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ANALYSIS: Throwing a spammer in the works



Email marketing is becoming an increasingly difficult art to master. As email providers become more sophisticated at blocking junk mail, and end users become more and more picky about what they allow into their inboxes, genuine advertisers are finding it increasingly challenging to get their messages in front of audiences.


Latest research by the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), suggests that email deliverability rates are suffering a “continuing downward trend” and furthermore, that one in five B2B marketers find reaching a recipient's inbox “difficult”. Skip Fidura, email partner at Ogilvy One, explains that B2B practitioners are suffering from what he likes to term the “dolphin and tuna” effect.

“As service providers become more and more sophisticated at weeding out the 'bad' emails, so a lot of the 'good' ones are getting caught in the same net. The key is to keep an eye on your deliverability figures because if you don't keep on top of the trends, things can start to go amiss,” he warns.

It's important to keep abreast of developments that key players such as Microsoft are doing in the fight against spam. It's no longer enough to be confident that your email marketing campaign is promoting a quality product to a targeted audience (as opposed to promoting Viagra to 14 million unsolicited email addresses), because that doesn't guarantee that your email won't be blocked, or relegated to the junk mail folder on arrival. Now that Microsoft – used by a vast number of corporations – has bolted blockers to its latest versions of Desktop email system Outlook, it takes clever marketing to ensure that an email both reaches the inbox and gets noticed when it's there.

David Killick, senior account manager at agency More2, says Microsoft's decision to add images blockers onto newer versions of Outlook has, understandably, not gone down too well with marketers or email marketing specialists. “There has never been any attempt to confer with advertisers over the decision, which has annoyed a lot of marketers,” he says. “It certainly means we can't be as creative anymore – successful email campaigns these days have to be about fewer pictures and more text.”

Advertising versus spam

Microsoft's response to the problem is of course predictable. “We place control with the user,” says Darren Strange, UK product manager. “We don't want spam reaching people. Unfortunately, one man's advertising is another man's spam, but we feel that the only right thing to do is to give the choice to the consumer. Direct marketers may not like this decision, but we will always side with our customers. We've tried to make it easy for people who want to receive certain content to have the choice.”

The problem for B2B marketers is that the choice Strange refers to is often not given directly to the recipients of email campaigns. In large corporations at least, employees' inboxes are governed by a company firewall or spam filter programme that can be hard to penetrate.

Furthermore, an email that gets the green light from, say, Barclay's security set-up, won't necessarily make it past HSBC's, and it can be complicated keeping tabs on this problem. “In B2C land, it's easy for the sender to set up accounts with the email service providers it knows it will be hitting, like Hotmail or Google Mail,” says Fidura, “but in B2B land you can't very well go to a company and say 'hi, I want to send you some emails, can you set me up an account please so I can test whether you'll get them?'” The answer, say the experts, is to get familiar with the term 'white listing'. In a nutshell, white listing is about giving organisations a heads up as to what you're going to send them and why you're doing it.

“Communicate with the IT departments of big firms, which are likely to have tougher security set ups in place, and encourage them to let your emails through,” advises Ed Weatherall, MD at Concep. “Be intelligent about it though, don't bale in with 'we want to send your company sales stuff.' Prove to them that this is something their company needs.”

There is evidence to suggest this approach works; according to figures from research firm Marketing Sherpa, 47 per cent of companies do adjust their filters to allow emails through. Weatherall thinks that figure is even higher, and that less than 10 per cent of companies will not change their settings to let content through. He also adds that white listing presents a good reason as to why it's sometimes good to outsource your email campaign because specialist agencies are likely to already have good relationships with a lot of the UK's large organisations, or at least have a good grasp on the latest security trends that are being undertaken.

Sex doesn't always sell

Of course, it's not only security issues that are forcing email deliverability rates into general decline. It's just as important to bear in mind why the spam crackdown came about in the first place; and again you might be surprised to know that the tendency in the consumer space to churn out emails selling sex has had significant impact on the B2B space. The team at Concep, for example, have a number of legal clients on their books who experience problems.

“One of the typical problems for them arises when they want to send a campaign out to businesses about sexual discrimination in the workplace. The word 'sex' in an email means that campaign is going to have a tough time reaching its recipients,” says Weatherall.

Some companies too will have policies banning things like skin tones in pictures as a way of stopping staff members from accessing porn sites, which again can cause a problem when you might want to innocently add a headshot of somebody into a campaign.

“The answer is to use your email to drive people to a website. The web presents a much more standardised environment than email does. You know that if you put a video onto the web that it will be viewable by the majority of people. But with email, what reaches you might not reach somebody else, or might look very different when it does,” advises Weatherall.

All of the above might appear to add up to a fairly bleak picture for the future of email marketing, but industry experts are keen to state that the death knell isn't about to sound. Whilst consumers might have had enough of being spammed, and some companies will always be tough nuts to crack, B2B practitioners just need to remain on the ball to make sure their campaigns cut through the clutter.

“Looking at the bigger picture, there is no doubt that email as a medium is still growing,” sums up Richard Gibson, chair of the DMA's email marketing council.

“There are more lists available than ever before to B2B marketers and the DMA is keen to help its members improve their email communication strategies. Email is as vibrant in B2B as it has ever been and there are some smart people out there at agencies doing clever things. The ability to contact business targets via email is actually greater than it was even a year ago.”


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