Category Archives: Research

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

  • 1800 Flowers
  • Ticketweb
  • Pro Flowers
  • Expedia
  • Eventful
  • Oriental Trading
  • 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.


Ideas from the last Email Tracking Report and launch event

Back in October I attended the launch of the Email Tracking Report in London, which was a great event – with a great atmosphere and some refreshing new perspectives shared. It’s been a while and between moving jobs, I’ve been mulling over the findings from the report and the ideas shared at the event, and pulled a few together, with my own take on them here. The main themes were (surprise, surprise): device, relevance, and engagement. Let’s dive in.

Mobile campaigns impact brand before sales
According to the tracking report, people still don’t buy much on mobiles. Just 4% of respondents said they’d buy straight away on a mobile if they were emailed a product they liked. 39% of consumers who see a relevant email on their mobile will wait until they on a laptop or PC to purchase. Instead, consumers are using their mobiles as an email management tool – to skim subject lines and delete emails. When they get to their laptop, they’re looking at an already filtered list of emails that they have decided to keep…so far.

This left me wondering if this new behaviour reduces the negative impact of irrelevant messages, because they’re now deleted in a context where that’s the specific task and probably alongside multiple brands. People are engaging with emails on mobile in the way they engage with tweets – skimming headlines, dismissing anything that doesn’t trigger interest. Will we one day see a combined ‘inbox’ where tweets, emails, facebook statuses, SMS, and other ‘micro messages’ from brands are all viewed from one interface?

What you can do about it: if you want your messages to survive the mobile inbox so they can be acted upon on another device, you need a relevant and descriptive subject line and pre header, and a mobile template that helps viewers skim your content. Just don’t expect to see a dramatic uplift in sales on mobiles – it’s just not how people shop right now. One smart tactic I have seen used is the ‘send me this email later’ call to action. I will be trialling this in my own mobile-responsive campaigns and will keep you posted.

Consumers expect email relationships
The number of consumers that say they want to be rewarded for their loyalty has almost tripled since 2011. Consumers are subscribing to fewer brands than before. 55% don’t access emails at work, so when your marketing messages get read by most consumers it’s their own precious time they’re spending. All round, consumers are more selective. To me, these stats indicate a growing level of commitment on the consumer’s side – that subscribing means more than it used to, and that our email exchange is meaningful to them. It’s not one-way, or a one night stand, it’s a relationship.

What you can do about it: specifically deliver what your subscribers have asked for, in a consistent way. Make a concerted effort to find out what that is or was, and respond with the right stuff. Most importantly, keep in mind that the relationship is volatile and don’t threaten it with messages that disappoint. View email messages as part of an ongoing brand experience or relationship, as opposed to individual ‘campaigns’ in isolation.

Think harder about relevancy
Marketers are obsessed with relevancy, constantly trying to reach customers with exactly the right thing. And yes, relevancy is vital. But an irrelevant email is not a disaster. Take a look at these stats from the report:

1. A third of consumers say that over half the email marketing messages they receive are relevant.
2. They also said that they have now use mobiles, to delete the irrelevant messages without reading them.

What this means: If consumers perceive most messages to be relevant, it’s likely because they only sign up for, open and digest the relevant ones, especially now that they are using mobiles to ‘skim and delete’ the ones that aren’t.

What this means for you: keeping the mobile ‘skim and delete’ habits in mind, if consumers have to open email to work out that it’s not relevant, that creates a worse experience than having to delete it because the subject line tells you it’s not relevant, so aim to qualify opens with a descriptive subject line as well as aiming to make the messages relevant. That minimises potential disappointment all round. You should get less opens but your click through rate will go up. The right people will be opening. The right people will be deleting your emails which is not a bad thing. And if you’re not sold on that, check out the Open Reach report which explains more on this.

Better than sorting tabs and email ads
I was unsurprised to hear at the event in the report that consumers were not fazed by new inbox sorting technologies, like Gmail’s tabs. Of course as email marketers we think it’s a big deal.

Brands want to encourage loyalty and repeat purchase, and consumers have told the us they want to be rewarded for that loyalty. given the big three email providers are also the big three search providers what I want to see it them helping both of those parties meet those goals by integrating search and email.

The main opportunity I see is “promotions’” emails (as gmail call them) organised in the promotions tab according to search data. And vice versa.

For example, If I search online for a red toaster, and a brand has previously emailed me a deal on toasters, which I haven’t noticed – I want to know about it. I would welcome Google Search highlighting that (unopened, even deleted) message for me, for example, in my search results, or Google+ notifications tab. As a consumer, I’d value this, and as a marketer, I’d pay for it. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if Gmail were already using email engagement as one of the thousands of ways that they personalise search results. Has anyone seen evidence of this?

And that’s it. Credit where it’s due – the good and bad ideas above were seeded by the event’s speakers: Dela Quist from Alchemy Worx who got me excited about email again, David Cole from FastMAP who shared the data that gave us something to talk about, JC Mighty from DMG media who’s had the best quote of the day “Email is your shop window; social media is the coffee shop across the road.”, and Fiona Robson from the DMA who made sense of everyone’s ideas, as well as the tweets I read on the day.

The report is packed with stats and insight on that way consumers are engaging (or not) with your emails. Check it out and please do share your own thoughts below.


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;

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;

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 – – 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 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, 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. 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.


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.


Your Industry Needs You!

Regular readers of the National Email Benchmarking Report will know that the report provides a valuable insight into email marketing trends in the UK.  This is particularly apparent in the latest report which highlighted the continued growth in email volumes. Growth which has seen email volumes grow at 58% over the last year, despite what has been a difficult couple of years for the marketing industry as whole.

Regular readers of the report will also know that it is constant work in progress.  Whilst there are plenty of elements of the research that remain constant in order to enable us to highlight trends, there are also new elements of research that focus key learning’s at a given point in time.  A great example of this has been the recent inclusion of key benchmarks by industry sector.  The latest report highlighting that the Travel sector is now enjoying the highest unique average open rate (18% if you haven’t yet read the report) of any of the sectors in the report.

We have evolved the report over time, not because we wanted to create more work for ourselves (or less in some cases), but thanks to feedback and suggestions from those people who matter most, the ones reading and using the report. So in order to continue the evolution of the report and ensure it meets your needs in the future, please take 5 minutes to complete our brief questionnaire.

Thanks in advance for your comments the more feedback you can provide the more valuable we can make the report.

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!