Applying the sending funnel in our current climate
Email’s Not Dead: Season 2, Episode 4
Applying the sending funnel in our current climate
Email's Not Dead
About this episode:
Things have become a little weird around the world, so we brought in our expert, Kate Nowrouzi, VP of Deliverability, to preach the good word on applying the sending funnel to your email. Even in these trying times, applying the sending funnel to your email strategy is critical to ensure that you land in the inbox. Learn what happens from the backend of email when everyone sends the same content at the same time. Sit down with Jonathan and Eric as sending in the real world gets real.
Meet your presenters
Manager of the TAM team at Mailgun by Sinch
Technical Account Manager II at Mailgun by Sinch
VP of Deliverability at Mailgun by Sinch
Email’s Not Dead – S2, E4: Applying the sending funnel in our current climate
Eric Trinidad: Welcome to Email's Not Dead. My name is Eric and with me, as always, is Jonathan.
Jonathan Torres: Hello.
Eric Trinidad: What up, my friend. We're here to talk to you about email, all things email and anything related with email. So we're an email podcast pretty much. We're here today because we wanted to talk with Kate Nowrouzi, our VP of Deliverability. She's joining us today. Kate, thank you very much for your time. Appreciate you joining us.
Kate Nowrouzi: Hi, everyone. Thank you so much for having me. I'm very excited to join this podcast. This is my first podcast joining. I'm so excited.
Kate Nowrouzi: Right on!
Eric Trinidad: I think you started off on a good foot. You know, Jonathan and I have spent many a time in a small room discussing things, you know,
Jonathan Torres: All too close, all too close to each other.
Eric Trinidad: So we're all in this new space, you know, of now we're social distancing, you know, virtually and physically, you know, so as we record this podcast. So I guess, you know, we wanted to talk about all the things that have been happening since, you know, we started being socially distant with each other and how that's affected the email space as a whole. We started talking about the sending funnel in the beginning of the year. So we wanted to kind of bring you back on and see if, you know, we can kind of talk about how that relates to each other.
Kate Nowrouzi: Yeah, it has been a very interesting past few weeks. I think at the beginning of March, when the whole covid communication started to come in, brands were kind of debating whether or not they should be sending a covid-19 email. And then within like less than two weeks they were like competing with each other, trying to get the consumer's attention. So if your mailbox is like mine, the first week I receive one or two and I kind of opened them, there was not anything really valuable in them. And then after, like 14 days, my mailbox was just flooded. So on average, I think each consumer is receiving, I mean, each consumer has been subscribed to 60 different brands. So imagine all of these 50 brands start sending communication about a pandemic. So it was kind of overwhelming. And I have to be honest with you, I have received many emails on a daily basis from brands that I had no idea about. Some of them are in Europe and I have never visited their store. So I have no idea how they got ahold of my email address.
Eric Trinidad: Yeah, I know. I felt like I was like the belle of the ball, you know, getting asked to the Sadie Hawkins because everybody was coming out of the woodwork saying like, hey, how are you doing? This is how we're doing, and this is what we're doing, you know? But every single thing that I subscribe to, even email services, like you said, like I just totally forgot about, are coming out of the woodwork and telling me what they're doing.
Jonathan Torres: Yeah. It was one of those things where it was so hard, I think sometimes because even to pick up my phone, I was like, no, it's just all the same emails that are coming through and everybody's giving their opinion. Everybody's giving the response. Everybody's letting me know what they're doing. The exact same thing. I didn't even know some of the people that were emailing me. I was like, I don't know, maybe we talked a long time ago, but we're not friends anymore. So, yeah.
Kate Nowrouzi: I mean, the most interesting ones were the ones that the restaurants were saying, oh, we are keeping our restaurants very clean. So that was concerning to me. It sounded like, so, your restaurant was not clean before and now it is clean now. You wash your hands, like that's the minimum you would expect from the restaurant.
Jonathan Torres: Yeah, right.
Eric Trinidad: I mean, has nobody been paying attention to the signs on the windows in the restroom? You know, all the employees are washing your hands already. I mean, come on.
Kate Nowrouzi: So yeah, it ended up being a competition to make it to the inbox, that ISPs were, actually this has slightly slowed down. I think the peak was at the end of March. Then, like everybody was sending emails. And the challenge with that is, there are two things. One, the ISPs, have a limited capacity, especially the ISPs in Europe. They were flooded with information. There are some organizations that they need to communicate with their end user. For example, a lot of education. Like all of the kids, are now doing virtual distancing. So those email communications should go out. And then on top of everything, the airlines are sending messages like if they are taking bookings or how to book your flights during the pandemic, like some useful information from the brands. And then the ISPs in Europe did not have the capacity to accept this flood of email. So they started to temp failing them at their gateway and some of the important communications from the government agencies could not go through so...this over-messaging, and it caused some technical difficulties at the ISP level.
Jonathan Torres: Yeah, it's one of those things where, you know, we don't think about it sometimes where when you start to email, you're going to have consequences. And when everybody's doing the same thing and everybody's trying to follow the same trends, it does create consequences for, you know, everybody up and down the line from the ISP to, you know, the senders themselves. I know from the sending part of it, it's difficult to get that much email out constantly at that rate going to all those ISPs that are trying to receive those emails at that rate. And then as a consumer, you know,I don't like giving them an email, sometimes, you know, it's not always the best thing, and especially if it's all the same kind of messaging and it gets redundant, it's not good. So, I mean, to kind of bring it all around, I know what we had been talking about kind of in the recent, you know, episodes that we'd had is a lot of the sending funnel stuff. So, you know, getting things ready to send how we're sending things that we're doing to track messages. And then, you know, there's really a lot of that that we could learn to kind of apply to the situation and vice versa we can take from both situations. So I think that's kind of where we wanted to go in kind of with a focus of, of this episode. We really wanted that to be so we can, you know, just take into consideration what happened to everything that we learned from what just happened and, you know, things that we can do to improve if this ever does happen again. Hopefully not. And hopefully this is the first and last time we ever have to deal with anything like this. But, you know, we can, we can learn either way.
Kate Nowrouzi: Absolutely.
Eric Trinidad: I know Mailgun hasn't been the first place that you worked for. And I know that you have some, some pretty good expertise around this. Have you seen this before? Before we get into specifics of the sending funnel, like, have you seen anything like this where we've had, you know, these many issues of people trying to get in contact with their base just with one, you know, unified message before?
Kate Nowrouzi: I don't remember a lot, specifically maybe post 9/11, I was working at an ISP, Verizon. I was a network engineer. And there were so many outages happening across the country because lots of data centers were in New York and they were damaged, maybe during that time there was a flood of email, but none of that. I don't remember. I don't recall. There were like many marketing emails targeted. But yes, there was an increase in communication, even email, but not necessarily email communication. From marketing, I believe the spikes that we have seen are post Thanksgiving, closer Christmas, New Year for holiday shopping. And of course, I believe, Mother's Day. Those are like the, the three major times throughout the year that we see a spike.
Eric Trinidad: I wouldn't think Mother's Day is one of those things. I know I always have to show my mom how to work like, Netflix. So, you know, I wouldn't be sending her an email or anything like that.
Kate Nowrouzi: You know, some stores are trying to, to promote their products whether it's services like, as far as restaurants, or like clothing, jewelry. So during those times I have seen a spike, but never something like this in my twenty years’ experience in email. So I have worked on the ISP side at Verizon and AOL anti spam operation and on the ESP side for the rest of my career. And no, this was the first time and again at the beginning of this, people were like marketers. They're debating whether or not. And then at some point they were like, oh, if I don't send one out, then I've been left behind. So everybody was like, trying, competing for like, sending these covid-19 emails. So, yeah, my recommendation is if a marketer is trying to send such a communication, they have to keep in mind, are they telling something new to the consumers or is that like the rest of the brands, are they saying something to their end users that they don't expect from that brand, for example, a brand that was physical like they had a physical location and now they are operating online. That is a change, or let's say grocery stores. Now they have special hours for seniors at the beginning of the day, I believe, like seven to eight a.m. or eight to nine. So that kind of communication is necessary to go out. So people would know that if they are going to Costco, for example, and their health care workers, they can go at the early hours and to avoid the craziness of people trying to compete over getting toilet paper and be very clear of the message, like if you are providing it is a bank and they want to update their customers regarding the changes, maybe they are waiving fees for late fees or any sort. If that is important, if this is some important communication, make sure that it is and it is very obvious in the subject line and. Also in the first paragraph and try to outline the changes, I recommend, do not have, like, this five paragraph email and everything is hidden. No, outline them very, very clearly, like this is our business hours. They are reducing our business hours, for example, or this is the senior citizen hours. This is how you can access us online. And we are waiving late fees or whatever for... during this time pandemic time.
Jonathan Torres: Yeah. From the consumer end. Right, from from my end, when I saw that kind of stuff like that. That's definitely helpful. And when things are letting me know, hey, this is changing, this is something different, this is new or this is the new mode we're going to be operating in, at least for the foreseeable future. Great. I got that's awesome. That's pertinent information. Then there's also the point of, you know, if you are writing something that's very heavy and text heavy, I mean, one is not good practice to begin with. But then second of all, you know, how many people are actually going to be reading through every single one of these emails to try to pick up every single piece of information. It's not feasible. So, yeah, it makes it super difficult once we start looking at that part of it, too. And we like, again, focusing a little bit on the sending funnel part of it. You know, whenever we do something like validations, right. Like we get to actual people that are out there, we're not sending to old addresses anymore. And I think that's going to be the next key part of it is, one, if there's an address you haven't sent to in a while, that can be a bad address already. But two, if you're sending to somebody who hasn't interacted with you on your platform, you know, through a storefront, through an email like that you've been sending to them and they've been opening and engaging with those emails, it's going to become very, very problematic. And it's one of those things like what we just talked about very candidly. You know, there's definitely I know for a fact there's got to be at least a half dozen emails that I got from places that I hadn't shopped at in, you know, four or five years. And it's great. I appreciate that they're doing stuff. And I know they're trying to get out the word to their customers. But at some point you've got to say, hey, this person has engaged with me. It's not likely they're not. They're going to come in and, you know, this be relevant and pertinent information for them, maybe not send to them. And it helps everything overall, like it helps, you know, the person you're sending to so you don't get in their bad graces. You don't want to be in a bad place with that particular customer. If you haven't talked to them in so long and you're sending stuff to them, it makes it easier on the ESP, the part that's sending the message like it's going to be easier for them to process those messages for you. And then the ISPs, you're not bombarding them with every single user you've ever interacted with makes it easier for them to consume those messages and get things done. So it's nice. It's good. It's just the proper thing to do whenever we're talking about these situations. So, you know, validating addresses, make sure that nothing's gone bad. Everything is still current in making sure you have the engagement points. Now, like you don't want to do that at the start of this, whenever this starts kicking off like it might be because they didn't know who's engaged with them or who's been doing things with them. So you need to start doing that today. If you don't do it now, do it now, like start tracking, you know, clicks and opens and start getting the proper information and the metrics for each individual user. So you know who to send to when this time comes. And without that information, it can go really bad.
Kate Nowrouzi: Exactly. You brought up an excellent point about the validation, even the businesses, such as, let's say, events that are canceled, obviously, or airlines or hotel industry, the travel industry is impacted heavily. They would need to send communications. For example, most of the hotels like Hilton and Marriott are extending the loyalty program until March of twenty twenty one by one year. Given this year, people are not traveling. So if they are sending these communications that they are valuable, they should not be using this opportunity. Any branch should not use a global pandemic as a business opportunity to validate their list because that is the problem. Some of these brands try to, to use this opportunity because as soon as the covid-19 is in the subject line, it grabs people's attention. Right. So people are looking to wait to see what it is in order. So they try to use this opportunity to validate their list. And that's backfired heavily. So a lot of lists were bought and a lot of them tried to use this to see who is there, who is not there and clean that list. That was a disaster. The brands that they did that they suffered from like a hit on their domain IP reputation and also the loyalty of their end users, you know. So, yes, validation is absolutely the key. Before you send any crucial email, definitely run it, and then send it to the most engaged users. If someone has not opened or clicked on your email in the past 12 months, it is not worth it. This situation is like, very delicate... that you need to only focus to send an email to the people with opens and clicks, I would say in the past six months. Don't go beyond that if you are sending covid-19 emails.
Jonathan Torres: Well, one of the things that we talked about kind of recently in the past is like I know there are certain things that don't apply within the sending funnel that's, you know, doing things like, you know, Send Time Optimization is not the right time to approach for this. Like, if you're sending out a notification, we want this to get out there. You know, if you're really worried about getting in front of the people that you're trying to reach at the particular moment, then okay. But usually something like this, it's not the ideal time to, to do something like that because we're trying to send out a notification for everybody. It gets into those areas where, you know, there's things within the toolset that we have that you can use, but we've got to use it all with the right frame of mind, like, what is it that we're really trying to do? What is it that we're, we're trying to get to? And what do we want the heart of this message to be when we're talking about it? I'm just trying to break down the sending funnel. I'm looking at a few notes, but I know, like the sending portion of the sending funnel so like this is something that we should be constantly, again, set up before something like this happens. But we're always talking about making sure things are authenticated with SPF, DKIM, DMARC. So, yeah. And if you haven't done that again, start getting on that today because SPF, DKIM are the very basics of getting your email authenticated and making sure that everybody knows the email you're sending is email that you are sending and it's not somebody spoofing you or trying to do malicious things with your domain. And yeah, let's get that set up. And then the other part of it is going to be that DMARC piece. And that's the one that's not required by most places. Right. Like it's an optional thing. Not every ISP receiving email right now even validates that fully, like they might check on it, but they might not take action with it. But that doesn't mean you should not have it on there. Like if you have the opportunity to do that, start getting feedback for how well your SPF is performing. How will your DKIM start setting that up today? Because it's one of those things. If somebody sees that you're, you know, sending out notifications, maybe it's important notifications that you're trying to get out to a users set and you're not protecting yourself with SPF, DKIM, DMARC, then they can take advantage of that situation, spoof a bunch of messages as you or as an entity out there and really cause some damage because they can take advantage of that because they can do the exact same thing. Right. You're trying to get out notifications for a valid reason. You put covid-19, they can do the exact same thing, spoof it, put covid-19 on there, and then users are more likely to look at that and try to take that as part of the messaging they're trying to get. And then it's a bad message that comes through. So what we want or try to do our best to get those things done and out of the way now, get ourselves set up for the future and future proof things as well. You know, not just for these situations, for better protection overall.
Kate Nowrouzi: Yeah. You brought up a really interesting point. There has been a rise in spoofing and attacks with the covid-19. And again, bad people tried to maximize their benefits during desperate times. They know that anything with covid gets people's attention. So there has been especially banks that have been a major target that, that spammers try to have that covid-19 in the subject line and they look alike like Bank of America, Wells Fargo or any banks. So they tried. So exactly. Looking at your authentication is a major thing, like you need to make sure that you are setting up property with SPF, DKIM and DMARC. Something in the funnel that is really interesting and applies theory to the pandemic situation is the inbox placement. Before sending the covid-19 emails definitely try to use the inbox placement, the seed testing and see where are they ending up like for example within the Google tab. Are they going to updates, or primary that is also very, very important... or going to the spam folder. And if it does go to the spam folder, you need to make sure that assuming you are a brand that you are sending critical something unique that your end users must know it is worth it to do A/B testing, try the Inbox Placement, validation, maybe Send Time Optimization does not apply much here. But again, we need to make sure that the authentication is properly set up because spammers are all over covid-19. There have been lots of fake sites selling masks, surgical masks. There have been lots of selling hand sanitizers. So even with all of those things and then trying to, to look like legit brands that sell these items that people are desperate to buy, it is very important that you are authenticating with SPF, DKIM and DMARC.
Jonathan Torres: And I know part of that kind of bringing around that same point of the inbox placement testing. Really, it becomes a danger so much because there's so many people out there that are trying to use this messaging and trying to create headlines and subject lines that look exactly like the legitimate emails that are coming out, that sometimes those can get placed in the spam folder simply because they look like you're sending a legitimate message out to a user base. And, you know, it's something that's important. But somebody's already burned that header or, you know, burned a disclaimer type. So you have to be very, very careful. And the inbox placement does. Yeah, it's super helpful with that. Whenever there's content scanning flicking through all this stuff, it's a little tough because you have to really, really focus in on what your messages, what you're going to put in there, what the important information is that you want to highlight. But at the same time, you have to test it to make sure that it's, you know, that it's still good to send because one bad apple ruins the bunch. And if you know there's somebody out there doing the bad thing with that exact same headline with that exact same subject line it makes it bad for everybody else
Eric Trinidad: Regarding the sending funnel, I mean, I'd be interested to see, like, how much send time optimization has, like now how those metrics have changed now that everybody's at home, now that everybody's been looking at their messages and not just specific times or like right before about to head out the door or like when I'm about to get home or during lunch time, it's like, okay, I'm always reading about messages any time it dings. And I know Jonathan always gets mad at me because like any time my phone dings, I'm just like, oh yeah, there it is. Or I'll go scroll through a couple of messages real quick and he's just like, nah man, leave it for later.
Kate Nowrouzi: Exactly.
Eric Trinidad: If you were to see how those metrics have changed over this time as well.
Kate Nowrouzi: That's an excellent point. Yeah. Now that some people are home and by the computer, most of the time that they're working or watching Netflix, even after hours given, they are there. And I am guessing that there will be adjustments done to the send time optimization. Definitely, we will see more heat waves on the map.
Eric Trinidad: Now, it's going to be one long heat line, sort of just see the heat, the heat spots.
Eric Trinidad: We mentioned Netflix a few times, we're not sponsored by Netflix anyway. It just happens to be what we watch the most right now. You bring up a good point on that as well. You know, just just watching and just kind of seeing feedback also from ESPs. You know, we talked about sending your messages and how that could be detrimental to to ESPs and how they've been reacting, you know, making sure that you if you are sending them, you know, actually if they are marketing messages, they don't all need to go out right away, be cognizant of who you're setting to for those ESP that might be smaller, especially those in Europe breaking your sends into small batches. You know, you don't need to send everything out immediately.
Kate Nowrouzi: And also, this is a great opportunity for brands, that they have something that helps the situation, that now is the time to step up. For example, Calm the app for meditation. They are offering like, promotions for, given people are home, some people are dealing with homeschooling kids. The Zoom, like I remember, like in the past few weeks, my husband and I have two kids in high school. All of us have been on Zoom, like you just try to go through a different room, just to close the door because we need to be online, all of us at the same time. So a lot of people are home. So these are all changes. Right. Zoom, I'm sorry. Calm, stepped up and they are providing like free, they are extending their like I think from one week to like longer, they are extending their free trial period. So it's now if you have a product that can help people either help their mental situation or let's say. Video conferencing, Zoom has been overwhelmed. There are other video conferencing companies that are advertising and they're expanding their free trial period from one week to more. There are some Internet companies that offer free Internet because there are lots of kids that do not have access to the Internet and they do need that. So if you are in a business, now's the time to step up and promote part of your business that benefits the society to cope better during the pandemic.
Jonathan Torres: Yeah, yeah, definitely. That's it's one of those things I know, like the part of the or the other side of that we've tried to, to make sure that people are doing the right things is exactly that. Like if you're sending out a promotion to help get a product out there to help, you know, kind of, you know, let people understand what you're doing and where you're pitching in. You know, maybe the right headline isn't like, you know, alert covid-19 update. It's, you know, do something that's saying like, hey, we're trying to help, you know, like, you know, find some free time to relax. And that could be a great promotion line for something like the Calm app. Like, it's something that you want to cater to the audience that you have to have a good subject line that's going to say, hey, this is this is what we're doing. We're not trying to take advantage of just, you know, the words covid-19 or, you know, pandemic, quarantine. There's definitely ways to do it. That's not, you know, trying to use the flash words that are out there that can be problematic sometimes.
Kate Nowrouzi: Yeah, something that I did see from a brand. I believe it was Macy's. They did send out an email updating, like I shop at Macy's, saying that they have let go a majority of their store workers. That made me sad. It sounded like a brand is... So my recommendation is, if you are trying not to sound desperate doing these things, so like or tell people, please shop online because we are struggling, do not sound desperate. And I know I mean, it is very sad. A lot of people are losing their jobs. But when you send such an email and then say, oh, our online is open, please shop, it probably motivates me less because I'm like, okay, so why would I now shop? You already let your coworkers go. So even if there was like, but... I try to let say get take out more than before to help the local restaurant. So I see. Actually I do appreciate all of the coupons that are coming in from my favorite restaurants because we are using them, whether it's the free delivery or is the free appetizer or whatever that is, we try to because this is the minimum I can do for our society or for the businesses, especially the small businesses that we would love to support.
Jonathan Torres: Yeah, that's awesome. Yeah. I think.
Eric Trinidad: Yeah. I wish you lived around here Kate, because I definitely need some recommendations around here. There's not a whole lot.
Jonathan Torres: Yeah. I mean there's definitely and I know everybody's in this, this mode of you know, I know for myself, I do want to do exactly that. Like I'm trying to go out. There's I mean, there's a restaurant that's really close to me that's a fairly popular restaurant, but they're very involved in the community. And I don't normally eat there a whole lot. It's pizza. It's really good pizza. But I don't normally eat pizza here at home. You know, I don't normally like to order that out for takeout, anything, but I've done it. I've done it now because they're awesome people that are involved in the community. I want to help them out. And that's my little two cents to try to help them out during this time. But, you know, I want to do that. And they were really good about sending out, you know, good information about, hey, we're open. This is how we're changing things. You know, we're you know, if you want us, you know, we're here. We're trying to help out the community by doing this also. So they created a little bodega in the back of the restaurant. And you can just like you drive up, you order what you want from your car. They bring it out to you and your set. And I was like, this is amazing.
Kate Nowrouzi: Exactly. Or sweetgreen, for example, something very interesting that I noticed in the restaurants, for example, there's a shortage of eggs and flour in California. So everybody is baking at home. I guess. So I received an interesting email from a couple of restaurants that have an inventory of groceries because they have a different supplier than the usual, like Safeway or supermarkets. So I was like that was a very interesting email that I received from sweetgreen that we go there. It's a chain that they say is solid and healthy foods, that they are packaging up their grocery. They have a different supplier than the regular supermarket. The price was almost the same.
Jonathan Torres: That's awesome. Yeah, there's good stuff, there's good things happening during this time, you know, it's just, you know, trying to, trying to get that information out there, trying to make sure we're doing it the right way. And you know, we can all get through this. I know it's a lot. And we've talked a lot about the whole covid-19 and quarantine things. And I know that's a little bit triggering for some people right now, but it's a good conversation to have because there's so many good things happening. And we just want to make sure people are doing the right things in this time because we can. We can come out, out of this, you know, sane, healthy, hopefully for everybody and, you know, and better off for the things that we've, you know, come through and learned and processed now.
Kate Nowrouzi: Yeah, exactly. Like email is still the best medium for communication. It brings the highest ROI compared to the other coverage of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, people's attention is very, very minimal when they are using social media. But when it comes to email they have more patience. So if email is done right, it can bring a lot of revenue to the company. And I actually wrote a blog post regarding the best practices during a pandemic to do and not to do. So I highly recommend you take a look in especially the brands that if they want to learn more about what to do or the basic email communications, during covid 19 or the pandemic, it is published on our website. And if you have any questions or comments, please post it on the blog.
Jonathan Torres: Yeah definitely. And then we'll put a link to it in the description for this podcast too. So that way everybody can find it fairly easily. So just go through and click and read it. It's a quick read. It's good, it's good information. Thank you.
Eric Trinidad: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely.
Kate Nowrouzi: Yeah. It's a five minute read.
Eric Trinidad: It'll take five minutes or less according to the website. I don't know how they know how long it takes, but I'm glad. I'm glad it's on there. Well, Kate, thank you so much for your time and thank you for willing to sit down with us. I hope you do join us again. After all this is said and done, hopefully we'll be able to get into a room and speak to each other face to face very soon. But yes. Thank you, Jonathan. Thank you as well. Joining us remotely, joining me remotely. And again, if you have any, please look over Kate's covid-19 email communications, do's and don'ts of the website, again, linking in our description. Again, Kate, thank you for your time and to all these things.
Kate Nowrouzi: My pleasure.
Eric Trinidad: Yes. Thank you. Please stay safe and stay safe, all of you at home.
Kate Nowrouzi: Thank you so much for having me. And I look forward to being on the next one post pandemic.
Eric Trinidad: Oh, yes. I'm very excited.
Kate Nowrouzi: Thank you. Thank you for having me.