Check your assumptions


One of the things that prompted yesterday’s post was watching a group of marketers discuss how to get subscribers to give them their “real” or “high value” email addresses. Addresses at free email providers are seen as less valuable than addresses at a place of employment or at a cable company or dialup ISP. The discussion centered around how to incentivize recipients to give up their “actual” email addresses.
The underlying belief is that users don’t use free mail accounts for their important mail, and if a recipient gives a marketer a free mail account as a signup that they will not be reading the mail regularly. Better to get an email address that the recipient checks frequently so there is a better chance at a conversion and sale.
Perfectly acceptable marketing goals, but makes a number of assumptions that I am not sure are valid.
Assumption 1: An email address at a freemail provider is less important to the recipient than a different email address.
Wrong! A sender has no idea if a recipient uses a freemail account exclusively or has another real email address. Many people these days use gmail as their primary account and they don’t check the email account associated with their dialup or broadband provider. For instance I have an email account at AT&T associated with our UVerse TV and internet service, but have never logged in to do anything with email.
Assumption 2: A non freemail address gives better response rates.
Really? I haven’t seen data one way or another saying that different classes of email addresses give better responses. It may be true, but it may not.  Some users do have separate accounts for friends and family and marketing mail. In that case, are senders better off in the marketing account? Or in the F&F account where the user may hit the “this is spam” button just because that mail is in the wrong place?
Assumption 3: I’ve been invited in, I get free run of the place
Wrong! Just because you’ve been invited onto the front porch for a glass of lemonade, doesn’t mean you’re welcome in the bedroom. Marketing is all about pushing limits and getting more and more from recipients, but in email marketing the recipients get to hit the “this is spam” filter and stop delivery of that email. Limit pushing in email may result in all out blocks and zero inbox delivery, rather than causing a massive increase in sales.
Assumption 4: Incentivized permission is the same as real permission
Wrong! Just because a subscriber hits the “give me a coupon” or “enter me in the drawing” link does not mean they want mail from that sender. What it really means is the recipient wants a chance to win something or get $5 off their next purchase. Just because they closed the loop to get an incentive does not mean the sender gets a free pass through spam filters or is exempt from having their mail marked as spam.
The marketing relationship between sender and recipient is a lot more balanced than any other direct marketing relationship. The sender can’t ignore the recipients’ preferences over the long term without suffering delivery problems. Many email marketers, particularly those that didn’t start in email, forget that the relationship is different and marketers have to respect the recipient.

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  • Excellent post!
    Regarding the second assumption that free webmail is less responsive than pay-for email accounts, we follow this sort of thing fairly closely, and I can say that users at webmail are easily as likely to click on a message that they have opened than users at pay-for ISPs.
    Gmail exhibits the highest click to open rate (much higher than at pay-for ISPs) while Hotmail is slightly higher than pay-for ISPs and Yahoo is about equal.
    The trick here is that not as many of these recipients are likely to actually open a message, perhaps because there are more junk email addresses in the mix, but more likely because these places tend to have more aggressive spamfiltering in place and fewer messages are being delivered to the inbox. Thus, relevancy is (as usual) key.
    If your message is relevant, desired and expected then you will have good response rates at free webmail providers… especially so at Gmail.
    At least, that’s my experience pouring over about half a billion sends (for what it’s worth 😉 ).

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