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Next-generation e-mail marketing: Podcasts, handhelds, anti-spam

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Question: Should I try podcasting from my b-to-b e-newsletters?

Answer: Yes. Podcasting has been rapidly adopted by b-to-b marketers over the past year-most notably through Web sites-and for good reason. In this age of information overload, podcasts are often more effective at cutting through the clutter than traditional text-based communications. For example, many people simply find it more engaging to listen to a Q&A discussion with a subject matter expert than to read a dry report on the same topic.

Podcasts are also ideally suited for today's multitasking lifestyle. Listeners can play a podcast in the background while they do other work on the computer; they can download podcasts to portable MP3 players and listen to them on the go.

Likewise, podcasting in e-newsletters offers subscribers a convenient, engaging way to obtain information. Because e-newsletter podcasts are still a relatively new trend, they deliver a "wow factor" that strengthens your image as a cutting-edge business. Plus, podcasts are surprisingly easy to create and require only modest hardware and software investments, making them a smart, cost-effective way to communicate important messages and enhance market perception of your company.

Because e-newsletter marketing is a push medium, it provides an even better distribution vehicle for podcasts than corporate Web sites. Instead of hoping that your target audience will stumble upon a given podcast while visiting your Web site, you can e-mail it directly to subscribers as part of your e-newsletter. By simply clicking on a link in the e-newsletter, subscribers can play the podcast using whatever MP3 software (Windows Media Player, QuickTime, iTunes, etc.) is configured on their computer. What's more, sophisticated e-newsletter providers can use analytics to track podcast consumption, gaining valuable insight into subscriber interests that can be used to drive future marketing initiatives.

David A. Fish is CEO of IMN (iMakeNews Inc.), an e-communications service provider (www.imninc.com).

Question: Should I change the design of my e-newsletter so people can read it on their handheld device?

Answer: E-mail-enabled devices such as the BlackBerry and Treo have become useful tools for busy people to screen e-mail for later action and to make use of downtime by cleaning up their in-boxes. In other words, they have become editing tools, and it is your job as an e-mail marketer to make the cut by engaging this rapidly growing audience.

How do you convince your mobile audience not to delete e-mails, and instead to save them until they can follow up on them later? Follow these simple rules:

Add an ALT Tag. Without an alternative text tag (ALT tag), the PDA will default to HTML and will show image codes and program-ming strings. ALT tags will enable your PDA to render the e-mail in a simple, readable format without affecting how the e-mail will look on your computer.

Don't use multipart MIME. Most PDAs think they can display HTML but often nothing shows up. Test your HTML on a handheld before you deliver.

Get to the point. Put text copy as close to the top of your e-mail as possible. You have to get to the point quickly in text format.

Do not top load with ads. If you make subscribers scroll through long links of ads, they will hit "delete." Pull the ads lower or put some interesting copy above all the HTML and links.

Ask readers to hang in there. Put a text line above the ads and header telling readers their attention to the e-mail will be worthwhile. This might go unnoticed in the full rendering of the desktop view but will stand out in the handheld view.

Stop asking to be added to the address book. This message takes up the entire content area on a handheld. Once a subscriber has added you to her address book, stop asking. These data should become an attribute and marketers should use dynamic content to send that note only to those who have not already clicked.

Chris Baggott is co-founder of e-mail marketing software provider ExactTarget (www.exacttarget.com).

Question: How can I optimize deliverability as anti-spam solutions become the norm?

Answer: Corporate anti-spam solutions developed by providers such as Postini, MessageLabs and Symantec have been implemented at many organizations, from small and midsize businesses to the largest Fortune 500 companies, to better protect their employees and infrastructure from the influx of spam. Understanding their latest approaches to fighting spam can help legitimate b-to-b marketers optimize their deliverability.

Over the past year, we have seen these companies rushing to introduce the earliest "reputation-based" anti-spam solutions into the corporate marketplace. Adoption of these solutions has been increasing because they can block large volumes of spam before it enters corporate networks, thus decreasing server loads and other IT costs associated with traditional spam filtering techniques. In turn, a marketer's e-mail-sending reputation increasingly holds the key to deliverability success.

While each anti-spam provider has its own way of assessing an e-mailer's reputation, the basic concept is the same: Dozens of standard spam filtering tools-which may include traditional content filters, URL filters, header analysis, volume filters, spam traps and many other criteria-are incorporated into algorithms that produce a reputation score for an IP address similar to a credit score. An IP's score then determines how much it gets filtered, which is a more effective approach to reducing both spam and false positives compared with legacy solutions that would subject all e-mail to the same amount of filtering regardless of the source.

The newest solutions are also meant to more effectively combat spam zombies (spam sent via hacked PCs) by identifying traffic pattern anomalies. For example, CipherTrust reports that about 30% of e-mail on any given day actually comes from IP addresses that have never previously been encountered, and the majority of them are sending spam.

In addition to following standard e-mail delivery best practices, which is absolutely critical, marketers should also follow these few extra steps to ensure a positive reputation and optimize deliverability:

Send consistent volume from stable IPs. Sudden dramatic boosts in message volume can be perceived as a zombie attack, especially if originating from rarely used IPs or those that are typically used for low-volume messaging.

Conduct a domain count and contact enterprises directly. If you send a lot of e-mail to specific corporate domains, contact these companies to request that they white list your IP address. Being on multiple corporate white lists is sometimes used as a factor in reputation algorithms and can enhance your score across all of a provider's clients.

Authenticate your e-mail. Publish your SPF records and sign your e-mail with DomainKeys, as several providers have implemented authentication checking and are beginning to include it in reputation scoring.

Continue to test your campaigns. Use content filters and monitor developments such as the adoption of new anti-spam technologies at the companies with which you do business.

Jordan Cohen is the director of ISP/government relations for Epsilon Interactive (www.epsiloninteractive.com), a provider of e-mail marketing solutions and marketing automation technologies.

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