e-mail marketing, as we know it, is dead

We all use e-mail marketing. Newsletters, announcements, promotional discounts, you name it. The most popular and inexpensive way to inform your audience about your brand is e-mail. And for some time now, it’s dead. At least in the way we used to know it. Why? Two reasons (actually it’s the same reason with two different names); one reason is ‘Junk e-mail’ folder, if your recipient has an Outlook/Windowslive/Live account, and the other is ‘Promotions’ tab, if your recipient has a GMail/GoogleMail account.

It doesn’t matter if you use the most legitimate e-mail service provider, it doesn’t matter if you have verified your domain name through SPF and DKIM, it doesn’t matter if the recipient has subscribed himself to receive messages from you – single opt-in, double opt-in, this doesn’t matter either. Your e-mail will end-up in those folders, and chances are your recipient will never open it.

In some cases, depending on the settings a recipient is having in his GMail account, you might get that the message was opened, but the opener is actually the GMail bot scanning your message. If you have sent an e-mail to a large number of recipients (say 500 or 1,000), if you monitor performance in real time, you will get anywhere from 10% to 20% of your messages (depending on your list) opened within 30 seconds upon sending. No, your recipients are not eagerly waiting to receive your promotion or newsletter. It’s the GMail bots that are doing the reading, in order to place your message in the ‘Promotions’ folder.

Do people read messages in the ‘Junk’ or ‘Promotions’ folder? I haven’t met anyone checking those folders regularly, if ever. Most people will simply empty those folders without even opening them; people know that promotions are temporary in nature, and since they are not checking those foldres regularly, chances are the deadline to take up an offer will be long gone. So, why wasting their time to get information on outdated promotions – even if they would be interested?

How do Google and Microsoft decide whether to put your message in the ‘Junk’ or ‘Promotions’ folder? It’s simple: legitimate e-mail makrters have rules to follow. You must have an unsubscribe link in your message. What better indication would they need to classify a message as ‘Junk’ or ‘Promo’? Then, you usually send dual versions of your message combined as one; one HTML, and one text-only. There is no e-mail client producing dual HTML/TextOnly version messages. And finally, it’s copy used; most offers and promotions mention a price, or a percentage, or both. And these are the most common filters.

How can you survive then? If 75-90% of your messages are not opened – at least, not by a human being – how can you promote your products or services without spending a fortune, if e-mail marketing is dead? Paid ads or paid search only? Well, thankfully not! There are two ways that actually skip the filters and get your messages delivered in your recipients main inbox; one is to have the recipient moving your promo message from ‘Junk’ or ‘Promotions’ folder to their Main Inbox folder (and in addition marking your message as ‘Not spam’). Good luck with that. The other, is to have your recipient whitelisting your sending e-mail address in their account manually, by adding that e-mail address in their Contacts. Good luck with that too. How would you sound to your recipients if you were asking them to whitelist your sending e-mail address? I’d say rude, at least.

You have spent hundreds if not thousands to build an e-mail list that it’s actually unworkable. We had the same problem ourselves. We have been sending out e-mail messages and promotions that were actually opened by rougly 10-15% of the recipients, despite we have been following all the rules; SPF, DKIM, one image only, no monetary or percentage values mentioned, unsubscribe links, you name it. Always the same result; recipients with GMail and Outlook accounts (counting for about 80% of our recipients) were not opening our messages, although they had subscribed to receive them.

And then it hit us. What if instead of using e-mail magnets (content that anyone interested in downloading, would need to provide you their e-mail address and name to do so), we would use our own ScreenTags to have our sending e-mail accounts added as contacts in their address books? And it worked! E-mail messages we sent to those who had received our ScreenTags, were opened at a rate of 72-74% on average! Compare that to 33-35% we had previously, with about 10-12% being fake opens – which leaves us with just 21-25% real open rate. It’s a no brainer!

P.S.: This article refers to legitimate e-mail marketing techniques. If you are cold e-mailing people (aka spamming), e-mail filters mentioned in this article do not apply to you – both Google and Microsoft have other filters for spammers.

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