Focus on ad:tech: Overlooked Driver of Response: Deliverability

When it comes to e-mail campaigns, companies are largely looking for one thing: the highest response rates possible. This is not news to any of us in direct marketing. We test creative down to minute details. We segment databases for better targeting. Yet according to JupiterResearch, 35 percent to 45 percent of companies overlook one huge driver to response rates: e-mail deliverability.

On average, 20 percent of e-mail does not get delivered to the inbox. It might go to the bulk folder, or it might go missing. But if customers are not receiving it, nothing can happen to help your revenue or other goals. Some direct response companies have seen tremendous increases to their bottom lines because of deliverability monitoring and troubleshooting techniques.

Coldwater Creek: 30 Percent Improvement to Delivery

Multichannel retailer Coldwater Creek has an extensive e-mail focus. It built its e-mail systems internally and has a full e-commerce team dedicated to the e-mail and online channels. Before coming to Return Path for a reality check in spring 2004, it thought that delivery rates were high and that it was achieving all it could with its e-mail program.

Christine Laczai, vice president of e-commerce at Coldwater Creek, was confident that her company had better-than-average delivery success rates. By using our delivery monitoring services, Laczai and her team found that only 70 percent to 80 percent of Coldwater Creek e-mail reached the inbox. That became an immediate priority to fix. Coldwater Creek sees a direct correlation with its online sales and e-mail campaigns. If 30 percent of e-mail isn’t delivered, it could see a 30 percent variance in revenue, according to Laczai.

Laczai signed on to use Return Path’s full delivery assurance solution, Manager, which includes delivery diagnostics, troubleshooting and Internet service provider relations. Return Path focused on identifying causes of delivery issues and resolving them.

Contrary to popular belief, the key drivers for delivery issues have little to do with content. Return Path typically sees content as a main delivery concern about 10 percent of the time, and this was true with Coldwater Creek as well. The reasons for the company’s non-delivery had more to do with basic infrastructure conflicts and complaint levels at some ISPs.

We removed five ISP blocks that were leading to missing e-mail and resolved issues leading to bulk folder inclusion at Yahoo. Return Path resolved the blocks through a three-step process.

First, we conducted extensive analysis of log files, complaints and the customer experience to learn the common elements in campaigns that were leading to high complaint rates or fingerprinting at some ISPs. Next, using the resulting analysis, we recommended changes to Coldwater Creek’s e-mail templates and mailing procedures. Finally, once Coldwater Creek implemented those changes, we returned to the ISPs to discuss the original problems and what Coldwater Creek had done to address them, resulting in block removals and white listing at Yahoo. Within six months, Coldwater Creek’s delivery rates rose to a steady 98 percent.

Greenfield Online: Survey Completions Rise With E-Mail Delivery Rates

The online market research space provides another example of response being pivotal to business results. When Greenfield Online came to Return Path in fall 2004, it knew that it was having delivery issues at some ISPs. It was particularly concerned about non-delivery at AOL, which comprises a large portion of its panel database.

Recognizing the need for thorough knowledge of deliverability issues, Greenfield Online also started using Return Path’s Manager program, giving it access to a team and analysis tools to identify the problems leading to non-delivery. The immediate need was a solution for AOL delivery.

Through extensive complaint analysis using the AOL feedback loop and other abuse queue data, Return Path determined that complaint rates from one or two IP addresses were causing drastic drops to e-mail delivery. Though Greenfield Online had a clean e-mail program overall, a couple data partners and campaign drivers were dramatically affecting its overall results.

By helping solve those complaint drivers, Return Path removed blocks at four major ISPs, including AOL. The changes that Greenfield Online implemented as a result of Return Path’s recommendations improved complaint rates, which also led to establishing Greenfield Online on the AOL white list. Within three months of using Return Path, Greenfield Online improved bulk folder inclusion 200 percent and reduced missing e-mails more than 50 percent.

Bottom Line

If you rely on e-mail to drive response, you need to be tuned into deliverability. Here are steps to ensure the highest delivery possible:

* Test campaigns upfront to see what might get you in trouble delivery-wise.

* Monitor campaigns across key ISPs (domestic and international, if applicable) and business-to-business filters throughout the delivery cycle.

* Once issues are identified, seek their root causes so that you can make the needed changes.

* Improve your e-mail reputation by focusing on issues important to ISPs, like unknown user rates, identity stability and complaint rates.

* Consider e-mail accreditation programs like Bonded Sender to reduce the amount of filtering that your e-mails are exposed to.

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