My 2008 Email Wish List: Grasp Reality

The Christmas wish lists at my home have been fulfilled: a Wii for my daughters, a remodeled kitchen for my wife, Guitar Hero for me — er, the girls, I mean. Now, here’s my wish list for the email industry in 2008:

  • ISPs require authentication. You might groan at having to jump through another coding hoop, but email authentication is good for the industry because it cuts down on phishing and enables ISPs to do a better job identifying fraudulent senders.

    The problem is, the ISPs have not yet made authentication a requirement. Thus, a legitimate sender who has authenticated is not rewarded for its efforts but in fact is penalized if the authentication records are set up incorrectly.

  • Marketers finally face inbox reality. I’ve been preaching the need for email marketers to redesign their emails so that they are more usable and enable subscribers to scan and take the action you want, regardless of email client, preview pane and image blocking. But so many companies continue to ignore the most basic of inbox rendering practices, out of either ignorance or laziness.

    Just the other day an email from my favorite well-known jewelry store arrived in my Gmail inbox with the Google ads on top of the email instead of along the side. The email was simply too wide — this company ignored the most basic of rendering best practices.

  • Email marketing manages all corporate email processes. Most companies divide up outbound email among departments: IT (transactional emails); customer support (customer-focused newsletters); and human resources (employee newsletters).

    I wish corporate departments would relinquish control of these and other email programs to their internal email marketing experts to ensure emails are coordinated across the enterprise, designed and managed for deliverability, support the brand strategy and achieve better results through a higher level of execution.

  • Batch-and-blasters do the right math. I’m tired of hearing the cliché that batch-and-blast works because email is cheap and the ROI can be high. Let’s finally acknowledge that email is not digital direct mail. The rules and the math are different.

    Pounding away at your list might actually cost you money. When you factor in list churn (increased spam complaints, unsubscribes and bounces), more disaffected subscribers and the cost to reacquire these lost customers, your short-term revenue increase could turn to a deficit in 12 to 18 months.

  • Email senders see deliverability as an opportunity, not a challenge. I wish marketers would stop complaining about deliverability challenges and embrace deliverability as an opportunity to get a leg up on their competitors. Correct the problems that get your emails blocked or diverted to the spam folder. Your reward is a place in the inbox, a spot denied to competitors who don’t clean up their email acts.

  • Email and/or marketing associations work together to solve big-kahuna issues. The email marketing industry is chock full of acronym-laden organizations: DMA, DMA-EEC, ESPC, MAWWG, AOTA, etc. I wish a cross-association working group would form to enable these associations to agree on some common charters and focus areas. We would be more effective by working together on a couple of broad issues, then divide and conquer on the smaller issues.

    The first project could be the next item on my list:

  • The email industry reaches consensus on email standards This encourages self-regulation to boost our reliability and reputation among consumers, ISPs and lawmakers. While I believe the CAN-SPAM Act in the U.S. has been an important element of the industry’s continued health, it probably did not go far enough.

    Regardless of your views on regulation, the best way to stave off onerous legislation is to clean up our own act. Stopping large-scale spammers and phishers will continue to challenge law enforcement and IT innovation; I’m more worried about large-scale marketers who deploy questionable tactics under the guise of getting a solid ROI and who hurt email’s reputation for those that do understand that customers are, in fact, in control.