The findings of the Direct Marketing Association’s (DMA) National Client Survey, released 19th November 2009, have made for interesting – and at times surprising – reading. While many of the facts, figures and opinions that rise up out of the study promise great hope for the channel, there are a number of more disquieting revelations that indicate email marketers have much more behind the scenes work to do to ensure that email can fulfil its potential.
The most positive message to come from the report is that email marketing is showing great resilience in the first major economic recession the sector has experienced. Seven in ten marketers polled stated that they expect expenditure on email marketing to increase during 2010. Unfortunately, this is not a sign that marketing budgets are set to rise across the board; 50 per cent of marketers believe that the increased spend on email marketing will be at the cost of other direct channels. Email’s inexorable rise, however, does not mean that it is set to replace other channels. Email is shown to be particularly effective when it is partnered with offline channels, with direct mail proving to be the most successful method tried.
However, pulling up the floorboards we can see a few cracks in the foundations on which email marketing’s success has thus far been built. As progress in the discipline has been at break-neck speed, it would seem that application of best practice is inconsistent and often overlooked.
This eschewing of best practice is perhaps most clearly reflected in the fact that under half of marketers surveyed said they have a strategy in place concerning maximum consumer contact frequency. Furthermore, 12 per cent stated they did not know how many emails should be sent to individual addresses over the course of a month. Failing to follow best practice is particularly troubling in these difficult economic times as marketers are increasing contact frequency to stretch the value of email. Without the correct best practice and evaluation measures in place, these companies risk alienating customers by over-mailing.
Following best practice is also crucially important for ensuring deliverability to consumers’ inboxes, which marketers in the survey ranked as their chief concern, rating it higher than conversion rates and return on investment. Their concern is well justified, with a number of recent studies showing that 20 per cent of all commercial emails are blocked. However, there seems to be a general lack of understanding of the crucial factors in determining deliverability. Just 36 per cent of marketers identified sender reputation as being important to deliverability. This is an alarmingly low percentage given that reputation is the fundamental factor in determining deliverability.
Sender reputation is similar to a credit rating, and is assigned to every email sender to help internet service providers (ISP) differentiate between reputable senders and spammers. Sender reputation is based on a number of factors, such as the percentage of customers marking a sender’s emails as spam and making a complaint; list quality used by the sender; whether or not a sender has the infrastructure that enables ISPs to recognise their emails as coming from them, rather than from an unknown source; and whether or not the sender consistently sends out the same volume of emails from the same internet protocol address.
If marketers are truly concerned about deliverability, as they should be, then they should be concerned about following best practice when conducting email marketing campaigns. Managing your sender reputation really is nothing more than following best practice. Currently, the DMA’s Email Marketing Guidelines lead the way in setting out best practice for the sector. These guidelines, published in 2007, are currently under review and a revised set will be published in 2010 to ensure they keep up with the latest developments in email marketing. Following best practice will not only keep consumers happy and engaged with the emails they receive; it will also ensure that the email messages actually reach them and continue to reach them. Once these basic issues are resolved, then we can expect email to realise its potential.
Note, a variation of this article originally appeared in Technology Weekly/mad.co.uk (publisher: Centaur Communications) in November 2009.