Published in AutoSuccess Magazine January 2014
Email Marketing for the Future
Why Google, Yahoo and Hotmail are controlling your business
As we say goodbye to 2013 and welcome in 2014, email marketing continues to be one of the most effective marketing tools for driving sales. But lately, ISPs have made it harder to get past the dreaded spam filter, so old email marketing strategies are no longer working. The Wild Wild West of email marketing, where you could throw together an email in your CRM and hit send to 10,000 people at a time is now a distant memory. For the past 12 years, Cactus Sky has been serving the Auto Industry. I have been a featured speaker on the subject of email deliverability for NADA, Digital Dealer, and every other major event. Since I am constantly immersed in the world of email marketing, I am letting you in on some email marketing strategies that will help you increase your deliverability.
Consider some facts: According to a study by Exact Target, 77% of consumers prefer to receive permission-based marketing communications through email, and 44% of email recipients made at least one purchase last year based on a promotional email (convinceandconvert.com). From a service department standpoint, 7 in 10 people say they made use of a coupon or discount from a marketing email within the last week (2012 Blue Kangaroo Study), but when was the last time you sent out a service coupon to your customers or potential customers? We know email is an important piece in our marketing strategies, but how do we stay competitive and get our message delivered?
There are several hurdles that you face, the first and biggest being Gmail. Gmail does not like commercial emails and is making it harder than ever to reach their users’ inbox. One industry theory is that they do this on purpose so you have no choice but to spend more money on Pay-per-Click. We have worked with hundreds of dealers nationwide, and have found that at least 60% of the emails in a dealer’s CRM are comprised of Gmail, Yahoo or Hotmail, with Gmail being the largest percentage (many of our dealers totaled over 70% of these 3 ISP’s). This holds true for DMS data as well. So as you go into 2014, you can expect that a large percentage of your marketing list will be routed to the junk folder unless you rethink your marketing strategies.
Gmail – 425 Million Users World-wide: Through extensive testing with some of our dealership clients, we have found that Gmail can “fingerprint” certain email content, flag it, and send emails to the spam folder based on that content. Dealership domains, call tracking numbers, verbiage in disclaimers, and CRM addresses are examples of content that Gmail identifies as “triggers” to keep your email out of the inbox. None of these by themselves will cause a problem because Google’s algorithms are complex and utilize a “score” based on other factors as well. However, in our testing, once one of these content elements was removed, our test messages were sent to the inbox. The most common way dealerships end up getting flagged by Gmail is poor sending practices.
Yahoo – 281 Million Users World-wide: In August of 2013, Yahoo announced that it will be reclaiming inactive email accounts and re-assigning them. This is a huge issue that every email marketer needs to be aware of. With Yahoo making up part of the 60% of the entire CRM and DMS database, this poses a threat that can severely and negatively impact the success of any email marketing campaign and potentially get the dealership blacklisted.
For example, your dealership is located in Maryland and you sell a car to email@example.com. But after a few years, John stops using that email address so Yahoo determines that the account is inactive, reclaims it, and gives it to John Doe who lives in California. You are unaware of this transition and continue to market to that email address thinking that it is the same person you sold a car to. There are two things that will happen now, and neither one of them are good. One: the email will be ignored and negatively impact your engagement rate. Or two, what happens most often, is John in California will mark your email as spam. For some ISPs, if just 3 people per 1,000 mark your email as spam, your delivery rate will start to suffer.
Hotmail – 400 Million Users World-wide: Over the past year, Microsoft has overhauled Hotmail and rebranded it as Outlook.com. The key to their filtering technology is the SRD (Sender Reputation Data) network. This is a random group of users selected world-wide who score your emails. If they look “spammy” and are scored below a certain level, they will be deemed as spam. The results of this are all your future messages will automatically be routed to the spam folder. Thus, the content in your emails and how they’re formatted are critical. Using ALL CAPS, bright red lettering, and loud offers will most likely get you on the blacklist.
User Engagement – The New Metric: The next challenge for the future is “engagement,” or whether your email was opened or clicked. Hotmail, Yahoo and Gmail are now factoring in engagement to varying degrees to determine if your email will reach the inbox.
Consider this common scenario: You send out a mass campaign to 1,000+ Yahoo users in your CRM or DMS. Yahoo routes 80% of this send to the inbox, but you have a low engagement rate (less than 5%). On your next campaign to the same 1,000+ users, Yahoo will route ONLY 20% of your emails go to the inbox, and the other 80% to spam because of the poor engagement of your first campaign. This type of real-time performance monitoring is very common with Yahoo, Gmail and Hotmail today. It poses very real challenges to all marketers to develop strategies to increase open rates, click rates, and overall engagement to keep landing in the inbox. You now have to consider the value of EVERY mailing you hit send on, because a poorly thought-out and crafted email can not only cause your audience to unsubscribe or hit the spam button, but it can also cause them to ignore or delete your emails; an equally detrimental act to your marketing efforts because it lowers your engagement rate.
It is important to be aware of these issues in email marketing in order to stay on top of the algorithms and ensure delivery to the inbox. Mass messaging is a thing of the past, and personalized and relevant messaging is the new future.
Next month’s article will take an in-depth look at the mobile-email challenge. In a world where smart phone ownership in the US has reached 55%, marketers can no longer afford to think of email messages in terms of “mobile” and “non-mobile.” The reality is, subscribers will likely view your messages on a wide variety of devices – including desktops, laptops, smart phones, and tablet computers. A recent study we conducted on a 90-day campaign for the largest dealership group in Boston found that a whopping 73% if the emails in their market were read on a mobile device. Next month, I will go over the importance of mobile emails, and what this means for you.