I’ve decided to dedicate a blog post on the details, inner-workings and dynamics of Commercial Email Marketing – analysis, conceptualization, creation, delivery, reporting, monitoring, security checking mechanisms, CAN-SPAM Act compliance and other aspects.

I worked as an Email Deliverability Specialist for 123Greetings.com – the world’s 2nd largest and most visited e-Greetings site in the world (after AOL Greetings, of course) in 2009. Myself and my 7-member team handled the creation, QC, masking of links, delivery, reporting, monitoring and trouble-shooting the commercial email marketing campaigns for 123Greetings.com – 21 Million email subscribers WEEKLY; predominantly to US and a few to UK/Rest of the World subscribers.

Here’s a few questions, which I often came across during my work experience, whilst dealing with organizations, prospective private clients and fellow colleagues.

1. I’m a small IT/ITES company in Bangalore, India. Our main revenue stream is from IBM or Microsoft software sales support for clients in the US. We wish to acquire more clients in the US? Our current number of subscribers is 5,000. Do we need a commercial email marketing team?
– Definitely you DON’T. Commercial email marketing involves companies/agencies that are catering to usually more than 1 Million email subscribers in a DAY or more, and in most cases, for consecutive days in a row. There’s no hard and fast rule or official cut-off, but I personally, take 1 Million email subscribers in a DAY as a cut-off. If you or your company or agency is NOT shooting out or looking to shoot out 1 Million emails in a DAY or combination of it, you don’t need a commercial email campaign setup in-house. In short, for an SME or SMB, you don’t need commercial email campaign management setup.

2. In such a case, following from question1, what do we do?
– There’s a lot of things you can do. You can have your in-house Online Marketing Manager plan out an email marketing campaign – get the creative designed by your in-house Web Designer(s), host the images to an FTP server account (which are dirt-cheap in India), and shoot the email to your few thousand email subscribers via an online SaaS Email Marketing software like ConstantContact, iContact, EmailBrain, SendBlaster2 etc.

3. Dude, you only name good US SaaS Email Marketing platforms above. What about the Indian companies providing similar services?
– Technically, no harm using them cause in most cases, the Indian companies providing such email marketing & campaign management services are cheap. But the biggest problem comes with their ‘attitude to service‘ and ‘availability‘. In most cases, their out-going SMTP mail servers will be down when you will need to send out that MOST important email campaign of the year, and even if they’re working – either the IPs will be blacklisted or with bad reputation etc. I worked for some SMEs in India after my work experience at 123Greetings.com and these companies had used Indian email marketing providers for their email requirement needs. Quite understandably, since the providers had promised similar services as the US companies at 1/100th of their prices. But the services were so pathetically poor, its better not to mention them in detail. In one case, the company’s management decided canceling the Bangalore based email marketing company’s contract half-way through the tenure and we signed up with one of the US ones. So, the moral of the story here is – Take your boss or Senior Management into confidence, and then check your available budget, then internal resources, and then arrive at a conscious decision. The US ones are excellent if you’ve the budget for them and most importantly a hygienic list, cause if you’re thinking of spamming – Don’t. Cause your account will get suspended. If you’re having an unclean list or non-opted-in list or have a list which generates very high spam complaint rates – better use an Indian company.

4. Do we need an Email Marketing Specialist for an SME?
– This is a very simple question to ask but the answer is many fold. Its like asking – do we need to save money? Personally, if you’re currently running an SME/SMB and don’t have a requirement of sending out email marketing campaigns every single day – I would strongly recommend not having a dedicated Email Marketing Specialist or Deliverability Specialist in-house. If you’re having an Online Marketing Manager or Digital Marketing Manager – he/she can easily incorporate a plan in-house, work with in-house Web Designers (or out-sourced ones) to create the email newsletter (or creative), do the QC of the links, and then shooting it out to your subscriber list. Rest remains is reporting/monitoring – which shouldn’t take more than a few hours of detailed study and analysis. But, if you’re wishing to grow aggressively – and plan shooting out more than 3 email campaigns every WEEK, it would be a wise decision to look for someone – either in-house or an external Consultant – cause by the time you go live – you will have the infrastructure in place.

5. I have 5,000 emails. Wish it was 5 Million. Can I do that in 6 months time?
– In short, NO. Unless you’ve a front-end UI service like 123Greetings.com and back-end – an entire revenue stream being generated from emails from users who are using those emails to send the e-cards. Its a very complicated system wherein every single e-card being sent is eventually a step towards generating revenues for the company, via both – an opt-in and non-opt-in db. But looking to make 5 Million database (db) in a few month’s time is not possible.

6. Is CAN-SPAM Act 2003 compliance a real deal?
– In India, since no such rules/regulations do exist, no. CAN-SPAM doesn’t apply here. But if you’re targeting to grow aggressively, and a substantial part of your mailing list constitutes of US/Canada/UK email subscribers, its always very strongly advised to be CAN-SPAM compliant. Otherwise, you don’t wish a legal letter from the BBB knocking on your door for malpractices and email spamming. Click here for an excellent article on how to become CAN-SPAM compliant.

7. How important is my out-going MX IP reputation?
– In short, very important. Most filters on receiving MX side will drop connection if the IP Reputation of your ISP out-going MX is poor. Make sure you check the WatchGuard Reputation Authority website for all your IP Reputation statues and issues.

8. Bounce Management System – what is that dude? Do we need that seriously?
– Very significant if you don’t wish to be blacklisted and blocked by ISPs worldwide. Besides checking IP Reputation, Headers, Spam words etc. filters check on number and ratios of bounces produced as well from the out-going MX side. E.g. if your out-going MX is sending 1,00,000 emails to AOL.com, and most of them are giving hard bounces – again and again, and your IPs are trying to push them through, 99.999% chances are the ISP would block your IPs and if really pissed off, the entire MX domain. You definitely don’t want that if you wish to be in business, right? Thus, a sold, efficient Bounce Management System is a mandatory requirement. Check the image below for all the mandatory steps required for an efficient BMS (created by myself @ 123Greetings.com for our in-house needs).

9. I’m the CTO of my company. And we’re looking to automate a few manual processes. Which are the core ones we should target?
– Getting operational processes automated is always a very desirable thing and a step definitely in the right direction. You can look to automate the following:

  • Soft Bounce & Hard Bounce (Bounce Management System) Policies
  • Transaction Log Processing with automated report
  • Online Reporting for campaigns
  • Online Report for Total DB that we have (domain/country breakup)
  • Feedback Automation Loop (FBL) Online Report
  • Spammer-IP database report

These above-mentioned ones are the main culprits when it comes to slowing down back-end operations for commercial email campaigns. If you can get these automated, you’re a rockstar!

10. Will hiring an Email Marketing Manager or Email Deliverability Specialist solve all our problems? Can he make our in-house db of 5million into 50million in 1 year time?
– Practically no. And also not advisable as well. The point here which is most important is – a company ought to invest in commercial email marketing and personnel for it, when the time is right, and also most importantly not for generating sales and leads, which automatically comes once your opt-in or acquisition mailing list has been acquired over a time frame. Its better and also always advisable to build a long-term strategy of email acquisition which is completely honest, transparent and most importantly, healthy for the company in the long run. Building up rapport with ISPs is also required and then comes white-listing IPs and domains. Once you’ve done all the hard work, you can always sit back and enjoy the ride. You can see your email mailing list growing exponentially over time.

If you’ve any specific question, do send me an email or leave a comment. I shall get back to you!
Thanks, SG

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About sghoshoxon

Born in India, educated in Moscow, worked in the UK; Subhasish speaks English, Russian, Hindi & Bengali. Marketing // Strategy // Consulting, Active Blogger, Social Media Evangelist, Apple fan; Thanks to all for reading my blog posts, with 'FewRandomRantings.Wordpress.com' reaching 74,000+ visits since inception. Follow me @nerdometer.

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