While the reports of the death of email have been greatly exaggerated, marketing emails are in danger of being buried in the graveyard known as the “spam” folder. There have been a number of developments in recent months that have made it harder for marketing emails to land in the inbox.
Some new email filters, such as Swizzle and Mailstrom, make it easy for users to perform a mass delete and unsubscribe to rid their inbox of marketing messages. While these add-ons appeal to power users who are obsessive about clearing their inboxes, mainstream email providers are also making it more difficult for email marketers to make it into the coveted inbox. Google’s Gmail recently added a “Tabs” feature that relegates some marketing messages to the “Promotions” inbox and Microsoft’s Outlook’s “sweep” function can also put a dent in the success of email marketing campaigns.
While volume used to be the name of the game in email marketing, campaigns are now measured based on the effectiveness of interactions and overall engagement. “Ten years ago, the idea was to get the biggest list and blast and much email as you could,” said James Thompson, Director of Email Operations for Infusionsoft. “Today, it is not about the quantity but the quality of the recipients. How active are they? How intently are they listening? I think these new tools will play a role in answering those questions.”
Approximately one quarter (22%) of marketing emails worldwide fail to reach subscribers’ inboxes, according to a recent study by Return Path, an email deliverability company. The Inbox Placement Rate Benchmark Report indicated that 18% of email messages were either blocked or went missing, and another 4% were delivered to subscribers’ junk or spam folders. Marketers in the U.S. fared better than the worldwide average, with 14% of messages not making their way into recipients' inboxes.
“The politically correct answer is, this makes it even more important for marketers to build relationships rather than just sending spam,” said David M. Raab, Principal, Raab Associates. “In practice, marketers will continue to send bulk emails and will try harder to get them past the filters.”
Raab noted that more vigilant email filtering may spark marketers to invest additional resources in transactional and “other more-or-less permission based techniques to provide emails of greater value. Yes, I’m talking about content marketing.”
Using Technology And Content To Thwart Filters
From a technology perspective, marketers have to ensure they are using all of the deliverability tools at their disposal, Long explained. “From proper coding to double opt-in, getting to the inbox is a challenge that must be addressed. Subscribers can't open or engage with your message if they never see it.”
Howard J. Sewell, President of Spear Marketing Group, predicted that B2B marketers will increase their use of subscription management, a common B2C technique where companies ask readers to identify the types of communication they want to receive, and then use that data to deliver more relevant email communications to specific audiences.
This trend is going to force many B2B marketers to rethink their database marketing strategy, Sewell explained. “Just because someone visited your booth at a trade show a year ago doesn’t mean that he or she is going to be interested in your message — or even see it. I foresee more aggressive ‘opt in’ strategies whereby B2B marketers will be actively soliciting prospects to become subscribers versus just recipients. “
Apart from the technological challenges, marketers also have to evaluate content and frequency, Long said. “To engage those weary subscribers and prevent emails from being tossed aside, email marketingmessages must add value to the recipient. Make sure that frequency, content and tone are all evaluated to make sure that those receiving the email have trust in the brand and/or person that sent it to them.”
Some marketing automation vendors see the email de-cluttering apps and reorganized tabs as positive trends. “I really don’t see this as an indication that the sky is falling,” said Chad White, ExactTarget. “The Gmail Tabs and these add-ons are really raising the stakes on relevance. All of these new tools are designed to make the inbox a more pleasant place to be, and that is something that marketers should applaud.”
White said it is crucial for B2B email marketers to develop solid permission-based strategies. “It all starts with permission,” White explained. “There has to be an end to the muddy permission practices of the past. Just because I was at the same conference you attended, you got my name off of an attendee form or we exchanged business cards, you shouldn’t take that as permission to start sending me broadcast emails.”
Once a marketer gets express permission to send emails, the focus needs to be on providing timely and relevant information, White noted. “Everyone has their idea of what a worthwhile email should be, so marketers need to be constantly assessing how their messages are resonating with their audience. If your audience values your message, they’ll make sure to open it. That hasn’t changed.”