Q&A: Spencer Kollas, director of delivery services at StrongMail

E-mail service providers are changing the way they deliver messages to consumers, introducing social and prioritized inboxes. Spencer Kollas, director of delivery services at StrongMail, talks with Direct Marketing News about how marketers must abide by what his company is calling the “new rules of e-mail deliverability” in 2011.

Direct Marketing News: So what are the ‘new rules?’ Can you walk our readers through the main points?

Kollas: I would say the biggest point is that all marketers need to understand that engagement is really going to be key for a number of the ISPs. They’re looking at not only the old rules of marketing as spam or from unknown users, they are looking at filtering based on opens, clicks and replies, and all of those things. They are looking at much more of the engagement of the end user rather than all of the negative engagement, if you will. In the past, if you think about it, reputation had all been based on the negative aspects – the spam button and the unknown users – of e-mail marketing. Nowadays, they are looking to add the positive pieces of the puzzle.

DMN: So what does that mean for marketers?

Kollas: It goes back to the same thing that I’ve been talking about for years: it is all about relevancy. The marketers need to make sure they are sending relevant messages to their end users. That can be done in a number of ways, but most importantly it is by understanding who your end users are and using that information, whether demographics, previous purchasing history or interaction. It is also about using all of the tools in your toolbox, whether segmentation or different types of messages, to reach what you would call your influencers. You should also be making sure that you are treating your influencers differently than someone who hasn’t been engaged with you.

DMN: Do marketers have to fundamentally change their campaigns? Or do you see this as an add-on?

Kollas: Ideally it is enhancing what many people are doing or trying to do, and it’s something that we in the industry have been preaching for a number of years, which is to make sure you are sending relevant information. Because if you aren’t sending relevant information, people will unsubscribe. Now if you are not sending relevant information and consumers won’t engage with you, that means it’s a double negative and a double hit on your reputation. It should be more of an enterprising thing that the marketer is always doing.

DMN: In terms of adding a positive aspect to initiatives, what does the ideal e-mail marketing campaign look like?

Kollas: For any marketer, it is ROI, right? I don’t think there is one silver bullet, because there are so many different marketers, whether b-to-b or b-to-c. I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all situation for e-mail marketing. One thing I have always tried to say to my clients is don’t worry about keeping up with the Joneses, just do what you do the best your can. When companies are looking at marketing programs, it’s all about their ROI. It doesn’t matter what someone else has for an ROI rate, it’s about utilizing them to improve your ROI. That’s what’s really important. Just because an industry average might be “x” percent, does that mean if you’re above it you’re not going to try to improve it? No.

DMN: Does this strategy work better for any one particular industry or segment?

Kollas: I think it works all across them. First and foremost, it is probably going to affect the b-to-c senders more because the Yahoos and Hotmail are the ones who are really focusing on engagement. For the b-to-b marketers, it is more about dealing with internal company filtering. So this will affect the b-to-c mailers more quickly than it will affect the b-to-b.

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