While big data is helpful to marketers, "little data," such as inbox placement rates and authentication results, often identifies problems faster for email marketers.

Email marketers can get lost in the noise and over promise of "Big data." Deep analysis of large data sets is important, and businesses today use them successfully to uncover solutions that are difficult to discover anywhere from customer insights to solving operational business problems. However, email marketers looking to improve their program are better off starting with the fundamentals and analyzing "little data" where unique moments can result in big opportunities.

Take Dillard's for example. One of the United State's largest retailers discovered right before the holiday season that their open and click-through rates were declining, and revenue from email also saw the same downward path. The team at Dillard's asked the right questions: do I have a problem? If so, why do have a problem? How do I solve my problem?

The problem wasn't solved by analyzing large disparate data sets. Instead, they analyzed their inbox placement rates across all major mailbox providers. While the process to collect inbox placement rates are no small feat as they require constant update across millions of seeds and panelists. Inbox placement data identifies problems faster, where more tactical approaches to solving produce better results than deep mining for discovering the "unknown unknowns."

In the case of Dillard's, they discovered the reason for declining engagement rates using more tactical "little data", like inbox placement rates. Turns out, 20 percent of their promotional emails weren't reaching their subscribers, a large amount of the email addresses they were sending to didn't exist anymore. To add insult to injury, their subscribers were marking their emails as junk at an above average rate. Having access to fundamental data like placement (Read more...) engagement rates, Dillard's was able to focus on the right solutions with big results. Their rates soared to near 100 percent and their open rates improve beyond pre-crisis levels.

In another example of going back to the basics and using more actionable in an email marketing practice, a major global brand saw their placement rates and reach drop to 50 percent. Again, this global brand asked the right questions and struggled to know why their inbox placement rates were suffering. However, one simple check of the fundamentals and one data point showed an improperly configured authentication policy for their sending domain.

As a result of this failure, most mailbox providers were sending the email to spam. After combining "little data" like placement rates and authentication results, they adjusted their authentication and saw their inbox placement rates skyrocket from 46 percent to 92 percent. The use of small data points and the uncovered hidden truths, and led to major improvements.

One major financial services company used small insights like this to correlate phishing outbreaks based on a rise in suspicious domains and an increase in call center traffic. By combining the insights like this based on email data, he was able to make a compelling case to implement email security protocols to reduce costs. Another financial services company secured their email marketing domains after discovering abuse of their marketing domains. Thanks to email data and email security fundamentals, fraudulent emails were blocked and prevented from reaching their customers. They also thwarted further spoofing attempts, securing trust with their customers and likely seeing a reduction in operational costs.

Smart marketers look first at the fundamentals first before conducting a deeper analysis. Using email placement and engagement data with the fundamentals, small and actionable insights can be discovered that have a much higher return than most alternatives. Big data may be big business, but we shouldn't forget the fundamentals first.

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