Return Path recently announced changes to their certification program. They will no longer be certifying 3rd party mailers.
We will no longer certify mail streams which are strictly comprised of “third-party marketing” email (e.g., email-based advertising that is not accompanied by content and is sent on behalf of a different company than the one to which the end user subscribed in the first place).
The changes are, I think, a reflection of where access to the mailbox is headed. Third party marketing is really mail that recipients can take or leave. They may open or click through the occasional email, they may even make a purchase from a particular email. But the overall mail stream is not something they care about. If the mail shows up and it’s something they’re interested in, that’s great and they’re happy. But if the mail doesn’t show up, they don’t miss it and they’re still happy.
This is the crux of what talking about when we use the term engagement. Engagement is a measure of how much your mail is missed when it doesn’t show up.
Return Path, and the ISPs, and the anti-spam filtering companies are all about making sure users get the mail they want. But if the user doesn’t actively want a particular email, if they don’t miss it when it’s not in their inbox, then they’re not engaged with the mail.
These are exactly the changes I, and others, predicted at the beginning of 2010. No longer are ISPs focusing on stopping mail that users complain about, now they’re looking at enhancing the inbox experience. The key to that is delivering the mail that users are very happy to receive.