lists!
  • Sending to the list regularly
  • Being sensitive to frequency
  • Remaining relevant
  • Plenty of testing, including checking how the email will render/view
  • Having an automated welcome programme to say ‘Hello’ to new subscribers
  • Motivating recipients to move you to their ‘Safe Sender’ list
  • Implementing a watertight bounce-handling process
  • Instant removal of unsubscribes

Next time in Tales from the Coal Face, more Big Questions: ‘What to do if you swallow a penny?’

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law_1I’ve been wondering who it was that said it was OK to regularly and blatantly break the Direct Marketing Association rules and, almost certainly, the law, for the sending of marketing emails? It seems that for years I’ve been receiving emails from the good ol’ US spammers (who by their nature are operating outside the law)  that have not only offered me a better sex life and a faster loans (or is it the other way round perhaps?), but also some that have purported to be from a big brand companies. Emails from Tesco with the subject line ‘Win £500 in Tesco vouchers’ have been regulars in my spam box, but when opened they are not from Tesco at all – Alabama or Wyoming email marketing companies usually.

But now, it seems, the disease is spreading over here. I’m now getting the same email sent from Chelmsford or York!  Surely we’re supposed to say who is sending the email in the ‘From’ line, not who we want the consumer to think has sent it. That’s deception!

So I checked the DMA Email Marketing Best Practice Guidelines – not ‘law’ as such but something by which the industry follows in order to prevent deceiving the online public – and guess what, it says quite unequivocally, ‘The Data Owner’s name must appear in the ‘From’ box of the email as the sender of the email.’

So where do we go from here? Being a trade body the DMA says that ‘there is a need to protect consumers from inappropriate, unethical behaviour by unscrupulous or ignorant practitioners,’ How really does it do this? It seems that it doesn’t have the ‘teeth’ to do this properly so we have to rely on the law – but this a complicated, expensive and very time consuming route to stopping these practices. Does anyone know how to stop them?

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Xmas_1I was out shopping in Next last weekend when I saw that their Christmas cards, wrapping paper and general seasonal paraphernalia were on display and of course my first thought was ‘blimey, Christmas promotions already? I’m not even out of my flip flops yet!’ … but that got me thinking about when the best time to start your Christmas promotions is and is it ever too early?

For marketers, Christmas is a dream opportunity to roll out the campaigns with nice seasonal themes and get the creative juices flowing, and email is your best ally for seasonal promotions. So to get your Christmas campaigns off the ground, here are a few hints and tips…

Get creative – Christmas is the perfect time to give your email campaigns a bit of a facelift and get some really good eye-catching campaigns on the go

Re-engage subscribers – Now’s the time to try and re-establish relationships with dormant subscribers so why not try and entice them back with some attractive seasonal offers?

Special offers – Sounds obvious but make your Christmas emails more attractive with offers such as free shipping, free gifts and discounts

Loyalty – when better to thank your customers by rewarding them, and their friends and family with special offers and seasonal discounts. Encourage them to forward the offer on too!

Get the calendar out – Think about sending triggered emails in the build up to Christmas, perhaps in the form of an ‘Advent Calendar’ or the ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ where a series of offers and emails are sent over in the days leading up to the big day, with varying offers, and discounts.

A helping hand – don’t assume people know what to buy their spouse/child/mother etc. Help your customer by tailoring your email copy to what’s on their minds. I’m often at a total loss as to what to buy my husband and daughter so having suggestions handed to me on a platter really appeals.

Start early and finish late – Obviously you’ll be targeting both the organised (me!) and the disorganised (my husband) with your email campaigns so make sure you’re geared up to appealing to both! Have attractive offers for those wanting to get their purchases out of the way nice and early (earlybird discounts), at the same time as ensuring that those last minute shoppers are catered for (late delivery dates).

The shops are getting geared up for Christmas already and yet, despite subscribing to countless email newsletters, I’m yet to receive any Christmas campaigns into my inbox. So why should shops be ahead of the game and have the monopoly? In short, whilst I still get irritated by seeing Christmas decorations and hearing the dulcet tones of The Pogues anytime before the beginning of November, in terms of your email marketing plans, after the kids have gone back to school in September, it’s never too early to start your promotions!

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shutterstock_5544052Don’t worry this isn’t going to be the moment when I reveal my insecurities to the world…

I’ve been working with and talking to email marketers for a fair while now and I’ve noticed more and more people asking themselves this question. So why is it that so many great companies feel like the email marketing gravy train has left them standing out in the cold?

Well the truth is that it just ain’t so. Of the 30 or so new brands signed by eCircle this year I would estimate (using our highly accurate eCircle scale of email program complexity) only 2 or 3 would in any way rate themselves as sophisticated email marketers. Now you might rightly argue that of course they’re not doing that well, hence the reason they decided to change their ESP; well that argument doesn’t hold up too well either. During a recent roundtable event we organised with a mix of the larger senders and brands in the UK in attendance… at least half of them would have told you that they’re not very advanced with their email program.

So whilst there’s a huge gap between where people are and where they perceive the rest of the market to be, in actual fact in most cases that gap isn’t there.

So what is the reason for this perceived gap?

Well how often do thought leaders, blog writers etc tell you about people doing a bad job… not very often. What you read about is generally going to be at the cutting edge of email tactics and not necessarily something that has been adopted by many senders. In fact I remember reading about basket abandon email programs more than 4 years ago… to this day I’ve still never received one.

OK, but that still doesn’t explain why people haven’t implemented these tactics available!

Well the main reason people don’t adopt all these tactics tomorrow is a simple one… resources. Email marketing departments are always small, understaffed teams who are already overstretched. Introducing new, advanced email tactics might seem like a no brainer to someone sitting in an agency advising on email strategy, but to these guys it’s a real challenge.

So how do we overcome this general feeling of inadequacy? First of all I would say don’t panic, you’re not alone. Once you’re feeling a bit more comfortable about where you sit and you still feel determined to get to the top of the shop you need to either staff up or outsource. Many of us in the trade have been doing rather well by offering the services that people lack to under resourced companies. ESP’s have for all too long provided the tools for brands to run their email marketing: what people really need is to get realistic about the level of services they need in order to implement the ideas that they assume everybody else has already got in place.

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