Our Top 5 predictions for Email Marketing in 2014

As the year draws to a close we asked our crack team of email futurologists what they expect to happen in email marketing over the next 12 months:

The inbox finally becomes sentient.

The human-mailbox intersection has been widely touted as the next stage in the evolution of the marketing email channel. As 2013 draws to a close there are already reports of inboxes being cloned from the DNA of some AOL users.

Wearable tech blows up the email landscape.

Unsubstantiated sightings of young men wearing hand crafted email inboxes as bibs were reported as early as October 2013. The email scientific community tentatively suggests that March 2013 will see the Onesie replaced with the Inbox Bib as the go to ironic vestement for the young bohemian about town.

The Spam folder finally breaks away from the traditional mailbox.

It is expected that by Q2 2014 the spam folder will no longer be tied to a mailbox. Spam folders will roam free in the wild. It is unknown how they will feed or transport themselves, but according to an unnamed source “some sort of travelator” will be deployed by the herds of roaming spam folders.

Responsive email design finally breaks free from the shackles of mobile devices.

Responsive design begins to adapt to mood and other ambient factors. For example a work email opened by accident on a smartphone at the weekend will leap from the handset and apologise profusely for disturbing the recipient. We’ve seen a youtube clip of a Responsive-X14 designed email that actually stopped a slice of toast from falling buttered side down.

ISPs will take audience engagement metrics to the logical next level.

Inbox placement finally comes of age. True engagement will require the reader of the email to sit up straight and take notes. A triggered follow up email will be sent to the reader asking a series of tough questions about the content. Failure to respond accurately will mean all subsequent emails are directed to the spam folder and an electric shock administered each time an email is moved from the junk folder to the inbox.

We’re really looking forward to 2014 and hope to check off some of these developments as the year progresses.

Sender Reputation, the key to your place in the inbox

Why does email deliverability matter?

A simple question with a simple answer:

If your email lands in the junk folder, or gets lost in a black hole, then you won’t make any money from it. It goes deeper than this, of course. A sender that regularly ends up anywhere but the inbox will experience a snowball effect on their sender reputation – it will steadily and rapidly get worse.

In Email Marketing your sender reputation is paramount. It is this that determines where your email will end up; the inbox earning revenue and brand awareness, or the junk folder costing you dearly.

In the early days of email marketing it was assumed that the Email Service Provider was in full control of a client’s email deliverability. Whilst this was never really the case, it is even less so in current world of email.

There is no silver bullet. You must work to maintain good email deliverability rates, there are no shortcuts.

But don’t be put off, whilst there are many factors that contribute to your sender reputation, all of these are manageable. The technical factors should be managed and maintained by your ESP, but the strategic and tactical side of the equation is in the hands of the client, with the ESP supporting them at every turn.

Your ESP will ensure that the sending infrastructure is optimised and fully authenticated – SPF, Domain Keys and DKIM should all be in place before a single email is sent.

Once email authentication is configured and tested the ESP will work with the client to ensure that best practices are employed to maximise sender reputation.

So, what is Sender Reputation?

In short it is the analysis of your sending behaviour – frequency, volume, consistency, data quality, and audience engagement.

No one wants spam in their house, and ISPs are no different. To make sure that their users’ only get the messages that they wanted to receive the ISPs deploy an array of filters and analysis to make sure only good senders are allowed into the hallowed halls of the Inbox.

What steps can you take to make sure that you are on the inside looking out?

Sender Reputation is wrapped up in data quality. You must strive for a clean customer list, consisting of engaged recipients that gave you permission to send them emails. Your customers must want and expect to receive your emails.

  • Your data collection methods are a significant factor in the initial inbox placement. Don’t assume permission, ask for it, and better still learn how to earn it. You will be earning permission to send emails throughout your relationship with your customers.
  • Transparency is key, tell subscribers what they are signing up for, and be honest, they will experience the reality very soon.
  • Once you have been granted permission to send your first email to your new subscriber make sure that the content delivers on your earlier promise. An engaged audience will increase your sender reputation, driving up inbox placement rates.
  • Keep your hard bounce rates low. A high level of unknown users or bad mailboxes sends a message to the ISP that your list is not regularly cleaned. An unclean list sets the alarm bells off at the ISP.
  • Avoid Spam Trap addresses in your list. A spam trap can either be an old mailbox that is being used by the ISP to monitor senders’ data hygiene or a mailbox that has never been used to register anywhere online. Either way, a message received here implies poor database management policies of the sender – whether through lack of cleansing or poor data collection methods.
  • Maintain good levels of audience engagement. The ISP wants to see that its users are interacting with the emails that they receive. Messages that are opened, clicked, moved from junk folders into inboxes, etc. show the ISP that the sender is responsible for desired mail and therefore unlikely to be a spammer.
  • Don’t give your recipients an excuse to report you as spam or reject your messages. By serving compelling content you will ensure that your customers are engaged with your messages, but it is just as important to make it easier to unsubscribe than report as spam. Keep your content relevant and your unsubscribe process clear, clean and simple.
  • Be consistent and regular with your broadcast volumes. Sender Reputation needs to see regular and consistent volume of traffic, spikes and troughs make it difficult to gauge quality and engagement. The ISP will always err on the side of caution, so don’t give them any room to doubt your good name.

This may seem like a long list of rules to follow in order to reach the inbox, but in reality it boils down to a simple matter of:

Send your customers what they want, when they want it, and they’ll love you for it.