dotdigital welcomes James Koons

We recently announced that James Koons has joined dotdigital as Chief Privacy Officer and member of the operational Board of Directors for the United Kingdom’s largest multi-channel marketing automation provider.  A 20 year veteran in the information systems and security industry, Koons brings a broad range of knowledge and experience to the global dotdigital team, providing service to over 6,000 brands and 55,000 marketers who currently use the platform.  As the organization’s Chief Privacy Officer, James is responsible for data privacy, compliance, email deliverability, best practice leadership and industry relations.

dotdigital has developed and continues to grow the best mid-market marketing automation tool I’ve ever seen,” said Koons.  “I’m excited to be part of that and it has been an honor to join the ‘dotfamily’.  I look forward to the significant global growth of the organization.  The innovations that the team has accomplished so far and what is in the pipeline for the future is absolutely mind-blowing.

James joins the team at dotdigital with an impressive background not only in information systems security, but in ecommerce and digital marketing as well.  His career began a soldier in the US Army serving in Military Police and US Special Operations commands throughout the world.  After leaving the Army, he went on to establish an IT consulting company designing, implementing and maintaining networks for clients including Lufthansa and  He went on to work for as an employee, leading up a global team responsible for fulfilment center information systems.  After a successful career with the online retailer, and ready for a new challenge, James entered the digital marketing world.  Today his resume includes a remarkable array of Board of Director positions with the Online Trust Alliance (OTA), the Email Sender and Provider Coalition (ESPC) and the Messaging, Malware and Mobile Anti-Abuse Working Group (M3AAWG).  He has appeared in several marketing and ecommerce publications as well as testified in both the US House and Senate on matters pertaining to digital marketing, privacy and anti-abuse.

“I’m absolutely delighted to have someone with James’ calibre and reputation in industry join the dotfamily. As we expand our global footprint James will be fundamental in helping keep dotdigital ahead of the curve in terms of regional deliverability & compliance” – Tink Taylor

I took a few minutes to welcome James  and ask him some questions about dotdigital, the state of email marketing deliverability wise in today’s world and about Black Hawk down!

Hi James… Welcome to the dotdigital family. Tell us a little about yourself and your career background:

I started off my IT career in the US Army actually.  Email was relatively new and I wasn’t really using it as a marketing tool, but was certainly learning about email authentication and security as well as all the other technical mechanics behind it.  From there I moved into the private sector and eventually into ecommerce at, where email was particularly important.  During that time, I really fell in love with ecommerce and all components thereof – including the email marketing side.  Fast forward to present day with several years of solid email marketing experience (privacy, compliance and deliverability) under my belt and I am certainly hooked!  I’ve primarily focused on email deliverability and compliance which I love.  It’s actually driven me to attend law school and earn my Juris Doctor!

We’ve obviously known each other for some years, why not tell everyone how and where we met?

It would be great to have a story involving kite surfing on a private island, but like many of us in the industry we’ve crossed paths at key events in the marketing space.  We’re both pretty active in the space and we’ve crossed paths over the years at various events.  I think this is important as it shows dedication and passion for the email marketing space.

What did you know about dotdigital and what made you come and join us?

I’ve always been attracted to the family feeling I gathered when being around the dotdigital team.  Being particularly cognizant of what happens in the email marketing space, I had been keeping an eye on dotdigital and observed notable growth in the US market in the past couple of years.  I began keeping a closer eye on the organization and learned rather quickly the dotfamily behind the scenes is what really makes the organization great.  Everyone is so creative and passionate about what they do, it was clear that I wanted to join!

What has surprised you most about dotdigital since you have joined the team?

After seeing the platform and roadmap, I was absolutely floored!  I had always heard that the platform was easy to use, but actually sitting down and within one hour being able to create an automated campaign with little to no instruction was absolutely amazing to me.  There are so many innovative features that make the platform easy to use, not to mention the incredible integrations with both Salesforce and Magento.

Obviously we were both at the EEC event in Miami in February where Gmail, Comcast, Outlook, spoken opening for the first time about how they manage inbox delivery from an ISP perspective. It was eye opening for some to see the differences on how ISPs refer to email engagement and how ESPs / Marketers refer to email engagement. How would you summarize this for our readers?

I think the biggest take-away is this:  engagement is the measure of the value you bring to your subscriber’s inbox.  Keep your messages relevant and remember that not all your subscribers are the same.  Over the years I have read (and listened to) a lot about user engagement.  Many argue its importance, primarily because it’s always been know that it’s measured differently in the eyes of marketers than in the eyes of the receivers.  This meeting not only gave insight into the receiver interpretation, but also served as a strong reminder that receivers have their own measures because they value their users, not because they don’t like email marketers.  Calling an abuse desk and saying “…but my client is a legitimate organization…” does not work, because in the end, legitimacy is determined by the actions of your subscribers.  Whether good or bad, these actions shape your delivery for each individual and ultimately to your entire list.

With this knowledge in mind what are the key elements detailed as ESP engagement?

The key elements for the ESP will always be opens, clicks and reads as well as looking at your bounce rates and keeping those in check.  We know the receivers are not looking at clicks and are focused on other actions their users take in the inbox.  The focus needs to be on the open for the marketer.  It was interesting to hear some of the receivers refer to “going from black to gray” to indicate a message was read or opened.  This refers to unread messages in their platforms indicated in bold black, while read messages appear without the bold text (more of a gray).  We all know that filtering decisions are based on a myriad of data points, not just opens.  The receivers referred to these data points as “signals”.  These signals are combined together by machine learning algorithms that are used to determine a sender’s reputation.  There’s filtering by sending IP address, content comparison, and user level filtering.  The receivers also look at a number of signals that marketers do not have visibility into.  There are thousands of specific user level signals that they use to determine what a user finds relevant.  Here are just a few to keep in mind, both positive and negative:

Positive Signals

  • Moving a message out of the SPAM folder   –   Marking as not SPAM / junk
  • Replying to a message (keeping a conversation going)
  • Adding the sender to the address book
  • Reading or viewing a message
  • Moving the message to another folder (or tagging the message)

Negative Signals

  • Deleting the message without opening or reading it
  • Marking the message as SPAM or moving it to the “junk” folder
  • Reporting the message as a phishing attempt

Do you feel that ISP’s will ever provide the engagement metrics to the outside world, it is notable some Far East ESP’s already do this?

It’s an interesting notion and the more I work with receiver and anti-abuse community at M3AAWG and the ESPC, I see a willingness to work together.  Being able to work with the team at Google on the creation of a feedback loop was an absolute highlight and really effective for email marketers.  Receivers realize the value in sharing this type of data, but they must also weigh the downside and therefore progress is slow.  Companies like dotdigital who are genuinely interested in anti-abuse and the overall protection of the email ecosystem are game changers as the receivers are willing to work with organizations who have honest intentions and go beyond just wanting to make a quick dollar.

Although marketers and ISP’s track engagement differently, what drives engagement? Do you feel the message is the same, i.e. to drive engagement you need to send good quality content, based on segmentation and dynamic content at the right cadence?

That’s a great question and I’ve always believed there are several elements that drive engagement.  Content to me will always be “king”.  You have to grab the recipients interest in both the subject line (to get them to open) and then in the content.  Think about your own inbox.  If it’s anything like mine, there is no way you would have the time to fully read and react to every single email you receive.  In my case, I open each mail, skim through it and make a quick judgement on each one.  If something jumps out and grabs my attention then I’ll read it completely and respond/react accordingly.  It’s that “skim through it” timeframe where you need to generate enough of an emotional response to really grab a recipient’s attention and convince them that your email is worth reading.  Yes, automation is still very important, but it’s one piece of the puzzle of driving recipient engagement.

We have a famous tradition at dotdigital that each new member of staff gives an interesting fact about themselves at our quarterly ‘All Hands’ meeting. Care to tell the audience what your fact was, it must have been one of our best ones yet!

As you know, I started my career off in the US Army – something which I would not change in my life.  While I am happy to be in the technology and email marketing space today, this experience helped shape who I am today.  I was in some very interesting duty stations like HQEUCOM (Headquarters European Command) which allowed me to be involved in some interesting and well-known engagements.  During my time in the service I saw two major events, one was the combination of Operation Desert Storm and Operation Desert Shield.  In addition to that, my unit was also involved in the support of UNOSOM II (United Nations Operation in Somalia – Phase 2), where the primary duty was to create a secure environment for humanitarian operations to be carried out in Somalia.  The UNOSOM II intervention is well known for the Battle of Mogadishu and the resulting events are portrayed in a book called Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War.  There is also an associated film that you might have heard of, Black Hawk Down.  Don’t let Hollywood fool you though, back then I was a geek with a gun and today I’m just a geek… a very big email geek!

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