Category Archives: General

What happened last month in the email world ?

The big news last month was that Gmail added an unsubscribe link to its interface. What actually happened was that Google have made it easier for recipients to find the unsubscribe link and moved it next to the senders address in the header. It used to be slightly hidden in a drop down menu and as a result many people didn’t know it was there. The Gmail unsubscribe works by using the information in the senders List-Unsubscribe header  which should be implemented by your ESP. It can be either an email address or a web page that allows the recipient to unsubscribe.

Gmail unsubscribe

Gmail unsubscribe

Google’s head of anti-abuse was quoted as saying, “One of the biggest problems with the Gmail spam filter is identifying unwanted mail or soft spam. Users are signing up for emails but then use the Spam button when they no longer want to receive these emails, sending the wrong signal to Google about that message in particular, and about that sender in general.” This is a problem faced by all marketers.

I have always advocated making your unsubscribe as visible and clear as any of your other calls to action. If someone no longer wants to receive your emails it is better that they unsubscribe than mark you email as spam. I always recommend putting an unsubscribe link in the pre-header and this is effectively just what Google have done.

Last month Google also announced they were going to pilot a spam complaint feedback loop (FBL). A feedback loop let’s senders get information on which subscribers are classifying their email as spam and take appropriate action. Unlike other major ISPs Gmail has never previously provided an FBL. Unfortunately it’s not all good news. It looks like the Gmail feedback loop is going to be more of an overview report showing the number of complaints and not the actual subscriber details. It is still in the early pilot stages so hopefully this may change in the future.

Without the big fanfare that marked its launch, Facebook has quietly shutdown its email service that gave everyone their own email address. The Facebook help page doesn’t actually talk about the email service being shutdown but they are just “updating” the way “” addresses are used.  Nice spin. Any emails sent to addresses are now forwarded to the Facebook users primary email address.

Facebook launched its email service back in November 2010 in hopes of providing one inbox where users could send and receive emails and messages. In 2012 they automatically changed everybody’s email address on Facebook to be their new address which people didn’t find amusing. I suspect that nobody was using the email service so they decided to try and force people into using it. Never a good idea.

In the war between Google and Facebook I think it is fair to say that Google has won the email battle without having to muster its troops. The social battle is still raging and Facebook are well entrenched and holding back the advancing Google but the eventual winner is anyone’s guess.


Go responsive in time for Christmas!

Santa is coming! OK, so it’s not quite time to get my Christmas albums out, but it’s definitely time to start thinking about your festive marketing strategy.

It really does pay to be organised with your email marketing, especially at the festive time of year. So, with the coming months leading up to what will undoubtedly be the busiest time of year, you should be taking a serious look at adopting responsive email design – it could mean the difference between a customer converting or deleting!

Responsive Email Design aims to provide your recipients with the optimal viewing experience, with easy navigation no matter what device they’re using; smart phone, tablet, desktop etc. It works by responding to the end user’s environment and uses adaptable images and layouts to automatically stack, shift, or hide, fitting to the device the email is being read on.

We know that mCommerce is on the rise, with more and more people purchasing on the go. In fact, it’s said that by 2017, 25% of all online retail transactions will take place on a mobile or tablet. With this in mind, you should be aiming to make your customer journey as smooth as possible, with email which guide them to purchase no matter what device they’re using.

So why is this most important at Christmas? Well, more and more people are on the go over the festive period – rushing around buying gifts and moving from party to party, so it’s more important than ever to make sure you make it easy for your recipients to read, click and convert whilst on the go. Looking at the Communicator Multi-Channel Retail Report of Christmas 2012, we found that 82% of brands researched sent emails which weren’t responsive, during the Christmas period. With 41.2% of all emails sent being opened on a mobile device, it makes little sense that a lot of these emails weren’t optimised. It’s a competitive time of year so you’re going to be battling for your recipient’s attention; make sure you make it easy for them to purchase from you or they’ll go elsewhere!

Communicator’s Responsive Email Design Guide can be used by anyone who’d like to build a responsive email template, giving you guidance on how to create an email using a responsive template and allowing you to get the best out of your campaigns.

Are high open rates holding you back?

Our findings last month on the Obama campaign caused a lot of debate but the bare facts of our analysis still stand – had Obama’s team optimized for improved open rates, their send volumes would have dropped and their all-important donations would have followed.

Open rates remain a widely used and hugely misleading measure of performance and engagement in the email industry. At best they give you an idea of a campaign’s performance in isolation but at worst they lead email marketers to focus on optimizing the wrong strategies for their email program.

Here we discuss how to identify if maximizing open rates is holding you back and how to go about identifying the strategies that will have the biggest impact on your results.

The open rate paradox

Using EDS Analyst we examined the relationship between open rates and total unique opens for the top 200 email senders by list size in the US for 2012.

We were confident that, like the Obama campaign, there would be an inverse relationship between rates and totals – so as rates increase, totals decrease and vice versa. We call this the open rate paradox or to paraphrase a popular sports trusim: rates are for show, totals are for dough.

Each dot on the graph below represents a single sender and we picked out some well-known brands as reference points.

Sure enough, the graph shows that for most large senders, there is an inverse relationship between open rates and the total number of opens – the higher the open rate, the lower the number of total opens. Rates are for show.

It’s also no coincidence that nearly all of the brands with the biggest lists (orange dots) also have highest number of total opens because they are sending more opportunities to open.

Although opens don’t directly correlate to revenue, even the most avid fans of open rate maximization would agree that the more people that actually open your emails, the more engaged your database and the more revenue or conversions you are likely to generate. Totals are for dough.

Keep it simple – focus on just three strategies

If your goal is only to improve open rates, then your strategy is simple: halve your list by suppressing your less active subscribers and watch those rates soar… and those total opens plummet! But if your goal is to increase total opens, then the bell curve in the graph above helps define three clear strategies:

  1. List size:
    Has the biggest impact on totals and can be improved independently of the other two.
  2. Increase send volume:
    Significantly increases total opens for relatively little effort (low effort to gain ratio).
  3. Optimize for rates
    Increases total opens but requires the biggest effort (high effort to gain ratio).

Most brands are clustered towards the lower middle of the curve because it’s the easy place to be. By and large, they all put a similar amount of effort into their program and use the same undefined strategies.

The outliers, however, go above and beyond in one of three ways – those to the right have very high open rates, those to the left have high send volumes and those at the top are combining high send frequency with very big lists to produce massive send volumes.

In effect, this is the three different strategies implemented to their extremes.

Of course, there are limits to the effectiveness of each strategy and these are defined in the graph above by the orange line to the left (frequency cap) and green line to the right (optimization cap).

These boundaries exist because for any given list size there is point at which diminishing returns kick in for both frequency and open rate. And, as the big empty space to the right of the green optimization cap shows, it’s very hard to send a large volume of email while still achieving a high open rate.

So the basis of a successful email program is to continually grow your list while finding a balance between increasing send volume and maximizing open rates with better offers, targeting, subject lines, etc.

And you find that balance by ignoring your open rates…

Define your strategy by ignoring open rates

To illustrate the effect these strategies have on an email program, we have created a simple optimization chart, below. The green curves represent the impact of send volume on total opens and the brown lines represent the impact of open rate on total opens.

Each intersection represents a hypothetical 10-hour unit of resource, as a means of comparing the effort required to implement each strategy. As you get closer to each cap, the effort required to improve your totals with your chosen strategy increases exponentially.

Imagine your brand is the star in the middle of the curve and you want to take on your leading competitor, the lightning bolt.

If you use open rates to define your strategy, then you focus your resource on maximizing those, route A. Your open rate may now be much better than your competitor’s but they are out-mailing you, so they are still creating twice as many opportunities to buy or convert.

If you choose to increase your send volume, ‘route B’, then your open rate drops but your total opens more than double. However, as you approach the frequency cap, the impact of your strategy diminishes and you still trail your competitor.

If you use totals to define your strategy, then you take ‘route C’, which balances resource between increasing send volume and maximizing open rates. Your open rate drops but you are finally creating more opportunities to buy than your competitor.

Smart email marketing is not just a case of increasing send volume indiscriminately or of only focusing on ever tighter targeting. There is a balance that exists for each brand, you just have to find your own sweet spot.

Total opens the key to optimizing your program?

In this instance, we have highlighted the open rate paradox using total opens because that was the data available. However, we’re confident you will find the same inverse relationship in your own campaigns with total clicks and, more importantly, revenue. And in the end that’s the only metric that matters!


Is it your time to get engaged with the Email Marketing Council?

The election season is upon us. And it is important to both the DMA and the Email Marketing Council to ensure this is as widely publicised as possible as the work of the EMC requires a full council and one that is as widely representative of all constituent stakeholders as possible.

Over time we have had members that have been very active participants, who for whatever reason have stood down and the election time lends itself to be the perfect time to bring new members to assist with the work of the council. Two such recent members that have stood down are Denise Cox of Newsweaver and Simon Bowker of Teradata/eCircle both of whom have contributed to numerous projects and outputs in their time as a council members and I’d like to extend my personal thanks to them both for their efforts and valuable contributions over numerous years.

Immediately post-elections the council must align its outputs and objectives for 2013-2014 in line with the DMA’s business plan and the initiatives from the Chairs of all of the DMA councils which include; putting the foundations in place for greater cross-council collaboration and supporting development of the value chain and improving the customer journey.

The Email Marketing Council has some objectives that are on-going including the updating of the Council’s Best Practice Document, the production of White Papers all of which are designed to help the membership and support our desired goal to champion email as an essential part of the greater marketing mix and an effective direct marketing channel.

In short there is much work to do and those with an appetite for helping should consider standing and getting involved as proactive council members – now is the perfect time to get involved. I consider us to be an accessible council as we maintain an open door policy to observers that wish to attend our council meetings as well as encouraging active participation to the work of one of our hubs. If you have previously considered standing for election and for whatever reason have not done so historically then I would encourage you to reconsider, but do so quickly as you do not have long at all – the closing date for entries is this coming Friday 22nd March at 5:30pm.

The website to register as a candidate can be found here, if you have any questions please contact either myself or Georgina Lippa (Project Manager, Media Channels) directly via email: or via telephone: 020 7291 3317.

Richard Gibson, Chair Email Marketing Council and Director Client Services, Return Path.

A further chance for your input on the proposed EU Data Protection Regulation

For some marketers the very mention of future legislative framework changes and the mind immediately begins to wander. Add to that the words ‘Data’ and ‘Protection’ and it could instil fear, uncertainty and possibly a fair amount of doubt. The fact that the EU is involved is likely to add further concern. Such themes or topics as data portability, the right to be forgotten and how personal data is defined impact directly on many of us in marketing and these proposals are just too big to be ignored.

The DMA has put itself at the very forefront of the debate and led a cross industry working group bringing together many other industry bodies including; IAB, IMRG, Federation of Small Businesses, COADEC and other bodies. This initiative has been led by the team at the DMA along with lobbying efforts on multiple fronts headed by the Director of Public Affairs, Caroline Roberts. All DMA members have been both asked for input into the information that went to the Ministry of Justice at the start of this year which was submitted in September, the DMA’s Chair Scott Logie chaired a meeting with government late in October.

This is possibly the single biggest issue facing all DMA members, irrespective of channels used to communicate to customers, which is why at the Email Marketing Council level there have been discussions on the impact and we plan to use this blog to collect some of our thinking on the various elements of the proposed legislation.

This is where you, the readers of this blog as email marketing constituents come in – as elected representatives we want your input. As with any elected group, we have our thoughts and ideas which we’ve debated and discussed at council level. The proposed legislation presents some very evident challenges for email marketers. What we, as a council agreed to do is post a series on the key themes over the coming months which debate some of the key points – each written by one of our council members. Specifically debating a subsection of the proposed regulation along the lines of; here is what the EU’s proposal says and here is what it could mean for email marketers.

I am proud to serve a very active council and such a vibrant interest group as email marketing. The council has been active on a number of fronts and this blog is itself very well-read. The discussion and debate from within the email industry (which is you!) is what makes this an exciting and dynamic industry to be part of. I’d therefore urge and encourage all stakeholders to provide feedback on the forthcoming blog posts – I’d love to hear your thoughts and feelings on these themes. You are of course also welcome to contact either me directly or any member of the DMA team.

Richard Gibson, Chair Email Marketing Council and Director Client Services, Return Path.

Making Marketing Automation Magic

Over the years I have implemented automated programs and experienced the extraordinary results they can deliver – from cost saving and improved engagement to higher customer satisfaction levels. However marketing automation magic cannot be conjured up through software alone, and I would argue that the magic is not in its ostensibly “fast and easy-to-implement” software. I think the magic comes from within the tests and learnings within your existing email programs.

When driven by a solidly built customer-focused relationship marketing strategy, marketing automation can be a profitable lead generation and management device combining insight, processes and technology that helps to scale your lead management program. Sure, it can be super speedy to get up and running (ask any software vendor); it can include seemingly cool social behavioural insights and of course it can show results quickly. However getting there is anything BUT speedy, cool and quick (ask any revenue-focused marketer). One of my favourite no-nonsense blog posts last year is from Marketing Profs.: “Planning, detailed execution, and a thorough analysis are key to success. It’s not magic. You can’t just snap your fingers and “poof”― all your marketing campaigns and drip sequences have been put into place.” I couldn’t agree more.

So how do you create Marketing Automation Magic?

Try looking inside your long-running email marketing program. For some time now digital marketing mavens have been foretelling the demise of email marketing in favour of social sharing routes and yet, email is the very foundation and channel by which marketing automation is powered. Need convincing? Take a look at these statistics: Twitter sees about 140 million tweets per day. Email? 188 billion messages. And according to data from Forrester’s Q1 2011 North American B2B Technology Marketing Tactics and Benchmarks Online Survey, email marketing still ranks fifth in a range of 21 tactics that marketing professionals deploy to attract, engage, and persuade customers along the buying lifecycle. Therefore, understanding the behaviours generated by your past email newsletters and by analysing test and learn program results, marketing automation implementations can deliver real results quicker.

You’ve probably been sending monthly email newsletters regularly and have a wealth of information and learnings dating back years. Don’t treat your marketing automation implementation and your email marketing activities as mutually exclusive. Use the vast knowledge and insight sitting in your existing email marketing tool. For example, knowledge of the right format that drives the best results is just one of the insights that should be drawn into your marketing automation plan. If you have been advancing your email marketing program over the last couple of years, you already have insights to drive best-in-class automation:

  • Mobile usage across your customer base
  • Social interactions and behaviours
  • Website behavioural metrics
  • Timing and content insights by customer segment
  • Revenue generators by content segment

An excellent case study is Citrix’s Anti-newsletter Strategy that employed learnings from their email marketing program and applied them to their automation program. What they learned from their quarterly email newsletter helped drive success in their automation efforts.