TechBytes with Scott Ziegler, SVP of Product Management, Return Path

TechBytes with Scott Ziegler, SVP of Product Management, Return Path

Tell us about your role and the team you work with at Return Path.

My name is Scott Ziegler and I am senior vice president of product management at Return Path. In my role, I set the strategic direction for Return Path’s product portfolio by leveraging input from customers and analyzing market trends. I joined Return Path in 2014 and have led product teams in email optimization, consumer insight, and data. You may catch me at conferences or events as I am active in the email community as well as the product management community, and I’m a frequent presenter at industry events.

How much has the email marketing landscape evolved in the last two years?

Over the past two years, we’ve seen smaller changes in the email marketing landscape, but those changes seem to have had an outsized effect. The changes we’re seeing are geared toward giving the end user more ways to manage the deluge of emails delivered to their inbox. We’ve also seen deliverability become more personalized. What one person may consider spam, another may consider a treasure. And now thanks to artificial intelligence and machine learning, our inboxes know what we want—and what we don’t.

Because of all these factors, solving deliverability issues is now more complex. Delivery decisions are based on engagement metrics, and how engaged a subscriber is with a particular brand or email relative to everything else he or she is receiving. Not all email marketers have access to the data they need, making it particularly challenging to improve or solve deliverability issues.

What role does data science and analytics play in clearly understanding email engagement metrics?

Data science and analytics clearly have a larger role to play in today’s email marketing world. Most marketers are focused on the basic metrics like opens and clicks, which they compare against historical performance. However, the inbox shouldn’t be viewed so simply. It’s always changing, and subscriber engagement metrics can be influenced by many other factors: when they check email, how many other messages are competing for their attention, whether or not the email was delivered to spam, the readability and rendering of the email on the devices where they check email, or even data collection issues.

In order for marketers to effectively use email to engage, retain, and convert subscribers in today’s world, organizations need to leverage all the data available to them to understand their email audience. Data science and analytics can help marketers connect and analyze these data sources to help optimize programs around individual behaviors.

How does your latest report with Demand Metric help marketers to understand subscriber engagement strategies?

Because this report is based on the experiences of real life marketers, its findings can help marketers determine which engagement tactics are most effective—and therefore, where they can get the most impact from their limited time and resources. For example:

  • List segmentation is a major driver of deliverability. Almost 80 percent of study participants report that they are doing some degree of list segmentation. Less than half of those who don’t practice list segmentation report good or very good deliverability, compared with two-thirds of those who segment their email lists.
  • Email personalization has a positive impact on engagement. The vast majority of study participants (80 percent) personalize marketing email content at some level. Marketers who personalize email content reported a 16 percent higher open rate and nine percent higher click-through rate than those who do not personalize.
  • Opt-in strategy has little to no effect on engagement. Conventional wisdom would say that a double opt-in strategy results in better list quality and fewer subscriber complaints. However, our data showed no correlation between email effectiveness and these permission methods. Of course, this doesn’t mean that email marketers can abandon the practice of securing permission before adding a subscriber to their list—just that there’s no engagement benefit to a double vs. single opt-in strategy.

Could you tell us about the critical nature of this report for successful email marketing?

An email marketing campaign can only succeed if it reaches its intended audience, and engagement is a critical factor in inbox placement. Major mailbox providers like Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo use subscriber engagement as a key indicator of whether email messages are truly wanted by their users. However, according to survey responses, most marketers lack a clear understanding of how mailbox providers evaluate their messages when making critical spam filtering decisions. For example:

  • More than half of the survey participants were neutral or disagreed with the statement, “Mailbox providers use subscriber engagement to determine where to filter (e.g., inbox, spam) the email you send.”
  • Marketers who agreed with this statement were much more likely to report good (42 percent) or very good (24 percent) deliverability.

By reviewing and applying the findings of this report, marketers can game a more complete understanding of what factors influence subscriber engagement and how to improve subscriber engagement in their own email programs. This, in turn, leads to better inbox placement and improved overall email performance.

What does your product roadmap look like for 2019-2020?

Our main focus is always to make email marketing easier for our clients, and in 2018 we took that mentality to greater heights. Our dedication to working with our clients and the market to build better solutions, content, service offerings, and industry events put us on a strong path to 2019. We took what we learned in 2018 and applied it to what we know to be the path to success for an email marketer, and that path led us to our 2019 theme: An Eye on the Future.

When we started thinking about what success looked like in 2019, we decided to focus on three key areas: enhancing our data offerings, building additional offerings on top of our new platforms, and growing our Certification program.

Our 2019 roadmap is based heavily on our data, EmailDNA, and the future of data and products Return Path is putting out into the market.

We take pride in our email marketing platform and we’re planning on releasing big, innovative new products and additional features in 2019. We’ve already started ramping up our engineering efforts to create these offering while expanding the types of data available through them. And we’re not only investing on the product side of the platform; we’re also turning our attention to our expert service teams and service offerings. With access to new types of data that build on what we have currently available, we’re producing additional ways to assess our customers’ email programs, both in the platform and through our services team. and arming them with solutions to help solve their email marketing issues using advanced analytics, data visualizations, and modeling.

At Return Path, we’re committed to bringing the whole package to the table. We’re also investing in Certification, the industry’s most powerful and unique whitelist. In 2019 we plan to grow this product with a renewed focus so Certified clients are reaping even more benefits. And we wouldn’t be able to do any of this without continued investment in our data feeds and partnerships. 2019 is going to be all about customer outcomes and the future via more data, an incredible deliverability platform, and a better-than-ever Certification program.

How do you see AI further disrupting the era of email marketing?

Email is certainly set to see some disruption, thanks in part to AI applications, and email marketers who adopt AI are already seeing significant gains. A recent Relevancy Group study done in partnership with Return Path found that senders leveraging AI for personalization generate 41 percent more revenue than those doing it the old fashioned, manual way. It’s also not hard to see that by using AI, marketers could easily implement best practices and consistently apply them across their entire email marketing program.

We asked email marketers their thoughts about artificial intelligence in our State of Email Engagement survey. Adoption is still low, with only 5 percent of respondents currently using AI. But another 39 percent reported that they are evaluating or learning more about AI and how it can help. Despite low adoption, marketers have high hopes that AI will help increase subscriber engagement (62 percent), personalization (59 percent), and maintain their lists (47percent).

With regard to email deliverability, our survey revealed that 37 percent of marketers believe AI will help with deliverability. We agree, and we’re applying our data science and advanced analytics capabilities to help make this a reality. However, it’s also important to remember that improving subscriber engagement, personalization, and list maintenance will always translate into improved deliverability.

Thank you for answering all our questions!

Scott is Senior Vice President of Product Management at Return Path. Scott sets the strategic direction for Return Path’s product portfolio by leveraging input from customers and analyzing market trends. He joined Return Path in 2014 and has led product teams in Email Optimization, Consumer Insight, and Data. He is active in the email community as well as the product management community and is a frequent presenter at industry events.

Return Path LogoReturn Path analyzes the world’s largest collection of email data to show businesses how to stay connected to their audiences and strengthen their customer engagement. We help mailbox providers around the world deliver great user experiences and build trust in email by ensuring that wanted messages reach the inbox while spam doesn’t.