Join Together to Improve the E-mail Trust Factor
In many ways, the nearly 10-year-old spam debate in this country has mirrored the great national political debate, with highly polarized sides, many ups and downs, and glimmers of productive industry cooperation here and there.
If you look back at the past eight years in this country, you can rightfully wonder whether we've made any progress and are on the right track.
The election in November presents a thematically opportune moment to reflect on the spam debate -- past, present and future. Progress has been slow and difficult. The majority of e-mail hitting ISPs' networks is still junk. Consumers still report missing e-mails they signed up for when overzealous spam filters take over.
With the e-mail world at a crossroads, if the societal microcosm of e-mail senders and ISPs engage in a spirit of unity and implement changes to the system, we can make the inbox a better place and even expand its relevance by introducing inspiring new possibilities. But e-mail needs to better gain the masses' trust first.
Sights too low
Despite e-mail's apparent effectiveness, marketers spent only $1.2 billion on the channel last year, according to JupiterResearch. This pales in comparison to the $25.5 billion research firm IDC says marketers pumped into online advertising in the same time period.
It's a vicious cycle. Marketers aren't investing more in the channel today because of the serious trust deficit it still faces. Because ISPs don't trust whether the e-mails hitting their network perimeters are spam or phishing, they sometimes block legitimate e-mail. They also sometimes let through malicious e-mail and always hide links and images. Marketers then don't trust whether their e-mail marketing messages will be delivered, let alone be viewable and trusted. Recipients don't trust whether they're receiving all the e-mail they want to receive or whether it is legitimate when they do.
The ability for e-mail to receive bigger shares of the marketing budget has always been hindered by this cycle of distrust. Wrongful spam blocking reduces delivery rates, and, combined with image and link blocking, clickthrough and open rates also suffer.
Furthermore, the lack of rich functionality in e-mail renders the medium archaic to what marketers and publishers are used to with their Web sites, such as shopping cart functionality, rich-media banners and even online video. None of these run in the majority of e-mail programs today because of their inherent insecurity and potential to spread malicious code onto users' computers.
Basic best practices like permission, notice and list hygiene should be considered elementary by now. The debate about opt-in or opt-out is a bore.
But the time is now for senders and ISPs to accelerate their adoption of rigorous, message-level authentication and certification solutions to take e-mail to the next level, and make it a more enjoyable and productive tool for its users.
The earliest adopters of e-mail delivery assurance programs, for example, already benefit from being able to behave as marketers again. Knowing that their permission-based, low-complaint messages are guaranteed delivery to the inbox alleviates the time they need to spend as ISP technical standards specialists. What's more, they needn't adjust creative elements and subject lines to get past filters. It also gives them the peace of mind to focus on what they do best: devising creative marketing campaigns that recipients love and drive results.
We're closer to the ideal vision of the inbox because of the millions of domains that have taken the critical first step of authenticating their e-mails and those that are further certifying their messages.
Most of all, when we see e-mail differently we'll be able to look back with pride and say we were the pioneers that made it happen.