3 NEW Things Direct Marketers Need to Know In Order to Enter—and Stay in—the Inbox
Direct marketers may think they've heard it all and know it all about getting in the inbox. But that knowledge of email deliverability is so last month.
Now it's about staying in the inbox.
With email service providers (ESPs) paying close attention to whether recipients actually want the messages they're getting, marketers have to step up engagement and reputation in order for deliverability to remain high.
Kara Trivunovic, senior director of strategic services Redwood City, Calif.-based provider of online marketing solutions for email and social media StrongMail, points out one direct marketer she believes is doing a great job of getting recipients to do what now needs to happen. "Southwest Airlines … created an email campaign enticing readers to enter a sweepstakes to win travel awards. Each and every time the customer opened an email (and rendered images), they were entered in the sweepstakes. This program not only resulted in customers opening the emails, but it also educated and trained readers on enabling the images," she says.
Information about the newest email deliverability issues and advice on what direct marketers can do about those developments comes from Trivunovic and:
- Heather Bonura, director of brand strategy for Lititz, Pa.-based email marketing firm Listrak;
- Dennis Dayman, chief privacy and deliverability officer at Vienna, Va.-based marketing automation software and service provider Eloqua;
- Ellen DePasquale, regional development director, New York Metro Northeast, for Waltham, Mass.-based email marketing software provider Constant Contact;
- Debra Ellis, president of Asheville, N.C.-based Wilson & Ellis Consulting;
- Dave Lewis, chief marketing officer of Columbia, Md.-based marketing software provider Message Systems;
- John Murphy, president of Chicago-based email marketing software and services provider ReachMail;
- Tom Sather, director of professional services at New York-based email performance management company Return Path;
- Barbara Ulmi, head of marketing at Cape Town, South Africa-based email marketing software and service provider GraphicMail, which also has a Miami office;
- Kathleen Waldvogel, vice president of client services at San Diego-based email service provider BlueHornet Networks; and
- Michael Ward, founder and president of Golden, Colo.-based sales and marketing automation provider Net-Results.
1. The old rules still matter. Direct marketers who have these down pat can move on to Step 2. "The standard metrics of complaints, invalids and bounces still apply when analyzing the deliverability of emails," Waldvogel says.
But Trivunovic says paying attention to content—such as using red flag words like "free," "call," "lose," "money," and "opportunity"—isn't as important as knowing whether the content is really what customers want to read. (Enter the omnipresent word "relevant.") That means ESPs are closely watching opens, clicks, replies and emails deleted without opens, she says. So, "If you haven't already done so, stop using 'do not respond' language in email communications," Trivunovic says.
2. Engagement. Murphy says: "The biggest issue or trend in deliverability currently is focusing on engagement rather than content or IP reputation." He adds that ESPs are actually looking at specific domain names, rather than the IP address. So once a marketer dropped disengaged customers, leave them off the list, Murphy advises.
Furthermore, simply getting in the inbox doesn't necessarily accomplish the first step along the path to engagement. Sather says: "Based on our recent Global [Email Deliverability] Benchmark Report, Gmail Priority Inbox has an adoption rate of 81 percent, meaning that it's reached the mainstream and marketers need to pay attention. Additionally, out of the email that landed in the Gmail inbox, we found that only 17 percent made it to the Priority Inbox. Marketers could potentially see response rates decrease as a result, or even see the time it takes for a subscriber to open an email decrease, since they're paying closer attention to emails that are classified as Priority."
Murphy provides a guide on how to increase engagement, which he suggests be repeated every 90 days:
A. "Select recipients who have opened an email within the last three months. Call this the 'engaged' list."
B. "Send a separate re-engagement email to all others. It should: re-introduce the marketer, assume the recipient forgot who you are; and provide an excellent incentive, make the best offer possible [and] if the recipient still does not engage, then you know you have virtually zero percent chance with them."
3. Reputation. Ward says engagement is what prevents "reputation-killing spam complaints." So segment, so messages are relevant to the recipients, he says. This is no longer a frill.
And watch the frequency, Ward says. "Focus on quality over quantity," he says.
Lewis suggests investing in technology that allows marketers to react in real time to complaints, bounces and blocks so that delivery rates don't drop, especially in the case of campaign mistakes. Sather says Return Path's certification program, for instance, helped Citrix Online's inbox placement rate reach 95 percent—far above the benchmark report's finding of 80 percent of B-to-B emails reaching the inbox.
Dayman says: "Relevancy matters even more with today's webmail providers, like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft [Windows] Live who all have launched systems that measure not only complaints, but also how users interact with email. Receivers now know when a user opened an email, how long it took them to open it from the time of delivery, if they ignored it, if they folder it, etc."
Also no longer luxuries, preference centers have to happen, Bonura says. More than knowing which channels customers prefer, marketers need to know which content they prefer, Ellis says. "Email marketing works best when the content provides solutions to specific problems," Ellis adds.
Opt-ins have to happen. DePasquale says: "An opt-in, or permission-based list will have fewer issues because your email will be expected, lowering your potential to be marked as junk or spam." Because of that accrued trust from an opt-in list of customers, DePasquale says Port Washington, N.Y.-based business coaching firm Powhattan Coaching was able to start a second e-newsletter, delivered on Saturday mornings, that saw an 18 percent open rate and a 15 percent clickthrough rate.
Optimizing for mobile devices has to happen, Bonura says. "Use alt-text for images, summarize the message in the subject line, use pre-header text, leave enough padding around links so subscribers can easily click on them with their fingers and be sure you include the call to action early for mobile users who only see a small portion of the email. The width should be 640 pixels or less. And keep in mind that the screens of most smartphones are between 320 and 480 pixels, which means the message will be seen zoomed out 25 percent to 50 percent."
Ulmi points out that client Western Leisure takes proactive measures—sending test emails before a campaign.