Marketing to the managed inbox: Why digital marketers need to own deliverability

Email Marketing

Today’s digital marketers are facing unprecedented dilemmas when it comes to email marketing. Over the past 25 years, the adoption of email for personal and business use led to an increased volume of “batch-and-blast” emails. Illegal spam tactics targeting email users became more frequent and left users overwhelmed by managing their inboxes. In turn, email marketers noticed a change in how customer interact with their emails. By the late 2000s, email marketers began to doubt whether email would continue to be an effective marketing channel.

Today we are kicking off a weeks-long focus on email deliverability and the increasingly important role it plays in marketing. During my career in digital marketing, I’ve worked hands-on with email marketing in environments from SMBs to enterprise corporations. Deliverability is one of the most frequently overlooked — yet critically fundamental — components to successful email marketing. We’ll talk to email and deliverability experts, and dive into subjects from best practices to practical strategies your team can start implementing to improve your own deliverability.

To start, let’s take a look at current inbox structures and how these structures affect your email marketing.

What is a managed inbox?

The term “managed inbox” applies to email inboxes that use filtering systems and algorithms to prioritize incoming email messages for the end-user.

The inbox providers — from ISPs like Comcast and Verizon to apps like Gmail and Outlook — are the gatekeepers to the inbox. Using a series of filters, algorithms, spam traps and spam indicators, inbox providers aim to keep their users’ inboxes safe.

From the digital marketing perspective, successfully marketing to the managed inbox requires special attention to critical details.

The inbox providers’ solution to email overload

Inbox fatigue, compounded by increasing email from unauthenticated senders and spam complaints, prompted a response from Google: in 2013, it implemented features in Gmail to help manage its users’ inboxes. In doing so, Google assured marketers that deliverability and engagement rates would improve and users would have a better inbox experience.

Despite the reassurance, digital marketers didn’t react to the news very well. “The update shook marketers all around the globe, but it was needed,” said Vytis Marčiulionis, a deliverability manager at marketing automation platform Emarsys who works with digital teams to address deliverability challenges. “First, we need to consider why managed inboxes were introduced, and in this case I think Gmail did marketers a favor. The end-user now has a larger scope of classification available at their disposal and according to studies done by ReturnPath, they actually like it.” Email best practices needed to change and much of the dialogue among the martech community focused around how to ensure our emails end up in not only in the right tab, but in the inbox at all.

Despite the positive reception from users, marketers still fear the worst: our emails will end up in a tab that our recipients will never look at, and email ROI will drop. Today, nearly 20% of emails never make it to the intended inbox. Email gets blocked or filtered by ISPs and corporate system administrators. Whether sent in-house or through an ESP, non-delivery erodes response rates and program effectiveness.

We’re now marketing to the managed inbox

Your subscribers, customers and prospects aren’t managing their inboxes — the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are doing it for them. If their ISP doesn’t offer managed inbox support out-of-the-box, there are dozens of third-party applications and productivity tools available to solve the users’ inbox-woes.

According to Marčiulionis, the challenges posed by the managed inbox approach had two outcomes. “We had marketers who did their homework, researched their efforts who were rewarded with better open rates and user engagement,” he said. “On the other hand, marketers who campaigned the same as they had for the past 10 years ended up being disappointed. Email marketing as a field is constantly changing and everyone needs to adapt. The ones who manage to do that can stay on top.”

Highly reputable senders see the best deliverability rates and highest rates of inbox placement, a recently published ReturnPath benchmark survey found. “Senders scoring 91-100 (the best possible reputation score) had 91% of their messages delivered, according to the report. “This figure drops to 71% for senders scoring 81-90, and 44% for senders scoring 71-80.”

These numbers should be enough to prompt a look into your holistic deliverability health — and start outlining taking steps to improve it. It’s time for marketers to step forward and take ownership. Applying a deliverability strategy is just as important as — and often overlaps — segmentation and content strategies.

Take ownership of your deliverability

It is our responsibility as digital marketers to understand how ISPs and third-party tools work to improve our email marketing. For real insight into your deliverability, you need to know why your emails aren’t reaching your intended recipient — and how you can improve inbox placement rates — marketers need to take ownership of deliverability.

Unraveling and remediating deliverability issues is not something that happens overnight. You will likely need to work with your email service provider (ESP) to address complex infrastructure and for specific insights into inbox placement, but your team can implement processes to start taking ownership of deliverability today.

Marčiulionis said there are two critical questions that email marketers must ask themselves when thinking about deliverability. “First, what do your clients want from your email campaigns. You need to send emails your recipients wants to receive. Second, how is your campaign going to be viewed by the filters?” Reaching the inbox is imperative, but what underlying factors keep your emails out of your recipients’ inboxes? Your deliverability rate — high or low — will impact your email marketing ROI. If you’re not reaching the inbox, there is no opportunity for conversion.


About The Author

Jennifer Videtta Cannon serves as Third Door Media’s Senior Editor, covering topics from email marketing and analytics to CRM and project management. With over a decade of organizational digital marketing experience, she has overseen digital marketing operations for NHL franchises and held roles at tech companies including Salesforce, advising enterprise marketers on maximizing their martech capabilities. Jennifer formerly organized the Inbound Marketing Summit and holds a certificate in Digital Marketing Analytics from MIT Sloan School of Management.

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