Author Archives: Skip Fidura

Skip Fidura

About Skip Fidura

Skip Fidura who is the Group Digital Director and Client Serviecs Director to the dotDigital Group has been in marketing for over fifteen years, having worked in contact centres, direct marketing, customer analysis, and digital marketing. 

Most recently Skip was Email Partner at OgilvyOne London and prior to that he was the Director of European Operations for Acxiom Digital.  He has worked with clients such as Hallmark, BT, Kodak, hp, and Travelocity.co.uk.

Data Collectum (or not)

My daughter recently had a week off school, so my wife and I took the week off as well and my father and his wife flew over from America to join us for a bit of UK tourism. I was looking for a true holiday: one where I completely unplugged from work and was able to focus solely on the family. I was very successful at this but was let down by a complete failure at two of the biggest attractions that we visited.

On the second day of our break, we went to Harry Potter World. My daughter had already been as part of her summer camp and was very excited to show mom, dad and the grandparents around. We were all equally excited being fans of the books and movies. Upon arrival, we were ushered straight into the queue to begin the ‘guided’ part of the journey and, as is the fashion at these kinds of places, the queue snaked back and forth on itself but moved quickly enough.

One of the things that caught my eye was a promotion of free Wi-Fi. I had read that they have an average of 5,000 visitors per day and I broke with my avoidance of email to log-in. I have been looking for a really good example of using free Wi-Fi for data capture and I was sure this would be it. In the words of my daughter, “I was wrong diddly wrong.” There was no data capture…AT ALL. After I agreed to the terms and conditions, I got a splash screen encouraging me to check in on Facebook and mention them on Twitter. Would I have given my email address to get access to the free Wi-Fi? Absolutely. Would I have signed up for an email program? Yes (but that is because I am in the industry, so I asked my more cynical companions). They all said that they would sign-up to an email program. This conversation then got the other guests around us asking, “Oh, do they have an email program? How do I sign-up?”

Later in the holiday, we visited the National Moter Museum at the Beaulieu Estate. After visting the museum we stopped off for a bit of lunch before visiting the other parts of the grounds. Again the restaurant offered free Wi-Fi and again did nothing towards capturing my data; just the same encouragement to check in on Facebook and share our visit on Twitter.

As the saying goes, “an opportunity not taken is an opportunity lost.” I know email marketers that would bite off their own arm to get access to that many potential registrations per day.

The classic methods of data collection have gone out the window. Consumers now understand that their data is the currency of the web and they are becoming much more protective about when they give it and to whom. At the same time, consumer behaviour on the web has changed. People no longer “surf the web” by wandering around to see what they may find. The internet is a tool and a place to get things done. Don’t expect them to sign up to your email program just because they have popped by your website. They are there to accomplish something. You need to make it clear to them what value they will get by giving up their data, and ask for it at a time that is convenient for them and not only convenient for you.

 

“We sell or else”

This famous quote was on the office wall when I worked for OgilvyOne London. I am sure it still is and in fact is probably on the wall in every Ogilvy office around the world. This sentiment is as true today as it was when it was first used over forty years ago; a reaction to the various “short forms” of advertising that were prevalent at the time. Ogilvy’s point was that too much of the copy of the day was not driving the consumer to respond but rather was built around brand awareness using short copy/scripts that did not inform the reader. Most people in the industry had never “tasted blood” and actually sold anything.

I have come across this theme a couple of times in the past couple of weeks.  First was this post by Bob Garfield who is a long time commentator on advertising and marketing. Then there was ‘email design change driving a 61% click increase‘ – a post by my friend and colleague Tim Watson.  It was not so so much Tim’s post but rather the reaction I got to a Tweet sharing it.  All I did was share the post without comment but what ensued was a two hour conversation about the merits of design over functionality.

“We sell or else”. It is a simple enough sentiment; very short, very abrupt, very Ogilvy. It is amazing however, how often what we think we are selling the reader is not buying. In this video Ogilvy rails against any form of marketing that does not generate a direct response – what he calls general advertising. He talks about how longer ad formats sell more, longer copy sells more, copy about the products benefits sell more than the witty pun. He knew these things to be true because David Ogilvy believed in knowledge and knowledge as he defined it was based on research and real measurable results.

Were he alive today, I believe David Ogilvy would love email marketing. He would love that a consumer could be tracked from the send of the email through to the eventual purchase, he would love that the ROI of email is measurable not guesswork, and he would love that research can be done with real customers in real time (as opposed to focus groups) using what we call split-testing.

Another of Ogilvy’s pillars was quality and that Ogilvy and Mather’s output gave their clients brands a “first class ticket”, which brings up an interesting thought puzzle. How would David Ogilvy react to ‘poor’ creative or ‘poor’ copy that worked better than ‘good’ creative and ‘good’ copy? In his day, ads would be tested in front of a focus group and tweaked until they worked. It was not possible to test these ads in the field as the cost of testing and potential rework would have been prohibitive, not to mention the damage that a half-baked campaign could do to a brand.

Email marketers do not face this challenge.  Developing multiple versions of an email does not drastically increase the budget and testing these in the field is easy and incurs no additional cost. Too often however, we don’t test the emails and we don’t review the actual performance data to know if changes we make to the email template, the copy or the segmentation have actually improved performance.  Too often we see something that we think works better and are happy proceeding in what David Ogilvy would have described as the anarchy of ignorance.

It does not matter if you think the email looks better, or reads better, or includes better offers. What matters is that it gets more people to click on your email, go to your website and buy your product because if your email doesn’t sell well… I will borrow another of Ogilvy’s quotes: “No sale, no commission. No commission, no eat.”

Yahoo! Changes will Impact More than just Email Marketers

Not to be outdone by its rivals caught up in the PRISM ‘scandal’, Yahoo! has decided the best way to deal with lapsed users is to give their private details to the first person that asks for it.  Okay, well it isn’t really that bad but their recent announcement that they will start recycling dormant email accounts on August 15th will have significant repercussions for the both ecommerce and the email industry.

About two years ago my iTunes account was hacked using a well known Apple scam.  The hackers just need your account ID, which they use to download apps. How can they download apps without the password you may ask? They can’t, but when you unlock your password those apps are downloaded to your device and they get the cash because it was their app that was being downloaded. The whole ordeal around getting this sorted is another post for a different blog, but the important thing here was the remedy I used to fix it, which was to create a Yahoo! account using a random password generator to create the bit before the ‘@’. So far so good, no dictionary attack has cracked this email account.

The problem is, that I don’t ever log into the account (clearly I will have to add this to the list of monthly tasks like cleaning out the washing machine filter and checking the smoke detector). What would happen if I missed this announcement from Yahoo!? Come the middle of August somebody could take this email address from me and suddenly have access to my iTunes account.  The password reset would go to the address that they control and away they go.  If I was like many people including Mat Honan of Wired Magazine, this email address would also be used for other things and I would have lost control of all of them.

This will also clearly have implications for me as an email marketer.  Loads has been written over the past few years about removing data that has not opened or clicked in more than twelve months from your list. The thinking is that inactive addresses are being used as spam traps, although there has been a lot of disagreement on this by email experts such as Dela Quist. Regardless of which side of the fence you fall on this topic, you need a plan in place to be executed between the 15th of July and the 15th of August because if you email a recycled address – you will have spammed them.

Yahoo! will hard bounce all of the addresses that are to be recycled during this thirty day period, so you need to take this opportunity to tidy up your Yahoo! addresses.

There are well over 3 Billion email addresses in the world. It is not surprising that the email application providers want to start recycling them. Let’s face it, jimsmith@yahoo is a lot better than jimsmith345@yahoo. This is going to become a regular part of our world, so we better develop some strategies to address it.

Don’t Cry Over Spilt Milk

So, two months on from the implementation of the cookie law and it seems like it never happened.  Some web sites have adopted the opt-in model for cookies and most have taken the practical approach by displaying the opt-in message prominently but not insisting that users choose before using the site. The end of email that had been originally predicted also has not come to pass. In fact I would guess the Jubilee, the Olympics, and normal summer holidays has had more of an impact on email volumes than the implementation of the open tracking provisions baked into the cookie law (sorry, couldn’t resist).

The Olympics has gotten me thinking however, that this was a good practice run for the bigger challenge that is before us – the revision to the EU Data Protection Directive. It is still early days and the exact wording is yet to be settled but rest assured there are likely to be major changes that will affect direct marketing in general and email in particular. More information on the current state of this legislation can be found on the DMA web site.

So, this is a good time to reflect on how we handled the cookie law as a trade body and as an industry. First, let’s look at some feedback I have received from email marketers both in the UK and around the globe but with an interest in the UK market.

“Why did it take so long to get the discussion started? It’s not like you didn’t know this was coming.”

This is a very valid point. We should have been further out ahead of this issue and started the debate during the back half of last year.  In our defence I would say that nothing focuses the mind like a deadline. More importantly there is a natural cycle to these things and not all of the stakeholders were in a position to participate in the discussion much earlier.  The learning for me is that this level of stakeholder discussion needs to occur regularly, not just around key issues.

The other learning for me is that we need to continue to work well together as an industry. The email industry has always been populated by a dedicated group of professionals who can park egos, personal and corporate rivalries, and commercial interests for the betterment of the industry as a whole. This originates from an us against the world mentality that has existed since the dawn of email marketing and was the genesis of the eMail Marketing Association which later became the Email Marketing Council. This non-partisan cooperation continues today because it makes sense and at the end of the day makes us all more money.

The process of getting to the revised Data Protection Directive and then ultimately to how this is implemented in UK law will be long and will throw up literally hundreds of complex issues that will affect both email marketing as well as the rest of the DM industry.  The resolution to many will put different parts of the DM industry at odds with each other, but by getting out ahead of the issues and continuing our history of non-partisan cooperation will ensure that the email industry’s views are heard and frame the discussion going forward.

Want Milk? A Follow-up on Cookies

Whew! I am glad THAT is over.  The new cookie law has come in with a bit of a whimper really. The phrase “tempest in a teapot” comes to mind.

Dave Evans did a great video with some additional guidance  in the lead-up to the 26th in which he clarified the ICO position on implied consent. This clarification fit in very well with the position that we took on email open tracking.

I think that most people would agree that the letter of the legislation is . . . challenging. The spirit of the legislation however, I think is spot on. We as marketers need to always be open, honest, and transparent with consumers with what we data we capture, how we capture it, and why we need it.

Off the back of the How to guide: Email and Cookies Legislation published by the Email Marketing Council we have received a couple of questions which I thought I would clarify here.

The first question that has come in from a number of folks is whether open tracking is covered in this legislation, or at least is there a segment of the email community that feels it is not included.  I volunteered to stick my head above the parapet and wrote the original blog post that floated the trial balloon of open tracking not being covered by the law. Even though that was a bit of a logic exercise, I am quite proud of the fact that this post generated the most comments of any EMC blog post. I had hoped that I had clarified this in my follow-up post but just to be clear, after speaking directly to Dave Evans in the ICOs office, open tracking is covered under the revised PECR and associated legislation.

A number of different clients in a variety of sectors have also asked about their responsibilities when licensing a third party list. Specifically, which party is responsible for gathering the open tracking consent. The simple answer is that the party collecting the data should capture the open consent and the company that has licensed the data should be able to physically prove that this is happening (not just relying on the contract). From a practical standpoint this may not always be possible, in which case we need to go back to the spirit of the legislation and think critically about the recipient’s expectation. Think about the intended recipients, their level of Internet savvy, and if they would be upset by open tracking when explained to them in plain English.

The Best Practice Hub specifically and the entire Email Marketing Council in general will keep a watching brief on this topic and change our guidance as and when appropriate. In the meantime, we are spending a fair amount of time and energy getting ahead of the changes in the Privacy Directive, which is currently winding its way through the EU.

Open Tracking and the New Cookie Law – Follow-up

There is still a lot of debate as to whether open tracking is or should be covered under the revised Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations. In my last blog post, Open Tracking and the New Cookie Law, I shared the thinking of the Email Marketing Council and put forth an argument as to why open tracking is and should not be covered. This is all well and good but as the amended regulations are vague on this the Information Commissioner’s Office has to leave their options open, which is good for the industry. It is good because it allows us to take the lead in determining the standards for getting and maintaining consent for open tracking. The Email Marketing Councils of both the DMA and IAB are collaborating on a document in which we will detail this framework in more detail but in the meantime here is the general outline.

First let’s start with the easy part – data collected going forward. Very simply we just need to notify new subscribers that we use open tracking, tell them what it is and how we use it and get their consent with the opt-in.

This of course leaves the legacy data which is everybody’s concern. Some are even saying that this change will leave this legacy data useless. This approach is too black and white. We should instead work within the shades of grey.

The fundamental principle behind the changes to the regulations is that consumers do not understand how they can be tracked on the internet and the changes to the regulations are there to force the industry to become more open and transparent with consumers about how they are being tracked, what data is collected, and why. I think to a degree this underestimates the intelligence of the average consumer.

Sure, if you ask the average person on the street if they know what open tracking is or how it works, they will look at you as if you have sprouted horns. If on the other hand you ask the same person if they get marketing emails and if they thought that marketers might monitor who opens and clicks their emails to see how effective they are and make them better, then those response is more likely to be “Well yeah, they would be crazy not to.” On top of this we have been telling consumers that we use open tracking in our privacy statements since PECR was first implemented in 2003.

These recipients have been notified and are aware of open tracking, so keep mailing them. That is not to say we don’t notify our existing recipients of the changes in the law wherever possible but we do not have to throw this data out and start over.

In the interest of transparency, we should do everything we can within reason to notify our loyal recipients of these changes. I will leave it to the DMA IAB collaboration to flesh out how to do this.

Open Tracking and the New Cookie Law

There has been a lot of talk in the email industry about whether open tracking falls under the category of “similar technology.” Let’s be clear right from the off: we cannot answer this question – only the Information Commissioner can answer this question definitively.  What I can do is analyse what we know so far.  A simple search of the most recent guidance notes showed that the word open was used four times and email was used once and this wasn’t in respect of email marketing.

Based on the conversations that have gone on with the great and good of the email community both here and in the US, The Email Marketing Council believes that email open tracking is not covered in this legislation. The purpose of the new Privacy in Electronic Communications Regulations was to “protect the privacy of internet users” and was driven by “concerns about the online tracking of individuals and spyware.”

Open tracking uses a one pixel by one pixel clear GIF, which is stored as a temporary file on the user’s computer. This is very different than the cookies used to track individuals online:

  • Once images including open tracking GIFs are downloaded by the consumer, there is no way for the marketer to read them back. Cookies on the other hand are files stored on the user’s computer and are designed to be accessible over and over.
  • Open tracking GIFs return information in the same way that web pages return information about the user’s computer because that is how the internet was designed as opposed to cookies which are designed specifically to allow websites to track previous behaviour.
  • Open tracking is associated with an email address and is therefore device independent versus cookies which have a one to one relationship with a specific device.

If these differences are not enough then I throw out one last thought. Open tracking is most similar to web traffic and activity analysis based on server side processing of web server log files. This is not covered by the regulation changes. Even when it comes to client side cookie based analytics, the ICO has stated that they cannot conceive a scenario where they would prosecute for use of analytics cookies

I think that the motivation behind the new cookie law is a good one.  Consumers do not really understand that everything they do online is being tracked.  They believe that because they are moving around the internet in the privacy of their own home that what they do is private.  This law however is clearly aimed at cookies used to build complete profiles of internet users which could eventually be sold on. These regulations were not aimed at marketers trying to ensure their emails reach the inbox and improve how they communicate with their customers.

As always the law is not the same as best practice. Marketing best practice is to be clear and transparent with customers. To this end, regardless of the law, it is sensible to include in your privacy policy that customers opting-in are giving email permission, open tracking and permission for other data use appropriate to your email communications.  Look out for a whitepaper on the topic to be published in the near future.