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

 

If you liked this blog, you may also like: The Big Rewards of Email Deliverability

Yield Big Rewards with Small Email Improvements

Originally posted on The EEC Blog…

Fans of Star Wars will know the reference ‘A New Hope’, it’s the subtitle to the first, ground-breaking film Lucas released in 1977. It’s now 38 years later—fans and nerds alike are pacing in circles waiting for the December release of episode 7. What does this have to do with email marketing? Nothing. Everything.

We’re a week into 2015 and I’m predicting we’ll see much of the same behavior that characterized email marketing circa 2014. My hope is that good holiday sales, a rebounding economy, and the general prosperous gestalt that seems to be everywhere finds its way into marketing budgets to adopt tools that ensure the ongoing success of email as a channel.

Here’s what you should be concerned with in 2015 that you may have tabled behind more ‘important’ initiatives in 2014:

  • Your transactional mail is just as important as your marketing mail.That’s right! Transactional mail, you know that welcome message that nothing short of a ‘first date’, or the all-important password reset that let’s you use your account or make a transaction, these things have to be prioritized over the batches of 20% coupons that you’re sending. I’m guessing there are still oodles of companies out there that have no clue if their transactional and triggered messages are getting stuck behind batched campaigns. Spend the time to get it right: get the password reset out first, make sure welcome messages don’t arrive 3 or 4 days later with the information someone needs on day 1, and that receipts and confirmations that decrease calls for customer service get to where they’re going without being impeded by sales messages or newsletters.
  • Yep mobile is still important. If you’re not responsive all the time then half of your audience isn’t getting the same rendering experience as your other half. With the number of devices in the wild today you have to assume that your email is viewed on dozens of different mobile devices and browsers on displays stretched to extreme letterbox proportions (and curved—coming soon to a desktop near you). So the importance of ensuring a smooth experience regardless of the device or platform is paramount. Part of a mobile device’s unstated purpose is to diminish the barriers from browse to buy by deep linking to a native mobile app via a received email; if the initial rendering of the email is poor the likelihood of using an app as the next step in the customer journey is scant at best.
  • Inbox & Verse were unleashed by the Sith! Don’t worry, the sky isn’t falling because Google decided to reinvent email by launching Inbox, nor is IBM’s Verse going to cause CTRs and open rates to plummet. These are efficiency tools that were built in hopes that people agree to the fact that Google and IBM both know much better about how and what you want to read and experience in your inbox. When Google Tabs were launched the industry cried foul and proclaimed that the sky would fall. We’re still here. I predict that these tools will have a limited following and if their algorithms are worth their salt they will simply prove out that the most engaging brands and communications, the ones customers want to read, will remain top of mind and top of inbox. That is all.
  • The proof is in the pudding. Now what?! Here’s what you need to know: depending on whom you read mobile traffic accounted for 45% of all online traffic during the holidays. Nearly a quarter of all online sales were generated via mobile. And finally, more men shop on smartphones than women, this is true in my house given my wife uses my Amazon account (or orders me to use it). The fact of the matter is that every holiday season results in a wealth of data—it’s stacking up all around you, petabytes of behavioral analytics that you should leverage throughout the year. My prediction is that some of the potential, and here I stress potential, that like the force, it’s all around you, it’s really up to each and everyone one of us to use the data at our fingertips in meaningful ways. The holidays are not an event; it’s the gift that should keep on giving through out 2015 and beyond.