July 31, 2009

What do you do behind closed doors?

by Chris Wheeler, Director of Deliverability at Bronto Software

SPAMTwo weeks ago, a study of consumer's awareness of email usage was released by MAAWG, an industry group of those involved in the email transmission process (and of which Bronto is a proud member).  It was immediately picked up by some major news sources (such as the NPR blog, the WSJ and PC World to name a few).

You can download the entire paper here, but you'll need to find yourself a decent chunk of time because it's 60 pages long.

Now that some of the buzz has died down, I wanted to take a deeper dive into the stats listed that are most relevant to anyone sending email to large audiences.  We all agree that the main theme of the article is that more people click on spam than they should.  It's the whole reason behind why spam exists in the first place!  If no one acted on spam, it wouldn't be financially viable to continue supporting the large and sophisticated spammy networks around the globe.  Hopefully you're not among those who click on spam, and if you are, I'd keep that to yourself.

If you read further, though, you'll see some numbers coming out that point to axioms we should all have in place now as good email marketers.  I'll go through what I think are the most significant here:

"When asked what is most important to them in sending and receiving email, personal email from friends and family is most important, followed by receipts and/or shipping details, and notifications from banks and creditors falls into third place. Other types of emails, newsletters and marketing materials fall into the final tier. - Pg 6

Email that has an immediate and direct relevance to a recipient will be acted upon first.  This includes transactional and individual email as the top categories of those messages a recipient would get mad if they didn't receive.  Marketing falls to the bottom of the list which underscores the importance of making sure your email is well targeted and relevant.  If it's not, the chances of your message getting through the order confirmations and emails from mom and dad are nil.

"The sender's name and the subject line are the most common indicators of legitimate email." - Pg 6

This confirms from the 800 sources that represent everyone getting email out there in cyberland something we've already known for a long, long time.  But, here it is spelled out - your friendly from and from address along with the subject are the most important sources to entice someone to open your email.  It's the visual cue all email clients present and most every person sees first before deciding whether to take another few seconds to actually read your email.  Take a few seconds and scan through your junk folder - I'll bet you that the false positives you have in there, you'll be able to identify since you recognize the from address and the subject sounds pertinent.  Spammers, unfortunately, have caught onto this as well and have built up an entire industry around spoofing to fool you into opening their email.

"Most users do not care about the this is spam button. If your company's spam filter learns from users as they mark messages as spam, take steps to encourage correct use of the feature."
- Pg 8

The spam button, the one true way a recipient can tell you they think your mail isn't worthy of their time or attention, isn't as widely used as once thought.  Most people still just delete or never open to begin with.  However, it is important to note that anyone sending email should be processing complaints that do come back from the various ISPs so you don't continually find yourself getting a thumbs down vote from the same person on subsequent mailings.  And this is the most widely used metric for impacting deliverability, still.

As presented below, six out of 10 responses indicate that any unrequested email is considered spam." - Pg 18

So it's not exactly empirical, but then again rarely is anything in the marketing world.  But, what this means is regardless of the term coined, the way it's marketed, or even how many discussions are held around how to define the term, spam is at its core unwanted email according to recipients.  'Nuff said.  Don't let your email get lumped into that category by sending email recipients don't want.  A great way to test this is by doing an A/B split (or even an A/A split to prove the validity of the test) to see how a sample set of your audience will respond and thus how they label your mail in their mind.

"Other visual indications and the timing of the message were important to about 20% of the respondents." - Pg 19

While the vast majority of email recipients use the subject and the from address as indicators of email legitimacy, timing of the message can also be critical.  Obviously, this has a much greater impact on time sensitive material such as breaking news alerts or social network updates of your friends.  Marketing mail that is sent when recipients are most likely to check their inbox, whether it's in the morning when most of us are at work or on the weekends when they have more free time, is just as important.  But, setting expectations is just as important too - if you normally send out M-F at 10am, don't start sending email at 11pm on Saturday and expect the same response from your target.  Testing can help you define where those lines are.

So, hopefully these nuggets of feedback from Mr. and Mrs. John Doe who represent the majority of email recipients will come in handy.  No one wants spam, but as long as some of us are secretly clicking on it and purchasing stuff, you'll have to be super assertive in differentiating your email to ensure you keep your recipients happy and your marketing program successful.

Chris Wheeler
Director of Deliverability at Bronto

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Chris Wheeler, Director of Deliverability at Bronto Software

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