August 14, 2012
How To

B2B Email Marketing: How reputation, content and brand management affect deliverability

SUMMARY: An otherwise brilliant email marketing campaign will fail if its emails are caught in spam filters. Deliverability is particularly challenging for B2B marketers. That's because they typically send emails to many different corporate domains, instead of many emails to one provider, such as Gmail or other freemail domains.

Tom Sather, Senior Director of Email Research, Return Path, offers five tactics to help ensure B2B email marketing campaigns safely reach the inbox. The process begins with establishing goals, and includes reputation, content and brand management.
by David Kirkpatrick, Senior Reporter

No matter how great the email campaign, it will fail miserably if emails aren’t delivered to the recipients’ inboxes.

However, email deliverability remains a challenge for B2B marketers, according to The Global Email Deliverability Benchmark Report 2H, 2011, published by Return Path, an email deliverability vendor. While it reports B2B deliverability rose in the second half of 2011, with 86% of sent mail getting past spam filters, more than one in 10 emails were still marked as spam.

Tom Sather, Senior Director of Email Research, Return Path, offered MarketingSherpa readers a five-tactic plan to ensure their email is among the 86%.

Tactic #1. Set email marketing goals

Before even tackling whether emails are reaching the intended inboxes, Sather said marketers need to define the overall goals of the email marketing program. He said this step impacts email deliverability because if the tactics to achieve those goals aren’t properly executed, the campaign might harm deliverability, reputation and brand management.

"I think (setting goals) is the first and most important step," Sather explained. "It sounds pretty intuitive and common sense, but I think a lot of people fail to take the time to set those goals."

He gives two pieces of advice:
  • Base lead-nurturing emails around engagement and on how that lead was originally captured.

    Sather said, "For lead nurturing, one can make an email series based on previous actions, such as downloading specific content, and then following up with a series of emails that educates the prospect more about that particular topic. For example, if someone downloads a whitepaper about implementing widgets, follow up with an email to view a webinar about implementing widgets."

  • Base emails sent for awareness, visibility and thought leadership around frequency. For example, daily email might be too much, where weekly sends could be more effective. Sather said the best practice is to allow your subscribers to choose how frequently they receive email sent for visibility and awareness.

Tactic #2. Make sure your email sends are reaching the inbox

Because most B2B email is sent to corporate domains rather than freemail accounts, such as Gmail, Yahoo! or, there are multiple places where the email can be marked as spam or junk mail. So, fixing deliverability isn’t as easy as reaching out to Google to repair a Gmail issue. Solving a deliverability problem with a particular corporate domain requires reaching out to a corporate IT department. Considering there may be thousands of different corporate domains in an email database, this can be an overwhelming task.

Sather mentioned several places where an email can get caught before reaching the inbox:
  • Gateway filters

  • Email server filters

  • Desktop filters

This is why marketers should monitor email deliverability across spam filters for multiple email systems. Sather said they might learn, for instance, that Microsoft’s Outlook email application will send email to spam, and they have a chance to correct the issue before that campaign runs.

Tactic #3. Understand reputation management and how it affects deliverability

Spam filtering used to be based more around content monitoring. The downside was this required a large amount of learning and interaction with users to determine what defined a "good email" against a "bad email."

Of course, spammers eventually learned how to get around this, which is why Internet and email service providers are now migrating toward reputation management, Sather said. This means the filter looks at a number of email attributes, such as the sending IP address. The filter then makes a prediction on whether an email coming from that address is spam.

Sather explained that Microsoft, for instance, will collect data across its email products, such as Outlook Exchange and Hotmail, to build its reputation-based spam filter. Email marketers must make sure their sending IP address maintains a good reputation, or every email they send will automatically be sent to spam.

Tactic #4. Don’t overlook content management

Even though spam filters are moving toward reputation management, content management is still important. Email content should be regularly tested to make sure the subject line and text aren’t causing deliverability issues.

Sather said he considers his content testing a one-two-three process:
  1. Send a regular email through deliverability tools and spam filters, and see where it lands.

  2. Send a completely blank email -- no subject line or copy in the body of the mail. If that mail is filtered, that would indicate a reputation or IP address problem where that particular address is associated with spam.

  3. Test various aspects of the email. Send one with the subject line alone. Send another with only the body copy.

Sather also advised using third-party tools that provide intelligence on problematic keywords and can help automate the testing process.

Tactic #5. Protect your brand from phishing

"A lot of people don’t think about brand management when they’re sending out email," Sather stated.

He explained that if a cybercriminal hijacks a domain and brand name to execute a phishing attack, those bogus emails can do tremendous damage to a company brand. At the very least, it can make recipients more likely to avoid mail from those brands and domains.

Sather advises combating this in two ways:
  • Various authentication methods can ensure the receiving email server "knows" the domain or IP address is correct. He added that the sending domain can also include a cryptographic key that has to be authenticated by the receiver.

  • Domain-based message authentication (DMARC) is a policy published within a domain that lets email recipients know how to handle incoming mail from that domain. An example is instructing receiving servers to block any mail that fails authentication. A phishing attack that hijacks a particular brand would fail authentication and never make it to the inbox.

Sather explained that phishing can be a real problem because average open and clickthrough rates for phishing email are in line with that of legitimate email sends.

In sum, email marketers must do their due diligence.

"Email is the main driver, it’s the workhorse, of the marketing mix," Sather said. "It’s easy to do, which is obviously a strength. But it’s also a weakness because you can get very lazy and not focus on things you need to do to ensure that your email is getting delivered to the inbox."

Tom Sather will present this material at the upcoming MarketingSherpa B2B Summit, August 27-30 in Orlando.


Return Path

Sender Score – Return Path’s email reputation scoring tool

Return Path’s "The Global Email Deliverability Benchmark Report, 2H 2011"

Related Resources

Email Marketing: Your Deliverability Questions Answered

B2B Email Deliverability: 11% of B2B email is classified as spam, these 6 tactics will help

Email Deliverability: 5 tactics for 99% (or greater) delivery across millions of subscribers

Email Deliverability: Getting into Gmail’s ‘Priority Inbox’

Email Deliverability: Always test emails that link to third-party sites

Email Marketing: Improve deliverability by deleting subscribers?

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