Posts Tagged ‘ESP’

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I’m notoriously ‘thrifty’. I see myself as abstemious with my finances, most everyone else thinks I’m tight. It must be my Scottish ancestry. My underlying logic is; if I’m buying a packet of cereal, for example, then why pay twice as much for Kelloggs as for the ‘own brand’…it’s probably the same stuff inside the packet anyway. It is a bit more difficult to justify this same logic with higher value items (electrical goods, clothing, furniture etc) but I will generally trawl the internet and find the best offer I can and feel better about myself afterwards, knowing that I’ve got the best ‘deal’. This is why it came as no little surprise to me, and some astonishment to my wife, that I recently bought one of the more expensive models of car in its category. Sadly, it isn’t a mid-life crisis sports car, it’s an MPV and I went through similar thought processes as I would do when buying say a pair of jeans, but I still ended up spending more money than I’d imagined I would at the beginning. How and why did this happen?

I started-off the process with my normal mentality; ‘how much do I want to spend and what’s the best I can get for my money?’ However, as my research progressed and the more cars I test-drove, the more it became apparent to me that adopting my normal ‘Scottish’ approach was not the right way to go about making a high involvement, lifestyle purchase such as this. I had my family’s safety to consider. There were practical aspects to take into account, such as inside space and economy, the age of the car and after sales service. The list was endless…

Then it dawned on me…the way I normally approached making purchase decisions was completely the opposite way that I should approach buying this car. I should work out what was most important, what I wanted to achieve from buying this car and try to work out the ‘deal’ backwards from that. Initially this made me feel nervous; I’m used to having a budget and either sticking to that or paying less than I’d budgeted for. However when I thought more pragmatically about things I realised that I wouldn’t sleep soundly at night knowing that I’d bought a clapped out, 3rd hand Vauxhall Zafira when I could have bought a newer, safer, better loved model that would last me longer and come with a proper service history and support plan. In the end my wife and I found our ideal car – a Mazda 5, should you be interested- and it has been absolutely brilliant. Suffice to say that I still got a ‘deal’ from the salesman at the dealership and haggled for days to get it, however I ended up spending a lot more than I’d originally budgeted for. I appreciate that it’s not like the Mazda 5 is the Porsche Cayenne (although they compare much more favourably in terms of economy, reliability and holding their long term value!)…

So why would I share the story of my recent car-buying exploits with you? Well, it occurred to me recently that this is quite a good analogy for how it seems that email marketers choose an ESP. There are the first kind who always want the best price, irrespective of anything else (functionality, reliability, service etc). There are the second kind (the majority) who want a good all round package of the right product/provider at the right price. However, there has been a trend recently of clients coming to me having completely flipped their search criteria on its head. This third, newer kind of buyer says, ‘I’m here and I want to get to there by the end of the year, how are you going to help me do this?’ For example; email marketing contributed £5 million in sales in 2009 and we want it to contribute £10 million in 2010, plus we want to increase the size of our active database by 25% in the process…provide a proposal for how you are going to do this. This buyer recognises not only the power and potential of a good email program, but also the hugely disproportionate increase in sales that a small increase in spend can generate. I guess it is the old ‘speculate to accumulate’ mentality in action.

I’ve heard it said by one of our competitors, that the worst question that you can ask of an ESP, without understanding anything about their offering/company/system is ‘How much does it cost?’ and I’d have to agree.

So often people make their selection of ESP based on the wrong criteria as Tamara Gielen suggests in this article. Over the past few years, I’ve heard people say ‘we don’t want to pay for support, because we won’t need any’ or ‘we really like your system, but can’t justify the prices’. Increasingly, my response is ‘have you thought about what you are looking to achieve and what you want to get out of your email marketing strategy and partner?’ For those people who tell me that they just want to send the same email to their whole database once a week, and want a cheap, reliable way of doing this, then I’m generally happy to refer these people to one of the basic, entry level systems that are so readily available out there (the no frills VW polo, if you like – get’s you from A to B). For those people who appreciate that they should be getting more out of their program/partner, but can’t always justify the cost or effort then sometimes eCircle is the right partner or sometimes they’ll go elsewhere to a cheaper provider- this is a bit like buying a VW Golf, but potentially buying it from the wrong dealer. However, those of you who really want to take things to the next level and really develop your strategy, understand your customer base and drive both retention and acquisition as a result, you will end up with the right vehicle for that (hopefully eCircle). That is not to say that you won’t be able to negotiate with your ‘dealer’ once you’ve found and test driven the right piece of kit. You might also spend more than you originally expected, however, if you end up being as happy with your email marketing partner as I am with my Mazda 5, then you’ll have approached your review in the right way!

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As Ferris Bueller urges us, you’ve got to stop and look around once in a while, and as we near the end of the decade I’m feeling introspective. I’m also rather seasonally affected and in need of cheering up, what with the disgraceful weather, pasty skin, a near biblical attachment to my duvet and a torpid mental state despite the supposed Last Big Push at work as another sales year hurtles to a close.

So I’m pausing to take stock of email marketing at the turn of the ‘Teens’ decade. In the time-honoured tradition of men’s magazines, it’s taking the form of Top 10’s. All sorts of ‘decade’ lists are appearing right now: defining events (9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq, Tsunami, Obama, Lehmans…), technological advances (Facebook, iPhone, Wii…), the NME’s top albums (The Strokes Is This It was numero uno)….

Firstly, I’m thanking my lucky stars that I’m in the digital industry and working for a company that’s grown despite the recession. Email marketing has had a phenomenal rise over the past decade to become king of communications. There’s been many key milestones (the first multipart mime email, the first billion emails sent, scheduling emails, API development, split-testing etc) but it reads as a rather geeky ESP history, so my first Top 10 is: Why I’m glad I jumped on board the email gravy train:

1. ROI is exceptional

DMA research  shows email marketing generated an ROI of $43.62 for every dollar spent on it in 2009. The expected figure for 2010 is $42.08. It outperforms all other DM channels.

Datran’s 2009 marketing and media study placed email as the top performing ad channel.

 2. Spend is increasing

More than 70% of marketers will increase spend on email in 2010, according to the DMA.

 3. It’s data driven:

I’m a closet data geek and email is the most trackable of direct marketing channels – a vast array of actionable campaign data can be used to refine approach and underpin…

 4. Advanced targeting:

Today’s email systems have evolved to allow integrations with CRM databases, web analytics and eCommerce system, with tools to allow on-the-fly personalisation and dynamic content based on preferences, behaviour and engagement.

 5. It’s universal:

B2C/B2C, cross-sector, all over the world – email’s strength is ubiquitous.

 6. It’s regulated:

Contrary to popular belief, we’re not spammers: since the Data Protection Act of 1998 and the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003, email is legitimised as ‘Permission Marketing’, requiring a clear opt-in. ISP’s now collaborate with ESP’s to clean-up the industry, flush out spammers and get elicited emails through to inboxes.

 7. It’s fast-evolving:

In the past five years I’ve seen the outsourcing argument overcome, an array of new sophisticated campaign tools and a seismic shift as marketers move from a blast-mentality to a one-to-one lifecycle dialogue of targeted triggered messages.

 8. It’s a relationship tool:

Email builds loyalty and engagement when employed as a core channel in CRM strategies, rather than just a bolt-on sales tool – Welcome/nursery programmes, post-purchase transactional messages, special offers for most loyal customers and reactivation attempts for the unengaged, can combine to drive a quality relationship with subscribers.

 9. We’re getting much better at it:

Email is a bit like Marmite but people are coming round (like, don’t use too much and have it on some quality toast..) The challenges facing the email industry are well-documented: inbox clutter/junk, declining response, deliverability, lack of resource allocated to email. But as the Top 10 points above become widely accepted at board-level, we’re given more scope to help clients and collaborate on a far more effective email strategy.

 10. It’s (quite) good fun:

We have a jolly time here at eCircle Towers and enjoy the often-incestuous machinations of a competitive industry sector, as well as working with bright young(ish) things in marketing teams.

Next decade: email will not die

Enough evangelising: the industry certainly presents many obstacles and it’s definitely not plain sailing being an ESP. Many commentators, perhaps annoyed at email’s quiet ascension, are gleefully predicting the decline or even total death of email in the next decade. But just as email didn’t kill postal mail, RSS didn’t kill email and social networks like Twitter won’t bring about its demise either. Email is like a zombie, it just won’t die (Social Networks are vampires; they’re really hot right now!). It continues to innovate, integrate and complement all other forms of marketing. We’re now all swimming in one great big sociably-networked pond and email is the hook by which online marketers reel in their fish – it’s used for social alerts, invites to connect, transactions, user-generated content, surveys, and so on. I can appreciate that under-25’s love the immediacy of one-to-many status updates or IM for quick banter, but you can’t use Facebook or Linked In to send a personal and credible message (unless you are a recruiter, and that’s a dubious approach anyway).  My Top 10 Future Trends league table follows shortly so watch this space…

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I watched Location, Location, Location last night, a programme that always makes you feel like you’re £50,000 short for the house you really want!  Enough to stir thoughts of how can I, where can I …damn it. Acton isn’t too far from Chiswick anyway! This has absolutely no bearing on this blog whatsoever, it’s just reminded me that I need to ensure eCircle are ALWAYS involved in all ITT/RFP/RFI processes.

Without doubt, your more experienced marketing staff are used to the ESP review process, you know, what to look for, questions to ask, companies to see… However, it’s fair to say there are a good few that don’t necessarily know and, sometimes, talking to a host of ESP’s can end up causing confusion on what’s important (again, that’s sometimes, not always).

At this point, I wanted to get some numbers in, so I typed ‘number of marketers employed in UK?’ into Google.  Unsurprisingly, a whole lot of rubbish came up, yet there was a number given on a jobs website which stated that over half a million people are employed in Marketing the UK.  How easy was that?  But how many of those half million know what to look for when selecting an email partner and is there enough advice out there to help them?

Number of UK marketers

There are probably a good 20 to 30 points that people offer as consideration when choosing an ESP, yet I would say that these estimated 500,000 UK marketers need consider 4 key points:

  • Local vs. Global
    • What is their market presence?
    • UK only or experience in multiple countries – global ESP’s will benefit from far greater infrastructure
  • Number of clients/experience
    • Is having 1,000 clients a good or bad thing (see support section below)
    • Is there a wide range of companies/market/sizes covered?
  • Size of support team
    • What is the client per support member ratio? Be sure to check this per individual country (for the record our client:staff ratio is 4:1)
    • Is support via a named Account Manager?
    • Is there a helpdesk option available for those minor issues?
    • Any doubt on this, go visit their offices – meet the team!
  • Services
    • What services are offered beyond email delivery?  Data insight/management, email engagement programs, customised reporting, consultancy
    • Do they work with other best of breed partners?

There will be times when ESP’s offer so-called quick wins/tactics/statements, usually based around a non-relevant feature or cost, yet stay firm and concentrate of the above mentioned 4 key areas. Such features can always be deployed via an aggressive roadmap and you most certainly get what you pay for, just ask Rafa Benitez.

Despite having offices across Europe, namely in the UK, France, Italy and – most recently – Spain and The Netherlands, eCircle are still often referred to as a German company. If that is to be the case then please be reminded, as my dad said during World Cup ’90, “Son…those Germans are damn good!”

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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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