Mailblocks to Marketers: We Can Be Friends

Consumer anti-spam e-mail service Mailblocks today begins a PR campaign to
promote its consumer anti-spam solution — to marketers.

A flurry of press releases and research the company will issue today promote
Mailblock’s challenge/response system and back claims up with
company-commissioned research that shows challenge/response is more
effective than filtering technologies at preventing spam from reaching
consumer inboxes while ensuring legitimate messages get in.

In a more unorthodox move, the company will also issue a brief prepared for
e-mail marketers, “How to Manage Online Customer Communications with
Challenge/Response Solutions.” It also announced a “Preferred Digital
Communicators Program,” intended to encourage marketers to learn about and
demo its technology, and also provide input on challenge/response from
a marketing perspective.

Mailblocks VP of Sales and Marketing Susan Bratton summed it up saying,
“People need challenge/response; and they need a way around
challenge/response.”

In challenge/response, when a user receives an e-mail from an unknown
source, the sender is challenged to prove he’s human by answering a simple
question via e-mail. Once accomplished, messages from that sender’s address
are delivered. Suspect mail, often from legitimate marketers, is segregated
into a separate folder and deleted at a user-determined interval.

Mailblocks has developed a tool, “Trackers,” to make it easier for users to
receive legitimate bulk mail. Mail sent to a tracker alias address will not
be challenged. Currently, this is used by about one third of subscribers.
The company says it’s working to educate users about the tool and encourage them
to use it for subscriptions, e-commerce and online registrations.

In the brief, Mailblocks makes two primary recommendations for getting
marketing messages delivered to challenge/response subscribers. The first is
a consistent “from” address that can easily be whitelisted by users. The
second are “no challenge” headers; or precedence headers containing “list”
or “bulk.” The company promises e-mail thus labeled won’t be challenged. It
can end up in the segregated mail folder.

“This is what marketers can do to get e-mail into challenge/response users’
inboxes. If challenge/response use rises, there are very specific steps
e-mail marketers can take,” says Bratton.

Bratton is a natural spokesperson to take this message to interactive
marketers. She’s well known in the industry from her work as senior vice
president of sales and marketing for [email protected]’s media business, where she
helped push broadband advertising.

However influential the messenger, it’s unlikely that marketers will take
any steps soon. Challenge/response is
hardly widespread. Mailblocks doesn’t reveal subscriber numbers, but hints
they’re in the mid-to-high five figure range. EarthLink just introduced
challenge/response in its latest software release, although it’s too early
to say how many subscribers are using it. (In a patent dispute, Mailblocks
is suing EarthLink over use of the technology.)

Some 40-odd vendors currently offer a version of challenge/response.

“Where there are 40 providers, there will be consolidation,” hinted Bratton.
Mailblocks recently announced it is absorbing Cleanster’s 450 subscribers.

Many marketers and publishers use sophisticated e-mail technology with
dynamic “from” addresses for enhanced analysis and customer service
functionality. Bratton suggests these marketers switch to static address,
and says the company discourages domain
whitelisting, which many such marketers are beginning to recommend to
subscribers.

“It’s a spam hole and leads to spoofing,” she said, but she also readily agrees
full e-mail addresses are just as easily spoofed.

Another recent Mailblocks gesture toward marketers occurred just after the
recent California anti-spam bill passed. “We amended the legalese on our
challenges notifying senders they can be sued in California…if they do not
have a relationship with the recipient,” Bratton said.

Future company initiatives include a digital signature; tools to more easily manage “trackers”; one-click whitelisting of marketer addresses and custom e-mail headers for trusted communicators.

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