Category Archives: Strategy

Are you delivering to vulnerable email users?

An interesting discussion topic was raised during a recent DMA meeting; one which is highly relevant in terms of email marketing, however isn’t as widely discussed or documented as you’d expect. That topic was:

How well do you understand your recipients’ needs?

Sound like you’ve heard this before? As an email marketer, I’d assume if you’re sending targeted communications based on recipient preferences or behaviour and you’d consider yourself as having asked this fairly recently.

But have you ever considered their needs in the context of anything which would potentially make them unable to access, open, read or respond to your emails due to being a ‘vulnerable user’?

Vulnerable users defined and the current approach

I’d define a vulnerable user as: anyone who is unable to access email content easily due to a health condition, disability, impairment or age.

Chances are there are people on your mailing list who are vulnerable email users and there are countless difficulties and limitations these people could face when dealing with email. However, at this particular point in time it’s rare for companies to have policies in place to cater for vulnerable users. As email is vastly opt-in, it’s often assumed that recipients understand and are able to interact with the content they’re being supplied with.

When considering the potential issues vulnerable users could face, it’s prevalent that it would be near impossible to ensure your emails cater for every recipient eventuality; however there are places you can turn to for advice on how to tackle this issue.

What can I do to improve my emails?

The Business Disability Forum offer advice to members on how to tailor communications and marketing materials for the relevant audience. They recommend that email features such as fonts, colours, sizes and languages should be considered when creating marketing communications.

From an email marketing perspective, how do you learn about your recipients? Do you ask questions such as “do you have any disabilities or impairments which could potentially affect how you read or receive emails?” or do you think approach is too direct? A preference centre could be utilised to enable users to specify whether they’d like to receive emails in larger fonts, certain colours, or would prefer a telephone call over an email where company resource allows. For now this topic is fairly new, but it’d be interesting to see how companies incorporate strategies to understand whether their recipients are vulnerable users, and to see how this could potentially develop the future email marketing landscape.

You’re beautiful

Believe it or not, “you’re beautiful” were the words that I uttered when I was doing some last minute online Christmas shopping for my wife. Not because she is (although for clarity she certainly is), but because when I was buying some beauty products for her from online beauty retailer I had some beautiful email experiences.

This is clearly a company that sees the value in email, so let me share some of the experiences that made me gush out loud.

They understand the importance of data collection

When you first arrive on the site you’re presented with a well-crafted home page. Centre stage above the fold is a clear call to action to subscribe, reading “STAY IN TOUCH for beauty news and offers”. At this stage I simply wanted to move on and buy, so searched for the Kardashian product range that was top of my wife’s gift list. Each page thereafter, not only showed me the products, but included the call to action to subscribe, which is so often a missed opportunity.

The experience then got even better when I discovered the product was out of stock! Why? Because they used this as an opportunity to collect my email address, so they could notify me when it came back into stock. Customer experience and data collection rolled into one… and I was that impressed I still bought something else from the collection (or should that be Kollection for all you Kardashian fans?).

They use email to enhance the customer experience

The good email experience wasn’t just limited to data collection though, when have your email address they know exactly how to use it. I quickly selected the products that I wanted and went through to the checkout to pay. As well as entering my payment details I could confirm whether I wanted to receive email reminders when my product was likely to run out and, once the transaction was complete, I was prompted to share details of my purchase with my friends via social media sites and email. Not appropriate for my Christmas gift, but a nice touch none the less.

But now I’ve become a customer, is just getting started. I immediately received an email confirming my order, showing me exactly what I’d bought and where it was going to be delivered to. Customer service was top of mind here as they clearly highlighted how to get in touch if I had any questions. My next email was just as impressive; letting me know the exact time my product had been delivered. Of course, this also included details of how to get in touch if I had any problems and a call to action to start buying again. Customer experience and revenue generation all nicely tied up together!

They use email to sell me more

Now I’m officially a customer, are using email to help me buy even more. And much to my wife’s delight they’re doing it rather well. I’ve received emails telling me that the first product I’d wanted is now back in stock and I’ve just received a reminder that I should think about replenishing the lip gloss I bought in the first place, all perfectly times to tie in with my original purchase. As well as this, I’ve I’ve received a beauty diary and some exclusive special offers. I’ve also noticed that the brand provides a subscription service enabling you to set the frequency of the reminders you receive to replenish your products- this sounds like a great tactic to me, especially if you’re a regular user of the products they sell.

The DMA’s own National Client Email Report 2013 ( shows that on average businesses see a return of £21.48 for every £1 they spend on email marketing. With my own experience in mind, I suspect that is generating a significantly high ROI for their email marketing efforts; even higher than £21.48 I think! No wonder they continue to be one of the UK’s fastest growing companies and are winning awards for their ecommerce site, product range and customer service – they’ve a really beautiful email programme and are reaping the benefits (clearly, so is my wife!) And much to her delight, I now quite look forward to being able to go back to to top up her makeup and my desire for seeing innovative email marketing!


Let’s get engaged!

Email subscribers are expecting more and more from the messages they receive in their inbox these days, making us, as marketers, work harder – and rightly so!

Email marketing is no longer about taking a single message and broadcasting it to your entire database. Irrelevancy is the new spam and anything your readers don’t find interesting or relevant, they will delete or mark as spam and complain to their ISP.

So, as users stop interacting with your emails, what can you do about it? How can you reach these subscribers and attract their attention?

Identify Inactive Subscribers

Identify inactive email subscribersHow you identify inactive subscribers will differ depending on your business. For example, if you are emailing your subscribers more than once a month and they have not engaged with your mailings for between 3-6 months, they are turning inactive. Inactivity for longer than this and they are already inactive. For some businesses this will be shorter/longer and it really is a very personal decision based on your business rules and customer lifecycle but should always be looked at over a period of time rather than based on engagement with an individual campaign.

When you decide on the rules to use in your organisation, if you are able to, you can even go one step further and match email activity to activity with your brand or website (such as purchases or logging in) in order to create an even more comprehensive view of the subscribers activity and interest in your brand and inform your messaging.

However you decide to identify inactive subscribers, one thing is always true: If subscribers have not interacted with your mailings for a long period of time, they are showing that something is not hitting the mark with your messaging, frequency or other elements of your email programme.

Fix the problem

Fix email marketing problemsOnce you have identified an inactive sub set of your subscribers, the first thing you should do is look to identify any problems or areas of discontent that are causing this inactivity and fix the problems to minimise this in future.  This could include looking at all the elements of your email programme from the point of sign up to the unsubscribe process, and identifying particular areas or specific campaigns that could be contributing to the issues.

You can also implement a series of emails that aim to reactivate these subscribers; a re-engagement (reactivation) campaign.  Four ideas to considering when creating reactivation campaigns include:

  1. Remind the subscriber about the benefits of the website/email programme and talk them through key areas that they could be benefiting from.
  2. Give a special offer to encourage subscribers to make a purchase.
  3. Offer a survey to find out more about your subscribers and want they want to hear about from you.
  4. Prompt the subscriber to update their preferences to directly inform your segmentation strategy and allow you to provide relevant, targeted content in your mailings.

Removing subscribers

If a subscriber is not engaging with your content, product or service, it suggests a lack of interest, especially if they have not gone on to engage with your reactivation campaigns.  By broadcasting your campaigns to subscribers that are not engaging with your emails you can encounter three main problems that can damage your sending reputation, leading to deliverability issues:

  1. Increased chance of hitting recycled spam traps.
  2. Deflated engagement rates.
  3. Increased complaint rates.

Removing subscribers from your database is a decision that should be made individually for each business, and if you decide not to remove these subscribers altogether, ensure that you separate them away from your main,  important mailings using IP segmentation to ensure any negative ramifications caused by this data do not effect your key broadcasts.

However you decide to handle inactive subscribers in your database, the important thing is that you do something to either minimise disengagement from the start of the relationship by providing targeted, relevant content at the right time, or to reactivate or remove these users.


Goodbye “channels” – Welcome the marketing “channel of one”

The practice of creating a seamless customer experience across digital channels has been a common marketing challenge for a long while now, and integration of some offline and online channels through campaign segmentation is the norm. However, for most of us it is difficult to get a grip on every part of the customer experience.

To put this into perspective, there are typically more channels or touch points throughout a customer experience that are entirely generic and not personalised at all, versus those that are. They are not personalised by name, proposition or offer, call to action, location. None of that. This is diluting the effectiveness of a CRM strategy because we don’t have a clear understanding of what every individual experiences through every single channel. But this is changing.

Take a look at this:

Technology is beginning to bridge some of the knowledge gaps to identify non-converting prospects who visit their retail stores. Some brands have tried to patch over this marketing need with solutions such as in-store wifi, but this newer technology is incredibly powerful to marketers. The customer experience in the video above could have resulted in a simple browse and no sale. The marketing opportunities created from understanding that experience through the data collected, will help us to follow-up appropriately with the right content, at the right frequency at the right time – all with an enriched profile of that customer.

The marketing challenge is beginning to shift towards a desire to converse “sequentially” with prospects and customers through any channel at any time. Sequential messaging across multiple devices, locations and mediums. All of these could be personalised, tailored and in a defined, tested and optimised sequence:

  • In-store offers and personalised greetings
  • In-product messaging (some cars are already enabled in this way)
  • In-app messaging
  • Email
  • SMS
  • Website
  • Outdoor advertising
  • Direct mail
  • Delivery messaging

What would this list look like for your brand?

Algorithms could be developed, to enable CRM platforms to intelligently learn and adapt to the best performing sequence of proposition, content and timing. Automatically.

What does all of this mean for Marketers?

Marketers will soon be spending much less time thinking about which message to send through which channel, but more time deciding on the right sequence of messages with the channel serving as a distribution channel. I like to think of this as ‘the channel of one’.


Managing your Sender Reputation

Over the last decade or so, marketers have faced many challenges with deliverability (getting emails delivered to the inbox). Today, the most important factor associated with successful email delivery is entirely in your hands! As a marketer there are many different factors that you need to be aware of in order to successfully deliver email marketing campaigns; the most important of which is your Sender Reputation.

Sender ReputationA Return Path study found that 77% of delivery problems were based on sender reputation. Your Sender Reputation is a measure of how trustworthy you are as a sender (like a credit score), and has a direct relationship with getting your emails delivered; If you do not have a good sending reputation, you will not get your emails delivered.

So what’s included in building your Sender Reputation and how can you ensure you keep a good Sender Reputation and the best chance of being delivered to your recipient? Here we are going to look at 5 key elements.

  • Infrastructure

Ensuring your technical infrastructure is in place so that receiving ISPs can identify that you are who you say you are, is the first element you should consider when starting your email programme as well as maintaining a good Sender Reputation.  You infrastructure is often the first thing that the ISPs look at when determining whether or not to deliver your emails and includes the following elements (there are others in addition so make sure you talk to your ESP):

Make sure you look at the following areas of authentication in particular:

- WHOIS contact information

The WHOIS database gives users a way to contact you should they want to provide feedback, unsubscribe or complain for example so it is important to make sure your contact information is up to date and clearly available.

- Reverse DNS

Reverse DNS determines the authenticity of a domain compared with the IP address it is originating from.

- DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail) + DomainKeys (only used by Yahoo!)

Your domain reputation starts with validating your domain by implementing DKIM authentication. Having a DKIM record is often a requirement to be able to apply for feedback loops.

- SPF (Sender Policy Framework)

Senders must publish an SPF record for their (sub)domain to prevent spam and spoofing by validating that they’re sending IP is allowed to send from that domain.  Most ISPs will check for a valid SPF record and if it is not present/valid, will often place the emails into the junk folder.

- Monitored postmaster@/abuse@ email addresses on your domain

This allows ISPs to contact you should any issues occur with your email programme so ensure that you have these set up and monitor them regularly.

  • Volume

Spammers have a tendency to send inconsistently and in high volumes. To ensure you don’t appear in the same way, it is important to consider the typical volumes you send and the consistency of your volume so that ISPs can learn your sending behaviour.

  • Spam Traps

Many ISPs will reclaim email addresses after a certain period of inactivity (one of the two types of spam traps that could appear in your list). By emailing subscribers that have been inactive for a long period of time, you run the risk of inadvertently emailing one of these reclaimed spam traps.

The other type of spam trap that could occur on your list has been set up by ISPs as a decoy email specifically designed to catch senders who obtain addresses through data harvesting. This may not even be something you are doing yourself, but if you are using a purchased list for example, you may inadvertently be buying this type of spam trap (purchased lists may also include spam traps created through inactivity).

To avoid spam traps, try following some of the below tips:

- Only email users that have explicitly opted in to receive email communications from your brand.

- Ensure that you are segmenting your database by activity recency and changing your messaging strategy for those who are inactive to try and re-engage them.

- Monitor external sources of data that you may be using to ensure data quality.

  • Complaints

Complaints are one of the biggest reasons for a drop in sender reputation and decreasing deliverability.  There are many reasons why people complain (press the ‘spam’ button) including receiving too many/too few emails (and not recognising the brand), a difficult unsubscribe process or they simply didn’t understand what they were signing up to and when emails would be received.

If you are generating complaints (and it doesn’t take many to start causing deliverability issues – just 0.3%/3 in 1000 recipients) it is a good indication that something is not hitting the mark with your email programme.  In order to minimise complaints, it is important to provide targeted, relevant campaigns and deal with the reasons why people have chosen to click the spam/junk button to register a complaint.

Try focusing on some of the following elements to improve your complaint rates:

- Set expectations at point of signup.

- Ensure that your emails are what people expect to receive and sent when they expect to receive them.

- Make it easier to unsubscribe than to complain.

- Remove unsubscribes from your list immediately.  If someone has given you the benefit of the doubt and unsubscribed from your mailings, they may not do this again if they continue to receive communications from you and may reach for the spam button.

- Send relevant, targeted content. Utilise the functionality available in most ESPs and the information you store about your subscribers to send triggered emails and dynamic content to plan and broadcast relevant email campaigns.

- Ensure that you unsubscribe anyone who complains

  • Unknown Users

Unknown users occur when a subscriber’s email address is not recognised due to reasons such as the email address simply doesn’t exist or a spelling mistake was made on signup; also called a hard bounce.

As a general rule, if an email address hard bounces, it should immediately be unsubscribed from future sends. Broadcasts with a high number of unknown users/hard bounces can contribute to a drop in Sender Reputation.

As part of your technical infrastructure you should have strong bounce processing procedures in place to remove these and other types of bounces.

In order to ensure the quality of your data, ensure that you are checking email addresses on signup, either through the use of double opt in or through email address validation. If you are using affiliate marketing or other 3rd party sources to collect your data, keep an eye on these sources to ensure data quality.

With Christmas approaching and the volume of email marketing broadcasts increasing, it is even more important to ensure you keep your Sending Reputation high to ensure you make the most of your campaigns with a high delivery rate.

How’s your Sender Reputation looking and what do you think you could do to improve it?

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!