Oct 312005

Book Short: Reality Doesn’t have to Bite

Book Short:  Reality Doesn’t have to Bite

I just read Confronting Reality (book; audio), the sequel to Execution, by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan.  Except I didn’t read it, I listened to it on Mariquita’s iPod Shuffle over the course of two or three long runs in the past week.  The book was good enough, but I also learned two valuable lessons.  Lesson 1:  Listening to audio books when running is difficult – it’s hard to focus enough, easy to lose one’s place, can’t refer back to anything or take notes.  Lesson 2:  If you sweat enough on your spouse’s Shuffle, you can end up owning a Shuffle of your own.

Anyway, I was able to focus on the book enough to know that it’s a good one.  It’s chock full of case studies from the last few years, including some “new economy” ones instead of just the industrial types covered in books like Built to Last and Good to Great.  Cisco, Sun, EMC, and Thomson are all among those covered.  The basic message is that you really have to dig into external market realities when crafting a strategic plan or business model and make sure they’re in alignment with your financial targets as well as people and processes.  But the devil’s in the details, and the case studies here are great.

Oct 252005

Beyond CAN-SPAM: The Nightmare Continues, Part II

Beyond CAN-SPAM:  The Nightmare Continues, Part II

A couple of months ago, I blogged about two well-intentioned but very unfortunate new laws on the books, one in Michigan and one in Utah, designed to protect children from advertising that’s harmful to minors, but in fact full of unintended consequences.

Today, the Detroit Free Press had a great article about how the law in Michigan is so poorly conceived and executed, that not only is it angering legitimate businesses, it’s actually angering the parents who were supposed to be its principle beneficiaries.  One parent’s quote in the article pretty much sums it up:

“What was the whole point in signing up if it’s not doing any good? Is this just the legislature and the governor trying to look good and tough, but in the end, just kicking up dust?”

Agreed, and well said!

Filed under: Email


Oct 232005

links for 2005-10-23

Filed under: Uncategorized

Oct 222005

links for 2005-10-22

  • From our client, Business & Legal Reports, a HILARIOUS read in the strange-but-true category. This is essential reading for any manager who has ever mediated an employee dispute. Tthanks to Tami Forman for citing this one!
    (tags: Humor)

Filed under: Uncategorized

Oct 212005

Return Path Blog is Up

Return Path Blog is Up

Today we launched our new corporate web site at Return Path.  We’re trying an experiment.  We’ve reinvented large portions of the site as a corporate blog (for those of you who follow Fred’s blog, the two of us just realized last week that we had both done this to our companies’ web sites at the same time without knowing it).

As I said in my introductory post on the new site, we’re casting the blog as an Online Resource Center for Email Marketers.  There are no hard and fast rules for how corporate blogs are supposed to work, so we’re experimenting with it.  I hope all of our friends, employees, customers, and investors, as well as journalists who cover online marketing, and other marketers who care about email, subscribe to it and give it a shot — and also give us feedback. 

Since there aren’t a lot of precedents for good corporate blogs, we’ve created the following guidelines for ourselves in publishing this blog:

    * We will treat you the way a publisher would treat you — as a valued, paying subscriber
    * We will give you a new and deeper level of access to our and industry data and experts
    * We will respond to your feedback and comments promptly and not defensively
    * We will not clutter up the Resource Center with third-party advertising
    * We reserve the right to occasionally post about Return Path, but not in an annoying way

I hope these are reasonable, and if they work, I hope others will adopt them as well.

My personal blog, OnlyOnce, will continue to exist in its current form, and I will follow Fred’s lead and cross-post between the two blogs whenever it’s relevant.  So I’d encourage you to have a look at the new Return Path site, and feel free to subscribe to our blog via RSS, or by entering your email address in the top of the "Feed Me!" form on our home page.  We promise you a regular, but not overbearing, stream of interesting facts and insights into email marketing from me, George Bilbrey, Stephanie Miller, and many others on the Return Path team like that you won’t be able to get anywhere else!

Filed under: Email

Oct 202005

links for 2005-10-20

  • Get your mind out of the gutter! These are very useful and oddly hard to find graphics for doing checklists in presentations (thanks to my colleague George Bilbrey for this link).
    (tags: Graphics)

Filed under: Uncategorized

Oct 162005

In From the Perimeter

In From the Perimeter

I’m at the Direct Marketing Association’s annual massive trade show (DMA*05) in Atlanta.  While there are lots of things to potentially blog about, I think the most interesting one is the simplest.  When I started attending the DMA’s shows six years ago, the only interactive marketeing companies who exhibited were email vendors and the occasional sweepstakes company — and any interactive marketing company who did bother to show up was relegated to a small booth space in a corner of the trade show floor, away from the real action.  A friend of mine once told me it was easy for him to hit all the email guys at DMA — just walk around the perimeter of the room.

It’s 2005, and oh how things have changed.  The DMA put the “Interactive Marketing Pavilion” center stage this year, literally in the middle of the floor.  Besides Return Path, loads of other interactive marketing companies (and not just the email and sweeps guys!) have prime real estate at the show.  Within eyeshot of our booth are fellow email companies SilverPop, StrongMail, WhatCounts, Accucast, and ExactTarget, as well as analytics companies like Omniture, online ad companies like Blue Lithium, Kanoodle, and Advertising.com, lead gen companies like Cool Savings, and even a search firm or two.

The move is more than symbolic and more than just the fact that online marketing vendors have been around long enough to bid on better booth locations (although no doubt both of those things are true).  It’s representative of the way mainstream marketers now conduct business — increasingly online and increasingly multi-channel.  Online is another important part of the mix, not the stepchild.

Online marketing firms are now in from the perimeter, and we are happy to be here!

Oct 112005

Response to a Deliverability Rant

Response to a Deliverability Rant

Justin Foster from WhatCounts, an email service provider based in Seattle, wrote a very lengthy posting about email deliverability on the WhatCounts blog yesterday.  There’s some good stuff in it, but there are a couple of things I’d like to clarify from Return Path‘s perspective.

Justin’s main point is spot-on.  Listening to email service providers talk about deliverability is a little bit like eating fruit salad:  there are apples and oranges, and quite frankly pineapples and berries as well.  Everyone speaks in a different language.  We think the most relevant metric to use from a mailer’s perspective is inbox placement rate.  Let’s face it – nothing else matters.  Being in a junk mail folder is as good as being blocked or bounced.

Justin’s secondary point is also a good one.  An email service provider only has a limited amount of influence over a mailer’s inbox placement rate.  Service providers can and must set up an ironclad email sending infrastructure; they can and must support dedicated IP addresses for larger mailers; they can and must support all major authentication protocols — none of these things is in any way a trivial undertaking.  In addition, service providers should (but don’t have to) offer easy or integrated access to third-party deliverability tools and services that are on the market.  But at the end of the day, most of the major levers that impact deliverability (complaint rates, volume spikiness, content, registration/data sources/processes) are pulled by the mailer, not the service provider.  More on that in a minute.

I’d like to clarify a couple of things Justin talks about when it comes to third-party deliverability services.

Ok, so he’s correct that seed lists only work off of a sample of email addresses and therefore can’t tell a mailer with 100% certainty which individual messages reach the inbox or get blocked or filtered.  However, when sampling is done correctly, it’s an incredibly powerful measurement tool.  Email deliverability sampling gives mailers significantly more data than any other source about the inbox placement rate of their campaigns.  Since this kind of data is by nature post-event reporting, the most interesting thing to glean from it is changes in inbox placement from one campaign to another.  As long as the sampling is done consistently, that tells a mailer the most critical need-to-know information about how the levers of deliverability are working.

For example, we released our semi-annual deliverability tracking study for the first half of 2005 yesterday, which (download the whitepaper with tracking study details here or view the press release here).  We don’t publicly release mailer-specific data, but the data that went into this study about specific clients is very telling.  Clients who start working with us and have, say a 75% inbox placement rate — then work hard on the levers of deliverability and raise it to 95% on a sampled basis, can see the improvements as their sales and other key email metrics jump by 20%.  Just because there’s a small margin of error on the sample doesn’t render the process useless.

Second, Justin issues a big buyer beware about Bonded Sender and other “reputation” services (quotes deliberate – more on that in a minute as well).  Back in June, we released a study about Bonded Sender clients which showed that mailers who qualified for Bonded Sender saw an average of a 21% improvement in inbox delivery rates (range of 15%-24%) at ISPs who use Bonded Sender such as MSN, Hotmail, and Roadrunner.  We were pretty careful about the data used to analyze this.  We only looked at mailers who were clients both before and after joining the Bonded Sender program for enough time to be relevant, and we looked at a huge number (100,000+) of campaigns.  Yes, it’s still “early days” for accreditation programs, but we think we’re off to a good start with them given this data, and the program isn’t all that expensive relative to what mailers pay for just about everything else in their email deployment arsenal.

Finally, let me come back to the two “more on that in a minute” points from above.  I’ll start with the second one — Bonded Sender is an accreditation program, or a whitelist, NOT a reputation service.  Accreditation and Reputation services are both critical components in the fight to improve inbox placement of legitimate, permissioned, marketing emails, but they’re very different kinds of programs (a little background on why they’re important and how they fit with authentication here).

Accreditation services like Bonded Sender work because, for the very best mailers, third parties like TRUSTe essentially vouch that a mailer is super high quality — enough so that an ISP can feel comfortable putting mail from that mailer in the inbox without subjecting it to the same level of scrutiny as random inbound mail.

There are no real, time-tested reputation services for mailers in the market today.  We’re in the process of launching one now called Sender Score.  Sender Score (and no doubt the other reputation services which will follow it) is designed to help mailers measure the most critical levers of deliverability so they can work at solving the underlying root cause problems that lead to low inbox placement.  This is really powerful stuff, and it will ultimately prove our (and Justin’s) theory that mailers have much more control over their inbox placement rate/deliverability than service providers.

Where does all this lead?  Two simple messages:  (1) if you outsource your email deployment to an email service provider, pick your provider carefully and make sure they do a good job at the infrastructure-related levers of email deliverability that they do control.  (2) whether you handle email deployment in-house or outsource it to a service provider, your inbox placement rate is largely in your control. Make sure you do everything you can to measure it and look closely at the levers, whether you work with a third-party deliverability service or not.

Apologies for the lengthy posting.

Oct 112005

links for 2005-10-11

Filed under: Uncategorized

Oct 062005

Counter Cliche: Failure Is Not an Orphan

Counter Cliche:  Failure Is Not an Orphan

I haven’t written one of these for a while, but this week, Fred’s VC Cliche of the Week, Success Has a Thousand Fathers, definitely merits an entrepreneurial point of view.  Fred’s main point is right — it’s very easy when something goes right, whether a company/venture deal or even something inside the company like a good quarter or a big new client win, for lots of people to take credit, many of whom don’t deserve it.

But what separates A companies from B and C companies is the ability to recognize and process failures as well as successes.  Failure is not orphan.  It usually has as many real fathers as success.  Although it’s true that Sometimes, There is No Lesson to Be Learned, failure rarely emerges spontaneously. 

Companies that have a culture of blame and denial eventually go down in flames.  They are scary places to work.  They foster in-fighting between departments and back-stabbing among friends.  Most important, companies like that are never able to learn from their mistakes and failures to make sure those things don’t happen again.

Finger-pointing and looking the other way as things go south have no place in a well-run organization.  While companies don’t necessarily need to celebrate failures, they can create a culture where failures are treated as learning experiences and where claiming responsibility for a mistake is a sign of maturity and leadership.  And all of this starts at the top.  If the boss (CEO, department head, line manager) is willing to step up and acknowledge a mistake, do a real post-mortem, and process the learnings with his or her team without fear of retribution, it sets an example that everyone in the organization can follow.

Filed under: Leadership