January 8, 2010

Deliverability Forum: It's a Wrap!

by Chris Wheeler, Director of Deliverability at Bronto Software

It is with a bit of ennui that I must close this series.  Many thanks to everyone who contributed to the blog posts over the last few months and gave their uncensored opinions around what they find valuable, in need of change or what interesting developments are in the pipeline.  As we began, so we will end - you may not have direct access to these industry leaders but I hope the conversations I've shared have given you insight into the minds of those who have direct influence over the email industry from a sender's and receiver's perspective.  And thank you for the comments and readership thus far.

If you missed any of the blog posts, they are laid out below in chronological order with a high level summary of the post and my takeaways for you as a reader to glean from the interview.  Also, I've included a "definition" section at the bottom of this post if there are any acronyms that you might be uncertain about.  Please scroll down to access it.

The Players

The FTC (post) describes in the US government's own voice how spam is regulated and counteracted.  Ethan Arenson, the FTC Spam Coordinator, spells out the very serious consequences of not being CAN-SPAM compliant and where to go for their exacting interpretation of what exactly is required of all commercial mailers.  It also shows the government's willingness to help curb the problem of unwanted email by enforcing industry standards such as authentication in a non-legal but best standard way.

My take: While most commercial emailers are compliant with the law (especially if using an ESP such as Bronto), it remains in your best interest to stay cognizant of the law and have someone you trust and can defer to when you're not sure if what you're doing is legal.  Also, the FTC regularly updates the Act's provisions so make sure to stay abreast of the latest rules that are voted in by the FTC commissioners.  We are talking about law here with real civil and criminal consequences if broken.  You don't want to find yourself being accused of a federal crime wherein ignorance of the law won't hold much water!

Pivotal Veracity's (post) President and CEO, Deidre Baird, explains the importance of both authentication and user engagement.  Pivotal Veracity is neither an ISP nor an ESP, but rather a deliverability intermediary services company with deep expertise around content and email disposition.  Also, Pivotal Veracity is a partner of Bronto.  As the interview mentions, without a conscious eye towards the emerging shift in ISP deliverability patterns, specifically around user engagement and authentication, you'll find your program in trouble.

My take: As AOL puts it, "send relevant email to people that want to receive it!"  Are you doing everything you can from an infrastructure standpoint to ensure your email doesn't attract negative hits when being scanned and determined for acceptance by the ISPs?  And, once delivered, is the email being received well by your recipients?  If you can't categorically answer in the affirmative to both of those questions, you have some major homework to do or else risk your mail being deemed irrelevant and sent off to the bulk folder or bounced back.  Both cost money.

Razorfish (post) chimed in from a email content and strategy perspective.  Whitney Hutchinson, Group Director, Strategy and Account Services, sums it up nicely by hitting on these key points: engage your recipients with appropriate creatives, have a holistic marketing approach for the relationship management and take into account the "stacking effect" which is a result of the newly emergent communication technologies available to market to recipients through.  Email is now one of many.

My take: While email is now just one piece in a wide breadth of technologies (i.e., Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google Wave, SMS, etc.), it is still the most important and most trusted conduit of content that recipients most engage with consistently over time.  It has proven itself as a reliable protocol, even older than the internet itself (history)!  But, recipients have become increasingly savvy with its adoption so making your content stand out amongst the sea of email users get is at the vanguard of a successful marketing program.

ReturnPath's (post) President, George Bilbrey, still believes email is the "killer" app.  ReturnPath, while not an email sender or receiver, hosts a suite of services ranging from ESP to ISP products and plays a significant role with its liaison relationship between both senders and receivers.  He poignantly breaks down the exacting metrics ISPs use to measure user engagement (i.e., open rates, click rates, spam complaints, panel votes, etc.) along with the idea of domain reputation.  ReturnPath is a partner of Bronto.

My take: Authenticate, watch your complaints and make sure your domain reputation is healthy.  Yahoo! and AOL have already moved over to using domain reputation as a determining factor for deliverability - so to even ignore those two at this point with their combined estimated 142.4 million unique inboxes is perilous.  ISPs are fighting off spam and user interpreted unwanted email; don't let your mail take on these smarmy characteristics.

Cloudmark (post) occupies a very distinct space in the email industry as being a provider of anti-phishing, spamming, virus and other threat vector services to ISPs only.  Jamie Tomasello, Abuse Operations Manager, posits that authentication doesn't actually imply good mail but rather mail that is verified as coming from the declared source.  Interestingly, she adds that user engagement is not a net positive measurement - you can have negative user engagement as well depending on what the user does with your mail that is perceived by the ISPs and companies such as hers when it's not wanted.  Permission is tantamount.

My take: Bronto and many other responsible ESPs require permission based marketing as the only source of email addresses senders can email to.  Why?  Because it shows the true intent of the recipient to actually want your email; they've taken an action that is clear and deliberate to let the sender know they want the email.  By assuming recipient desire and emailing recipients who haven't given permission is casting a large net that will cause deliverability issues.  Think about it.  When was the last time you marked an email as spam or deleted it when you didn't knowingly sign up for it?  That's what I thought.

LashBack (post) rounded up the series as the final contributor with James O’Brien, Director of Marketing.  LashBack is dedicated to monitoring unsubscribe requests, suppression list abuse and whether an unsubscribe mechanism exists.  This directly ties into CAN-SPAM compliancy as well as being inline with email marketing best practices - when a recipient communicates to you they don't want your email anymore, you should honor this request without question or judgment.  Also, LashBack is putting together the first Email Compliance Summit which should be highly anticipated by senders and ESPs who want to stay on the cutting edge of unsubscribe policy.

My take: With the unsubscribe mechanism being one of several ways a recipient can directly and easily communicate intent with the email sender (others being complaints lodged with the respective ISP or direct email to the sender's role accounts), it is a very useful metric to measure the impact your mail is having on recipients.  Are you sending too much?  Too frequently?  Not targeted enough?  It's the job of the marketer to find that sweet spot where relevancy, recency and frequency are met with the recipients to not drive them to unsubscribe from your mail.

Definitions

  • CAN-SPAM: Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing Act of 2003 is the law the federal US government enacted to combat spam and other unwanted and malicious email.
  • FTC: Federal Trade Commission is the arm of the federal government in charge of enforcing and maintaining the CAN-SPAM Act.
  • ISP: Internet Service Provider of which the largest B2C ISPs are Yahoo!, Hotmail/Live, Gmail and AOL.  Email provider or receiver.
  • ESP:  Email Service Provider such as Bronto.  Email senders.
  • SPF: Sender Policy Framework is a type of email authentication that is path based and validates the sending entity.
  • DKIM: DomainKeys Identified Mail is a type of email authentication that is encryption based, validates the content of a message hasn't been tampered with while in transit and can be tied back to a sending domain.

I hope that the Deliverability Forum and this wrap up have helped you with your deliverability programs.  Still have questions?  Comment below and let's keep the conversation going.

Chris Wheeler
Director of Deliverability at Bronto
@ChrisAWheeler

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