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Q&A with Des Cahill

Prior to joining Habeas, Des Cahill was senior vice president of corporate strategy at BridgeSpan, a Benchmark-Sequoia real estate-services firm, where he was in charge of all marketing, business development and corporate development activities. As a member of the original management team, Cahill helped grow the company to 300 employees and $40M in annual revenues. Cahill was also founder and principal of Element Group, a strategic sales and marketing consultancy working both with startups and major players in Silicon Valley.

iMedia: What is email reputation and accreditation?

Des Cahill: Reputation, if not the new buzzword in email marketing, is certainly going to be the focus of a great deal of activity in the next few years. Organizations such as MAPS provided the earliest reputation systems, but were viewed warily and even drew lawsuits from some email marketers. Despite this early hostility, reputation is now becoming a mainstream necessity with thousands of legitimate enterprises. Reputation systems help receivers answer the question, "Do I want to accept this message from this sender?" The spam problem has reached such a magnitude that receivers are forced to ask this question of every inbound message in order to prevent network overload. Recent statistics indicate that spam now makes up anywhere from two-thirds to more than 80 percent of email. Whether rudimentary or complex, most large email volume receivers leverage some type of reputation system.

Even though "reputation" may seem like a vague and subjective concept, the best reputation systems are, by design, transparent relative to the factors that impact reputation. The best systems are usually based on numerous factors including complaint rates, unsubscribe policies, bounce handling and stability of identity. Because many of these factors can be quantified, they keep reputation systems from becoming completely subjective or, worse, arbitrary. The ability to automate and consistently apply the testing further solidifies the dependability of the reputation system.

Accreditation is a separate, additional layer of protection designed to supplement reputation systems. Accreditation programs examine a sender's practices and compare them with an established set of standards. Since the accreditation standards must meet the needs of multiple receivers, the aggregate standard meets or exceeds any individual receiver's requirements. By establishing solid reputations and superior accreditation standards, senders and receivers benefit from the increased efficiency achieved by eliminating needless email filtering. Moreover, both senders and receivers alleviate disastrous false positive issues.

iMedia: How does all of this benefit marketers?

Cahill: While some marketers misunderstand their current delivery rates, assuming they are 95 percent or above, most realize the importance of actual inbox email delivery and the role accreditation programs will play in improving inbox delivery rates. Accreditation programs allow accreditors to act as independent trust authorities; requiring senders to go through an extremely rigorous process before accreditation is granted. Receivers are guaranteed that messages in their inbox are legitimate, wanted emails that meet stringent criteria.

iMedia: What trends are happening in email marketing?

Cahill: Several interesting trends are occurring, the most important one being the strong growth and adoption of email authentication. One of the biggest problems with the current email system is how easy it is to forge an identity. Sender authentication protocols help receivers easily identify messages that have been forged or spoofed to help mitigate phishing attacks. Senders can also benefit from email authentication as it fosters trust and confidence in the email system. Email authentication is particularly interesting for companies like Habeas as it serves as the basis for reputation, which in turn is the foundation of accreditation. Once the sender's identity is determined, you still have to decide whether or not to accept a message from that source.

Another interesting trend is the renewed attention on delivery metrics. Companies that outsourced their email functionality to service bureaus are discovering that the delivery claims were not always accurate, which leads to a growing interest in services that provide more precise delivery statistics reporting.

iMedia: What is the state of the email marketing industry?

Cahill: The email marketing industry is incredibly strong and has an extremely bright future. Ecommerce growth is expected to be in the double-digits through 2008, and email marketing will be a major driver of that growth. Online advertising spending is predicted to increase by 20 percent in 2005, reaching $11.3 billion by the end of the year, meaning that Internet advertising will account for 4 percent of all US advertising spending during the coming year, up from approximately 3.5 percent in 2004. Although it's been a slow process, industry pundits have indicated that email marketing is an important driver of the online marketing experience and more and more of the economy will move toward this trend and will play a central role in that process. 

iMedia: How are marketers integrating email with the rest of their marketing strategies?

Cahill: Marketers have found a variety of innovative ways to launch promotional campaigns that extend across media, from television to the web to email. Movies have had particular success with this cross-media strategy. Even those who are wary of doing overt email marketing should understand that all online customer support --such as fulfillment, cross-selling and transactional confirmations -- has rudimentary email marketing threaded within the experience. In time, email will be fully integrated into marketing programs and will be seen simply as another channel for conveying marketing messages.

iMedia: What's the most important thing email marketers need to know?

Cahill: A la the real estate industry, the three most important aspects to email marketers is permission, permission and permission -- it's the bedrock on which any email campaign must be based, particularly since permission-based address collection practices produce more responsive and satisfied customers. Additionally, permission helps create a sound foundation upon which the marketer can establish a solid reputation for email marketing. Reputation is the core asset of any marketing group. With the proper reputation in place, a marketer will be able to cross-promote, mix media and, most importantly, have a method of getting directly into the user's inbox. On the flip side, lack of permission is a significant contributor to increased complaint rates and resulting negative reputation. Reputation is the primary metric receivers use in order to determine whether to accept or block a sender's email. 

iMedia: What are some of the mistakes marketers make with email marketing?

Cahill: The email marketing landscape is full of potential problem spots, ranging from issues like properly formatting documents to more complex issues such as bounce management practices. Although some of direct mail marketing or telemarketing's principles may apply to email marketing; many marketers make the mistake of pushing the similarities too far, failing to recognize the significant differences. If used correctly, email marketing is a powerful tool. When used incorrectly, bad email marketing practices can arise and lead to lost customers and damaged brands. Marketers need to be sure they have a full understanding of email marketing principles before devoting resources to this area.

As stated previously, the most common mistake email marketers make is failing to obtain clear and adequate permission before adding addresses to a mailing list. Although some sales may come out of this practice, the typical result is disgruntled prospects and reduced overall sales. More importantly, the marketer's reputation may suffer and lead to reduced effectiveness in future activities. Marketers need to set clear expectations on the nature, type and frequency of email messages at the time a subscription request is made, which will lead to fewer complaints and fewer delivery problems. Another common mistake is the lack of a bounce handling policy. Marketers must develop and abide by a policy for handling bounced messages because sending too many is a surefire way to find yourself blocked.

iMedia: What is the future of email marketing?

Cahill: As ecommerce grows and more and more companies establish an online presence, email marketing is poised to accelerate as well.  Reputation and accreditation services will play an increasingly important role in helping both new entrants to online markets and companies with an established online presence to communicate with their customers. Even though its form may change over time, email marketing is here to stay. The RSS (Really Simple Syndication) technology presents interesting possibilities for managing relationships between businesses and consumers. RSS is particularly useful for distributing email newsletters, and avoids permission-related problems because the recipient must take affirmative steps in order to activate and receive the feed. In many cases, the content is not pushed to the recipient, but rather the recipient is advised on the availability of new content, which is then pulled down at the recipient's discretion. Senders save because only those who are interested in the content actually request to have the content transferred and the transport mechanism is usually via WWW rather than email.

Roger has worked as the Web Editor for Emap/USA Outdoor Group and was responsible for editing articles for several publications. Prior to Emap/USA, Roger worked as a Development Executive for television and feature production companies. Roger has...

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