Astonishing: The One Email That Made It Through

An astounding email hit my inbox this week that perfectly illustrates the value of triggered messaging, or email sent as the result of some sort of action or inaction by the recipient.

An astounding email hit my inbox this week that perfectly illustrates the value of triggered messaging, or email sent as the result of some sort of action or inaction by the recipient.

The email itself wasn’t particularly astounding. It was pretty run of the mill.

What was astounding was that it made it into my inbox when every other email sent by this particular merchant over the course of the last year has been diverted to my spam folder.

Gmail had correctly identified the message as the sole email I would open from that sender all year long.

Wow.

Here’s the story: I run a fantasy football league for email marketing service providers under the brand of my newsletter The Magill Report.

The winner of The Magill Report Fantasy Football Championship gets a tasty, regulation-sized football-shaped sweet bologna sausage from Dietrich’s Meats in Krumsville, PA [Mmm. Mmm.] and a lead crystal championship trophy with the winning company’s name inscribed on it.

I bought last year’s trophy from Crown Awards. I will buy this year’s trophy from Crown Awards. Their stuff is reasonably priced and high quality. The service is great.

Here’s where it gets interesting from an email marketing standpoint: Crown has been emailing me with offers I’m not interested in on a regular basis ever since the first purchase. I don’t mind. I simply don’t have any reason to do business with Crown accept once a year.

Gmail’s spam filtering system apparently figured this out. Every single message from Crown has been diverted to my spam folder without me having done anything indicating I’m not interested in the messages.

Until this week, that is.

On Monday, an email from Crown arrived in my inbox with the subject line: “Crown Awards – Time to Order.”

The body of the message contained a copy of last year’s championship-trophy order and a call to action asking me to re-order, which I most certainly will.

Think about that for a moment: Gmail’s anti-spam team has developed technology that identified the one message I would want among dozens from the same sender over the course of a year.

There are a number of possible explanations: The re-order email wasn’t part of the regular blasts. It was personalized and people are probably much more engaged with Crown’s re-order messages than its broadcast campaigns.

Inbox providers see this engagement as an indication their subscribers want the messages so they deliver them to their inboxes.

And here’s where the Crown example fits into the bigger picture: Responsys recently wrapped up a study of 100 retailers in which the email service provider found close to a third of the merchants were sending regular email to addresses that had been inactive for three-and-a-half years, and another 23 percent were sending the inactive addresses messages, but at a reduced frequency.

The study also found that marketers who have large lists in which 50 percent of the addresses have been inactive for a year or more are at serious risk of getting all their mail filtered into recipients’ spam folders.

But many of these mailers won’t even know their broadcast messages are getting filtered as spam. After all, they’re not bouncing. They’re simply being pushed into recipients’ spam folders.

As email inbox providers increasingly rely on engagement metrics—such as opens and clicks, or lack thereof—to separate wanted from unwanted email, the Crown example above points to what should be the increasing attractiveness of triggered email programs.

I moderated a webinar for this publisher recently in which online marketing guru Amy Africa discussed triggered emails. Here, in part, is what she had to say:

“The thing about triggers … is you get a higher response rate, better deliverability by far and improved lifetime profit,” she said. “The great thing about them is you design them once, tweak them a little and they last for years. I have clients who have been mailing the same thing since 1998.”

An average triggered email should outperform a marketer’s best broadcast email by four to six times, she added.

So which triggered emails work best?

According to Africa, abandoned-cart, -search, -site and -lead-form messages are all top performers. The success of abandoned-shopping cart emails has been well documented. The same tactic can be employed to reach people who, say, begin filling out a form to download a white paper or attend a webinar, but stop for some reason.

Confirmation emails are also top performers, said Africa. “Anything you can confirm works really well,” she said.

Emails based on past purchases are also workhorse messages, she said.

“They take a little time to get your formula right, but after that they’re golden,” Africa said.

Indeed. Just ask the folks at Crown.

Email’s No. 1 Misunderstood Metric

So you’re sitting around a conference table discussing your company’s email marketing and someone starts talking about the program’s open rate. To the uninitiated, common sense says “open rate” refers to the average percentage of emails that get opened. … But that’s not what it means all.

So you’re sitting around a conference table discussing your company’s email marketing and someone starts talking about the program’s open rate. To the uninitiated, common sense says “open rate” refers to the average percentage of emails that get opened.

But that’s not what it means all.

An “open” is recorded when the receiving machine calls for graphics from the sender.

With most email inbox providers blocking images by default these days, a lot of email is getting opened and not registering as such.

At the same time, email landing in boxes using so-called preview panes—those small windows that allow users a glimpse into their email’s content—will register as having been opened whether the receiver read it or not.

So the open rate is useless, right?

Well, not really. While the open rate has been widely criticized—including, at some points, by me—it can be useful as long as it’s used correctly.

While it can’t be measured with even close to 100 percent accuracy, the open rate can serve as a barometric measure.

For example, it can indicate how engaged recipients are with a marketer’s brand. A high open rate means people are making the effort to turn on the graphics in the company’s messages, indicating they’re highly engaged.

Not surprisingly, though, open rates can be misleading. A newsletter I once edited, Magilla Marketing, had a low open rate, but at least one advertiser determined I had a highly engaged readership based on its ad activity.

The issue? Our designers had designed the newsletter so well it was highly readable without the graphics turned on.

In any case, what’s an average open rate? According to email service provider Epsilon, the average open rate across all the industries it tracks for the first quarter of 2011 was 23.3 percent.

However, open rates in the report varied widely from industry to industry, from a low of 14.1 percent for retail apparel to a high of 37.4 percent for financial services.

And like response rates in direct mail, open rates will vary widely from marketer to marketer even within the same industries based on many variables, such as how the list was built, how much email the firm sends, the types of messages it sends and the types of offers.

Nonetheless industry benchmarks can serve to manage expectations.

Where an email program’s open rate can really be useful, though, is when it changes.

If it’s going up, it means the sender is doing something right and recipients are getting more engaged with the brand.

If it’s plummeting, it means the marketer has probably begun doing something wrong. For example, maybe the marketer just added purchased names to the file-a big no-no-and email inbox providers have begun treating the marketer’s messages as spam.

Also, if opens begin plummeting in addresses managed by a specific ISP, say, Gmail, it means something has happened on Gmail’s end that needs to be investigated.

The open rate can be quite useful. But it needs to be understood, first.

Melissa Campanelli’s The View From Here: Notes From IRCE

Wait, is it 1999? That was my feeling as I walked through the exhibit hall during the 2010 Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition (IRCE) in Chicago earlier this week. Crowded booths packed with people asking questions, lots of tchotchkes and smiling vendors were the order of the day on the floor. Of course they were smiling; the event was the “largest meeting of e-commerce professionals ever assembled,” Internet Retailer Publisher Jack Love told a packed audience at the opening general session. Love told attendees the total attendance at IRCE 2010 exceeded 6,300 people, a 33 percent increase from IRCE 2009 in Boston last June.

Wait, is it 1999?

That was my feeling as I walked through the exhibit hall during the 2010 Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition (IRCE) in Chicago earlier this week.

Crowded booths packed with people asking questions, lots of tchotchkes and smiling vendors were the order of the day on the floor. Of course they were smiling; the event was the “largest meeting of e-commerce professionals ever assembled,” Internet Retailer Publisher Jack Love told a packed audience at the opening general session. Love told attendees the total attendance at IRCE 2010 exceeded 6,300 people, a 33 percent increase from IRCE 2009 in Boston last June.

On the exhibit floor, I met with many product and service suppliers and retailers, and all seemed excited that online retailing is growing and thriving as the economy gets back on its feet.

In terms of exhibitors, the floor was split between e-commerce platform providers, search providers, payment and security solution providers, and email marketing service providers. I met with many vendors; here are some highlights:

  • First Data, a merchant processing services provider, is about to launch eGift Social Solution, a mobile commerce service that provides consumers the ability to send item-level gifts — such as cups of coffee, sandwiches or movie tickets — to Facebook friends.
  • Listrak, an email service provider, introduced its Purchase Cadence Optimization solution, which automates email remarketing campaigns designed to proactively prompt customers to repurchase products.
  • MarketLive, an e-commerce software provider, has created a new version of its intelligent commerce platform, clearly with its customers in mind. The new version enables retailers to offer shoppers more refined search queries, as well as leverage online content and syndicate it across affiliate sites and social networking sites. It also packs advanced testing capabilities.
  • Payvment, a provider of social network-powered e-commerce applications, offered a solution that enables companies to open storefronts on Facebook. The solution provides a universal shopping cart, a shopping display and search tool designed for Facebook e-commerce, the ability to offer fan discounts, and enables any Facebook user to add comments and reviews to their storefront.
  • SLI Systems, a provider of intelligent on-demand search services for e-commerce sites, discussed Rich Auto Complete, which helps consumers search websites more efficiently by providing rich media suggestions to complete search terms they’re typing.