Professional Community for Car Dealers, Automotive Marketers and Sales Managers
Getting Dealership Sent Emails to the Customer's Inbox!
Many Automotive Marketers know all too well that less than half of all emails sent by car dealers never make it to the intended customer's inbox... If you are not aware of this fundamental issue which is further exacerbated by the auto industry's heavy use of online forms for lead generation, inquiries and data submission, you need to wake up and smell the roses.
Deliverability remains the single biggest challenge facing dealer based email campaigns and lead follow-up process today.
That being said, deliverability is the one area where automotive marketers can still retain direct control... The reason is pretty basic, it is because the success components that effect email deliverability to dealership customers and targeted messaging recipients can be directly influenced by the choices you make.
This post is based on an insightful white paper I found while exploring the InsiderCRM eNewsletter. The document was prepared by marketing researchers whose objective was to make the choices that impact email deliverability just a little easier. What I found was a set of guidance points that will provide car dealers and their marketing resources with a clear overview of the main obstacles preventing email from reaching each customer's inbox...
More importantly, I am going to outline the simple tactical measures that automotive marketing professionals can implement to avoid them.
It is fundamental to all aspects of using email to communicate with dealership customers and achieve marketing communication objectives that we place the proper priority on deliverability. After all, the first step towards any chance you have of spurring a dealership email recipient into action is making sure the message gets to where it’s intended; that all-important customer inbox!
The goal of this ADM Forum Discussion is to create an ongoing resource and reference tool to help ADM Professional Community Members gain a competitive advantage by mastering the complex task of increasing email deliverability performance.
The following discussion points are organized into the same functional areas defined by the research white paper's authors:
Download Original Content Source File
ADM Professional Community Members can download the white paper titled "Increasing Email Deliverability: Getting Email to the Inbox" by right-clicking the following PDF file link and selecting the equivalent of "Save Link As": Increasing-Dealer-Sent-Email-Delivery-Rates.pdf
When it comes to online marketing, the metric dealers and automotive marketers creating email campaigns traditionally use to determine a program’s overall success is deliverability. Without high deliverability, dealers and their marketing resources cannot move beyond the basics to build customer relationships, grow robust opt-in lists, scale email programs and generate new revenue.
This ADM Forum Discussion provides a quick and compelling roadmap for discovering new tactics to increase email delivery performance rates.
"Let’s define deliverability: Deliverability in email communication is all about reputation, more specifically a business’ ‘email reputation’."
-- Campaigner Research Team
Understanding the many reputation-based obstacles your communication will face on the way to its destination is critical to boosting email deliverability rates.
The obstacle course
Obstacles can take the form of automated spam filters – at the Internet service provider (ISP) or desktop level – that rate and filter through only email that meets a certain set of criteria.
However, obstacles are more and more taking the form of ‘Human’ filters – recipients, who feel a message is not relevant to them, and therefore block communications or report the culprit email to their ISP. With AOL, Hotmail, Outlook and Yahoo! taking up most of the space, businesses cannot afford complaints to ISPs. With all of these obstacles in the way, delivering your message becomes even more difficult. And if this weren’t enough – as even the most diligent know too well – filters that keep out real spam also block ‘good email’ from reaching its destination.
By recent estimates nearly 21% of all permission-based sent email suffers from ‘false-positives’ (diligent permission-based email
flagged as spam) and never reach the intended inbox.
While industry analysts agree the numbers are finally starting to trend in the right direction, they still remain significant enough to cause concern. For many the reality is still not having the time, budget, resources or expertise to understand the complexity of the evaluation process to ensure their next email campaign gets to the inbox.
Filtering the noise
More and more consumers are adopting new technologies to help them ‘box out’ the excess noise. As a result, spam filters have become a mainstream across nearly all marketing channels.
A Forrester Research study found that 57% of US email users have filters built into their Web-based email applications and 55% into their ISP or workplace applications. That’s a significant number of consumers trying to ‘box out’ your message.
What’s an automotive marketing professional to do?
Assuming you have a well-managed email database or list – here are a number of high-impact tactics to help ensure your dealership elevates its ‘email reputation’, which will increase deliverability performance.
Remember, ‘do onto others as you would have others do onto you,’ may sound like a cliché, but when it comes to the most important factor impacting email marketing today, it couldn’t be more relevant.
ISP filtering: Tactics for success
With anywhere from 20% to 60% of a typical email list made up of AOL, Hotmail, Outlook, and Yahoo! customers, optimizing email
communications with ISPs has long been a top challenge for business-to-consumer (B2C) email marketers providing campaign management and email marketing tools to the auto industry.
Car Dealers and their marketing service providers who heed our guidance and ensure they are implementing the high-performance best practice tactics summarized below on every dealership email campaign will find they yield a significant positive impact on deliverability rates.
You may want to start by making sure your email program is compliant by ensuring identity recognition on emails sent using authentication. This can be done by using one of the popular system and web based protocols mandated by each ISP. To clarify, the only ISP identity validation you need is from your dealership's Internet Service Provider.
Why authenticate? ISPs use authentication to identify a sender to better protect their Internet access subscribers and email users from unwanted spam. Valid and properly authenticated sender emails will avoid some (but not all) spam filtering. ISP Sender Authentication also reduces the chance for ‘false-positives’ when the emails a dealer sends are scanned by various spam filters.
There are two forms of dealer email authentication:
The first combines Microsoft’s Caller ID for email proposal and Meng Wong’s Sender Policy Framework. The second is a signature-based approach supported by Yahoo! and Cisco. Either of the methods above
will help a dealership's email deliverability rate... Implementing both types of sender authentication will compound the effectiveness and work better than either type by itself.
Unfortunately to date, there is no universal authentication system in place. But competing standards follow similar principals.
How do you become authenticated?
You must modify your domain name records to indicate which IP addresses are allowed to send email on behalf of your dealership's URL (domain name). This allows ISPs something to refer to when attempting to authenticate any of the emails sent by your dealership or your email marketing service provider.
However, before you get too excited about authenticating your dealership's email servers, please know that third party IT costs associated with ‘domain modification’ can be steep. However, the severe repercussions a dealership can experience when using a suspect domain/IP Address with major ISPs can be higher.
So altogether now… let’s all call for standardized authentication protocol!
Outsourcing your email communications to a leading Email Service Provider (ESP) ensures your dealership has the ability to leverage the critical deliverability success component of ‘email reputation.’ In many cases, this could provide a dealership with a fast tracked competitive advantage in their regional market.
Leading ESPs (Email Service Providers) have positive relationships with ISPs (Internet Service Providers) and adhere to strict industry
best practices and anti-spamming email policies to maintain their "white listed" status with ISP's. They provide dealers and marketing service providers with easy access to on-demand top-performing email marketing solutions that increase a dealership's ability to send the sales follow-up, lead nurturing and customer retention one-to-one relevant emails that car buyers and service customers actually WANT to receive!
In addition, dealers using top performing ESP's reduce system-based flags that could prevent emails from not reaching the customer’s inbox; as well as provide third-party spam scoring value added services so dealership marketing managers can quickly identify and remedy any potential problems before the emails are sent.
Because many leading ESPs place such a high priority on maintaining their coveted status of being ‘Whitelisted’ at the ISP level, they have a fully dedicated postmaster team working on delivering their dealer client's email messaging on a 24/7/365 basis. This lets dealers and their email marketing resources focus their attention on core competencies, such as selling cars and responding to leads generated by email campaigns, with the calm confidence that their email delivery is assured by a team of professionals who respond on the dealer's behalf to spa, complaints, flagging and other red flags that could have gotten the dealership blacklisted.
Desktop filtering: Tactics for success
As ISPs continue to implement new spam combating mechanisms more and more automotive consumers are following suit on a PC by PC basis. Because of this intense full time effort to block spam, diligent permission-based email sent by car dealers and their marketing service providers is often caught in the cross-fire. To ensure your dealership's next email campaign is not zapped by heavy handed spam filters or the complaining finger of a recipient, you must realize that each dealership will experience an email communication challenge at some point in time. The most effective way to mitigate this communication risk requires that each dealership goes beyond creating email campaigns by proactively ensuring deliverability.
Long overdue, these proven tactics when implemented properly can spike a car dealership’s email deliverability rates fast.
As far as I can tell, the auto industry has yet to focus on encouraging customers who submit lead forms of various types to add the dealership's email domain to their address book or safe sender list. Because our vertical started digital marketing in 1995 with a heavy focus on third party lead generation via online forms that populate customer submitted data into our CRM applications, Lead Management Tools and DMS databases, we have never been able to effectively focus our communications on getting customers to whitelist our email domains.
Because the car business is so enamored with using online lead forms, compelling customers to perform this simple act can make all the difference between high impact email campaigns and a wasted investment in expensive CRM systems.
Why? Dealers who use ISP Email Domain Whitelisting, get their customers to add the dealership's email sender address to their "Safe Sender" lists or use an ESP who provides it, are using the single best way to avoid client based spam filters and guarantee the store's email based communications are delivered to car buyers and service customers.
When sending your next dealership email campaign ask (often and prominently) recipients add your dealership's CRM system email address to their personal whitelist (Safe Sender). This process ensures a fast track for your dealership's email messages to bypass all the spam filters and go directly into their inbox... Not their junk folder.
Make customer based whitelisting as easy as possible, include a link and step by step whitelisting instructions. Dealers who I have seen implement this into their online form submission confirmation pages are surprised in a good way at how many customers completing online lead forms comply.
Plus, unlike paying an ISP whitelisting fees, asking each customer to designate your dealership's email domain as a "Safe Sender" does not generate any fees or charges, to ask is absolutely free! What;s the worst case scenario? Some of your customers say no, but respect your dealership for caring enough to ask... Dealership customers who say no to designating the dealership's email domain as a Safe Sender will now understand why, if they do not receive a reply to their online inquiry or email.
Keep it Clean
A good car dealership email marketing program starts with a good list – collecting the right attribute and opt-in information – and keeping that data fresh and clean. Dealers and their marketing resources should start by automating your opt-out suppression each quarter to cut stale names from mailings that have become inactive or disinterested.
Then verify data every month to ensure the list remains healthy. Yes, the list will get smaller, but when we’re talking about email deliverability, name quality prevails over name quantity every time. Happy recipients open their email. And that translates into higher deliverability rates.
Unhappy customers only boost complaints about your dealership sending them spam to ISPs, which can create whitelist to Blacklist disasters for your dealership.
In a recent report on methods used to clean lists, MarketingProfs notes that organizations used a variety of techniques to keep their lists clean, the most common of which was to ‘delete persistent bounces.’ So keep it simple.
Car Dealers should avoid teetering on the edge of legitimacy, always take the high road… ask for customer permission to send emails early and often. Focus on reports and list culling that keeps your dealership's email marketing lists clean from the get-go.
Maintaining an ongoing process for keeping your dealership's email marketing database up-to-date is an essential ingredient of deliverability success.
Leverage your assets
Car Dealers should leverage the strong relationships they’ve built with prospects, customers and suppliers by including details about the recipient’s own registration and the information the dealership has about that customer in the emails sent to them... Using CRM and email template "Merge Fields" is a great way to show each customer the information being maintained ib the dealership's CRM systems, while asking the customer to correct any mistakes update old info and send back missing information as well. This process also serves to remind your dealership's email recipients that they really did, in fact, submit an online form and opt-in for the dealership's email communication.
Additionally, email templates should include merge fields that populate and display the date of the customer's lead form submission and what they originally inquired about.
Consider including ‘unsubscribe’ instructions at the TOP of all emails, in addition to the one on the footer using small fonts! This practice will allow dealership customers and prospective clients to simply click the ‘unsubscribe’ button rather than their ISP or email service provider's ‘report spam’ button... Think of it this way, just because they didn’t scroll down your entire message to find the appropriate link, does not mean you should not let them choose to opt out. It’s a quick fix that could potentially eliminate the headache of an unnecessary complaint – the number one driver of all ISP filtering and why so many dealers get blacklisted.
Email deliverability facts that Car Dealers and their GM's should know:
Human filtering: Tactics for success
Car Dealers are finally realizing (the hard way) that their online content determines their reputation. Good email content is relevant, targeted
messaging where the recipient trusts the sender.
From the way you build and collect information in your opt-in lists, to the way you manage campaign segments by defining attributes, to the content that is then displayed… Relevant targeted messaging is the critical success component that allows email to make it past the ‘human’ filters into the recipient’s inbox.
Here are some powerful tactics that take the mystery out of achieving high email deliverability rates.
By infusing credibility into emails sent – recipients don’t feel like an open inbox anymore simply because they opted-in. Why? Like it or not, today’s definition of spam has changed from ‘I didn’t give permission’ to ‘It doesn’t interest me or I don’t know who it’s from.’
Today Internet users can easily tell the difference between spam and opt-in email. In fact, a recent study of online behavior revealed that 93% of Internet users can tell the difference between a spam email and an opt-in email and they won’t open spam emails at all.
But, 82% won’t open a message from a sender they know if the information is not relevant. And while nearly no one will waste time
on spam, many recipients won’t even open a message from a sender they do know if the information is not relevant.
This is where collecting opt-in recipient profiles and their preferences, then using this information to target content comes in handy. If you can personalize your messages to individuals, and tailor content in your emails to suit the specific demographic, psychographic and buying profiles of recipients, you are more likely to be a welcome, credible sender.
By respecting preferences and thresholds regarding frequency and timing of sends, you are sure to impact your delivery rates significantly.
How significant? The ROI gains can be over 10% for a complex, highly relevant, one-to-one, targeted email campaign over a one-to-many, "Shotgun Blast" email broadcast campaign. The key factor in an automotiove consumer’s willingness to respond to email is relevance, relevance and more relevance.
From field and subject line
First impressions are worth their weight in gold. It’s the primary target that spam filters flag and the initial visual a recipient scans to decide which messages not to delete. Recipient’s are putting more weight than ever before on ‘who the email is from’ than any other item when choosing which emails to open.
Dealerships should start by - and always stick to - using the same name in from name, from address and subject line. This brands your dealership's subject lines so the recipient instantly knows who you are and that your message is credible and important enough to open.
Changing the "from" field may cause your next email to be filtered again.
Avoid Spammy Words
Use words, phrases and language carefully to avoid any spam-catching phrases or special characters. For example, avoid using words and phrases like: free, you win, time-limited, guaranteed, etc. in a subject line.
Writing good emails and creating effective templates is all about ongoing revisions and re-writing for improvement. Don’t be afraid to re-work subject lines until you come up with the best approach to ensure your dealership sent email is opened.
Just like the cars that we sell, our customers have become a lot more complex… Mediocre messaging won’t cut it anymore with most automotive consumers... Poor grammar, misspellings and lackluster or irrelevancy messaging makes your dealership appear untrustworthy. Trust is an important factor in boosting deliverability rates. Without trust, it diminishes the chances that an email will be opened by the dealership's targeted consumer.
Trust your instincts
Strange as it sounds the concept of ‘trusting your instincts’ is still foreign to many automotive professionals. Take advantage of this pain point and run with it.
For example, if your content looks ‘spammy’ (loud colors, unprofessional fonts, all capital letters, multiple exclamation points) there’s a high probability the ISP will agree and flag it... So, don't let it be sent! Make sure that all emails sent to multiple recipients and every email template is reviewed by qualified copywriters.
Next, avoid sending unexpected emails to dealership customers and never send email late at night when REAL spammers regularly send massive email blasts.
Finally, stay away from message overkill (high send frequency) or emails that conflict with opt-in preferences like hard-sell messaging to a
reader who has opted-in to a "Car Care Hints and Tips" newsletter or service bulletin. Don’t ignore your internal spam rater. Trust your instincts!
And there you have it… proven best practice tactics you can implement that are sure to elevate your dealership's ‘email reputation’ and increase email marketing campaign deliverability rates.
Yes, email deliverability is a complex problem for car dealers but one that is controllable with the right knowledge and procedures in place. Dealers should start by understanding email sender reputation standards and systems in use (ISP-Desktop-Human). Know that these are the standards by which your dealership will be judged, then implement actionable best practice email marketing tactics to overcome those obstacles. In doing so, you can easily move your organization beyond the realm of creating and executing email campaigns to sending high impact communications that are READ by people who buy cars and get them serviced!
Next, with so much complexity in today’s deliverability field, dealers should consider outsourcing their email programs... This is becoming an increasing valid and effective email marketing strategy.
Leading ESPs like Campaigner provide customers with access to award winning on-demand top-tier solutions and affordable thirdparty spam scoring services like the Return Path Campaign Preview that maximizes the ROI from your dealership's monthly email marketing spend.
Finally, one thing’s for certain, every dealership sending email today wants to make those messages more deliverable. But without a solid
‘email reputation’ even the most diligent will fail to deliver results.
As Benjamin Franklin so aptly put it… Glass, china, and reputation are easily cracked, and never mended well.
Dealers and automotive marketing professionals who are "Good Senders" better be on your best behavior and heed Ben's advice!
The major resource used in creating this ADM Forum Discussion, Campaigner is an industry-leading email marketing service that makes it simple for small businesses and organizations new to email marketing to create sophisticated one-to-one email campaigns that result in profitable relationships with customers.
Campaigner’s proven email marketing functionality includes list segmentation, personalized messaging, automation, and Salesforce integration. Campaigner improves email marketing ROI and performance by helping car dealers and other businesses create and send professional e-newsletters, grow opt-in lists, and improve permission-based marketing results.
Campaigner includes automatic CAN-SPAM compliance and on demand online access for a low monthly fee.
Campaigner offers a variety of educational materials for Car Dealers and Automotive Marketing Professionals. Find recent articles, tips, online product and educational webinars, customer case studies, and more.
Additional information for Campaigner is available at www.campaigner.com.
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Great article, Ralph, with a lot of solid information. We always say the same thing to our clients. The most important message you can send to a prospect is one that reaches their inbox and them. With that said, some of this applies to our industry (avoiding spam triggers) while others in this survey, I'd imagine, would have an adverse effect (authentification code words required when submitting leads). Do you believe that requiring authentication based word codes of website visitors before submitting a lead would negatively affect site conversion in a serious way?
We can all relate to that. I for one have filters on my inbox and must constantly check my junk mail for mail that I want to read.
That is why it is important that, if there is initial contact with the BDC, you have immediate response by experienced and qualified personnel.
If I had a good experience with an initial contact I will always read mail from that person not necessarily the company who sent it but the person who sent it.Again we get back to people buy people.
E-mailing campaigns in my opinion are best done by utilizing your existing customer data base by encouraging participation with special offers just for them.
Photos with too many bytes/pixels also have trouble getting past spam filters, so you'll want something like "On-The-Fly Image Resizing" (in SalesCatcher) to get your quote to the online shopper. If you're doing e-blasts with multiple photos, it's crucial.
"Free" is a popular word you don't want in the subject line, even if you really do have a 14 day free trial (apologies for the commercial, but this is right up our alley).
great article. I think unfortunately many dealers don't have a true strategy for their email marketing (you know - their blue sky value). everyone is on one list, and when the customer opts out from the monthly contracted bulletin, the baby went out with the bathwater because now they won't receive their recall notice or lease end inspection reminder.
another issue I see with just the lists I am on for local dealers, is covered here: the SENDER INFORMATION. who the heck is jill ross? it appears to be a CRM setup issue, but it seems like stores should have a permanent email address assigned, like customerservice@dealerX.com , that way when the BCD or sales manager du jour moves on, there is some continuity.
Great article Ralph! One way to better ensure a higher success rate is to build email campaigns using proven technology and set up an automated process to build on the experience.
Ralph , you are dead on! Having gone through this discovery first hand I can tell you it is a bigger problem than most think ! So many CRM's these days allow the dealership personal to spam there own data base , and yet they are surprised that there leads are not responding to there emails. There just not getting through. Great Artical !