The end of a calendar year can be a frenetic time for businesses. Most of us are rushing to make final deals, close out our books, and get all manner of necessary things done by December 31. But then, the winter holidays arrive with a time for celebration, family, and rest. After the mad rush, one thing I particularly appreciate about that moment of peace is the opportunity to reflect on the year that’s just ending and the new one that’s about to begin.

And what a fantastic journey 2016 was for SparkPost. We began the year brimming with optimism and great technology and ended as the world’s fastest-growing email delivery service. Today, our nearly 20,000 customers include developers, up-and-coming innovators, and the very largest enterprises—all of whom understand the value of high-performing, API-driven email delivery. Leading innovators like Workday, Snagajob, and Coursera joined this group this year. And for all of these companies, we’re now delivering many billions of messages per month.

The growth we achieved in 2016 also was good for our company financially. We earned record revenue and turned a profit for the year. I’ve always subscribed to the notion that treating customers well is the surest path to success. I am gratified that the trust our customers have given us affirms that we’re doing something right.

More precisely, perhaps I should say we’re doing two things right. Our technology makes the performance and scalability of our email delivery possible and sustainable. But our people make the difference in helping our customers truly be successful with email. Our focus in 2016, 2017, and beyond remains fixed on those two aspects of our business: developing features and performance that help our customers innovate and deliver email at scale—and providing the expertise and support they need to make the most of email.

That’s why we developed enhanced webhooks features to handle relaying of inbound email and SMS messages. It’s why we launched our Message Events API to increase our customers’ ability to query individual message disposition and engagement. It’s why we made it easy to implement SparkPost on additional cloud platforms including Microsoft Azure. It’s why we offer unified cross-channel email, mobile notifications, app deep linking, and SMS messaging for enterprise senders. And it’s why we accelerated the launch of functionality like subaccounts, expanded role accounts, easier management of suppression lists, and provisioning of IP addresses to help our self-service customers work more effectively.

Just as significantly, we made it really easy to do business with SparkPost. How easy? 100,000 free messages per month—something none of our competitors can offer—and flexible support plans that include expert advice from our Technical Account Managers and deliverability services teams.

Today, at the start of 2017, I can say that the SparkPost email delivery service is truly the most capable solution for delivering transactional email on the market, period. But we have no intention of stopping. In the coming year, you can expect us to take further advantage of the fact that we built SparkPost as a true cloud platform with elastic computing capabilities that allow us to offer the industry’s only guaranteed burst rate for enterprise senders. We will make our great solution for service providers even more flexible, with access to features like customer compliance monitoring tools and enhanced self-service options for subaccount provisioning, analytics, and more.

Throughout, we will keep our focus on making it easy for developers and enterprises alike to succeed with SparkPost. We know we will be even more active in the developer community—at events, in social media, and our really great Slack channel—providing helpful tools like our DKIM validator, and continuing to enhance our client libraries and documentation.

Now it’s January, and we’re all back to work. We gained so much in 2016 by listening to you and other members of our highly engaged user community. In 2017, we plan on doing a lot more of the same! I’d love to hear from you. Let me know what you’d like to see from SparkPost in the coming year. Leave a comment below or reach out on Twitter, Slack, or even good old email.

On behalf of the entire team at SparkPost, I’d like to wish you a successful, prosperous, and happy new year. And please accept my heartfelt thank you for being part of our community and journey of growth over the past year.

—Phillip Merrick

@phillipmerrick

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.


 

email predictions len shneyder

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.


 

email predictions laura atkins

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.


 

email predictions josh aberant

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.


 

email predictions seth weisfeld

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.


 

email predictions dennis dayman

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.


 

email predictions steve dille

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.

—Brent
@brentsleeper

 

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