A recent Hotmail blog that
announced changes to the way they handle
mail, and as the world’s largest email provider, these changes are significant for anyone in the email marketing business.

After declaring that it has reduced true spam to about 3%, Hotmail has set its sights on the Bacn (email you wanted, but not right now or never again).

So what are the changes and how will they affect email marketing in the lead up
to Christmas?

What is Graymail?

The driver behind these new developments is the increasing
volume of email hitting the users’ inboxes. Out of that email, Hotmail
discovered 50% of the inbox was taken up with newsletters and offers.

These are
the emails classed by Hotmail as Graymail (whether you want them or not, is not
black or white) and it’s this email that Hotmail is now declaring war on.

Just
in case you think that sounds a bit unfair, it seems their reasoning behind
targeting “Gray” email, is that a staggering 75% of all spam complaints are
made against just this type of communication. 

So let’s now look at some of the features that Hotmail has introduced
to help customers take control of their inboxes. 

Newsletter category

This becomes a new automated category; just like “social” is
at the moment. This means as newsletters come in, they will be placed in the
newsletter category.

Hotmail is using its “Smartscreen” technology to select
the newsletters, and they say they are already getting it 95% correct. As more
people categorise newsletters with this new feature, their filtering will only
get better.

That doesn’t sound too bad at the moment, depending on how people
manage their email, it might even make your marketing email easier to find.    

New unsubscribe
feature

One thing almost all email marketers agree with is, if someone wants to get off your list, it
should be as easy as possible.

The new unsubscribe feature works on the “list
unsubscribe” header. For email senders who use this functionality, recipients
will be able to unsubscribe easily, without needing to complain or mark the
email as spam.

Again this seems to only improve the user experience and help
the email senders and marketers manage their lists.

Schedule cleanup

This new feature is all about getting rid of stuff the recipient
doesn’t need. According to Hotmail, the schedule cleanup will allow you to do
the following to the emails you are sent:  

  • Keep only the latest event calendar email
    from your favourite site.
  • Keep only the latest deal from Groupon or
    LivingSocial, or any other deal vendor.
  • Delete any newsletters after 10 days .(this
    way, whether you read the email or not, they are never clogging up your inbox).
  • Automatically archive mail from your
    financial institutions to a folder after 30 days.

Once set up, emails
will have a finite lifetime, with some being displayed for as little as three days.
Again, on the face of it, as far as the email marketer is concerned, this move
only looks positive as it should help the recipient find emails they want.

Priority flags:

This feature really puts the recipient in the driving seat,
allowing them to select important emails which go to the top of their inbox.

It
allows users to flag emails from certain senders, so  these emails automatically stay at the top of
the inbox, again ensuring the most important emails are the easiest to access. Other
features allow users to create custom categories and files, making it easier to
manage incoming mail.

The war on Graymail,
more is on its way!

The features so far released by Hotmail, are mostly manually
configured and focused on improving  the
user experience. However, this seems like only the start if the comment from
Dick Craddock, Group Program Manager for Hotmail is anything to go by…

“And we’re still just
getting started… We’ll have more on these features and others as they roll
out in the coming weeks.” 

My guess is that what we have here is the bones of what
could be far more sophisticated than Gmail’s Priority Inbox. It doesn’t take
much of a leap to see more automated processing being introduced, with emails
going into folders and email being prioritised, based on the user’s behaviour.

So how is this going to affect the email marketing campaigns
that you send? Is it going to have a positive or negative effect on response?
If the latest results from the DMA’s Email Tracking study are anything to go
by, the results should be positive…

 “The perceived value (by
recipients) of marketing email has risen dramatically over the past year”.

These new features
should help the recipients get even more value from the “wanted” emails they
are sent. For marketers who ensure relevant timing, frequency
and content in their email marketing programmes, these changes should help
improve campaign performance and ROI.