Delivery and relevancy advice from a list firm

MeritDirect in July hosted its 7th Annual Business Mailer’s Co-op and Interactive Marketing Conference. When asked to moderate a panel, I decided that I wanted to stay away from the “Introduction to E-Mail Marketing” subject and focus on “Topics and Trends in E-Mail Marketing Today.”

With that in mind, I wanted to select a panel that could speak to those topics. No deployment companies, no consultants, just the actual marketing folks that are watching the trends and making them work.

Our panel consisted of Cathy St. Martin, marketing manager at Avotus Corp., Burlington, MA; Timothy Skennion, vice president of sales at Email Data Source Inc., New York; Judi Virgulak, director of esolutions at Reed Exhibitions, Norwalk, CT; and Ashley Weisser, target strategist at MRM Worldwide, San Francisco.

It was a breath of fresh air not having to cover the lengthy details of CAN-Spam compliance, the difference between HTML and text, and answer questions like “What is a URL”? Finally, a seasoned group of e-mail professionals to discuss relevant new topics.

Our topics were deliverability, list sources, creative that works and e-mail analytics.

Judi Virgulak with Reed Exhibition in Norwalk, CT, is tasked with the overall responsibility for 60-plus Web sites at Reed and provides “e” strategic insight and education as it relates to e-mail effectiveness and Web site usability.

Judi manages the communications with the Reed customer files and realizes the importance of deliverability. These are her customers: she can reach a targeted group, get immediate response and it’s inexpensive û as long as her message gets delivered and continues to get delivered.

With e-mail volume projected to increase from 1.5 trillion in 2003 to 2.7 trillion in 2007, it is becoming more difficult to gain direct access to your customers (source: EmailLabs).

That becomes a greater challenge if your e-mail is considered spam. All list owners should be sure that they or their deployment company is white listed and subscribe to an authentication system and/or reputation vendor.

These accreditation services are important when an Internet service provider is considering the fate of your message: block, filter or deliver.

Factors for deliverability
What else can a mailer do to encourage deliverability?

Judi’s tips included:

ò Never use images for important content like headlines, links and any calls to action. If images are blocked, so is your message.

ò Add a text-based link to a Web version of your design at the top of your e-mail.

ò Ensure your most compelling content is at the top and preferably to the left.

ò Test your design in a preview pane, full screen and with images turned on and off before you send it.

ò Ask your customers to add your From address to their address book.

ò Use alt text for all images.

Finding the right list source was also a topic for discussion. All panelists agreed that a third-party e-mail list must be a wellbranded and recognized list that communicates regularly with its customer file.

How to accomplish that? List owners should make certain that every outgoing communication includes their name in the From line: newsletters, thank you e-mails or third-party offers. This practice creates consistency across messaging.

As a mailer, you should request that list owners use their name in the From line and settle only for “List Owner on behalf of Mailer” if your name is required.

Another factor that contributes to a quality list source is relevance. It is critical that list owners only send relevant third-party messaging to their subscribers: honor what the end user signed up for. Consistent, relevant messages are recognized and more likely to be read.

With deliverability and list source covered, the next order of business was using creative that works.

Cathy St. Martin manages the customer communications and acquisition at Avotus Corp. in Burlington, MA. It is a mid-sized business-to-business company with a limited marketing budget and uses third-party e-mail as its primary acquisition tool.

Mind the line
Cathy emphasized to our audience that the open rate is most heavily influenced by the subject line and offered up some tips to influence opens:

ò Know the persona of the recipient, and let the creative speak to that title or industry

ò Be honest about the content

ò Showcase the perceived value upfront – white paper, sample product offer

ò Subject line words that work for most audiences: Thank you, You are invited

What doesn’t work: webinars and webcasts

We went on to cover reporting and tracking and the importance of recognizing seasonality and trends on internal and external lists. While some mailers use very complex tracking codes, others simply (and successfully) use 800 numbers. The vehicle becomes as important as the exercise.

Remarkably, many of our original “seasoned” discussion points filtered down into sub-topics that would easily be considered E-Mail 101: From line, subject line, relevance, reporting à

It is apparent that the building blocks of E-Mail 101, those sub-topics, remain an important element in e-mail marketing today. Perhaps, they carry even more weight now with historical results from tried-and-true marketers.

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