Oct 222007

New Media’s Influence on the Traditional

New Media’s Influence on the Traditional

Last week, DMNews unveiled its new look and feel and format (of the print publication) at the DMA’s annual convention in Chicago.  Hats off to Publisher Julia Hood and Editor-in-Chief Elly Trickett for diving in and coming up with some great improvements to the publication so quickly after taking the reigns.

What I find particularly interesting about the new format is that its design and even content structure seem to borrow heavily from the world of online media,  such as:

  • A top-of-page “navigation bar” that tells you at a glance what articles are on the page (email, circulation, multichannel, legislation, lists, etc.) so you can flip pages and figure out quickly where to stop based on your interests
  • MUCH shorter news briefs
  • More “fixed” topic sections that are (I think) meant to be recurring in every issue…”Gloves off,” “Duly noted,” “Nailed it”
  • “Key points” call-outs of an article etc. instead of all the long form of the prior generation of the publication
  • A section called “data bank” that is almost like an analytics widget

I had been ignoring the print edition for several months, assuming I’d catch any critical articles to me via the web site, keyword feeds, and the email newsletter.  But this new format will definitely have me back to at least flipping through the print edition looking for relevant articles.

Filed under: Email

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Sep 252007

We’re Right Up (Down?) There With Lawyers Now

We’re Right Up (Down?) There With Lawyers Now

I remember reading somewhere a while ago that the least respected professions in America were used car salesmen, politicians, and lawyers.  Well, step aside everyone — according to a J. Walter Thompson study reported in DMNews, only 14% of Americans have respect for people in the advertising business.  I’m going to include that anyone who works in marketing services, by extension.

Don’t get me wrong – I wouldn’t have expected people in the advertising profession to join the upper echelons of the study with military personnel, doctors, and teachers.  But 14% is a pretty low number.  Beneath that single number, though, lie some conflicting data.  For example,

· 72 percent agree, “I get tired of people trying to grab my attention and sell me stuff,” and

· 52 percent agree, “There’s too much advertising — I would support stricter limits.”

And yet

· 82 percent indicate a positive engagement with media overall, and

· Two-thirds claimed, “Advertising is an important part of the American culture.”

My bottom line from these data is simple.  You know something is wrong with your industry when 52% of the general population wants to regulate it.  But with the dual movements towards more free content and more restrictions on data that could be used to target advertising…I’m afraid our profession will continue to do the things that consumers don’t like for years to come.

Filed under: Email

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Oct 242006

Association Proliferation

Association Proliferation

NOTE:  I was fortunate enough to be asked to write a monthly column for DMNews.  This is the most recent column.  By agreement with DMNews, I am linking to them for the bulk of the content, but you can get an idea of what I’m talking about with the first few sentences below.

You can be forgiven if you can’t precisely remember the difference between the OPA and the IAB. Or the DMA and the DAC. Or EEC and ESPC. Or WOMMA and OMMA. And, while we are at it, what exactly is a MAAWG? And isn’t OLGA the name of someone you’d go out to dinner with?

Gone are the days when a business could belong to one or maybe two trade associations and feel that it was covering…(read the rest at DMNews here).

Filed under: Email

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Feb 032006

Why Email Stamps Are a Bad Idea

Why Email Stamps Are a Bad Idea

(also posted on the Return Path blog)

Rich Gingras, CEO of Goodmail is an incredibly smart and stand-up professional.  I’ve always liked him personally and had a tremendous amount of respect for him.  However, the introduction of the email stamp model by Goodmail is a radical departure from the current email ecosystem, and while I’m all for change and believe the spam problem is still real, I don’t think stamps are the answer.  Rich has laid out some of his arguments here in the DMNews blog, so I’ll respond to those arguments as well as add some others in this posting.  I will also comment on the DMNews blog site itself, but this posting will be more comprehensive and will include everything that’s in the other posting.

It seems that Goodmail’s main argument in favor of stamps is that whitelists don’t work.  While he clearly does understand ISPs (he used to work at one), he doesn’t seem to understand the world of publishers and marketers.  His solution is fundamentally hostile to the way they do business.  I’m happy to have a constructive debate with him about the relative merits of different approaches to solving the false positive problem for mailers and then let the market be the ultimate judge, as it should be.

First, whitelists are in fact working.  I know — Return Path runs one called Bonded Sender.  We have documented several places that Bonded Senders have a 21% lift on their inbox delivery rates over non-Bonded Senders.  It’s hard to see how that translates into “bad for senders” as Rich asserts.  When the average inbox deliverability rate is in the 70s, and a whitelist — or, by the way, organic improvements to reputation — can move the needle up to the 90s, isn’t that good?

Second, why, as Goodmail asserts, should marketers pay ISPs for spam-fighting costs?  Consumers pay for the email boxes with dollars (at AOL) or with ads (at Google/Yahoo/Hotmail).  Good marketers have permission to mail their customers.  Why should they have to pay the freight to keep the bad guys away?  And for that matter, why is the cost “necessary?”  What about those who can’t afford it?  We’ve always allowed non-profits and educational institutions to use Bonded Sender at no cost.  But beyond that, one thing that’s really problematic for mailers about the Goodmail stamp model is that different for-profit mailers have radically different costs and values per email they send.

For example, maybe a retailer generates an average of $0.10 per email based on sales and proit.  So the economics of a $0.003 Goodmail stamp would work.  However, they’re only paying $0.001 to deliver that email, and now Goodmail is asserting that they “only” need to pay $0.003 for the stamp.  But what about publishers who only generate a token amount per individual email to someone who receives a daily newsletter based on serving a single ad banner?  What’s their value per email?  Probably closer to $0.005 at most.  Stamps sound like they’re going to cost $0.003.  It’s hard to see how that model will work for content delivery — and content delivery is one of the best and highest uses of permission-based email.

Next, Rich’s assertion that IP-based whitelists are bad for ISPs and consumers because IP-based solutions have inherent technology flaws that allow senders to behave badly doesn’t make sense.  A cryptographically based solution is certainly more sophisticated technology — I’ve never doubted that.

In terms of the practical application, though, I’m not sure there’s a huge difference.  Either type of system (IP or crypto) can be breached, either one is trackable, and either one can shut a mailer out of the system immediately — the only difference is that one form of breach would be trackable at the individual email level and the other would only be trackable in terms of the pipeline or IP.  I’m not sure either one is more likely to be breached than the other — a malicious or errant spammy email can either be digitally signed or not, and an IP address can’t be hijacked or spoofed much like a digital signature can’t be spoofed.

It’s a little bit like saying your house in the suburbs is more secure with a moat and barbed wire fence around it than with locks on the doors and an alarm system.  It’s an accurate statement, but who cares?

I’m not saying that Return Path will never consider cryptographic-based solutions.  We absolutely will consider them, and there are some things around Domain Keys (DKIM) that are particularly appealing as a broad-based standard.  But the notion that ONLY a cryptographic solution works is silly, and the development of a proprietary technology for authentication and crypotgraphy when the rest of the world is trying desparately to standardize around open source solutions like DKIM is an understandable business strategy, but disappointing to everyone else who is trying to cooperate on standards for the good of the industry.  I won’t even get into the costs and time and difficulty that mailers and ISPs alike will have to incur to implement the Goodmail stamp system, which are real.  Now mailers are being told they need to implement Sender ID or SPF as an IP-based authentication protocol — and DKIM as a crypto-based protocol — and also Goodmail as a different, competing crypto-based protocol.  Oy vey!

Email stamps also do feel like they put the world on a slippery slope towards paid spam — towards saying that money matters more than reputation.  I’m very pleased to hear Goodmail clarify in the last couple of days that they are now considering implementing reputation standards around who qualifies for certified mail as well, since that wasn’t their original model.  That bodes well for their program and certainly removes the appearance of being a paid spam model.  However, I have heard some of the proposed standards that Goodmail is planning on using in industry groups, and the standards seem to be much looser than AOL’s current standards, which, if true, is incredibly disappointing to say the least.

Jupiter analyst David Daniels also makes a good point, which is that stamps do cost money, and money on the line will force mailers to be more cautious about “overmailing” their consumers.  But that brings me to my final point about organic deliverability.  The mailers who have the best reputations get delivered through most filtering systems.  Reputations are based largely on consumer complaints and unknown user rates.  So the mailers who do the best job of keeping their lists clean (not overmailing) and only sending out relevant, requested mail (not overmailing) are the ones that will naturally rise to the top in the world of organic deliverability.  The stamp model can claim one more forcing function here, but it’s only an incremental step beyond the forcing function of “fear of being filtered” and not worth the difficulty of adopting it, or the costs, or the risks associated with it.

Rich, I hope to continue to dialog with you, and as noted in my prior posting, I think separating the issues here is healthy.

Feb 012006

AOL and Goodmail: Two steps back for email

AOL and Goodmail: Two steps back for email

(posted on the Return Path blog a couple days ago here)

Remember the old email hoax about Hillary Clinton pushing for email taxation? When we first heard AOL’s plans for Goodmail today, we thought maybe the hoax had re-surfaced and a few industry reporters got hooked by it. But alas, this tax plan seems to be true.

AOL has long held the leading standard in email whitelisting. Every email sender who cares about delivery has tried to keep their email reputation high so that they could earn placement on AOL’s coveted Enhanced Whitelist. Now, AOL may be saying that those standards don’t matter as much as a postage stamp when it comes to email delivery.

AOL will begin phasing out its enhanced whitelist in favor of Goodmail’s brand new and untested certification program — which requires a fee for each email sent. This effectively encourages marketers and senders to focus not as much on email best practices but on paying cash for inbox reach. It punishes companies who already do everything right with email by adding another roadblock before they can reach customers.

With senders having to pay a fraction of a cent for each email sent, the fees for companies (and profits for AOL and Goodmail) will mount and good mailers will not always be able to participate — even if they have a pristine email reputation and customer relationship. This is in effect taxation of the good guys with cash – and it does nothing to help the good guys who can’t afford the cost or to deter the bad guys who just plan to spam anyway.

Email getting delivered to the mailbox should be based on the reputation of the sender — not whether they paid for guaranteed delivery. Now AOL is saying that isn’t enough. By charging significant dollars for email delivery, AOL and Goodmail are on the road to creating a “pay to play” model that puts subscriber benefit and sender equality second.

Goodmail reportedly uses some reputation data to determine “good” senders. What data do they use? Is it comprehensive? It is our strong opinion that email delivery should be based on a solid email reputation. That reputation should be based on a comprehensive set of data points including in-depth complaint rates, unknown user rates, spam trap data, permission practices, email infrastructure, volume of email sent and identity integrity, among a long list of other factors.
If Goodmail looks at less data than AOL currently uses … so how can it be better?

AOL stands to make a lot of money at the risk of setting back email as best practices-based marketing. This is bad for senders who care about setting high email standards, bad for consumers’ inboxes and simply, bad policy.

There’s been a ton of coverage of this problem, including this great one today in DMNews.  Look for a lot more reaction from the industry to this once people really understand what’s going on.

Filed under: Email

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