What I Told the PC World Reporter About Phishing and Marketers
by Anne Holland, President
"Can phishing emails make people miss or deliberately delete messages they would otherwise want to receive from businesses?" asked Andrew Brandt, Senior Associate Editor PC World, when he interviewed me last week for an article. Three factors made me say "Yes":
#1. Open rates are slipping unexpectedly. Open rates for HTML campaigns to house lists from legit mailers had been holding fairly steady for the past couple of years. Now, according to data from both MarketingSherpa and Doubleclick's separate research efforts, opens are sliding down faster than expected. (How much depends on your niche, frequency, and deliverability savvy.)
#2. A June study by Lyris Technologies revealed 100 consumers were likely to mistake legit messages (even from big brand-name companies) as phishing scams if they were badly laid out text-only or had HTML code errors (happens more frequently than you think).
#3. I automatically delete the dozens of emails I get per day "from" financial institutions and the world's fave auction site without looking at them because I assume these are all scams. And I bet you may do the same.
Brandt's next question was, what can legit emailers do to make sure their messages aren't mistaken as phishing? Here are my quick tips.
Tip A. Maintain higher quality production values
Consumers expect scam-artists' messages to feel amateurish with typos, reply addresses that no longer work, and improperly rendered images (because perhaps they had to switch servers in a hurry).
Make sure your HTML email is coded properly by passing it through the validator at
and check that whoever is serving your images will have them up on time and for a good long time -- such as weeks, not just days.
Plus, take a good look at your text-only version. Never ever let your email department autocreate it based on your HTML content. Text layout must be handcrafted separately for readability and appeal.
Tip B. Consider protective software for your customers
When we were interviewing Secure Computing's marketer Shelly Maley for our top Case Study this week (see below), she explained one of their products can protect your customers against phishing by changing their passwords in some automated fashion. I don't pretend to understand this technology but hey, why not sic your IT department on the idea?
MarketingSherpa reader, Shira Steinberg, wrote in to tell us her company has invented another solution that adds "simple visual cues" to your Web site so folks know it's legit. Again, I don't understand this stuff, but if you like to research tech, the company name is Green Armor.
Tip C. Test alternate and mixed delivery methods
If the email message is critical either to your bottom line or because you are legally obliged to deliver it, then you can't rely on email alone anymore.
Try multi-channel campaigns -- If consumers see matching messages from a variety of sources (such as your new print catalog cover and a matching email campaign), they're more likely to assume it's legit email and more likely to respond.
Also, set up a program to automatically switch consistent nonopeners (or for text-only, consistent nonclickers) to a completely different media, such as print.
You should also proactively contact top accounts and key prospects via phone, postal mail, or on-screen pop-up, to see what the problem is. Perhaps the address is bad. Perhaps their filter is confused. Perhaps they want off your list.
Plus, consider offering alternate electronic delivery methods such as desktop apps, downloadable toolbars, RSS feeds, IM alerts, SMS alerts, etc., to your best customers. But, if you do, build in above-average reporting from the start so you can track usership on an account basis.
Good luck! P.S. Here's that Case Study on Shelly Maley's marketing: http://www.marketingsherpa.com/sample.cfm?contentID=3025