We’re in the heat of the holiday shopping season, a peak period for email-driven marketing. So, some email marketers who are up to their ears in subject line messaging, offer and response metrics, and customer engagement analytics might be forgiven for feeling that looking ahead to next Monday—let alone next year—is a luxury of long-term thinking.
But, believe it or not, 2015 is drawing to a close. It was a big year for our company and for email in general. SparkPost, our customers, and our peers in the industry did some great work and made huge strides in improving email deliverability, developing standards for enhanced message security, measuring user engagement, and increasing the flexibility of email programs. Still, rather than rest complacent with the progress we’ve made, we’re eager to continue to push forward.
What will that progress look like? I asked some of the most plugged-in email experts on the planet to share their email predictions about email marketing, technology, and best practices in 2016. The sixteen bold-faced phrases below highlight what they’ll be looking for in the coming year.
Len Shneyder, VP Industry Relations, SparkPost
Email volume will grow. This one is easy. Email volume simply has never contracted. Ever. Spam volumes have gone down as a result of major bot-net takedowns, but legitimate email volume is, like our universe, always expanding for the foreseeable future (or at least the next 2 or 3 trillion years).
Batch and blast emails won’t go away. However, rather than being the only game in town, campaign-driven marketing will become just one flavor of multiple messaging streams used by marketers to reach and engage their customers.
Triggered emails will grow in number and sophistication. Moreover, triggers will reflect not only internal business events but also external data sources as websites, apps, and mobile platforms become integrated with seamless and unified experiences.
People will still make embarrassing mistakes. It’s inevitable when human beings send one-to-many communications. And they’ll continue to offer apologies and corrections. I’m sorry.
Email’s already-high ROI will continue to improve. Email remains the single most popular means of bringing people together for the purpose of commerce and communication. It’s cost-effective and it works. That’s a reliable route to ROI.
Laura Atkins, Email Deliverability Expert, Word to the Wise
The biggest thing I see happening is that senders are going to be expected to meet security standards that today are only optional. Email senders are going to be expected to pay attention to email security and take responsibility for all the mail from their system or about their company. In terms of delivery, this means that ISPs are going to start looking at security as part of their deliverability matrix. They’re going to want to see mail that is sent over TLS 1.2, mail that is SPF authenticated, mail that is DKIM signed and mail that is DMARC aligned, even if there is no DMARC policy.
I also think we’re going to see increasingly difficult deliverability for companies that outsource their address collection to third parties. This is something that’s been going on for a few years. Delivery to co-reg lists got hard, and a lot of senders moved away from co-reg partnerships. I’m currently seeing those same delivery challenges among companies purchasing addresses. Running those addresses through “list cleaning services” doesn’t really work because they only remove the markers for a bad list, they don’t take a bad list and turn it into a good one. The ISPs know that the users don’t want the mail, and they’ll block it or spam folder it, and won’t care.
Finally, I think marketers are going to have to face the fact that seed accounts don’t tell the whole story. Seed accounts, no matter who they are maintained by, do not look like normal mail accounts. Delivery to seed accounts isn’t going to be representative of delivery to real accounts. This is a side effect of the individualized delivery many of the ISPs have worked so hard to create. It’s going to be a frustrating transition for a lot of senders to make. However, I think individualized delivery is a win for both recipients who get the mail they actively want in their inbox—and for senders who get their mail to the users who want it, no matter what the filters say.
Josh Aberant, VP Growth, SparkPost
We’ve seen a real awakening about protecting email privacy. Advocacy groups like the EFF have shown that prior to 2014, most senders were not encrypting their emails, leaving it trivially easy for external parties to see and record from the wire. In some cases, this led to major data leaks. In 2015, the email community woke up to this realization and turned on STARTTLS for email encryption en masse, and tools like Twitter’s Email Privacy Report show that well over 90% of emails are encrypted in transit today. That’s a great start. However, there are still issues with STARTTLS being too easy to subvert, and in 2016 the email industry will be addressing these remaining privacy concerns with protocols like STS or DANE.
The Internet of Things isn’t some far-fetched dream: it’s already here, and signs point to an accelerating number of connected devices being deployed throughout the globe. These devices need to communicate with people, not just other machines, and email is one of the most effective ways to do that. In 2016, we’ll see a lot more devices sending a lot more email. 2016 will be the year of machine-to-human email communication. This has the potential to give people more awareness and control of their pervasive, connected devices, but it will also have to be done carefully so as to not overload users with an unmanageable amount of communications.
Seth Weisfeld, Engagement Manager, Pinterest
At Pinterest and elsewhere, 2016 will be the year where multi-channel messaging and big data fully come together to deliver the dream of a truly personalized notifications experience at scale.
After the wave of email service provider consolidation over the past few years, a new breed of nimbler email service providers will launch to provide improved feature sets, better partnerships, and more responsive support to small and midsize business.
Gmail will do something to thoroughly challenge our HTML email coding skills.
Dennis Dayman, Chief Privacy & Security Officer, Return Path
The most effective email marketers have always talked about quality over quantity when it comes to list management, and 2016 will be no different. However, truly knowing your audience will spell the difference between business as usual and outright success. The prediction is simple: companies like Google will continue to build and launch advertising networks, but those networks will only be as good as the audiences they reach. Data about email inbox performance will make reaching truly engaged audiences possible.
This means that marketers need to know and anticipate customer needs and desires before sending the first email. Marketers will need to implement real-time personalization to both anticipate customer needs and deliver on their expectations… notice I didn’t say “campaigns,” which suggests the same email is sent over and over. In other words, no two emails sent out will be identical, thanks to targeted real-time content.
The net results of this real-time content results in email and CRM will continue to grow and bond. As a byproduct, CRM becomes more social-friendly. Many CRM systems are adding social media futures to help track customer interactions or contacts (likes). There has been a big rise in hashtag usage on social networks, and next year’s marketers will need to include hashtags as anchor text for social share buttons and links, to help foster the connection between email marketing and social media content. These tools will help the marketers in the execution of cross-channel lookups, thereby providing targeted real time content to prospects that would take the marketing campaign to a whole new level.
Steve Dille, CMO, SparkPost
Big data and real-time analytics will transform marketing emails. Predictive analytics and big data already have been shaping how websites create ever-more personalized experiences for visitors. Now, this same infrastructure will be used to drive high levels of real-time personalization in email. One early leader of this real-time, data-driven approach is Pinterest, who shapes the subject lines of their emails in real-time based upon the results of email opens from other pinners.
I’m betting these experts’ points of view are right on the money. (And between you and me, that was actually seventeen email predictions!) What do you foresee in 2016? I’d love to hear your thoughts about the future of email.
If you liked this blog, you may also like: The Big Rewards of Email Deliverability