Road to e-mail hell paved with good intentions

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E-mail's dirty little secret is out: Marketers can't always trust 
their results.  That's the inescapable conclusion looking at mailer 
and e-mail service provider survey results in the white paper just 
issued by the Email Experience Council (EEC) called "The State of 
Email Metrics & Bounce Management."
As Deirdre Baird, president/CEO of Pivotal Veracity and chair of the 
EEC Deliverability Roundtable that fielded the survey and published 
the results, has said, "These results paint an alarming picture and 
should serve as an industry wake-up call to address our inability to 
define, calculate, view and act on key metrics."
The EEC survey findings hone in on widespread problems in three areas:
Conflicting metrics: No consistency in calculating key performance 
metrics (delivery, open, click rates) makes it impossible to 
establish industry benchmarks or compare results.  Variance with the 
delivery metric is particularly troubling since it's often used in 
calculating other metrics.
Inconsistent bounce data and definitions:  While Internet service 
providers are rightly faulted for not providing accurate and 
standardized bounce data, the lack of industry consensus on what the 
key terms mean or how to apply them suggests that many marketers 
couldn't make good use of the data anyway.
Inadequate bounce management:  Everyone agrees that e-mail 
deliverability is very important, but many lack the reporting systems 
to see or understand their results and act on them.  They're flying 
blind.
I worked closely with Ms. Baird on this EEC initiative and would echo 
her sentiments.  The findings run counter to what I've always known 
as a key tenet of direct marketing, namely that things should be 
measurable.  OK, things are measurable in e-mail, but what value are 
measures if everyone is using a different yardstick and not 
disclosing what yardstick they're using.  Or saying it's the same 
yardstick but using one with different markers or no markers at all.
So how did we get ourselves into this state?  While it's human nature 
to represent things in their best light, I don't believe deception is 
the primary cause.  Our metrics evolved over time as well-intentioned 
mailers and service providers sought to measure things in the ways 
they thought best using the tools (often not the best) at their 
disposal.
And while some methods may seem strange to me, I don't impugn the 
motives of those who use them.  All of us have opinions on the best 
metrics to use, and that's precisely the problem.  Our differing but 
equally good intentions are leading to an e-mail hell for all of us.
Good intentions also don't cut it for those who lack adequate tools 
to capture or report on the data that are needed to calculate the 
metrics in the first place.  They're probably already in e-mail hell 
and will need more than a few "Hail Marys" to escape it.
So where do we go from here?
First,  we have to admit our condition as the requisite step toward a 
cure.  Second, we have to look beyond our individual biases and 
preferences in agreeing on the core metrics.  Undoubtedly, this 
second step will be the hardest. But if e-mail hell is the 
alternative I believe it is, then we'll get over it.  And let's be 
honest about whose interests are served by perpetuating our current 
metrics mess.  It's certainly not the mailers and service providers 
who are producing good results.
To facilitate industry consensus and be a catalyst for change, the 
EEC is calling for a diverse task force to address this metrics 
challenge.  It would represent a cross-section of our industry - 
mailers, service providers, trade groups, analysts and influencers - 
with a mission to examine common calculation methods, identify terms 
that more adequately describe the underlying metrics they represent, 
educate the market on limitations inherent in each and provide 
meaningful guidance on the ones most appropriate to different e-mail 
marketing endeavors.  I endorse this approach as our best path forward.
As said in the EEC white paper, e-mail and e-mail marketing have 
grown up.  E-mail is no longer the plaything of the techies, and e-
mail marketing is no longer a backroom operation targeting a niche 
audience.
Today, e-mail is the pivot point for online communication and 
commerce.  And e-mail marketing is a significant, highly 
sophisticated channel that drives serious revenue for companies.  
Let's get our metrics aligned with that reality and get off the path 
to e-mail hell.  There's a much better place for us to end up.

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