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Time Compares Apples To Goodmail

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If a fish salesman’s brother tells you his brother’s fish is the best in town, do you take his word for it? Or would you think it, um, fishy? So when AOL’s brother releases a report that use of Goodmail’s Certified Email resulted in a 30% increase in response, shouldn’t we subject it to the same scrutiny?

Magazine publisher Time Inc., a subsidiary of AOL sibling Time Warner, announced this week that a three-month test of CertifiedEmail’s trusted icon system yielded a 30% overall increase in positive response rates.

Time sent emails to the AOL accounts of active subscribers to its various publications, which includes Fortune, Business 2.0, and Sports Illustrated, with options to manage or renew subscriptions, pay bills, or make changes to their account.

From the release:

Compared to the non-CertifiedEmail messages, subscribers who received CertifiedEmail messages showed the following index scores:

Click-through rate: 130 percent Site login: 128 percent Customer service option selected: 127 percent

“The business benefits of CertifiedEmail – assured delivery of messages to our subscribers with all links and images presented intact – had a clear impact on results,” said Ernie Vickroy, a marketing director at Time Consumer Marketing, Inc. “Trusted, authenticated CertifiedEmail messages resulted in higher click-throughs, and improved program response rates.”


Now nothing gets the emarketer’s attention more than the phrase “click-through rate.” But is this a fair comparison? Authenticated emails, delivered with images and links in tact, received more response than emails delivered without images and links in tact.

It’s no secret that unless an emailer is on the EnhancedWhitelist, the apparent phase out of which sparked so much controversy for AOL earlier this year, or is using the CertifiedEmail system, that the branding and the functionality of emails sent is severely downgraded. ISPs routinely disable links and images in emails as a security measure.

Let’s imagine it another way. Let’s say Ford brokers a deal with Goodyear so that Goodyear tires are the preferred brand of tires for Ford cars, and the two begin cross-promoting. Jaguar, owned by Ford, publishes (hypothetically) Awesome Tires Magazine. Awesome Tires Magazine compares Goodyear tires with a competing brand of tires.

The researchers remove the valve caps and tread from the competing tires and conclude, after three months of research, that cars with Goodyear tires arrived at their destinations faster and with fewer mishaps.

While that is true, the researchers were using handicapped tires for their comparison, much like emails sent without authentication were handicapped. Apples. Oranges. But the conclusion sure makes an impression with drivers who just read the headlines.

For a more recent example, let’s consider the Cingular Wireless controversy over a commercial claiming an independent research company said Cingular has the fewest dropped calls of any national carrier. Sprint filed suit against Cingular because of the ad, claiming that the company didn’t have the data to back that up.

The research firm was Telephia, who expressed disappointment that Cingular had released the name of the company and said that they only provided the statistics. Interpretation of the statistics was left to Cingular.

Sprint also countered by noting the phone used to conduct Cingular’s road testing. Telephia used the Motorola T720 phone, which in addition to not being widely used for two years, also has an external antenna which gets better reception than the majority of phones used today with internal antennas. Again, it’s an unfair comparison.

So the conclusion of this study is to take Time Inc.’s findings with a grain of salt. This isn’t to say Goodmail is not a valid and good option for sending bulk email. It is a valid and good option, especially for institutions that handle sensitive client information.

But AOL has an economic interest in getting bulk emailers to use Goodmail and the apparent plan to require the switch received astounding negative response. Six months later, an AOL-affiliated company releases apples-to-oranges comparisons that yielded positive results for it, and champions another AOL-affiliated company.

And that automatically makes it fishy.

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Time Compares Apples To Goodmail
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