Today's competitive inboxes transform e-mail marketing

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Internet service providers (ISPs) and large webmail providers are not that different from you. If you are fighting for wallet share, they are fighting to be a priority inbox.

Today, many people maintain multiple e-mail addresses: work, an account with a cable or phone company that provides home access, and likely multiple free webmail accounts such as Yahoo and Hotmail. How these accounts are used can vary. Some are throwaway accounts — an address used when buying online or downloading and registering but not the place to actually interact with anyone. Accounts that are rarely used create a lot of costs for ISPs yet produce very little revenue.

The battle to be the inbox of choice is on. Top e-mail providers are giving their customers new tools of empowerment to control their e-mail experience.

These tools are designed for consumers to easily create e-mail inboxes that contain the e-mails that they truly care about (such as notes from family and friends, photos of a new baby or shipping data on a product they just ordered online) while screening out e-mail that's just not that important to them. Microsoft even coined the name “graymail” for this type of e-mail — non-spam e-mail that consumers might have opted in to but now rarely open.

Many e-mail providers are also considering technology that will help create richer and more interesting experiences for their inboxes. Video is one example, but moving beyond that is the ability to shop right out of the e-mail message. These transactional messages have the power to be updated live, which makes for very exciting stuff.

If you're a marketer who refuses to grasp the unique abilities of relevant, engaging, targeted e-mails, your inbox placement rate and response rates will go down as a result. You need to keep up with this “inbox of the future.”

The good news, of course, is if you are equipped to deliver compelling, relevant and interesting content then you will not only survive, you will thrive in this new world order.

Matt Blumberg is CEO, chairman and cofounder of Return Path. Reach him at

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