Customers Can Improve Your Deliverability

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Targeted e-mail marketing achieves higher open and clickthrough rates than batch-and-blast efforts - this is as intuitive as it is well documented, most recently by JupiterResearch. But did you know that being relevant also improves delivery performance, letting you profit from a larger pool of recipients?

Epsilon Interactive this year commissioned GfK NOP to conduct a nationwide survey. It found that a majority of e-mail users are sophisticated at managing their inboxes. More importantly, a growing number take direct action to control the kinds of messages they receive and respond to:

E-mail users protect valued messages from spam filters' false positives. The majority (55 percent) say they routinely check their junk folders for misdelivered messages. Almost 60 percent say that they always add legitimate, trusted senders to their address books. These figures reflect year-over-year growth and suggest that, in addition to being more aware of false positives, consumers actively prevent the loss of wanted messaging.

Spam button use is rising. More e-mail users than ever are clicking "Report Spam" buttons, and most say it reduces the amount of spam they get. AOL, Yahoo and MSN Hotmail offer their users automated spam-complaint mechanisms, and together they represent about 60 percent of consumer e-mail accounts. Consumers do complain about legitimate e-mail sometimes. And whether you agree with them or not, complaint-rate thresholds can be minuscule - often just a fraction of a percent - before senders are blocked or relegated to junk folders.

Everyone's a fraud detective. As marketers, Internet service providers, government agencies and media outlets intensified their online safety education efforts last year, awareness of the e-mail fraud warning signs surged. Now nearly seven out of 10 consumers say they can accurately identify phishing e-mail.

Also, recently introduced Sender ID and DomainKeys authentication alerts at MSN Hotmail and Yahoo are being noticed by consumers and are influencing their behavior. Almost half of MSN Hotmail account owners had noticed a warning in their e-mail browsers stating, "the sender of this message could not be verified by Sender ID," and most said they would heed such warnings and not trust the sender. Meanwhile, one-fifth of Yahoo users noticed a message in their browsers stating that DomainKeys confirmed the authenticity of e-mail they received, and most indicated greater trust in these messages.

The bottom line is that ISPs continue moving in a direction where their users - your customers - decide your deliverability success. This presents an enormous opportunity for relevant marketers, who can optimize deliverability by bypassing certain levels of spam filtering and improve their "reputation scores" if end users take actions like adding them to their address books.

Best-in-class e-mail marketers distinguish themselves by empowering consumers to control their messaging and by fully leveraging customer insight, knowledge and technology to optimize their deliverability. By using industry best practices and creating a positive experience for recipients, you can inspire your customers to use their control to improve - not hurt - your deliverability:

Use customer knowledge and technology to enhance relevancy. A March 2005 executive survey by JupiterResearch confirmed that open rates, clickthrough rates and overall marketer ROI soar with the use of advanced relevancy tools. In addition to driving purchasing across multiple channels, relevant e-mail can improve deliverability and reduce spam complaints and list attrition.

Use customer knowledge and insight, including what you learn about buying behavior, to craft and trigger timely and valuable campaigns built around an individual's behaviors, needs and interests. Taking full advantage of state-of-the-art relevancy technologies and techniques increasingly separates deliverability haves from the have-nots.

Encourage recipients to visit your preference center or to opt out rather than complain. In a February 2005 survey we commissioned to NOP World/RoperASW, nearly half of e-mail users believed that clicking "Report Spam" was the same as unsubscribing. Your own customers can damage your reputation and threaten your delivery rates by complaining instead of simply opting out.

Emphasize consumer control during the registration process by clearly conveying the ability to opt out at any time. Reminding recipients that they can unsubscribe is even more crucial when you send future e-mail. This information should never be buried or printed in tiny text within footers.

Include an "Add to Address Book" call to action in your registration process and in every e-mail you send. Though consumer use of e-mail address books is rising, only 43 percent say that the legitimate companies they do business with usually request to be added to address books - a figure unchanged over the past two years. Give instructions for how to "add to address book" in various e-mail clients.

Authenticate. With the introduction of visual authentication alerts, being compliant doesn't just protect your customers from phishing, it also increases the likelihood that they will be comfortable responding to your e-mail. Non-compliant marketers may suppress their open, response and conversion rates among consumers who recognize these alerts.

Educate users to recognize your legitimate e-mail. Don't let customers mistake your e-mail for phishing. Develop branding and structural guidelines that emphasize consistency so recipients recognize and trust your messages. Using multiple "From" lines, organizational structures, fonts and colors can arouse suspicion. In addition, your registration page should include links to samples of your e-mail so that customers learn what your authentic messaging looks like.

Monitor the effect of third-party accreditation solutions. The Goodmail solution continues to spark debate, but its adoption and impact remain to be seen. Meanwhile, other third-party providers are developing similar, visual trust symbol-based solutions, and the implementation of Goodmail's CertifiedEmail at AOL and Yahoo may represent only the start of the next major deliverability phase.

Marketers should watch developments in the accreditation/reputation space and study their effect on open and response rates - and consider carefully which programs make the most sense for them.

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