Rethinking Email Engagement: Best Practices vs. Revenue
In no other marketing discipline have "best" practices and revenue been at such odds as they have been in email marketing. The conflict arises from the fact that the incremental cost of sending another million emails is virtually nothing and, therefore, marketers were, until recently, incented to always send more. It's been commonly accepted that while margins diminish with increased volumes, revenue increases generally outpaced the cost of sending incrementally more email.
As a result, the advice to be more targeted and more relevant contradicted the volume-centric approach to driving revenue; moreover, the fact that the oft-discussed "consumer fatigue" was not readily manifesting itself, email marketers discussed best practices but frequently implemented a "more is more" approach to email marketing.
Then, in 2006, ISPs started to rethink how they evaluated inbound email. AOL, Gmail, Microsoft and Yahoo! began to realize that the old approach of counting complaints and hard bounces was a poor way to identify spammers. The truth was that spammers found "work-arounds" that allowed them to avoid ISP thresholds.
How did a seemingly unrelated event, like changes to email filters, force marketers to rethink application of email marketing best practices?
The "new" approach to email filtering meant ISPs evaluate email senders based on their ability to engage consumers in the inbox. In short, ISPs look at how targeted consumers are interacting with an email marketer's messages. For marketers who are able to drive solid engagement rates, ISPs reward them with inbox placement. On the contrary, marketers who are relatively unsuccessful at driving email opens and clicks find their marketing emails landing in junk folders.
As a result, marketers must rethink their approach. First, simply sending more emails in the same period actually drives down overall engagement rates, forcing marketers to carefully consider the critical "what" and "to whom" when it comes to email marketing.