What I Learned at #eec15: Engagement, Engagement, Engagement

There has already been a lot of industry chatter following last week’s eec Conference in Miami, primarily due to the fascinating final keynote session featuring 4 big mailbox providers (see this post from Message Systems).  But, I’ll get to that in a minute….

The 2-day whirlwind event kicked off with the dynamic Guy Kawasaki, to a standing-room-only crowd.  He talked about being “engaged” and referenced 10 how-to points from his book “Enchantment”.  Whether he knew it or not, “engaged” set the tone for the subsequent sessions, networking conversations, and keynotes, becoming almost a mantra over the next 2 days.  No, the term “engaged” or “engagement” isn’t new to the email world – we’ve been talking about it for years.  But it seems that there is a different lens by which many are now viewing it.

Through the 2-days of session presentations and panel discussions, terms like “activist consumer” kept cropping up – – it’s the idea that subscribers are empowered by information at their fingertips and are defining what engagement is (hint: it is truly on an individual level).  Traditional methods of segmentation and targeting are moving into the ancient past as subscribers are becoming much more educated and developing expectations that are much more demanding.  No longer is a generic offer good enough for an abandoned cart shopper.  Subscribers have come to expect that – and many may be trained to wait for the discount before completing the transaction (!).  We need to go deeper into the reasons behind the behavior, tap into what really matters and drives our subscribers, then connect with them on a personal level.  That means that having data about our subscribers isn’t sufficient – we have to be smart about how we are applying it to help our subscribers get the most out of their relationship with us – which is likely different for every person on your email list.  The key takeaway was that if we don’t do it, someone else will.

So, that leads me back to the Mailbox Providers session.  After 2 days of this kind of “engagement” conversation, the last keynote panel was very much aligned and enlightening – even surprising – to many attendees.  But it wasn’t a surprise for those of us at Return Path. It’s been nearly 6 years since we wrote about how mailbox providers are using engagement to filter email, and nearly 5 years since George Bilbrey informed the industry that  Hotmail was using engagement-based spam filtering, and it turns out these articles are still as relevant today as they were 5 years ago. The 4 panelists (from AOL, Comcast, Gmail, and Outlook) were quite candid in their responses to questions and each expressed ways in which their companies use subscriber behaviors to inform deliverability.  While they didn’t share exact measurements of each ingredient in their secret sauce, they did all ultimately agree that they are first focused on “taking out the trash” (that is, the 95% of spam they receive every day), and second focused on leveraging subscriber activity to determine how to sort the “good” 5%.  That may mean different results for different subscribers receiving the same type of message, depending on how “engaged” (there’s that word again!) they are with your mail.

So, what did I learn at #eec15?  That subscribers are even more in control of their inboxes than before – and that’s not going to change anytime soon.  Marketers must adjust in order to thrive – survival isn’t enough anymore.

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