Manas Kumar, Thinking out Loud

my thoughts & visions for technology

Email Delivery To Inbox – The Mystery Unlocked And De-Jargonized

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Email marketing is only effective if the marketing message actually makes it to your subscribers inbox. However, thanks to the “Bad Apples”, some genuine email marketers and their messages often get trapped in Spam Filters and the sender is often painted with the same brush as a serial spammer.

Part of the problem is the mismatch in the understanding of what Spam is. direct marketing associations worldwide are the problem as the way they educate and promote email marketing to the end users (members of the DMAs) is misleading.

For instance, the DMA of USA openly suggests emailing with opt out links even if “express consent” cannot be proven.

The Can-Spam Act and other similar legislations are also very unclear and “grey” in the way the issue of Spam is highlighted.

While the government (legislators) say one thing and the local promoters (DMAs) say something else, there’s a third group who are the “key-holders” in this case – the ISPs.

ISPs have a completely different approach to Spam. Their approach is the strictest and in my opinion a bit over the top because with them there’s no concept of “benefit of doubt” – if someone complains to an ISP – even at the ratio of 1 out of 1,000 instances, you are instantly labelled as a spammer. No questions asked, no opportunity to explain your actions- you are a spammer.

However ISPs deal with spam at a content as well as consent level. While they can never regulate content (they can censor but not regulate) they can always go by a “I never gave consent” complaint and take evasive action instantly.

You see the issue of spam has never been about CONTENT. It’s about CONSENT.

Spamhaus, the leaders in educating, regulating, and attempting to eliminate the issue of SPAM altogether, believe that ” one should never be asked to opt out of something they did not opt into in the first place” – quite a statement, especially when, if you are a marketer, this is ,Iike a dagger ripping through your heart – what do you mean I can’t send campaigns with just an opt out link using the “inferred” or “deemed” consent card…

Regardless of what you think from the point of view of a marketer, Spamhaus and several other ISP level Spam fighting organizations have adopted this approach. And it is this approach that drives inbox delivery because ultimately inbox delivery is controlled by the receiving ISP.

So what can you do to make sure your emails are delivered to the inbox?

First and foremost you need to make sure you have CONSENT. Content is not such a big deal yet, first you need to establish CONSENT. This is a non negotiable as far as ISPs are concerned.

Make sure you have the ability to prove CONSENT if need be. Hence if you capture subscribers from your website you MUST capture supporting information to provide as evidence of CONSENT. capture the IP address, the date and time of subscription, capture additional information such as the operating system of the user, the browser used, the web address from which the subscription was acquired from and maybe even a screen capture of the page as soon as the user hits the “Subscribe” button.

The second option is to undertake a Closed Loop Opt in or Confirmed Opt In. Both these processes are industry recognized for confirming consent before subscription.

Once the issue of CONSENT is sorted, you then need to look at your sending procedures.

Delivering emails is no longer as simple as sending them in bulk, throttling emails so that they make it past ISP firewalls. That’s no linger enough. ISPs have become much more sophisticated and have advanced systems to detect and decide whether to send the email to the inbox, junk folder or not deliver the email at all.

DKIM, Domain Keys, SPF Records, PTR Records, Proper Reverse DNS Setup, Sender ID setup and list unsubscribe Setup are now critical for ensuring inbox delivery.

You can also ask your ESP to provided a dedicated sending service whereby your IP addresses are white listed with all major IPSs. This kind of a setup often requires you to have a premium service account with your ESP

There are only a handful of ESPs that can offer this service, with Maxmail and Constant Contact being two of the most prominent and credible providers.

The “how fast can you send” myth.

I have come across several marketers assessing email marketing platforms based on the sending speed of the ESP (email marketing service provider). Actually sending speeds are inversely proportional to inbox delivery rates. In other words, the faster you send, the least likely you are to have consistent inbox delivery.

Sometimes, even with all those technical things setup you may not get 100% inbox delivery. There are many reasons for that, the most common being the IP address you are sending from has been blacklisted or blocked by certain ISPs.

Don’t worry, it’s actually very common for IP addresses to get blacklisted. sometimes it’s your doing, other times it may be something historical about the IP address that causes it to be blacklisted. Talk to your ESP and tell them to deal with it ASAP or find another ESP.

The entire subject of inbox delivery is so huge that it takes companies years to understand this.

So remember the following simple pints:

Be able to prove that you have consent
Capture enough customer data to personalize your campaigns
Setup relevant technical stuff at the ESP level and demand a white listing service
Keep your content relevant, targeted and openly admit that the email has come from you. Keep your online identity as rock solid as you can
Do not attempt to hide or disguise your sending
Follow the best practices as provided by your local governing body regulating digital the communication in your country Include your full address in the footer of your email
Include a note in the footer that reminds your subscribers as to how and when they subscribed to your database

Once you have got all these measures in place, inbox delivery is that much more certain.

Written by manaskumar

July 24, 2010 at 8:49 am

InkWorks – Missed Opportunities at Point of Sale

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InkWorks - This is some other store. I am talking about their store in the Westfield shopping centre in Henderson, Auckland.

I recently had to (or rather I was forced to) refill my HP Photosmart C8180 All-in-One printer cartridges. Thankfully I never paid for this God forsaken printer but received it as a Free gift from the folks at Harvey Norman circa 2008. No wonder Harveys wanted to get rid of these criminal machines produced by HP (A company I thought was on the right track until now) that just goes into “self destruct” mode if you dont refill the cartridges (even if you never print in color, for the “All-in-one functions to work, it needs ink – WHAT????). Anyway, never buy HP Photosmart C8180 All-in-One printer.

Anyway, this post is not about HP – its about InkWorks, an ink refill shop in the Westfield in Henderson. I was amazed by the level of customer service at this shop especially when the kind lady serving me had no technical knowledge but knew enough to do a good job of answering my questions.

So I asked her to find 0ut which one of my cartridges are empty so I can simply get those refilled, kill the print capabilities in that stupid printer and use the scanner (which is what I needed the darn thing for in the first place). By the by… she kindly gave me the Cyan and Magenta cartridges that I needed and charged me a very reasonable amount for it (cheaper than Dicksmiths or Warehouse Stationary).

PLUG for InkWorks – You guys rock!!! I strongly recommend that you checkout the guys at InkWorks when you need your printer cartridges refilled.

After that, she gave me a couple of bullet points about how they’re doing their bit to save the environment and their efforts to partake in the GREEN movement- It was genuie.

She asked me if this was my first purchase at the store and then requested me to write my details on a card for warranty purposes. She made it very clear that all she needed was my name and phone number – nothing else. I was almost waiting for her to ask me for other details but she didn’t.

Now check this out – Robert Redford taught Brad Pitt the secrets of photographic memory in Spyguy so I scanned through the form using Redford’s tips and remember the following

  • Name (both first and last were combined into one field)
  • Phone Number
  • Email Address
  • Address

On the right they had:

  • The type of printer I have
  • And 2 other fields that I am struggling to remember now

Not bad ha!

Now here’s the thing: That lady (I must say she was the kindest person I’ve met at a checkout of a store selling tech stuff), who I think was the store owner, just did not understand the importance of capturing as much detail as she could in that form. Someone must have told them that its important to know the things in the form, hence the fields set out in the order that they were.But sadly enough the lady just didn’t get the importance of such a thing.

More so, I am purchasing something that does not work if I dont have a computer – and if I have a computer, you can almost guarantee 100% that I also have internet – which means I also have an email address…but she does not have my email address though…I’m sad for you InkWorks 😦

Now on the right hand side of the form, they asked for “Which printer I had” – well of course they would. But are they using this information in any constructive way?

They know the date I refilled my cartridge. Given that they know how long it lasts, all they need is to find out whether or not I am a heavy user, moderate user or I hardly ever use color for printing; that way they’d know when next to send me a promo offer to refill – how hard do you think is that?

They also could have known which type of printer I have, so if they ever ran a promo in conjunction with the Computer Store outside the mall, they could approach me to make a purchase – I dont know…think of so many different things InkWorks could do if only they had the information.

I get frustrated with companies like these ones – they’re brilliant at what they do. Lovely people, great product, brilliant service – but poor marketing and presence of mind. Sorry guys, the world around you is changing, people are getting more and more online savvy – you need to use every opportunity you can to increase the lifetime value of a customer – LTV is GOLD InkWorks – I wish you were great at using marketing tools like email marketing and online surveys – then you’d become the number one printer cartridge refill company in New Zealand.

Another Plug: Email me if you need help in this area… 🙂

SaaS Wars.Google and Apple ganging up on Adobe

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Funny enough, I got this image from Google (No cencorship there!!!)

Warning: Some of my regular readers will find this blog post highly controversial and may not be able to relate with it upfront. However, I’m just thinking out loud…

You know how there’s all this hype about SaaS, Cloud Computing and who the ultimate dominant players will be in the marketplace? Well I’m about to expose an uneasy fact about this race for domination between organisations like Google, Adobe, IBM, Microsoft and perhaps even Apple.

First thing to notice is that each of these companies have their own definitions for cloud computing and are not prepared to accept a unified definition of what the heck is this thing called Cloud Computing.

Eric Schmidt from Google said “Cloud computing is exchange of data over a std. TCP/IP connection delivered (perhaps) via an HTML 5 application” – notice the reference to HTML 5 – hold that in your mind for a moment.

Now Adobe has, in the last 2 years developed a bunch of online apps that compete with Google in the area of document publishing (BuzzWord, Presentations and Spreadsheets), File Management etc. Adobe’s trump card is Flash – 98% penetration rate and on top of that- instant browser compatibility – it truly is a trump card for Adobe. Add to it the fact that some of the technologies Adobe is delivering through its Acrobat platform are built using special plugins for Flash that Adobe is (openly) refusing to make available as part of the std Flash SDK. For example the plugin Adobe uses to provide screen sharing inside Connect using Flash. Google it… Then there’s Adobe’s ability to produce apps that look “good” – this all adds up to one significant and unfair advantage.

Now obviously players like Google dont like this idea so out comes the hoo-haa about Flash being inappropriate for delivering rich user experience because “someone” wants to push the alternative – HTML 5. Google, as smart as they are, are a bunch of geeks – they produce highly functional stuff but poor in design and UI appeal. In short – very vanilla.

Alongside this you have Apple refusing to support Flash in any of its market leading products like the iPad/Pod/Phone – however, Apple is happy to support HTML 5. Both Apple and Google want to push Microsoft into the corner – that’s easy enough though…

Now guess which 2 companies are leading the charge with finalising the specifications for HTML 5 – Google and Apple. Are you smelling the burnt offering yet?

Recently Adobe announced that in its next release of the Flash Builder they will provide a way for Flash AS3/4 code to be re-bundled as Objective C code for fast and easy deployment on Apple products.

Apple comes out last week with an announcement stating that on the iPad and iPhone 4.0x only apps built using the X-Code/native Objective C constructs will be allowed on appstores for instant deployment – check it out – this is an all out effort to keep Adobe out of this race for SaaS domination.

Now in the middle of all this Microsoft, in the corner has been pushing its Silverlight platform – which is now supported out-of-the-box in Windows 7 and Vista updates. Personally, I think Microsoft has yet again shot itself on the foot – I know ways that we have been brainstorming about in the area of “how to use Silverlight to compete against Microsoft products online”.

And then there’s Microsoft’s Office online that was due for release in APAC around March, 2010. In this suite of apps there’s an evil product called Outlook.

Ask Michelle from Email on Acid and she’ll tell you how simple HTML emails render inside Microsoft’s Outlook 2007 and 2010 – It’s shocking to say the least. While everyone else has advanced their HTML rendering engines (well done Gmail), it seems like MS is going backwards. Care to comment on this anyone?

Another ironic fact. Have you also noticed: for you to be able to watch an Apple video, you need Quicktime; for watching a microsoft video you need Silverlight or the Windows Media Player plugin. YouTube is already capable of serving videos without Flash using HTML 5. So to continue Adobe’s mandate to maintain Flash player as the standard for delivering video content, Flash 9 announced support for MP4 files with .H264 codec support – So its almost like every time the world is throwing lemons at Adobe, its turning them into lemonade – Good on you guys… I can sooooooo identify with Adobe right now.

So what’s the sum total of all this argument – Google is evil? Apple is arrogant? Microsoft is foolish? (thats proven beyond reasonable doubt), Adobe is being victimised? Perhaps all of the above but the fact of the matter is that anyone who considers themselves even a small player in the SaaS arena (that includes mid-sized guys like us) has a lot to consider/think about in terms of

  • Delivery
  • Design
  • Dependencies

From what I understand, HTML 5 will not be 100% supported and the final documentation not finalised until 2017 (yes thats millions of years away…); but the fact that Firefox, Chrome and Internet Explorer 8 (I struggled to believe it) already support HTML 5 in some capacity – so the battle is at the doorsteps. But it’s all good though, I just hope that Adobe continues to produce lemonade and we’ll see how far these big boys go to chuck lemons at Adobe.

I still believe Adobe has unfair advantage when it comes to design, delivery and dependencies in the online apps arena…

As always, I welcome your comments.

Wisdom of the crowd – democracy of social networks

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Google Rocks!

I know the title of this post is a mouthful, but I was struggling to actually come up with a title that justly headlines the content of this post. I need to warn you that this is by far the most technical post I’ve ever made on my blog. I must admit, I have my reservations about this particular post. I don’t expect this to be the bumper hit like my Tips for Social Networking post last month that attracted 17,000 views within 3 hours of posting. Anyway, it’s worth a try – don’t you reckon?

Well! This post is about introducing you to a mathematical beauty that has been known to science pretty much since the days of binary. I’ll spare you the jargonificaiton – what I’m trying to get at is the mathematical explaination behind the growth of companies like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, You Tube and LinkedIn.

It’s called the Viral Expansion Loop, something I remember studying in my Math majoring days but only recently the concept was reignited by a business contact Dave Wild, from Smith & Wild who passed me a couple of articles on Forbes and Fast Company. Dave, this post is because of you – You’ve reignited my passion in this area even though it has been inside my head all this while, albeit dormant.

Now the Viral Expansion Loop (VEL) is not the same as Viral Marketing – quite different actually, both in concept and delivery. Viral Expantion Loop is what explains how a variant of the flu virus turns from an “interesting mutation” to an epidemic and then progresses along to become a pandemic. Read the rest of this entry »

Social Media for businesses: top 10 tips

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Social media, as I have mentioned in many of my previous posts, is no longer something reserved for the teen space. Over the past 18 months, social media has grown into a phenomenon that will either have a positive or negetive impact on your business (depending on how you use it).

To understand social media, you need to first understand the transition of the world wide web. You have probably heard the term “Web 2.0” – well in reality does it mean that the internet is in it’s second version? Not quite.

It’s more like the internet has moved onto it’s next level of influence.

You see, all this while the internet has been known to be the information super-highway. You type in a question in Google and out comes the answer. Very two dimensional, very mechanical not to mention how it can be manipulated for personal gain.

Enter Web 2.0 – Now you type a question, when you find the answer, you share it with your friends – your social community. The more answers are shared, the more powerful the community. Web 2.0 has not just given birth to a new era in social interaction, but it has also opened opportunities for taking the web to one level further. Read the rest of this entry »

Sentiment Analysis for social engineering

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Sentimentality - A bunch of smileys sourced from Google Images.

Sentimentality - A bunch of smileys sourced from Google Images.

Many of my readers may find this post rather confusing but I will try my best to keep it simple.

Sentiment analysis is a very new field that has emerged out of the Semantic Web or Web 3.0 as some refer to it. You’ve heard of Web 2.0 but what is Web 3.0?

There are several high level definitions on Google for Semantic Web – but here’s my definition of the semantic web in common English.

Semantic web is a new era in the life of the world wide web where the internet is no longer used as the information super highway or the social hangout space, it will now become an intelligent medium that translates, elaborates, communicates and most importantly moderates all your social interactions with anything via the web.

Remember the popular “the Machine is using us” video put together by social anthropologist Michael Wesch? Well that described how the web has evolved from being 1 dimensional (content only) to 2 dimensional (form Vs content) and now it’s about to become 3 dimensional (form, content and MEANING). Read the rest of this entry »

The imminent death of the OS

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Got this from Google, like always.

Got this from Google, like always.

The operating system as we know it is coming closer to extinction.

There was a time in computing when the operating system governed what and how you can use software on a PC or Mac. Microsoft for one has made it’s billions by selling the Windows Operating System, and by producing good quality software (Like MS Word) it made sure the revenue streams remained open for generations to come as it kept improving (or sometimes degrading, e.g. Vista) its operating system.

If you want something like Outlook, you have to use the Windows OS, if you want something like Keynote, you have to be on a Mac and so on. Software, for the last 2 decades has depended on the OS to be accessible by the end users. Read the rest of this entry »