Salesforce Connections 2018 - email marketing falls short without these email deliverability tactics

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed June 17, 2018
One highlight of Salesforce Connections 2018 was a wonderfully practical session on getting email deliverability on pace with today's modern inbox. Beyond the tips, we heard about notable trends that will impact email engagement going forward.

At Salesforce Connections 2018, there was plenty of heady talk on customer experience and its role in the digital enterprise.

But for marketing mavens, we keep coming back to delightful practicalities of email, a story I documented in How USA Today put email marketing in their digital fast lane.

If we're going to place a bet on the relevance of email marketing, shouldn't we also geek out over email deliverability? Two experts who aren't afraid to delve into the nitty-gritty of deliverability are Salesforce's Alex Soto, Director of Deliverability and ISP Relations, and Anthony Chiulli, Associate Principal, Deliverability with Salesforce.

During an email marketing session on the Salesforce Connections show floor, Soto and Chiulli shared notable tips and trends. We'd best pay attention: email deliverability is a moving target. Yesterday's tactics aren't a fit with today's inbox. And: we're heading towards a different kind of "email experience" altogether, where commerce takes place without ever leaving the inbox.

I'm fond of saying email matters because it puts butts in seats. Soto puts it in dollars and cents:

Email has the highest marketing return on investment; it's right around forty bucks for every dollar you spend.

But if your email isn't hitting the inbox and engaging your audience, you're not getting anywhere near 40 smackers.

Email deliverability is a moving target

Soto and Chiulli began with a brief history of email deliverability:

  • The early 90s -> the email wild west - companies sent text-heavy emails to whoever they felt like. Opt-in was nice, but no one lost sleep over it. It was spray and spray some more - a new technology without any parameters or regulations.
  • The late 90s/early 2000s -> spam overdose - as email marketing gained steam, we wound up with spam infestation, and malicious viruses. Mailbox providers and ISPs took steps to combat these problems via reputation, authentication, and blacklisting. HTML-based emails hit their stride.
  • Mid-to-late 2000s -> reputation automation - authentication became more sophisticated, reputation scoring was automated. Alas, spam got more clever also.
  • 2010 - 2016 -> email encryption and security escalation - email scammers and security breaches provoked higher encryption standards, and for some, the tedious step of two factor identification.

But now, as Chiulli explained, we're moving into a new email era of engagement filtering and machine learning:

Now we're at a digital age where these mailbox providers, just like your businesses, are consuming trillions of megs of data about the senders they have - numerous data points about who you are as a sender, what you're sending, and to whom.

The goal of the number crunching? Get recipients the emails they want, in a highly personalized manner, without the noise. But, Chiulli added, easier said than done:

There is no silver bullets to solving deliverability. There is no one thing that makes or breaks the inbox. So they are looking at numerous signals.

Add to that mix: a slew of email marketing trends.

The shift from IP to domain-based reputation

A single brand can have thirty or forty IP addresses. Spammers know move from IP to IP as they are blacklisted. For almost ten years, email reputation has been largely based on IP reputation. Now there is a shift to domain-based reputation scoring, as in or Salesforce. com. That's a more consistent way to track reputation than by IP addresses. Soto:

Your domains carries a great deal... It's an extension of your brand. More sophisticated ISPs, especially Gmail and Yahoo and AOL, who are now under the new parent company called Oath, are heavily leveraging domain reputation.

As Chiulli explained, this shift has implications for companies made up of multiple domains, or in the midst of acquisitions:

It requires a lot of DNS work.

I'm guessing most marketers don't enjoy the nuances of Domain Name Server management. But as Chiulli advised us:

Email reputation is ultimately going to decide whether your mail is going make it into the inbox or the spam folder. That's just the name of the game. And so, for you as marketers, you need to have some understanding, some technical expertise about the foundations on how to establish this reputation. It really boils down to making sure that you have a solid sending infrastructure.

One key part of that infrastructure? The right authentication protocols.

The rise of DMARC authentication

DMARC is an email authentication method that's picking up steam, but many are not yet using it (during the presentation, only a third of the audience said they were using DMARC during a hand poll). DMARC is an alignment of two prior authentication methods. But as Chiulli says, the real power of DMARC is email forensics:

Once you publish your DMARC record, the ISPs are actually going to send you data that says, "Hey look, we're seeing mail that's coming in from someone that's probably not you." So it let's you know one of two things. The first thing is: if you are, or are not, the target of phishing attacks... It also gives you the forensic data to drill down, and figure out who is actually behind it.


DMARC is not yet required, but Soto and Chiulli believe it will become standard, so now is a good time to get ahead.

Wanted email versus unwanted email

It may sound obvious to talk about wanted versus unwanted email, given it's always been the consumers' goal to have more of the former, and none of the latter. But the tools are getting more sophisticated.

Especially given the impact of GPDR, we're truly in the era of opt-in email (in most cases, double opt-in). But Soto and Chiulli see a deeper trend:

Engagement is the key to the inbox.

They spoke of new initiatives such as Gmail's capability to ask you, after a period of not opening branded emails, "Do you still want to see email from this brand?" Yahoo, meanwhile, might notice you are deleting a number of emails from a brand, and ask if you want to unsubscribe from them. This gets to a fundamental point: double opt-in is great, but it's worthless without engagement. Soto took it further:

Yes, you're sending HTML-created and optimized mobile emails. Yes, you're personalizing and targeting. That's great, but from a deliverability and mailbox provider perspective, if they're not engaging with your email, none of that matters.

My take

Soto and Chiulli also pointed out another trend, brand indicators for message identification (BIMI), which opens up the option for brands to have their logos appear in the inbox so users know exactly who is sending. BIMI builds on the DMARC protocol, so it could also prevent spammers from successfully spoofing your brand.

Of all the things Soto and Chiulli covered, the most interesting aspect was embedded actions and embedded commerce. We're going to see more emails that allow us to take an action (sign up, purchase) without leaving the inbox to go the web site or app. Gmail already has in-email package tracking and flight monitoring. That means big changes to engagement and how it is tracked. Soto:

The takeaway here is mailbox providers are also looking at engagement... So making sure that you're sending relevant emails is half the battle. Tracking and measuring how your audience is reacting from an engagement perspective is really the important piece.

On the downside, I suppose we'll have to make room for another buzzword: "inbox experience."

I see these trends as a welcome opportunity to focus on engagement from trusted senders, while putting spammers on the defensive. However, I can't help but notice these trends put smaller businesses without deep pockets at a deliverability disadvantage versus larger companies that have the time and resources to invest in things like DMARC and BIMI. Still, there's no excuse for sitting back. Embracing the protocols and pushing the "inbox experience" is the right call.

Those in the budgetary range of solutions like Salesforce have another potential win if they go with a packaged marketing solution, especially given their established relationships with major ISPs. The good news? While deliverability may be resource-intensive, engagement is a game anyone with awesome content and determination can win. I'll close with some savvy words from Soto and Chiulli's slide deck:

The only way to earn a good reputation is to send email that's wanted and engaged with.

End note: if you want more details on these email marketing trends, Soto and Chiulli have an upcoming webinar on this topic scheduled for July 2018, How to Achieve Increased Deliverability and Engagement Using Salesforce Marketing Cloud.

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