Email marketing: Explaining the power – and risk – of reputation building

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John Paterson
Partner
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In this post social media world, the role of marketing has been transformed: budgets are rising and marketing activity is increasingly embedded across the business. But with power comes responsibility: a bad email marketing campaign will have a business impact that extends far beyond lost investment in content and a few ‘unsubscribes’.  Every ISP now attributes a Sender Reputation value to any organisation generating high volumes of emails  - a low score will result in emails automatically being deemed spam, arriving at best in the recipient’s spam folder, at worst, being discarded.

While this will clearly have an impact on customer and prospect brand perception, a poor Sender Reputation can affect far more than corporate messaging – it can result in non-delivery of all batch emails, including invoices, remittance advice and support updates. When a bad email campaign can result in a Sender Reputation value plummeting within hours – just consider the impact if that coincides with the month end invoice run.

Email marketing is a powerful tool but tread with caution – by failing to proactively manage Sender Reputation, marketing could put the company out of business.

Email value

Email marketing remains an incredibly important component of the overall marketing mix. Indeed, when email marketing can deliver an ROI of 4,300 % according to the Direct Marketing Association, growing numbers of organisations of every size recognise the importance of effective email marketing campaigns.

Not all, however, understand the changing email marketing landscape. Email marketing is no longer about blanket emails to 100,000s of unknown recipients in the hope of achieving 0.1% click-throughs.  Today email marketing is about building relationships with existing, known prospects and customers - individuals who has actively provided contact details in return for valuable offers or content.

With marketing now focusing more resource on fewer individuals it is therefore critical to ensure that the emails actually arrive in the recipients’ inboxes. Yet this is actually becoming increasingly challenging given the ISPs’ fast evolving attitudes to spam and the creation of the Sender Reputation.

Reputation risk

The Sender Reputation score – which ranges from 0 to 100 – is based on bounce rate, the number of people that flag the email as spam, and the number that unsubscribe.  If a company sends out a badly considered email campaign that results in just a handful of people flagging the email as spam, the ISP will not only block the rest of that email campaign but also slash the Sender Reputation score.

The model is simple: with a good Sender Reputation the emails will be safely delivered to each recipient’s in-box. With a bad reputation all subsequent batch email activity will be affected, resulting not only in marketing messages being blocked: the entire invoice mail out could be blocked or significantly slowed down, resulting in a potential business jeopardising impact on cash flow.

Real-time performance

With ISPs tracking recipient behaviour in real time, a Sender Reputation figure can plummet in less than an hour if an email campaign is poorly received. So how can an organisation avoid a bad Sender Reputation? The first step has to be to know and monitor performance continually and in real time – without understanding the Sender Reputation value, it is impossible to understand just how well the email marketing campaign is being received.

It is also worth testing email content on a small subset of the customer base before embarking upon the full mail out, especially for any new content or company direction. Critically, the company has to be actively managing each mail out; be prepared to pull a campaign immediately at any sign of a drop in Sender Reputation to avoid wider business impact – and then work slowly and steadily with carefully managed activity to rebuild that value over the next few weeks.

Tailored and targeted

It also important to radically improve the way email marketing campaigns are considered and managed.  With the emphasis now on building relationships with known individuals, it is simply unacceptable to send unsolicited emails – to those on a purchased list, for example. This activity is a fast track to spam notifications and unsubscribes – and a very low Sender Reputation. 

In contrast, high levels of click-throughs indicate that recipients are interested in the email content, which will boost the Sender Reputation score. It is therefore important to tailor and target both the content and frequency of any email marketing activity based on the current relationship with the recipient.

An individual who has, for example, provided an email address in order to download a white paper from a website may be happy to receive a monthly email with content related to that paper, but may unsubscribe if deluged with daily or even weekly emails. In contrast, someone who has downloaded a white paper and watched a video is clearly more engaged with the company and more open to, perhaps, weekly email messages. Understanding the relationship and responding accordingly is now critical and demands a far more sophisticated approach to marketing messaging.

Conclusion

Email marketing has become increasingly important over the past few years but the introduction of the Sender Reputation is changing the game – and not just for marketers.  Organisations cannot simply create a new email message and hit send – the risks are now simply too high. The content and frequency of emails has to be predicated on the interest in the company already demonstrated by each recipient; the campaign must be proactively monitored; and organisations must set a clear minimum Sender Reputation value that cannot be passed to avoid any impact on other, business critical email activity.

While marketing has undoubtedly become increasingly core to business development over the last few years, how many organisations can afford to let marketing play fast and loose not only with the corporate reputation but with essential business processes such as invoicing? Proactively managing the Sender Reputation has become a fundamental aspect of any email marketing activity.

John Paterson is chief executive of Really Simple Systems.

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