The Evolution of Email Marketing: Navigating a Reputation-Centric World

Eric Stelle

The days of using physical mail tactics in the marketing space have all but passed. Modern means of protecting privacy mean that several time-honored tactics are now less effective, if not obsolete. Compared to direct mail or physical mail (p-mail), email represents an inexpensive way for a business to reach consumers. Sounds great, right? The low cost and the adoption of email as a communication standard meant a vast number of recipients could be reached with little capital investment. This caused a flood of messages, both benevolent and malignant, to flow. Yet, because of those malicious actors, providers have enacted measures which result in the complex reality of modern email marketing.

Consider the local restaurant that markets their product by going to surrounding neighborhoods and putting menus in mailboxes. If ads convert enough, they create profit for the business and enough profit means the campaign was a success. The internet made the “neighborhood” the entire world and ambitious businesses cast nets far and wide in a “more is more” philosophy. In those early days, if an address became known, it could become the target of any business – whether desired or not.

It was the malicious and undesired intrusions into the inbox that caused providers to take steps to empower their subscribers with tools like one click unsubscribe or “mark as spam” buttons. Businesses who adapted to these empowered recipients continued to enjoy success, while businesses who still adhered to the “more is more” tactic found themselves blocked, bulked, or otherwise not delivered.

Successful businesses had begun to engage the user in more meaningful ways than ever before. They started to collect data to sculpt offers relevant to the recipient’s history and, as that information became more of a commodity, transactions occurred involving it. Targeted analytics became prevalent and, again, consumers sought ways to protect what they deemed to be their private information. Regulatory bodies are now striving to meet that demand from consumers and legislation such as CASL, GDPR, and CCPA are proposed remedies. The impact of those measures remains to be seen as laws come into force but some businesses have felt the impact of those first policies already.

The modern consumer has more control in their hands than ever before, so if a business wants to reach them, they must engage them meaningfully. Businesses must treat consumer relationships more personally and consider the recipient’s desires in ways that the restaurateur putting menus in a mailbox never had to.

Businesses engage firms and email service providers to help broadcast their message but, fundamentally, all successful campaigns share some common characteristics. First, those campaigns demonstrate revised understanding of consent. The new understanding is that consent should be affirmative and informed. Put in terms of email, this means that a business should first clearly tell a recipient who they are receiving an message from. Frequently, this includes the “from” address as well to enable the recipient to recognize it as legitimate when it arrives in the inbox. In addition, stating when mail will arrive helps the recipient assess mail when it arrives and has a secondary impact that, should mail be mishandled by the provider, the recipient can note it as overdue and look for it. When they find it, their open, click, or marking it “not spam” will help future sends arrive.

So, let’s say that that same local restaurateur now engages in a digital campaign. The restaurant now signs up customers at check out to receive coupon emails. When the customer signs up, they are told to look for an email with a valuable coupon arriving in the next 24 hours. The recipient, enjoying the product, wants that coupon and will look for it (should it not arrive on time). In this instance, the clear statements of what will be sent and when it will be sent serve as prompts from the business to engage with sent mail – all of which providers react favorably to. Once the consumer consents to being sent emails, the business should affirm that consent in a follow up. This helps avoid pitfalls such as unclear language at opt in or typographical errors at the point of contact. It also serves to mitigate the risk of complaint. This is the starting point of nearly every interaction. “May I?” “Yes, you may.”

Secondly, successful campaigns strive to induce engagement with the mail sent recipients. Mail providers today have begun to adopt signs of engagement (i.e. opens, clicks, scroll, etc.) as viable metrics in determining if an email is wanted or unwanted. Once consent has been given, if mail that follows is unexpected or out of line with what the recipient thought was going to be send, that can lead to complaint. If “valuable coupons” the restaurateur was supposed to send turn out to be marketing for a new dish with no coupon, the recipient will feel cheated. At best, they’ll unsubscribe and at worst, they will complain. Sending content that is in line with the permission granted will reinforce the positive status a sender.

These elements of the recipient experience along with technical setup aggregate into a reputation for the sender with a mail provider. Reputation is an expression of the level of trust in the relationship a sender has set up with subscribers of a mail provider. The more recipients trust a sender’s mail and give positive feedback (i.e. open, click, scroll, etc.), the less mail providers are inclined to bulk, block, or delay that sender’s mail.

Because of its aggregate nature, reputation can be murky for senders. Each mail provider conceals the exact measures by which they rate reputation because, were they to be known, malicious actors could use that knowledge to circumvent those protections and arrive unsolicited in the inbox. The Deliverability specialists at Mapp are able to help senders navigate this ever changing landscape by being a part of the industry, technical expertise, and outreach to stay on top of issues that impact email campaign success.

Wrap up

When the intention of an email send out is to generate a campaign with the most successful results possible, senders who take time to consider these elements in the entire lifecycle of a lead find that the relationship suffers in the absence of consent and engagement not only with recipients they target but mail providers as well. The more a business strives to manage the relationship with their consumers, the more meaningful the relationship becomes and the more data is given freely on account of trust – which yields more targeted and effective campaigns.

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