Likes, #Fails and Emails

Changing Times – The Rise of the Marketing Technologist

Your brand speaks through all channels at once. What was once a simple Awareness to Action funnel is now a complex mix.

forrester(Click to enlarge)

Credit Forrester.com

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Email Marketing The Unsung Hero

I made a presentation on 13th April 2012, at the 8Th Marketing Conclave hosted by IAMAI. The topic was Email Marketing an Unsung Hero. Here are the slides of the presentation where I talked about some email examples, best practices and some new apps around email.


SOPA SIBAL SMS SPAM

Wednesday 18th January 2012 will go down in history as the day Wikipedia and many other websites’ pages went black intentionally to protest against two bills in the USA, Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA).

Wikipedia says that be bills are problematic because:

  • Among other serious problems in the current draft of the bills, the requirement exists for US-based sites to actively police links to purported infringing sites.
  • These kinds of self-policing activities are non-sustainable for large, global sites – including ones like Wikipedia.
  • The legislative language is ambiguous and overly broad, even though it touches on protected speech.
  • Congress says it’s trying to protect the rights of copyright owners, but the “cure” that SOPA and PIPA represent is worse than the disease.”

Wikipedia was launched in 2001 as a free encyclopedia edited by thousands of volunteers across the world. It is one of the sites with most traffic on the Internet. If they were to police links, we would not get the amount of information we do today.

This reminds me of my favorite poem By Rabindranath Tagore:

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.”

Ironically SOPA and PIPA are actually well intentioned causes. They are intended to protect the rights and freedom of creators of content, the copyright owners.  But the larger question is how are we to control the dissemination of information? Technology allows us freedom that was not available to us previously. Who will police this deluge of information and in what manner? Is it even possible to police such large content? At what point do we need self-regulation vs government threat?

India is also asking websites to police the content. In December 2010, Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal asked social websites like Google and Facebook to ensure that uploading of derogatory material online is stopped. Sibal has said that the content posted on some of the sites was so offensive that it would hurt the religious sentiments of a large section of communities in the country. In that sense Kapil Sibal is being called the human SOPA of India, but SOPA and SIBAL stand for different things.

SOPA wants to protect the rights of content creators but by telling everyone to keep a watch on every link. Sibal on the other hand wants to impose his diktat on what should be our freedom of speech.

Everyone has the freedom voice their concern, debate on what someone said, including Mr. Vinay Rai who has gone to the courts alleging criminal negligence by Google, Facebook and other companies for not removing objectionable material from their sites. Read about him here.

We are dangerously close to losing our sensibilities as to how hurt we should be if someone writes inflammatory content. When should your freedom to get offended subdue my freedom of speech? When should my endeavor to stop copyright violation become my responsibility that will be a punishable offense?

These are very human questions and not as much legal. There will be courts and laws to guide but they will not settle the disputes. This must emerge as an issue that gets resolved sensibly by a mature society. Without such sensibility all Internet will be just illegal content full of venom and all of us will be up in arms against each other.

A healthy self-regulation like that adopted by the Advertisement Industry is the need of the hour.

The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has adopted a Code for Self-Regulation in Advertising. It is a commitment to honest advertising and to fair competition in the market-place. It stands for the protection of the legitimate interests of consumers and all concerned with advertising – advertisers, media, advertising agencies and others who help in the creation or placement of advertisements.

This is something the SMS industry in India has failed to do and has done too little too late. I recently changed my mobile operator and my number. Even before I could share my new number with my friends and family I was inundated with spam SMSes. The Do-not-Disturb registry kicked in only after 7 days and till then I continued to receive Spam. How is that remotely sensible?

Is it any wonder that SMS as a channel in all probability will show signs of slowdown?

I am a digital marketer and know the power of email marketing. However I know how bad everyone thinks email marketing is. I work with the team at www.juvlon.com and we have been making several attempts to bring the big email marketers together for a common cause – to self regulate and wage war on SPAM.

India has no SPAM laws. A report published recently cited India amongst the top destinations in the world where SPAM originates. (Read AFP: Spammers propel India to junk-mail top spot ). The situation may get worse before it improves. There are “email lists” up for sale everywhere, the same list are sold by agencies to multiple clients. I have heard stories of harassed customers receiving many emails on the same day from different companies. His name was perhaps on such list which was sold over and over to many companies.

Email is not invasive. At least not as much as SMS is. Plus Email providers sort out the junk email cleverly so the average reader does not feel the impact of the problem. When someone like Kapil Sibal becomes a victim of some clever phishing scam or becomes fed up with incessant emails, Marketers might suddenly find themselves scrambling for cover. This has severe implications for legitimate email marketing service providers and Email Marketers. It won’t be long before a DND like situation emerges in the Email Industry and the government turns around and puts demands that may not be well thought out on marketers as well as service providers.

Sure, we will find ways to delay and muddle any anti-spam laws, but prevention is better than cure.

So be it SOPA SMS or SPAM the answer to a sensible system of policing is to have laws that give overall guidelines and are supported by self-regulation by the industry leaders.

This post was published on Pluggd.in


How To Ensure Email Delivery of Your Email Marketing Campaign

Email Delivery is an often neglected aspect of email marketing.  You will find many free and paid tools that will help you send an email. You can easily upload a CSV file with email addresses, create an html email and send it using a SMTP server or even your regular outlook program.  There are many email service providers as well. However it’s one thing to send an email and quite another thing to get it delivered in the inbox.  So to continue with the series of articles (published on Pluggd.in) on email marketing, in this article I want to focus on email delivery.

Email delivery rate is the percentage of emails that get delivered in the recipient’s inbox.  It is possible that you have all clean email addresses, but only 95% of them reach your readers. The rest 5% are either dropped by the ISP or can land in the spam folders.

Factors that affect your email delivery:

ISP level IP address tracking

Along with the email, the IP address of the server is sent in the “header” of the email. If your IP is seen sending too many emails that bounce or if your IP sends out sudden spurts of emails, then your IP may be perceived as possible spam originator. Recipients can mark your email as spam. This also affects your IP negatively. Check your spam score regularly.

Here is why sending an email on your own is not a simple task; I quote from MailChimp: “It’s important to have a process in place for warming up IPs. First, check your IP’s reputation with Sender Score and Sender Base. If everything’s OK with your IP reputation, you still can’t just send a bunch of email out from a fresh new IP. You need to warm up the IP and start building a reputation for the IP and domain. Send 100 the first day, 200 the next, and so on. Slowly work up the volume and spread it out over a 24-hour period.”

Serious Email Marketing Service providers that own a clutch of IPs watch over their IP reputation like a hawk, and check if they are blacklisted and insist that their clients use clean email lists. If your email service provider is fanatical about your email list and your bounce rates then it’s a good sign.

Enterprise level filters

Even if your IP reputation is good, your email may be badly designed or written and may trigger spam rules and land in the spam folder. MessageLabs, Barracuda are some of the enterprise level spam filters in use. If your email is mostly to your business-to-business you need to check against these to make sure your email is not getting trapped.

Email Program level filters

Yahoo uses SpamGuard, Gmail uses Postini along with community feedback while Hotmail uses BrightMail. A good email marketing service provider will give you easy way to test your email against popular email spam filters.

It’s a good practice to set up a seed list of email addresses that represents your audience email programs. Send every email to this seed list to check if the email is getting delivered. You need to also check if your email is displayed correctly. If your email is not getting rendered properly and readers are ignoring it over a period of time, soon the email will get sent to spam folder by the “intelligent” spam filters. Litmusapp.com and EmailonAcid.com are two good resources to test your emails against various email applications.

Here are a few quick do and don’ts for ensuring that your email gets delivered:

  1. Don’t use full image emails unless absolutely necessary
  2. One to one communication traditionally used text emails and hence using a text part in your HTML multipart email is a good practice. This means that your email code should contain two parts, one HTML and one text. Spam filters are pretty savvy and if the content in the html and text do not match, which is what lazy spammers may do, the email can be flagged as spam.
  3. Use consistent from name and reply-to names.
  4. If you are using a good email marketing service provider, your emails should have SPF record, or DKIM signatures.
  5. Check your spam score before you send your email. A good email service provider should give you the facility to test your email for spam words before sending.
  6. Check if your email is received by all relevant ISPs. Create and monitor a seed list of emails. Return Path offers testing and certification services which might be expensive, but go a long way in ensuring email delivery.
  7. SpamAssasin is a popular free ware spam trapping software. Read about their recommendations here.
  8. Read what Gmail has to say to senders of regular email newsletters here.
  9. Many ISPs provide feedback loops to track if users reported your email as spam. Enlist with such services.( e.g. Yahoo feedback services)
  10. Email marketing if not done right can take up too much of your valuable time but if most of these services are a click away with some of the reputed email marketing providers.

Social Media & Engagement Marketing

Recently Gmail announced its priority email feature. So did Hotmail and Yahoo. What this means is the emails from your social network and from the people you converse regularly with, gets priority in the inbox.  Essentially ISPs are now monitoring the level of “dialog” with your readers. The better the dialog or engagement the better will be the chances of your email delivery.  Email and social media work very well together. Make sure you include your Facebook link and twitter handle (not just linked “f” and “t” logos) in the text.

Sending emails to non responsive customers over and over is also a potential reason for bad IP reputation. Here is what ReturnPath has to say “some ISPs are increasingly paying attention to whether or not their users respond to commercial mail. If a marketer is mailing at a high frequency and receives a disproportionately low response or no response at all over a consistent period of time, their sender reputation could be negatively impacted. This could lead to having all of the company’s email end up in the spam folder or, worse, having it blocked outright.”

Many people who are not involved deeply in Email Marketing dismiss it as an important online communication tool, giving low open rates, spam, twitter / social media as challenges. However Email Marketing remains one of the best online channels. It is data driven, it allows targeted messaging, it can drive direct sales and it builds relationship, loyalty and trust with the brand. Best of all you can measure the effectiveness of your email campaign almost immediately,

  • how many opened,
  • who clicked,
  • how many visitors came to the website from email

and a whole lot more.

Getting Email Delivery right is a basic step in Email Marketing. So whether you are a start-up, or a small to medium size company or a bigger enterprise, I recommend working with a good email marketing partner to ensure email delivery. This will save you time which you can use gain a lot of actionable insight from email reports, which will the focus of next discussion.

What has been your experience with Email marketing?

(This post was also published on Pluggd.in. Read about other related articles on Email Marketing on PI here.)


Email Marketing in India vs Shahrukh Khan

Coming back to India after a few years gave me a different perspective on a few things. Something that stood out most,  was the cacophony in the background noise, especially in media and advertising.  Suddenly the streets seem full of hoardings, buildings are covered in posters of movies that are about to be released, shopping malls have gigantic posters of celebrities endorsing watches, shops are full of banner displays, radio stations play advertisements incessantly, every reporter on TV channels is almost shouting and no one watches the shows I used to watch; there are just far too many of them.  Newspapers are covered from top to bottom with ads. My twitter stream too, is almost loud.

Surely India was the same two years back? But for me it seems that I have stepped into a strange psychedelic tandav, a madness of media and advertising from some freakish Phillip K Dick story. The messages that we marketers work hard to get across, are getting diluted in this cacophony. Read the rest of this entry »


Why isn’t my Email Marketing working?

I have been asked this question frequently (from small to medium companies in India), “I have sent emails and have got xx clicks.  How do I make this audience convert into a sale / enquiry?” As a B2B marketing manager I am sure you know what I am talking about.

By this time you may have:

  1. Engaged an email service provider
  2. You have someone to create your html emails
  3. You have a list of your prospects
  4. You send out an “email blast”
  5. You get a report of opens and clicks

The question you are faced with now is “What should I do next?” Read the rest of this entry »


Google Priority Inbox and the Email Marketer

Gmail introduced the Priority Inbox around September 1st 2010.  Google will now “sense” important emails from your friends and from social sites and mark them as priority.  By default, Priority Inbox has three sections: “Important and Unread,” “Starred” and “Everything Else.” The “intelligent inbox” is a trend. Hotmail allows you to sweep messages into a folder and repeat this action automatically in future.  Yahoo allows you to view messages from those people whose emails are in your contacts list.

The email marketing community is abuzz with what it means for the digital marketer. Read the rest of this entry »