Emails That Reach (and Resonate in) the Inbox

Consider this age-old question: If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

That’s the same sort of dilemma email marketers face today when they attempt to make sure that their messages are delivered, read, and eventually, acted upon. If an email message is sent and no one receives, reads, or acts on it, essentially it doesn’t make a sound—or, in other words, it doesn’t resonate with or impact the target audience.

In fact, more than one out of every five marketing messages don’t reach the inbox, according to the 2013 Email Marketing Benchmark Report from MarketingSherpa. Constant Contact‘s director of digital marketing education Ron Cates says there’s simply no point in creating a message if it doesn’t get delivered. “If [marketers] are going to send a message out to prospects and customers, they want to make sure it gets delivered properly. Otherwise it’s a waste of time,” Cates says.

Len Shneyder, director of industry relations at email platform Message Systems, defines deliverability as a marketer’s ability to put emails into an inbox, and, ultimately, in front of human eyes. Shneyder says marketers must think of deliverability as two-pronged: machine deliverable and human deliverable. “There’s delivery the way a machine defines it: technically, the email was delivered into the inbox. However, from this perspective delivery to a spam folder or an inbox looks identical,” Shneyder warns.

So how can marketers know that a message is delivered beyond mere technical requirements? “We look for the next step in the customer journey,” Shneyder continues. “Note if a link was clicked; did the email get opened? Although these can be imperfect standards as well, it tells a more complete story.

For marketers to ensure that messages are reaching and impacting their intended audiences, they first need to identify what’s blocking deliverability. Shneyder says spam filters and bad email addresses are only part of the problem. “One of the big challenges that marketers face today is relevancy,” Shneyder explains. “We live in a world where the signal-to-noise ratio is really high. Cutting through that noise—and essentially grabbing the consumer’s attention—is incredibly difficult.”

So how is relevancy related to whether your emails are delivered? “Simply put, if no one’s looking at your emails and no one’s responding, then essentially they’re not working. They might as well be going to the spam folder,” Shneyder says.

Constant Contact’s Ron Cates also says marketers must follow best practices to get the best results. He says practices (e.g. opt-in only lists, segmented groups, and relevant content) will boost online reputation and ultimately improve email deliverability. “You don’t want to take a list and then just upload because you think they’re interested. You want it to be something that they’re truly interested in. The best way to do that is permission,” Cates says. He says opt-in lists have exponentially higher deliverability rates and engagement. “In the future, engagement will have a huge effect on your deliverability,” Cates continues. “For example, Gmail is beginning to monitor how long an email sits before it’s opened or how many times it’s opened. At some point [Google] might implement a policy where if people don’t interact with the sender, the message might go into a separate folder, but that hasn’t happened—yet.”

In the end, Cates says, it’s the consumer who determines whether an email will be delivered. “That’s why it’s so important to send targeted, relevant content,” he explains. “Spam is in the eyes of the beholder.”

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