The Email Hierarchy of Needs: Deliverability is the Foundation

If you’re not getting the most of your email messaging, you might not be asking the right questions. How many times have I been asked “What’s the best day of the week to send email”, “What’s the best time of day to send email”, “What’s the best Email Provider”? These questions are much less important than the big questions. “Is my email getting to my subscribers?” “Can my subscribers read my email on their device”? “Do my subscribers want my email or are they hitting ‘spam’?

If you’re not getting the most out of your email messaging, you might not be asking the right questions.

I can’t count how many times I’ve been asked, “What’s the best day of the week to send email?” “What’s the best time of day to send email?” “Which is the best email provider?” These questions are much less important than the big ones: “Is my email getting to my subscribers?” “Can subscribers read my emails on their mobile device?” “Do subscribers want to receive my email or are they hitting ‘spam’?”

Many times companies want to run before they walk. There are times when first to market or a beta version of a product is more important than getting it perfect the first time. However, if you take that approach with email messaging, you better make sure you have your fundamentals squared away first. What does it matter what time the email is sent if it gets sent to the “spam” folder anyway? It doesn’t matter what email provider you use if you keep mailing outdated lists.

The foundation: Deliverability and inbox placement
In the end, none of your email messaging efforts are going to make any impact if the subscriber doesn’t receive the email. The first barrier to overcome in email marketing is deliverability. Email services, ISPs that provide email services and the software on which subscribers view emails have an arsenal of anti-spam tactics they use to keep your email from getting to subscribers. In a world of spammers, phishers and corporate network admins trying to increase productivity by filtering distracting emails, the odds are stacked against you that your email message will be delivered to your subscribers. There are a number of factors that contribute to your deliverability and inbox placement, including the following:

Sending platform
This is the reason marketers use email service providers (ESPs) instead of sending emails via Outlook or Gmail. Brands also use ESPs instead of letting their developers with no email experience say, “we’ll build it.” Email delivery is complex.

The configuration of the mail transfer agent, the proper processing of bounces and unsubscribes, the feedback loops necessary to track and opt out spam complaints, and the proper throttle rates per domain takes a team. This is where the question “what is the best ESP” becomes interesting. All successful ESPs must have this piece down to a science. The first question I ask an emerging ESP is how many people are on its deliverability team. If the answer is “we all just pitch in” (that’s a real answer I received once), then I stay away.

Your data
The single most important thing you have control of to optimize deliverability is good data practices. This means list hygiene and validation to eliminate malformed and undeliverable email addresses. It means opting out subscribers who ask to be unsubscribed. It means regularly mailing your entire list, having clean and transparent opt-in practices, and keeping your database clean and centralized to allow you to target subscribers based on their actions and preferences.

Your creative
A terrible email message alone won’t land your message in the spam folder, but it certainly won’t help. Email can be marked as spam for a combination of things: content, IP reputation, from name/domain, etc. If you’re spamming people, your email won’t get delivered, even if your content doesn’t have “FREE” or “Viagra” in it. If you send emails that people open and click on like crazy and nobody ever hits “this is spam,” you can say free (almost) as much as you want. Most companies are somewhere in between. Test prior to sending. Usually one “free” won’t kill your deliverability.

Of course, this overly simplifies the complex issue of email deliverability to some basics tenants. Spam filters are updated regularly in an attempt to thwart the efforts of spammers. Companies will have the most success getting their emails delivered by respecting the permission and preferences of their subscribers, as well as working with a reputable ESP that has a deliverability team to tackle the technical aspect of bounce handling and email send settings.

Building a Mobile Presence

Mobile is a revolution. The power of the personal mobile device has created the potential for businesses to build stronger and more mutually valuable relationships with their customers. Nothing gets a marketer closer to their customer than mobile. Many marketers realize this, at least instinctively. They know that a mobile relationship has to be invited, built upon and cultivated. However, either due to lack of experience or training many marketers don’t know how to do this.

Mobile is a revolution. The power of the personal mobile device has created the potential for businesses to build stronger and more mutually valuable relationships with their customers. Nothing gets a marketer closer to their customer than mobile.

Many marketers realize this, at least instinctively. They know that a mobile relationship has to be invited, built upon and cultivated. However, either due to lack of experience or training, many marketers don’t know how to do this.

Today’s brand imperative is to include mobile in the marketing mix. A key element is to establish a mobile presence. Marketers leveraging mobile may use any number of the elements at their disposal to engage, entertain, enrich and delight consumers. These include:

  • mobile websites;
  • mobile applications;
  • SMS, MMS and email messaging;
  • voice;
  • mobile enrichments, elements and experiences;
  • mobile search;
  • location-aware plug-ins;
  • mobile social media;
  • mobile advertising (from text to banner to rich media);
  • mobile commerce;
  • response codes;
  • personalization and privacy management tools;
  • optimized mobile content (e.g., text, images, video);
  • mobile access points;
  • feature phones;
  • smartphones;
  • tablet computers and other connected devices;
  • use of traditional media; and
  • market verticals.

The versatility and capability of the channel means that building out mobile campaigns could employ any combination of the above. However, conducting a campaign that simply leverages one or more mobile elements for a finite period of time is simply a mobile tactic, not a mobile presence. It shouldn’t be considered core to the marketer’s strategy.

To develop a strategy, consider mobile from every side and dimension. In developing a strategic marketing plan, brands can no longer just rely on linear models. Marketing today is a multidimensional problem set requiring nonlinear solutions and thinking.

Without a strategy to hold these elements together, your mobile engagement could suffer. One key to a mobile strategy is where you’ll establish your mobile presence. There’s no one-size-fits-all strategy when it comes to building a mobile presence. Just as mobile is a personal choice for the consumer, the right combination of the mobile elements outlined above will vary based on particular marketing objectives, firm resources and customer needs.

You may not need mobile apps or mobile advertising may not be the first thing you start with. You must figure out the mix and sequence that will meet the needs of your brand. One of the first steps in building a mobile presence is ensuring that you have a mobile website that functions well on mobile devices in terms of form, function and content. These aspects of a mobile website should complement a marketer’s objectives and industry.

For example, a retail site may focus on providing consumers with product information, discounts, loyalty-building programs, store locations and maybe even direct commerce options. Whichever combination of these services a marketer employs, they need to get it right by making the features accessible and easy to use. A recent Limelight Networks’ study found that 20 percent of consumers may complete their research efforts but vow to never return to the site. An additional 18 percent will stop immediately and move on to another site. By not creating an effective mobile presence, marketers are clearly losing business.

Repurposing your site for mobile may feel like a daunting task, but it doesn’t need to be. In fact, being able to envision how your site reads or works as a mobile site has become much easier. There are several tools available that can help you build out your mobile web presence. One such tool was launched last month when Google released GoMo. By entering your website’s URL into HowToGoMo.com, you can see what the site looks like on a mobile device. GoMo goes a step further, making suggestions and showing alternatives that will help you make adjustments to ensure your site is mobile optimized.

GoMo also gives examples of effective and engaging mobile websites to show what’s possible. It also offers a selection of leading mobile site developers. GoMo is an extraordinary resource to help you see what your customers see when accessing your site on their mobile devices, including the challenges you face in making your site as accessible and useful as possible.

Yet however critical it is, having an effective mobile website is just one of many mobile tactics. You must consider all the mobile touchpoints listed above. See how they integrate with your objectives at every stage of the consumer consideration funnel, then adjust your execution based on your needs and those of your customers.

In the end, creating a mobile presence is about providing a better user experience across all channels to help consumers engage with your brand at any state of the consideration funnel from any device or location. In the mobile marketplace, mobile presence is essentially the front door of a business. Making it accessible, useful and easy to approach isn’t just an added service or a smart business tactic that’s essential to effective customer engagement, it’s a business imperative in today’s mobile world.