E-mail Focus: Pounce On Bounces

Marketing e-mails are like individual soldiers. If you can just get them inside the drop zone, you can be confident your offer can accomplish its mission. But getting them inside -- getting them successfully delivered -- can be the hardest part. A company can easily lose 10 to 15 percent or more names in the delivery process alone. That's a lot of customers and prospects who didn't even get the chance to consider your offer.

Many marketers write off undeliverability as an unavoidable part of the e-marketing process, but it can be avoided if marketers get involved in their own e-mail bounce management process.

"Undelivered names have a cost factor," explains David Baker, vice president of e-mail marketing and analytical solutions at "Let's say you pay $90 for a solid lead. Most databases only grow at about 10 to 15 percent a year, so if you have more than a 15 percent unresponsiveness rate for each campaign, then eventually a company's database is going to decline over time. Would you spend a dollar or a half a dollar to append your database to save a $90 contact?" A lot of companies don't take the time, Baker says, because they don't understand that they can. Instead, they do what they know -- spend $90 or more to acquire another name.

"Most companies get bounce management reports per campaign," Baker continues. "When you look at your dashboard, you'll see how many were sent, how many were suppressed, and how many are hard versus soft bounces." Knowing what kind of bounce your message got is crucial: Hard bounces are "terminal" or unfixable, Baker explains, whereas soft bounces refer to a temporary problem.

"It's not just how you handle the bounces, it's also how you handle the responses," Baker says. "If you send a communication on Tuesday for a weekend retail event and you get out-of-office notifications, do you re-e-mail those people on Friday? It's important to build strategies around how you conduct reply handling."

There are other fixable kinds of bounces, as well. For instance, if an e-mail bounces "because it is too large," notes Eric Matza, senior product manager at Q Interactive. "In this case, the marketer could work with the client to reduce the amount of content, get the e-mail to a reasonable file size, and then redeploy it. But to do that, they need to be paying attention to the code, so there has to be a relationship between it and marketing."

In addition, "Codes related to complaints can be a trigger for marketers to take a closer look at the layout and frequency of their communication," Matza says. "There are also a number of smaller things they could do to improve complaint rates, such as including a link in the e-mail header that says, 'Add our address to your address book.' That automatically gets the marketer whitelisted, because a consumer's address book trumps everything else."

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