Is What's Good For Deliverability Bad For Marketing?

I’m on a bunch of interesting email discussion lists for email marketers, for email technologists and for anti-messaging abuse folks. From time to time, someone raises a question that really gets my mind going.  This past week, someone asked (I’ll paraphrase) “Are the demands of email marketing antithetical to the practices required for good delivery?”

This is a really great question.

As someone who manages a business working to help clients improve the deliverability of their email messages, this question pops into my head from time to time.  It seems like we often need to fight with our clients to get them to take the “right steps” to improve their delivery.  Is that just because we’re asking them to do something that is fundamentally against their interest?  

Here are some examples of actual, albeit simplified, conversations:

      We suggest to the client that they mail just to the active addresses on their list. The client replies, “We’ve seen sales come from inactive accounts in the past.”



      We tell a client to avoid email appending.  Typically appending is death to delivery, and it’s just plain rude to send unsolicited messages.  The client replies that they have done this in the past and it made them money -- it drove opens, clicks and conversions. 

      We suggest the client implement confirmed opt-in to assure the list is truly permissioned. The client cites industry stats on rates of confirmation and declares, “We can’t afford to lose half our sign-ups!”

      We suggest that a client do a re-permission pass in order to eliminate spam traps and reduce complaints. The client hesitates because they don’t believe anyone will proactively give permission to remain on the list.

In each case, the client is saying, in essence, “I know this might hurt my ability to get all my email to the inbox, but I think that the open/click/conversion return is worth the risk.”   I hear this with my clients and I hear this on discussion lists.  They think that the practices that drive high inbox placement rates are antithetical to return on their email marketing investment.

I disagree, wholeheartedly, for three big reasons:

Deliverability is the low-hanging fruit of email marketing ROI.  Let’s say that your inbox placement rate is the industry average of 80%.  If you can get close to 100%, that’s a 25% improvement in your email performance.  Frequently, there is a short list of practices that will get you to that high inbox placement rate without having to make changes that reduce the response performance of your list by 25%.  For example, we often suggest that clients don’t mail “inactive” users.  There are ways to intelligently do that so you are really only cutting the parts of your list that are unlikely to convert.

    The practices that improve deliverability also improve message view rates (and clicks and conversions). When our clients provide targeted offers to list segments, when they work hard to create the most engaging email and creative and offer, when they have clever win-back campaigns, they drive better response to their marketing programs.  That’s not a big surprise, right? Well, guess what -- they also have better inbox placement. Seems like a win-win, right? This will become even truer as more of the large webmail providers start to move to global and individual-level, engagement-based filtering.

    Bad marketing practices will kill the goose that laid the golden egg.  Abusive opt-out, batch-and-blast email tactics will (and are) cause ISPs to change their filtering practices and user interfaces to deal with “gray mail.”  This is already happening: Individual level email filtering and some of the recent interface changes at Gmail and Hotmail are examples of responses to bad email marketing, which is now one of the largest threats to user experience according to many of the mailbox providers I talk to.  If we keep this up, it’s going to be much more difficult for any marketing email to get delivered. This is a curve we all need to be ahead of. 

    I’d really like to know your thoughts on the subject.  Please leave a comment below.

    (And, I want to give a shout out here to Laura Atkins from Word to the Wise, who kicked off this thread on a few lists with her recent blog post, “Delivery versus marketing.”)

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