Tag Archives: Best Practice

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.


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 feelunique.com 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 feelunique.com 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, feelunique.com 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, feelunique.com 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 (www.dma.org.uk) 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 feelunique.com 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 feelunique.com 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’.


First rule of email marketing – simple, working unsubscribe

It is not a lot to ask and most ESP’s won’t allow you to send an email without an unsubscribe link. The problem is often how the unsubscribe is implemented and this can vary considerably. Its surprising how some big brands can still get their unsubscribe wrong.

I always say that unsubscribes aren’t a bad thing. At some point the recipient has opted in to receive your email and an unsubscribe is just them saying, thanks but I’m not interested in this anymore. Nobody wants to lose a customer but if they have no further interest then they won’t convert and its not worth sending them an email in the first place. Its good to remember that an unsubscribe is a whole lot better than a spam complaint.

First, try not to hide your unsubscribe. I dislike finding unsubscribe links hidden away in the terms and conditions at the bottom on an email. I believe brand trust plays a big part in email marketing and when I see an unsubscribe that is “hidden” in the footer of an email, it erodes away a little bit of that trust. I always suggest putting a clear unsubscribe in the pre-header as well as at the bottom of the email, not in the small print. If someone truly wants to unsubscribe they will do, either by clicking your unsubscribe link or complaining to their ISP.

I recently decided to clean my inbox of everything that I don’t read. This is not what I would class as spam but just emails I have opted in to receive but am no longer interested in reading. Here are two examples of how I believe an unsubscribe shouldn’t work.

The first was an online retailer and there was an unsubscribe link at the bottom of the email. All seems straight forward. However when you click on the unsubscribe link it takes you to a page on their website that says “if you know your account password you can unsubscribe by changing your preferences or enter your email address below and we will send you a link that you can use to unsubscribe”. Not exactly what I was expected. I don’t want them to send me another email so I can unsubscribe. I just want to unsubscribe. Anyway I enter my email address and click “Send Confirmation Email”. To my surprise it comes back with an error saying “we have no record of your email address. Please call our customer care team”.

I checked the address the emails are sent to and its correct. I even tried matching the case just in case but still no joy. So I had no way to unsubscribe. It took a call to the customer services team to get my account “reset” so I could then login and unsubscribe. Not a very satisfying customer journey and makes me think twice about using them again.

The second was a newsletter that I had been receiving for years but wasn’t actually reading so time to unsubscribe. The unsubscribe link was in small text near the footer and used the text  “not useful ? unsubscribe”. I clicked on the link and it takes me to their account login page and asks for my username and password. I can’t remember either but all is not lost as there is a “reset your password” link. However, this link now asks for my username and email address. I then have to search my email archive to try and find my login details to unsubscribe. Not the user experience you want to happen.

An unsubscribe link should be simple and do exactly what is says on the tin. Ideally it should pre-populate with the email address that the original email was sent to (for people who have many email aliases) but at least you should just enter an email address and unsubscribe. At some point in the future you want your unsubscribes to return so you should try and part as friends.


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?

Testing? Forget it at your peril!

Have you noticed just how overwhelming it is? The noise is loud, really loud!  The volume is set to ‘rock’ and the music is booming from the e-mail marketing tent. Where’s my invite? Where’s the party? I’m a big music fan, but today I’m not talking about Glastonbury or a cool party in the park. No. In this instance the tickets are free and the music is streaming from the industry. Our industry.

I use the word music as an analogy to e-marketing articles, white papers, blogs, RSS feeds and social-media content. From Linkedin to Facebook, our broadcasts are everywhere. Our content is everywhere and growing at a phenomenal pace. I don’t know about you, but as a marketer with more than a decade of hands on experience, I believe we marketers need to get our house in order before we run off to the next cool festival.

My first DMA blog isn’t about music or anything new for that matter. My first blog is an opportunity to remind marketers to invest (or re-invest) in a basic discipline that pays big dividends. Test, test and test again.

I know the issue only too well. Testing takes time, something us marketers don’t have a great deal of! If you can find time to incorporate testing techniques in to your daily routine through manual or automated processes you will discover testing makes a big difference to the outcome of your campaigns. A small uplift in open or click through volumes can produce a big impact on conversions, sales and revenue. This is definitely music to my ears.

Over the 8 years, I’ve executed many testing combinations for a variety of customers, all of which helped me fine-tune my campaign management for greater returns. Five common A/B tests I incorporate regularly with my clients are shown below. Don’t forget, the best way to achieve successful results is to test, test and test again!

1) A/B creative test – With A/B creative tests you will need two versions of your creative. Each creative version could be configured with: A different layout, different images, different copy text or different positions for call to actions. How you make the two versions unique is up to you. The differences could be minimal or huge but you should pick one element to test at a time. There is no right or wrong methodology here.

2) A/B male / female test – With the A/B male / female test, you could; have two versions of your creative, one for male and the other for female with relevant content for each version. You could simply opt to use two different subject lines. Ideally, with this kind of test you should make the male version relevant to the male market and the female version relevant to the female market.

3) A/B geographic test – First off, you need to select two or more geographic regions. Let’s say north and south for example. Target your message accordingly for each region by using relevant images, subject titles and calls to action.

4) A/B Active vs. Inactive test – Inactive subscribers exist in every marketing database. The key to converting inactive subscribers is to segment your database in to active / inactive and target the inactive segment with tempting offers. Everyone wants to convert inactive subscribers to revenue-generating customers. Instead of sending a generic email to both segments, create a version specifically for inactive users by using eye catching subject titles and special offers to temp customers back.

5) A/B Generic vs. targeted message – Broadcasting a generic message to your entire database is easy. One creative, one subject title, one broadcast and one set of reports. The problem with generic messages is they simply don’t hit the spot with many recipients. When you start to test targeted messages against generic messages you will see a clear difference in opens and conversions. Targeted messages should be highly relevant to your recipient’s interests. Message relevance is key to achieving higher open rates and conversions.

Follow my simple rule. Make sure the basics are covered before you try and conquer the world.  There are endless combinations of testing techniques – try as many as you can, Invest as much time as you can to generate valuable return on investment. In the mean time, enjoy the industry music. It’s everywhere, it’s free and it’s a great way to pick up hints and tips to help you succeed.