DM News E-Mail Roundtable: An E-Mail Address Shell Game

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DM News hosted senior direct marketers last month to parse key issues affecting e-mail marketers and vendors. Here's part 3 of a four-part, monthlong series on spam filters, reputation systems, multiple e-mail addresses and transactional e-mail.

David Daniels, Research Director, JupiterResearch

Dave Lewis, VP of Alliances & Market Development, StrongMail Systems

Greg Martz, Director of New Member Experience, The Motley Fool

Matthew Seeley, President, Experian's CheetahMail

Charles Stiles, Postmaster, Time Warner's AOL

Moderator: Dianna Dilworth, Associate Editor, DM News

Contributor: Mickey Alam Khan, Editor in Chief, DM News

Mickey Alam Khan: AOL just announced that it'll offer e-mail addresses for free. Consumers often have multiple e-mail addresses, [yet] they complain of being overwhelmed. So what role does that have to play? You don't have five physical addresses, but online you seem to have five or six or seven, so I think the consumer also bears part of the blame for, if you've got seven e-mail addresses, you are going to use one e-mail address someplace and doing something else somewhere and then you've got the spam on top of that. How do you address that issue of multiple e-mail addresses?

David Daniels: Part of it is the source of those acquisitions. We did research that will be published shortly. A quick view into it says that the most savvy list, in terms of the quality of those addresses and the return of those addresses, comes from existing customer relationships - people that go to your Web site, people you talk to in your call center, people you talk to in your stores or people you already have information on and you have a good ability to append their e-mail address to that physical information. If you look at things like sweepstakes, co-registration, all of the other sort of avenues where you could get e-mail addresses, I think that's where you'll see a lot of transient addresses, those free account-types of addresses.

Right from the get-go marketers have to have a strategy. What is our acquisition strategy, and how do we get people to trust us right from the beginning and sell them on the notion that there is value in receiving our content or our offers? Part of that gets down to how that acquisition process starts online. If we look at most registration pages today: give us your name and e-mail address and check here if you want to sign up, and away you go. Most marketers throw those people right into the same retention mailing that everybody else is getting, without trying to treat that person differently.

It's a dating process, and you need to warm people up to why they want that content. I think that a large portion of it has to do with trying to stay in that primary e-mail address.

But regardless of those efforts or tactics that you can do to try to get there, it's still going to be a huge challenge. People are always going to have multiple addresses because that's how we've unfortunately trained people over the last three years. And people have been burned. How many times have people in this room burned out their own primary personal address and it's time to go on to a new one? That definitely is going to continue to occur because of the marketers that are not involved in best practices.

Dave Lewis: You raise a really good point, Dave. I think it gets down to, this is reminiscent of the argument we had years ago, the issue about ... which credit cards were you going to carry in your wallet. You can only carry so many. You always carry more than you should. We have the same issue with e-mail, and I think we can't blame it on the consumer. This is our challenge. This is a value exchange we've got going on with our customers. If we're not delivering relevant content, if we don't give them the kind of messaging they want, then they're going to give us a throwaway address.

I think our challenge is to recognize this is a relationship. This isn't hit-and-run marketing. Our challenge is to look at it as a continuum and to try and develop strategies that allow us to upgrade the quality of the address that we have.

If they've got three or four or five addresses and we start with the throwaway, through the relevancy of our messaging and constantly asking for maybe a different address, in case that one fills up with spam and they close it, we'll overcome the thing. But we need to understand that it is a value exchange and operate accordingly.

Charles Stiles: I have to agree. A couple of us were talking, just before this roundtable started, on the quality of data. The better the data you have on a consumer, the better content that you can provide to that consumer, the more valuable you become. In speaking with somebody that did a lot of e-mail marketing, they were talking to me about the size of their list, and I had to stress that that wasn't that important to me.

It doesn't matter whether you are sending mail to a hundred people or a million. What matters is how many people want to receive that e-mail. If they're not responsive, then you're spinning your wheels. And to drive that response, you need to understand who you're mailing to. How did you get their address? Was this through an append? Was this somebody coming into your store? Was there an offer tied with it? What's the likelihood that they gave you their primary, most-checked address? The more time and effort you spend gathering data, the more relevant information and content to the consumer, the better your return will be.

Matthew Seeley: We absolutely agree, as an ESP ... and as part of a bigger organization that does database marketing, this is where it all needs to go. This is the same customer that you have the e-mail address for that goes to the store, that buys in a catalog.

It's the same person, and for too long we've treated them as a different person because we haven't brought those elements together. And it simply must happen in e-mail so that we remain relevant, and that doesn't mean just online data and click and open data, it means: What are you doing in my store? What are you doing in my catalog? And how can I make my e-mail talk to you the same way I want to speak to you in those other channels?

It's a big problem to tackle because you've got a lot of different systems, a lot of different providers, a lot of different integrations. But this is where it's all going, and part of our challenge is to enable our clients to do things like this.

Greg Martz: We've all mentioned relevancy; it's a buzzword in e-mail. But we have to get more relevant, meeting our customers' needs, whether it's an e-mail address for a free report or your credit card that comes out of the wallet. From our perspective, it is easy to talk about but it is difficult to do.

But you have to do it if you're going to survive. E-mail is such a low barrier that you have to apply some things on top of it - segmentation, targeting - for it to work. We see [made-up addresses] all the time. We see fool123@yahoo.com - "Oh, I only use this address for my fool mail."

If we're not relevant, we're not meeting our customers' needs, they're going to ... start deleting, deleting, deleting. One day they might hit that spam button. So it is crucial for us to be relevant in meeting our customers' needs through e-mail.

Mr. Alam Khan: Let's move on. How do you see the ISPs using reputation systems versus spam filters? And, Charles, what are your plans at AOL?

Mr. Stiles: As I mentioned before, the tools and processes, filters, techniques that we used to get us this far are not going to be effective in taking the next step. We'll have to continue to do this, and we'll have to continue to fight spam as we've always done. But we need something else to take us to that next level, and that's going to be authentication systems and reputation systems.

AOL will be checking authentication, we'll be using that as a heuristic to look at the probability that this is a good, legitimate e-mail. And if it's a good, legitimate e-mail, then we want to do everything in our power to make sure it's getting delivered. If it's not adhering to a technical standard, maybe we can reach out to the mailer at that point because now we know who it is. There are a lot of benefits to authentication and reputation that we haven't looked at.

Mr. Alam Khan: And Dave, would you like to answer this? Things seem pretty binary right now: good, bad, black, white. When will we get to sender-score gradations that cover the broader market?

Mr. Lewis: What I look forward to and why I think marketers should be taking a hard look at the relevancy of their mail - because that's what's going to ensure them a good reputation. Sure, there are other factors but that's the primary one.

No longer is the delivery of your mail going to be based on the content that you're using. Once again, the spammers co-opted the best marketing lingo that we've had, that gets consumers into the envelope and gets them to respond to the message. And we're all leery about using that language or using certain types of content because it triggers spam filters. But we'll move beyond that with reputation systems and be able to recover that. The ability of your images and links to now render if you've got a good reputation is something that we're looking forward to, which is critical to retailers given the nature of their sale.

Those are the benefits here. If we do it and we do it well, I think part of where reputation systems need to evolve ... what I would not like to see is that they evolve toward the types of spam-filtering systems we have in place today. They're designed to prevent the delivery of mail that the recipient doesn't want to get, and they play a legitimate role. But the reputation systems are all about facilitating the good mail, the mail that you do want to get.

I think where they need to move is beyond just this binary good or bad but, like a credit score, come up with ranges, which is more reflective of the real world. There's a lot of shades of gray, and companies are moving from darker gray to lighter gray to hopefully white. And different domains, different ISPs, are going to have different requirements on what their members want to receive into those domains. So it needs to reflect those realities: the realities of the sender environment, that there are a lot of different types of players with different levels of reputation, and the realities of the receiving community.

Sept. 25: Transactional e-mail.

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