Category Archives: News

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 @facebook.com email address. The Facebook help page doesn’t actually talk about the email service being shutdown but they are just “updating” the way “facebook.com” addresses are used.  Nice spin. Any emails sent to @facebook.com 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 @facebook.com 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.

 

The World of Email in January: Money, Dirty Politics, and Murder

In our January council round-up on ‘the world of email’, we were fortunately spared a review of “predictions” for 2014.  Instead, the January session was varied and exciting with all the hot news in email – a focus on the unsubscribe arena, plus other headlines involving money, dirty politics, murder and a… fridge.  Ha – try and get that lot that into a cohesive blog.

Email was under scrutiny again right from the word go, in 2014, with the revelation that a top aide to the US government was using their Yahoo email for government business – allegedly the official was orchestrating a political vendetta. (full story here.. ) This has again raised the whole question of how government staff can use personal email accounts and text messaging when conducting official business, sidestepping the public record laws.

One thing is unlikely though – that they will be using Slack, a new collaboration tool for the workplace, dubbed the “email killer” (see where the ‘murder’ comes in?). Slack ‘replaces’ internal email with real-time messaging and searchable content.  Unlike email where records would be personal to someone’s mailbox, Slack offers a kind of ‘institutional memory’ – so e.g new starters could catch up on recent history.  In our discussion, concerns were expressed that this could potentially generate a huge information overload, and email’s demise on account of Slack was deemed unlikely, but maybe we’re biased?

However in case anyone actually believes the general “email killer” myth, don’t be misled. You only had to be keeping one eye open during the festive season to know that email is still a hot commodity. In case you missed it, I’m referring to the acquisition of Responsys by Oracle for $1.5b.  Without wishing to get into predictions, it’s another reminder that multiple marketing forces are converging, again with email at the heart of CRM.

But aren’t subscribers just overwhelmed with email now?? Well Unroll me seem to think so. Their aim is to help you regain “control of your inbox” offering a way to unsubscribe from all unwanted email communications in one fell swoop.  The most recent DMA Tracking study actually showed that customers are not receiving too many emails, but leaving aside whether you think this tool is valuable or not, the data they have captured in the process does give a unique and public perspective on something that has previously been a discreet activity.

Here are the top ten companies for unsubscribes (via unroll.me)

  • 1800 Flowers
  • Ticketweb
  • Pro Flowers
  • Expedia
  • Active.com
  • Eventful
  • Oriental Trading
  • Shopittome.com
  • 1800 Contacts
  • Party City

One of the key communalities on this list (eg of flowers, tickets, and travel) is the sporadic nature of transactions.  If customers are unlikely to buy these products on a regular basis it’s logical that demand for regular emails might also be reduced.

For me, this list highlights the importance of having an email contact strategy, with recency of transaction as a vital element. It also reinforces the need to maximise other email touchpoints  – transactional email, email media, abandonment emails… in addition to newsletters.

The second list published in this report is the top “Roll ups” – those emails that people want to keep but don’t necessarily want to read all the time.  Top Roll-ups include companies like Amazon Local, Groupon, & Living Social Deals.

This list speaks directly to importance of not being too quick to remove apparently “non-engaged” subscribers from your mailings.  Engagement needs to be measured over time, and not just per email campaign. The brand proposition for these companies is clearly understood, and the customer wants to hear from these brands as they expect some value from them at some stage. Here’s the link for the full report

And finally….

Finally, here’s something that I didn’t see on even the best list of 2014 email predictions. And (Monty Python jokes aside…) it’s unlikely that anyone ever thought that the words “spam” and “fridge” would be put together in the context of email.  But, actually a fridge was indeed discovered to be sending out spam emails over Christmas, after it was compromised in a web attack.   Perhaps this is the email equivalent of cold calling?…. [sorry, Ed] Anyway –  here’s the full story.

If you’ve got any more email news to share, (no pressure to beat the fridge story) please do add your comments.

 

November: The World of Email

In our now regular slot we started the monthly council meeting with a round-up of the latest happenings in email marketing that the council members had come across. As ever there was a mixture of cool, useful and the slightly odd and I have shared the highlights below.

First up news from RPost’s, whose focus is on high value confirmed email delivery. They believe that it has the patent on the very commonly used practice of tracking email opens. According to various ESP sources they have started to receive notifications that RPost are looking to enforce these patents and requiring licencing for future use and reparations for past use. It is unclear yet how many of those ESPs contacted are going to respond, and it is obviously beyond the remit of the council to offer legal opinion but given the nature of how RPost acquired the patents and against a backdrop of a wider backlash against patent trolling its definitely a case of watch this space!

While not just limited to looking at email, the US DMA / DDMI commissioned a ‘Value of Data’ study and the headline figure is that the Data Driven Marketing Economy (DDME) added $156Bn in revenue to the US economy!! Yes, I did type that right – $156bn. It would be interesting to see a similar figure for the UK/ Europe but it certainly should be a very sobering number to those involved in developing regulation that effects the data industry. I think it brings very clearly into focus the need to balance consumer privacy concerns with those of the legitimate data driven marketing industry otherwise the potential and perhaps unintentional  economic impact could be enormous. An infographic with some of the other headline findings and numbers from the study can be found at;

http://ddminstitute.thedma.org/files/2013/10/4thgraphic.jpg

Following on from my blog last month on the renaissance we are seeing in people’s attitudes towards email, its effectiveness in actually driving sales and that social has not yet killed the email star (supported by the findings of DMA research such as The H2 Benchmarking Survey & The National Client Email Marketing Survey), another interesting article appeared this month. Josh Aberant, Twitters postmaster and the man tasked with making real ‘Twitter’s view, ‘it’s (Email) the lifeblood of a social network and the company sees emails as a driving force to help further its growth’. This just adds further to the positive story for email. The whole interview can be found here;

http://thenextweb.com/twitter/2013/11/06/social-lifeblood-twitters-postmaster-email-provides-pulse-social-networks/

The release of the new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) that will see the number of domains going from the current 22 to potentially over 1400. This poses a couple of potential challenges for the email marketer.  The first thing is to ensure that your email data capture validation rules are updated to accept the new gTLDs and that if you are using any type of email address corrections it is also can cope with these domains. The other major change with the new gTLDs is that while Internationalised Domain Names have been available as second-level domains and country code top-level domains (ccTLDs), it will be the first time non-Latin characters can be used in a gTLD. This raises the issues of the ability to store these type of non-latin characters in databases and email systems. Although more of an issue for those involved in international emailing, given the multi-cultural nature of the UK and especially London I am sure we will see these type of addresses cropping up  quite regularly in your email lists and you should be prepared.

Downrightnow –  www.downrightnow.com – is a website that ‘monitors the status of your favourite web services, combining user reports and official announcements to tell you when there’s service trouble’ Since the service includes the pages of the major web based email services such as Gmail and Yahoo mail it can be used as a resource for a quick check before you launch that very important email campaign to ensure your not going to be experiencing domain level deliverability challenges.

The US company DMI have launched a service called Engine 1 Music. This will allow marketers to add music to their emails. The company will help with licencing issues and while some may see it as a gimmick it does offer the opportunity to utilise the strong emotional hook music can provide. This would be especially effective for brands that already have a distinctive music track or style attached to their marketing, perhaps from a TV ad or in store music tracks, it’s an interesting way to extend that aural experience to email.

Finally and possibly one for the future for email marketers,  however a new service from US company Square, called Square Cash, allows people to pay for things by simply sending an email, cc’ing Square Cash and putting the amount in the subject line. Currently only available in the USA and intended to operate peer to peer it does however raise the prospect of consumers being able to reply and buy directly from an email, especially for lower value products. Email is already a great channel to drive sales but a new mechanism like that would only re-enforce emails pre-eminence in this area.

So that’s the round up for  this month,  but if there is something you’ve spotted then please don’t hesitate to comment below or let the council know and we can discuss it at the next council meeting and you could well see it in next month’s Hot Topics. Happy Email Marketing!

October’s Freshest Topics in the World of Email

So, on my debut as a blogger for the DMA Email Marketing Council it turns to me this month to share with you all the coolest and most interesting tidbits from the ever wider world of Email (we have fellow Council member Lucy Hudson to thank for the blog post covering that announcement).  As you may already know, the following are all taken from our monthly Email Marketing Council meetings and have now become one of the most popular sections, both for us and our readers.  Let’s hope I can keep the momentum going.

First of all it would be more than remiss of me to overlook the recently released DMA/fast.MAP Email Tracker Report 2013.  Launched at a great event hosted very generously at the Digitas LBi offices in Brick Lane, London, last month, it stands almost alone in providing valuable insight into what consumers think of the marketing emails they receive, the content they prefer, what captures their attention and what turns them off.  You can download the full report here and I’d encourage you to do so.

Secondly, we turn to Unroll.me.  Unroll.me is a service which, it tells us, is here to help you simplify your inbox.  The three key components it offers to help with this are;

Daily rollup: The daily rollup is similar to a digest letter that combines all of the email list subscriptions you want to keep and delivers them to you at a predetermined time of day.

Personalised recommendations: After you’re set up with Unroll.me, you’ll notice a tab at the bottom labelled “Recommended for You,”.  Here you’re presented with several lists of alternate subscriptions you might wish to sign-up to, determined by your current list of subscriptions.

Mass unsubscribing: For some this might be the most interesting feature of all.  Unroll.me is able to list all of your subscriptions for you so you can simply click the minus ( – ) sign beside the lists you want to unsubscribe from forever and it handles the rest.

An intriguing app for sure – I’ll be very interested to know if any of you are using it and if it’s working for you, so please let me know in the comments below.

Another topic that enjoyed some discussion was the idea of fixed position Calls to Action (or CTA’s if you prefer) in mobile emails.  In other words, the reader might scroll down the email, but the CTA remains in place on the screen.  Made possible by the support for real CSS that responsive design offers, several organisations (including Macy’s) are known to be experimenting with this promising technique.  I understand that there might be some challenges making it all work properly on Android devices (some people have reported issues with links not working), but once these have been ironed out this is without doubt one of the more innovative things we’ve seen in email design for some time.  Take a look here on your smartphone for a live example.

Next on the list, Scaremail.   Scaremail is a Gmail plugin that automatically adds blacklisted words to every email in an attempt to protest against online surveillance.  The basic premise here is that the news that US National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance programmes cover 75% of US internet traffic (including emails) has disturbed and in some cases outraged a lot of people.  To combat this activity, the Scaremail plugin takes the opposite tack to encryption tools including PGP and Silent Text, and to the IP-masking service Tor, which are designed to hide the contents of messages or the sender.  Instead, ScareMail generates a chunk of text to append to the end of every email sent, containing as many “selectors” as possible.

“One of the strategies used by the US National Security Agency’s (NSA) email surveillance programs is the detection of predetermined keywords. These “selectors”, as they refer to them internally, are used to identify communications by presumed terrorists,” said Ben Grosser, the plugin’s author.

“Large collections of words have thus become codified as something to fear, as an indicator of intent. The result is a governmental surveillance machine run amok, algorithmically collecting and searching our digital communications in a futile effort to predict behaviours based on words in emails.”

All very anarchic, I’m sure, so we’ll await with interest further news on any affect this might be having.

To wrap things up, we also spent some time discussing the fact that a number of brands are trying once again to see how they might incorporate animated gifs into their email campaigns (often with some difficulty/limited success) – most agreed that increased use of mobile devices to view email could well represent an opportunity for this tactic to enjoy something of a renaissance, however as always it’s important to consider your audience and the email clients they use (especially Outlook, which doesn’t support animated gifs) before plunging back into these murky waters head first.

As always, if there’s anything email marketing related that you’ve seen recently in the press and think warrants further discussion or comment then please do send it in – we’re always on the look out and will definitely seek to discuss any submissions in a future Council meeting before feeding back via a blog post.  I’d also welcome comments and feedback on the above – I can only write about the things you want to hear about if you tell me what they are, so please do comment below.

 

Benchmarking H2 2012 Report: The Email Renaissance?

Against a backdrop of headlines such as ‘Email Is Crushing Twitter, Facebook for Selling Stuff Online’* that can recently be found across the marketing press the DMA has just published the latest National Email Benchmarking Report for H2 2012. The positive coverage for the channel is not only very welcome after many years of “email is dead” reporting but highlights what regular Benchmark report readers already realise, that far from becoming an obsolete channel compared to its cooler digital cousin social media, the returns from email for generating measurable direct sales are unrivalled. This success would certainly seem reflected by the increasing numbers of email being sent,with a rise of more than 25% over the same period in 2011

The report does question if the direct sales focus is going to hinder development in the use of email to fulfil wider marketing objectives and harm the adoption of integration across channels, both trends seen in the last couple of years’ benchmarking reports. I believe if organisations can implement an effective planning, testing and agile deployment environment then the benefits of direct response revenue can be realised while developing email as a key component of broader consumer engagement. How is this starting to play out in the benchmark data? Take a look at the report to see!

Beyond the increase in emails sent some of the other report highlights for me included:-

  • The number of campaigns managed and customer contact frequency both increasing in H2 over H1 2012, somewhat expected given the success in direct response but also greater interest in more targeted and behavioural driven email helps in explaining the 35% rise of monthly campaigns managed.
  • The increase in the use of segmentation, especially in the mid level (4-6 segments) and while individualised communication remains challenging for many companies, due to lack of timely and complete data, it does again highlight the generally increasing sophistication of email campaigns
  • The increasing use of social media to collect email addresses. This is a simple, practical but effective example of ‘integration’ across channels, and helping contribute to the 36% increase in the number of email addresses that ESPs maintained from Q1 to Q4 2012
  • Deliverability continues to be a challenge and that’s before the effects of new smarter mailboxes, such as the Google tabbed system, really come into play. From Q2 2012 to Q4 2012, average delivery rates fell by some 3% for retention emails to about 94%. Over the same period, and despite contentions from the ESPs that Inbox delivery was becoming easier, the average inbox delivery rate fell to 90% in Q4 down 4% on Q2).

So just some of  the highlights, but with email marketing continuing to be such an essential aspect of a company’s successful marketing its worth checking out the full H2 2012 Report, and see how your programs and plans compare. Happy reading and please take the time to comment, it is always great to receive feedback and share opinions across the wider email marketing community!

*Wired.com July 2013

Hot topics in email for August

Although August is the holiday season for most, the DMA Email Marketing Council is tireless in its quest to champion email and its dedicated members still met to discuss everything email, albeit with a few members missing.

The first topic discussed was the release of Return Path’s H1 2013 placements benchmark report and the headline statistic that 22% of permission based email worldwide fails to reach the recipients inbox. As a headline this is attention grabbing but we all agreed it appeared to be a much higher figure than anyone would expect. The figures for Europe (20%) and the US(14%) are slightly better but surely if this was true all our clients would be jumping up and down with frustration? Hence the questions arose regarding how and what data was collected. Is the date for retention or acquisition campaigns? Are the senders following best practice? Are purchased lists included in the data?

Fortunately, Richard Gibson of Return Path sits on the council and he was able to answer some of our questions after the meeting. The report was generated using Return Path’s proprietary email intelligence data from their own customers and although their are no exact figures, the vast majority would be retention campaigns. This means that purchased data and non-opt in is unlikely to have a significant effect on the report results.

So if we assume that the data used is a good cross section of retention opt-in campaigns, then we can only conclude that most marketers don’t know that 20% of their email isn’t making it to the inbox? Or here’s a thought. One reason to become Return Path certified is to improve your inbox placement. So a large percentage of data used may have been clients that had inbox placement issues to begin with so hence the higher than expected stats?

The other scorching hot topic for email marketers at the moment are Gmails new tabs and how they are affecting everybody’s open rates?  Our own Philip Singh wrote a great blog post early this month explaining how the new tabs work. Most members of the council that use Gmail regularly said they really liked the new tab filtering. It helps with email triage and actually means you keep more promotional emails for future use because they are no longer cluttering up your inbox.

How has this change affected opens? Litmus recently released a report that shows that Gmail opens have dropped 18% since the release of the new tabs. Putting this figure in context and looking at the graphs in more detail, Gmail opens In July 2011 were 2.95% and this rose to nearly 5% in late 2012. After this they starting a steady descent to below 3.5% in May 2013 when tabs were released. So I’m not really sure this proves anything yet and more data is required.

Mailchimp did their own research and they compared Gmail open rates for the previous 18 mths (2.5 billion) with open rates around the 6 weeks that the tabs were released. They only saw a drop of 0.5% in open rates but this was consistent for a 3 week period. Return Path looked at read rates of engaged recipients before and after the tab release and noted a drop of 0.74% which is pretty consistent with the Mailchimp findings.

As ever we shouldn’t get hung up on open rates. Its engagement and conversions that matter. Only time will tell if the new tabs will have a long term negative effect. At the end of the day if the recipient is interested in what you are sending then they are likely to read it whichever tab it lands it.

 

Tabbed Inboxes: What It Means for Email Marketers

I read an article recently by Weightwatchers that 7 out of 10 Britons spend 20 hours a day seated or lying down (I must remember to go to the gym tonight) and according to SAP, 24 billion devices will be connected to the internet by 2020.

More and more of us are accessing our emails at home, in the office, on the move, sat down or lying down and that brings me to the fact that email inboxes are changing.

Back in May, Google announced an update to Gmail that organises the users’ inboxes by tabs. While these tabs can be adjusted by the individual user, the default settings separate emails in the inbox into three separate tabs: Primary, Social and Promotion.

The broader roll-out of these changes by Gmail which has over 425 million active users and is the leading free email provider has taken place over the last few weeks.

In those weeks, several email clients have asked what the new tabbed inboxes mean for their brand and email programmes. While there appear to be some slight kinks in Gmail’s algorithm—we’ve seen promotional travel emails land in the Primary tab and bank statements in the Promotion tab—below are steps you, as marketers, can take now to ensure that your emails are being seen by the intended recipients whether they are sat or lying down when they read them.

While Gmail users do have the option to adjust their inbox tabs, assume they will not and will simply use the default tabs provided by Gmail.

  • Test all of your messages through the Gmail inbox to see which tabs they’re ending up in and adjust your email templates accordingly.
  • Send a one-off email to your subscribed house file or add some words to the top of your emails alerting Gmail users of the inbox changes. Include step-by-step directions to edit their settings to allow your brand’s emails to hit their Primary tab or the tab of their choosing.
  • Monitor the overall response rates of pre and post-tab implementation to understand how the change is affecting your key metrics. You may need to change your forecast projections based on what you discover.
  • Timing is more critical than ever with the new tabs. You should rethink how you customise communication streams to be based more heavily on consumer behaviours and triggers and other ways to contact consumers when they’re most likely looking for brand communications, no matter what tab they land in.  Also, focus on understanding when consumers are most likely to go into the Promotions tab versus other tabs.
  • Additionally, while 90% of email activity typically occurs within a few hours of receiving an email, we may see this window of time expand. Consumers may not check their Promotions box as often—or they may only check it when they’re looking to buy a specific product. Think longer shelf life. This may mean longer lead times on sales and promotions are needed.
  • As a brand, it’s more important than ever to stand out from the crowd now that all promotions are grouped together. Personalisation and customisation are a must. Data and customer insights will enable this level of relevance.

The good news is that we’re also seeing many triggered emails, such as confirmation, shipping and welcome messages, being placed in the Primary tab.  These email streams have always been valuable means of engagement. Marketers should think of new ways to leverage triggers knowing that they secure a prime spot in the inbox.

Smart marketers need to view the Gmail updates as an opportunity. We now have the ability to take advantage of an uncluttered Primary tab, as well as the Promotions tab which, with all of the marketing emails will essentially become a brick-and-mortar shopping mall.

I also read that 46% of co-habiting couples in the UK argue about the cleaning, but that has no bearing on me accessing my Gmail account, so I’ll leave it out till next time!