For years, industry experts have been predicting the total eclipse of email. In their vision of the future, email marketing would fade away, blotted out by the rise of big data-fuelled social media.
Our 2014 global research reveals this for what it is: a good story, but not yet a reality. Although social media is advancing, email remains the number one choice for marketing and customer communication, with the majority of respondents citing it as their preferred channel. However, with ever more sophisticated spam filters, the majority of marketing emails reach a consumer’s inbox only if they have signed up or given permission. Yet it is this active participation that means response rates and return on investment are higher than for any other form of marketing.
It is therefore imperative for organisations to recognise that every email address – or at least every one it has permission to hold – is a business asset, and just like any other asset, needs to be managed to bring the best results. With the rise in the number of emails not reaching their intended target, it is important to recognise that the cost to you can be far greater than simply the pennies it costs to send them. The industry endorses this view. More than two-thirds of respondents to our survey told us that they had had problems getting emails to the right people in the past year, while a quarter had lost revenue as a result. So why are we only just seeing these problems and how as marketers can we ensure that our messages are reaching our customers?
The rule of law
Simply put, each email that an internet service provider (ISP) has to process costs it money. While the cost of an individual email might be small, when you multiply that by the millions of emails they process every day, you can understand why they have such a keen financial interest in reducing the cost of processing emails.
As the volume of mail increases, ISPs are using more sophisticated email filtering, setting spam traps to protect customers from spam-filled inboxes. With the increase in these traps, all it takes is a few ‘dead’ addresses on an organisation’s email list and there is every chance your entire campaign will be blocked. Regulators are also getting tough on misfiring emails. Firms in financial services and utilities can face heavy penalties if they get their email communication with customers wrong.
It is important to remember that, even where an email service provider (ESP) is employed to manage your campaign and a number of your deliverability issues, there are two main challenges that will still remain your responsibility: list management and data ‘hygiene’.
Looking to the source
So where does bad email data come from and how can it be filtered out? Part of the answer lies at source. The most popular channels for collecting email addresses are websites, followed by call centres. These also happen to be the two sources responsible for generating the dirtiest data through human error.
More attention needs to be applied to making sure information is entered correctly at the point
of capture, whether internally or externally. This takes both technology and education of the personnel working in those environments, to ensure they know the importance of collecting correct information.
Valuing quality over quantity
Purchased lists are another source of bad email data, and they should be treated with caution. They may help you expand your customer base quickly but they can prove bad value if they import outdated
or incorrect data into your marketing database, which could in turn land you in a spam trap
or in trouble with the regulatory bodies. Always make sure that lists are thoroughly checked and cleaned before use. Additionally, you must take care to ensure that the data on a purchased list has the relevant permissions. Bearing in mind the current strict – and future stricter – data protection laws, you must ensure that the data you use has appropriate consents for the purpose that you are using it. This can be challenging to do when you are buying a list from a third party.
Keeping up to date
Email data, as with postal address data, is fast decaying. You only have to consider that the average person changes email addresses up to twice a year to start to understand why. So you really cannot be sure that any information more than six months old is still accurate.
Checking and cleaning your data will help you be confident that you are communicating with the right customers and prospects and sending them appropriate, timely messages, which in turn will help increase response rates.
Become a trusted sender
Email is not going away. Despite the buzz around social media and the promises made for big data, email remains the most commonly used channel in 2014. However, the costs and risks associated with bad email data are increasing.
This leaves marketers with two main challenges: how to stay out of the traps, and how to deliver to the right inboxes. Thankfully, the same solutions apply to both. The best way to stop your ISP blocking emails is to make sure that email addresses are correct when you first capture them and to keep checking data to clear dead and dormant addresses from your list.
By doing this, you can be confident that your emails are going to the right people at the correct addresses. This will keep you out of the junk folder and will also help customers, both old and new,
to trust you as a reliable source of information. Being a trusted sender can be just as important to your brand as the number of likes your campaign video gets on Facebook – and is much more likely to drive high response rates.
However, this will not happen overnight. You need to do the work to get there. Ensure your strategy focuses on the right places. Implement effective processes to make sure that everywhere you collect data, it is done well. That means through your website, on the phone in call centres and when you buy it.
And do not just expect data to look after itself. Push for your company to adopt robust systems, such as real-time validation, to ensure your data does not go out of date. Above all, you need the right management approach, one that takes data quality seriously and embeds it in the culture as an everyday part of your business.