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Ken Magill

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How Engaged Do They Need to Be? Not Very

By Ken Magill
I’ve been thinking about the ongoing email-engagement discussion for several weeks now and my thoughts have led me to one tentative conclusion.
Recipients of commercial email do not have to be all that engaged with commercial email in order for it to get delivered just fine.
Representatives of four major email inbox providers at two recent Email Experience Council events—a panel discussion and a webinar—said recently that while engagement is important, they do not track opens or clicks to assess it.
They said they do, however, track actions such as replying to messages, moving them to folders, pulling them out of the spam folder, deleting them without opening them, adding the sender to the address book, and reporting the messages as spam—among other things.
The two negative metrics in the list above are deleting without opening and reporting spam.
Think for a moment how the vast majority of recipients respond to commercial email. They don’t. And those who do respond either open and click on the messages, or make purchases as a result of the email without clicking on it, possibly even without opening it.
People don’t, as a rule, reply to commercial email. What is there to reply to? 
With some possible exceptions, people don’t add commercial senders to their address books. They don’t move the messages to different folders.
People certainly delete commercial messages without opening them—those who value a clean inbox, anyway.
A Microsoft executive once told me there are three types of email users. I can remember two: hoarders like me who pretty much have every email ever sent to them sitting in their accounts, and people who clean out their inboxes every day.
As a result, it would seem the delete-without-open metric only comes into play with a subset of email recipients—those who clean out their inboxes every day, and possibly that third group I can’t recall.
How big the subset is, I have no idea.
But the hoarder subset is probably reasonably large.
So it would seem the delete-without-open metric does not apply to a large subset of email inbox holders: hoarders.
People do report commercial email as spam, but large numbers of spam complaints are almost always caused by sloppy email address acquisition or mailing to old, dead lists.
Spam complaints shouldn’t be a problem for email marketers who focus on data quality and integrity and who take advantage of feedback loops—services ISPs offer to let email marketers know when recipients mark their messages as spam.
So the two negative engagement metrics—delete without open, and report as spam—only come into limited play with permission-based senders. 
And natural human apathy—especially with commercial email—indicates that the positive metrics ISPs monitor, such as moving email around and replying to it, hardly come into play. Or if they do come into play, there doesn’t need to be much of it to indicate a comparatively engaged list.
And clicks and opens—as senders know them—don’t come into play at all.
Yet, so many brands achieve high inbox-placement rates.
As a result, common sense says people do not need to be very engaged with a marketer’s email messages in order for the marketer to get campaigns delivered mostly just fine.
And, once again, we’re back to data-quality at the point of email address acquisition. Any time a marketer has deliverability problems resulting from their own actions, as I understand it, the troubles can usually be traced to sloppy address acquisition practices.
Conclusion: Email marketers’ focus shouldn’t be so much on increasing engagement on an ongoing basis as it should be on avoiding slop up front. 

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Terms: Feel free to be as big a jerk as you want, but don't attack anyone other than me personally. And don't criticize people or companies other than me anonymously. Got something crappy to say? Say it under your real name. Anonymous potshots and personal attacks aimed at me, however, are fine.

Posted by: Derek Harding
Date: 2015-04-07 15:47:57
Subject: oops

wear should be where -- can't believe I typoed that. Derek
Posted by: Derek Harding
Date: 2015-04-07 15:47:10
Subject: Kind of right

Some of your logic is flawed but you are kind of right. Deliverability people have been saying for years that address collection is critically important. Avoiding slop up front is extremely important. However something else that anyone who's worked in deliverability can tell you is that fixing delivery issues can't be done by improving address collection alone. You have to deal with the slop already in a client's list which is wear dealing with bounces, complaints, unsubs and the disengaged comes in. In short. If you're starting from scratch don't worry too much about engagement from a deliverability perspective (worry about it from an ROI & brand perspective) but focus on ensuring you collect the right addresses. Do so cleanly and onboard those addresses properly. Derek