Microsoft changes more than just Hotmail
Last week was a busy week for the Windows Live Team, with the introduction of Outlook.com which will replace Hotmail. As a former Hotmail user, I immediately migrated to Outlook.com to see Microsoft’s new email platform. The first thing that you notice is the super clean UI that’s minimalist in design and clearly aimed at touch friendly devices. Hotmail users are flocking to the new Outlook.com According to Microsoft, within 24 hours of the launch, one million accounts had been created. They‘re likely to get a few converts as well with the nice integration options for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google, and soon, Skype. What will this mean to email marketing professionals? How will these changes potentially impact their email programs?
To help understand how these changes will impact the email marketing community we need to first understand the drivers behind the new UI and the strategy to replace Hotmail. On the Outlook Blog yesterday Microsoft stated “…email is becoming less and less useful as inboxes become cluttered with newsletters and social updates, and people increasingly keep up their personal connections in social networks instead of their email address books...... Today's inbox is about more than just exchanging mail with the people you know - 50% of the email in a typical inbox is newsletters and another 20% is social network updates."
So it looks like Microsoft’s intention is to separate person to person communications from network updates, newsletters, notifications and similar email marketing collateral. Microsoft is offering users of Outlook.com several features like Clean Sweep, disposable email addresses and SmartScreen enhancements. These features will create potential barrier to success for email marketing programs and inbox placement.
As we see users migrate from Hotmail to Outlook.com, email marketers will probably witness a drop in their open rates from large segments of their Hotmail customer group. As a Hotmail user, it took me 3 clicks, after logging in, to go from a full mailbox to a mailbox with just 2 messages, as captured below:
When you visit outlook.com as a Hotmail user, you’re able to login as normal, but you’re immediately offered an option for an @Outlook.com email address. If you answer “yes” then your account will immediately swap to @Outlook.com. This will be your new primary email address and user name for logging into Outlook.com. It will also become your Passport ID, as below:
Most users want to secure a good Outlook.com address as early as possible. For that reason alone, they will convert from Hotmail. Having converted, you’re then asked if you want to start with a, “Clean Inbox.” It’s both tempting and extremely easy to say “Yes” simply by clicking the button that says, “Done.”
I believe a significant portion of users will take these 3 simple steps outlined above. As a result, all newsletters, notifications and other opt-in emails will be swept into a separate folder - away from the Inbox. Microsoft is getting users more acquainted with the clean sweep technology and the concept of disposable email addresses.
In Outlook.com, you quickly learn that from one outlook.com email address you can have many windows.com alias addresses. I recommend that email marketers keep an eye on their lists and check the relative levels of engagement from pre-existing Hotmail users. Email marketers should also keep an eye out for those new subscribers using Outlook.com. Be aware, these are brand new inboxes so relationship marketers will have highly visible emails - in a less crowded inbox.
The launch of Outlook.com is not the only thing announced by Microsoft that will directly impact email marketers. They have also launched a brand new postmaster website and deliverability reporting tool. One noteworthy change is the fact that Return Path clients will no longer be able to solicit support directly from Microsoft. From Microsoft, “Important: If your sending IPs are enrolled in the Sender Score Certified Sender Program offered by Return Path, you must contact Return Path for deliverability assistance.”
However you view this week’s announcements, it looks like Microsoft is trying to make their email application more usable, relevant and helpful for their customers. So while some email marketing programs may suffer as a result of the new Outlook.com, any improvement to user experience in email must be seen as a good thing. It’s in the interest of all permission-based marketers to see improvements to the email experience. Additionally, Microsoft will be a real contender to Gmail now. They may not achieve the same market share, but they offer real choice and real competition which benefits us all.
06 Aug 2012