Trust is the key to e-mail marketing excellence

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Jordan Cohen, VP, business development, Pontiflex
Jordan Cohen, VP, business development, Pontiflex

There's no doubt that e-mail occupies a growing role in marketers' plans and programs — the DMA recently revealed that it is now the most widely used direct marketing channel — but despite its unique ability to cultivate one-to-one customer dialogs and off-the-charts ROI, it still doesn't get anywhere near the respect that other media do.


Marketers pumped $25.5 billion into online advertising last year, according to a recent report from IDC. The Winterberry Group, meanwhile, pegged direct mail spending at $58.4 billion. By contrast, e-mail attracted a paltry $1.2 billion in 2007, according to David Daniels, VP and research director at JupiterResearch.


The disparity can arguably be traced to the lack of trust in e-mail across the channel's key stakeholders. ISPs don't trust that senders are who they purport to be, nor whether they are safe, so they sometimes accidentally block legitimate e-mail — and never render links and images even when they do not block — for fear they might spread spam, phishing, spyware and viruses onto customers' computers.


Marketers and publishers don't trust that the e-mail they send to customers will be displayed properly with links and images intact, let alone be delivered.


Customers don't trust that the e-mail they receive is legitimate. They also don't trust whether they're receiving all the e-mail that they actually requested and want to receive — according to an Epsilon/GfK study conducted last year, 26% reported not receiving wanted e-mails.


This fundamental lack of trust creates a number of barriers to big spending on the channel. One of these is diminished delivery, open and click-through rates, which deflates the effectiveness of e-mail messages for marketers and limits the value of ad inventory in publishers' and other media companies' e-mail newsletters.


Another barrier is limited creative capabilities. Link and image blocking, coupled with the total inability to display video and rich-media in e-mail, renders today's consumer e-mail experience archaic compared to what can be done with Web sites.


And finally, lost sales result. Consumers, without a moment's hesitation, delete e-mail that is mistaken for phishing or spam. A Goodmail/Real Branding study conducted last August showed that 69% of users regularly delete a lot of e-mail without reading it and 64% are cautious about the e-mail they do open.


Improving trust in e-mail marketing programs is the answer to overcoming these challenges. Marketers should first and foremost adhere to fundamental best practices, which include providing consumers clear and conspicuous notice when they sign up for e-mail lists, respecting opt-out requests and making messages as relevant as possible to the individuals who receive them.


Marketers also should employ new technology solutions aimed at curbing spam and phishing while improving the deliverability of legitimate e-mail. CertifiedEmail, for example, enables qualified senders who adhere to best practices to bypass filters, deliver all messages to the inbox with links and images intact, and have e-mails distinguished with a safety icon embedded in the e-mail browser.


In a treacherous e-mail world of botnets, malicious code and viruses, ISPs need rigorous, message-level authentication and certification to facilitate e-mail marketing's benefits. Early adopters, such as StubHub, have found this not only boosts consumer trust, engagement and open rates, but also drives sales — in its case, by more than 36%.


Jordan Cohen is senior director of industry relations for Goodmail Systems. Reach him at


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