SparkPost https://www.sparkpost.com SparkPost is the world’s #1 email delivery service. Sat, 09 Nov 2019 07:02:21 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.2.4 What it’s Like to be a Working Parent at SparkPost https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/working-parent-sparkpost/ Fri, 08 Nov 2019 14:00:04 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=48068 working parentsBenefits and Culture Manager, Michelle Cunningham, explains why SparkPost is a great place for working parents to be employed.

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According to a 2015 study by Pew Research Center, 65% of working parents with college degrees– reported that it was “somewhat difficult” or “very difficult” to meet the simultaneous demands of work and family. Knowing this, I knew rejoining the workforce after being home for seven years with my two girls, now 10 and 12 was going to be a big adjustment for our family. I had been lucky that a significant part of my earlier career had been spent at an accounting firm, RSM that valued their employees and offered many programs for working parents with lots of flexibility. So, I knew that when I went back to work, I wanted to find a company that offered similar programs and that had an inclusive culture. I found that culture and fit at SparkPost when I joined the company in early 2017.

SparkPost is a company that values its employees and it shows within our culture, and our values. It’s evident in our normal workdays and in the programs we have in place. We offer flexible work hours, and all employees are able to work remotely on Fridays. We also have a significant amount of employees that work remotely every day. We demonstrate the value of flexibility knowing we hire the right people for a particular job even if they don’t live close to one of our offices. 

For me, I’m able to juggle working on meaningful projects and am still able to pick my kids up from school many days. Of course, all working parents juggle competing priorities, and at times, it can be overwhelming. Author and executive coach, Daisy Waderman Dowling recently wrote an article for Harvard Business Review, called A Working Parents Survival Guide. Her writing reinforces for those of us that are working parents that we all face conflicts and stressors while we try and balance home and work life. The author highlights different challenges we tend to face and five powerful strategies to consider as part of our toolbox as a working parent. Some other useful tips are being “present’ when you are at work, sharing how you can be contacted and when you are accessible. And learning it’s okay to set boundaries whether it’s in relation to work or in other parts of your life.

The leaders of SparkPost know, that working parents make up a huge part of our company. Our Managers look out for their team members, help them reprioritize work and give them encouragement when needed. It’s all about transparency and open communication. Our team members know that they have the flexibility they need to handle a family issue, see their child perform in a band concert, or attend a school play. One Manager in our Customer Success Team feels empowered to lead his team, handle customer issues and coach his daughter’s soccer, field hockey, and lacrosse teams. 

SparkPost provides many different benefits for employees. One benefit that supports our working parents is our eight weeks of Parental leave for those employees that either welcome a new baby into their family, choose to adopt or foster a child. There is definitely no negative judgment for those that use this leave. Some employees take all eight weeks at once, while others take it over a few months. No one size fits all. Speaking of which, we also have a Flexible Time Off policy which allows employees the opportunity to schedule vacations, volunteer, coach or address family situations that arise. Individuals are able to use the time when they need it and don’t have to worry about accruing time off. 

As a working parent, one of our favorite days of the year is Take your Daughters and Sons to Work Day. This is a really fun day where we share SparkPost with our kids. The whole office gets involved in activities that day. It’s a day in which the kids are so excited to come to work, and the parents and our teammates have a fun day. 

While not every day can be a party in the office, I find that many of us do want to work at a company that makes you feel valued and is committed to your professional growth. As a working parent, you spend a lot of time with those you work with, so it is important to find people that you like to work with as well. I feel lucky that I work with a great group of people at SparkPost. I want to send a shout out to all my coworkers that work hard every day and do their best in balancing their families and work life. It’s not always easy. And some weeks may seem harder than others. But together, we can make it work!

Interested in seeing what it’s like to work at SparkPost? Follow us on Instagram!

~ Michelle

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Looking Back at OptIn’19 https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/looking-back-optin19/ Wed, 06 Nov 2019 14:00:28 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=48036 Jen Lacey, Senior Manager, Digital and Content Strategy, shares her experience at our first-ever vendor-agnostic conference, OptIn'19!

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What a week! We just held our first ever OptIn conference down in Carmel, CA and it was incredible! We’ve done conferences and events in the past but this was our first ‘vendor-agnostic’ conference. What does that really mean? We pushed really hard to make sure folks from all corners of the email industry were invited and encouraged to attend – it was super important to our entire team to put together a conference where everyone in our industry (and beyond it) felt welcome. Competitors, industry pundits, journalists and plenty of folks NOT using SparkPost all gathered listen in on talks about email and the exciting strides they’re making with email. The weather was perfect, and attendees got to warm up to the conference on Day 1 by participating in hiking, archery, cooking, crafting or yoga before a delicious welcome dinner.

It’s incredibly exciting to me to watch our events evolve over the years and so promising to see the increasing number of women and minorities as both attendees AND speakers. A personal favorite was definitely Michelle Poler talking about her 100 days without fear project, where she conquered a fear every day for 100 days and documented the entire process. Her talk on pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone to achieve true growth resonated with everyone in the audience and of course, got the wheels turning on how we can all apply this philosophy to our day jobs and beyond.

 

The Diversity and Inclusion panel by the Women of Email was also very impactful, highlighting (among other things) the importance of representation on teams when hiring and recruiting in ANY industry. They also touched on accessibility in email, as well as authentic ways that brands can incorporate social messages and support for minorities and underrepresented groups into their messaging and campaigns.

As I said, the conference was jam-packed full of sessions on all things email, data, engagement & growth. I think you could probably poll our attendees (don’t worry, we did!) and learn that they felt their conference tickets were money well spent. With that feedback, we’ve decided to host a Virtual Summit for those who couldn’t make it in person to OptIn! It’ll be the same great content but in a virtual setting so you can enjoy it in your own home, office, train, etc. More information will be coming soon, but save the date for December 10th! We won’t be able to hike along the California coast together, but I guarantee it’ll be pretty sweet.

Happy Sending!

Jen

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5 Tips for Integrating SMS Into Your Email Marketing Campaigns https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/5-tips-integrating-sms-email-marketing-campaigns/ Mon, 04 Nov 2019 14:00:51 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=47980 integrating SMSHere are 5 tips for integrating SMS into your email marketing campaigns, so you can deliver customers a consistent experience across communication channels.

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Of the 7.7 billion people on the planet, it’s estimated that about 3.5 billion of them have Internet access, and over half of them use email. That’s pretty impressive, but did you know that around 5 billion people can send and receive SMS (short message service) messages, also known as texting? It helps that SMS can be used on non-smartphones too.

Among consumers, according to TechJury, 75% of them don’t mind receiving SMS messages from brands (after they’ve opted in, of course). They also redeem coupons delivered via SMS 10 times more than coupons sent to them in other ways. In general, SMS messages have an astounding 98% open rate, with 90% of them read within 3 minutes of being received.

Before you stop reading and rush off to send SMS messages to your customers, though, there are some best practices to keep in mind. Here are 5 tips to help you integrate an SMS strategy into your email marketing campaigns, so you can create an omnichannel marketing approach that delivers a consistent experience everywhere you communicate with customers.

1. Approach SMS the same way you handle email

First, you need your customers’ permission to send them SMS messages, like email sending usually requires. In the United States, the FCC requires written consent before sending commercial texts, which you can handle by asking for cell phone numbers and then sending people an SMS message that requires them to reply with “yes,” or some other form of consent, to receive future messages from you.

As always, though, check the laws that apply to you and consult with legal counsel at your company, if necessary.

Next, you’ll want to segment your list of SMS message recipients, as you do with your email list, so you can speak directly to those cohorts in your messages. Many SMS message sending services offer personalization, so you can insert first names, birthdays, cities, and other information. Just don’t overdo it, since space will be at a premium.

Finally, make sure you honor unsubscribes sent via SMS too. You will hurt your company’s brand equity if you send SMS messages to people who have unsubscribed, and there’s a good chance that they will complain to their carriers, who will likely block you as a spammer. You could also incur the wrath of the FCC or other government agencies.

2. You can send triggered, transactional, and promotional SMS messages

Consider sending different types of communications via SMS, just as you do with email:

  • Triggered messages alert customers to events, such as order shipments, suspicious account log-in attempts, upcoming due dates for bills, and monthly reports.
  • Transactional messages are sent in response to customers’ actions, such as purchases, bill payments, new account creations, and password resets.
  • Promotional messages let customers know about new products, special deals, rewards based on their activity, and other ways that you drive sales. You can also create upsell and cross-sell opportunities.

Given the immediacy of SMS messages, they’re useful for communications that have more urgency than an email would. For example, you could send a coupon code that’s good for one day only, or let customers know about a new product or service, complete with a shortened link that will take them to your mobile website. (Your website is responsive, correct?)

SMS messages are also a good way to offer two-factor authentication for user accounts, which allows you to provide a useful layer of security for your customers.

If you’re going to send a lot of SMS messages, you may want to invest in a short code so carriers don’t consider you a spammer. A short code is a five- or six-digit phone number that’s typically pre-approved by mobile carriers for use with commercial activity. Try choosing one that spells out a word, so it’s easy for people to remember. For example, Kmart uses 562-78, which spells out the name of the retailer on a keypad.

3. Brevity is the soul of SMS messages

SMS messages can’t be more than 160 characters long, so while your emails should be short and to the point, your SMS messages need to make every letter count. It may be tempting to string multiple SMS messages into one communication, but doing so will increase the odds that your recipients will start opting out in droves. Try not to send SMS messages more than a few times a week, at the most.

If you had experience writing marketing messages on Twitter before the character limit for tweets was increased, then you should apply what you learned here. Limit each SMS message to one thing at a time, saving the fuller storytelling for emails.

Consider how your SMS messages can complement your emails. For example, if you email your list about a special deal that has an expiration date, you could send a follow-up SMS message reminder shortly before the deal ends. You can schedule SMS message sending, allowing you to orchestrate your marketing campaigns.

An SMS message can also be useful for alerting your customers to time-sensitive news, such as a delay with shipping an order or a problem with their account.

4. Use simple, relevant keywords and reply immediately to messages

When you publicize your new SMS message service, you can ask customers to text a word or phrase to your phone number (ideally, a short code) to enroll. Try using something memorable. For example, if you have an online store that sells women’s clothes and accessories, you could ask people to text “fashion” to your number to enroll.

Use an auto-responder to ensure customers receive an immediate response when they enroll. Welcome them to the service and let them know what to text back to unsubscribe, such as “stop.” Make sure it’s easy for them to opt-out, and acknowledge them when they do, so they know you will honor the request.

You can also set up and publicize keywords to enable customers to do other things, such as getting directions to your business location or to an event or receiving a link to download a mobile app. In addition, you can use SMS messages to gather information, such as asking people to text you their first names.

5. Find the right partners for your omnichannel marketing strategy

SMS messaging allows you to complement your marketing efforts via email, social media, your website, and other channels. That’s important because today’s typical consumer uses an average of nearly six touch-points per purchase, whereas 15 years ago, they often used two. In addition, 90% of consumers expect to see consistent interactions with businesses across channels.

Companies that implement omnichannel customer engagement strategies retain on average 89% of their customers, and those customers have a 30% higher lifetime value than those who shop with one channel.

If you’re using SparkPost to send email, you’ll be glad to know that we have a strategic partnership with MessageBird, a cloud communication platform that extends your messages across channels, including SMS. MessageBird’s platform is highly scalable and offers unrivaled speed and reliability for message sending anywhere in the world. You can read more about our partnership with MessageBird on our blog.

~ Casey

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Questions to Ask Your Next Email Vendor https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/questions-ask-next-email-vendor/ Fri, 01 Nov 2019 13:00:02 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=47951 Email VendorSenior Manager, Digital and Content Strategy, Jen Lacey explains how to enhance your RFP and email vendor selection process with our RFP checklist.

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There is nothing I love more than a good checklist. There’s something about having a tactical plan of action that makes you feel in control of your day, productive and efficient. But a checklist is only as good as what’s on it, and sometimes, you don’t know what you don’t know. When you’re in charge of sourcing a new tech vendor, it’s easy to come up with the hard-hitting questions that affect your role, but maybe not so easy to understand how a new piece of tech might impact other functions of your organization.

As email and technology solutions become more integrated with every aspect of a business’ overall software stack, it’s important to be cognizant of how a new solution will impact other functions of your org, not just your role.

That’s why we thought it would be helpful to put together a checklist of questions you can use when creating an RFP to evaluate email vendors. We’ve grouped the checklist by category so it’s easy to quickly skim areas where you might need more assistance. An email marketer probably has their needs and use cases down to a ‘T’ but if they’re the sole purchaser, what technical or compliance questions might they need to be aware of?

This quick checklist will guide you on important aspects of an email service purchase including topics like:

  • Pricing: How is pricing measured and how will you be billed? What features are considered included vs. add-on?*
  • Analytics: What are the reporting functionalities of the tool or service you’re evaluating? How much detail is included in the reporting? Is there any kind of predictive data modeling offered?
  • Integration: What kind of functionality is available via webhooks? Are there automated alerts available?
  • Support: What kind of onboarding assistance is included? What support SLAs are issued with a standard contract?

The full checklist with suggested questions can be found here. As always, if you have any feedback or comments on something you think is missing, give us a shout!

We hope this list makes you feel a bit more prepared in your search for an email service.

Happy Sending!

Jen

*an important factor to hold constant when comparing vendors! Make sure all pricing packages are offering the same features

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SparkPost To Acquire eDataSource https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/sparkpost-acquires-edatasource/ Tue, 29 Oct 2019 11:05:03 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=47912 sparkpost acquires edatasourceWe are excited to share with you that SparkPost has entered an agreement to acquire eDataSource! Learn more about the acquisition here.

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Today I am excited to share with you that SparkPost has entered an agreement to acquire eDataSource!

This milestone allows us to continue delivering on our promise to provide the best email sending and analytics platform for brands in the easiest and most efficient way possible.

The email market has been impacted by two conflicting scenarios: The increasing complexity of inbox strategies and an influx of marketers returning to email as the most efficient method for engaging their customers and opted-in prospects.

By combining SparkPost, the world’s largest sender, with eDataSource’s leading deliverability and analytics capabilities, we will enable our customers to successfully navigate the new email environment and enhance the distinguished portfolio of products and services we offer.

The new offerings planned for the next few quarters will enhance the transparency and efficacy of email sending without the growing friction between the sending layer and analytics layer that marketers seek.

I’m incredibly excited to welcome eDataSource to the SparkPost family. We share values with eDataSource, and their culture matches our own. Many joint customers will quickly benefit from the combination, and we will be bringing much more value to all customers in the near future. We are thrilled to bring these two organizations together.

You can read more about the acquisition here, and as you can imagine we’re excited to embark on this next chapter of our company. We look forward to hearing from you with your questions and suggestions on how we can best serve your email needs.

– 
Rich Harris
CEO, SparkPost

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Birthday Email Marketing: Have Your Cake and Send It, Too https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/birthday-email-marketing-cake-send/ Mon, 28 Oct 2019 13:00:17 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=47873 birthday email marketingLet’s take a look at some of the better examples of birthday email marketing we’ve seen, and what they’re doing right to engage their customers.

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Everyone knows birthdays are a big deal but did you know they can also be a great time to send out big deals?

Most successful marketers do. In fact, in September 2019 alone, Sparkpost sent out 88,394,863 emails with a subject line containing the word “Birthday.”

That’s a lot of b-day celebrations.

With 51% of marketing leaders choosing to treat their customers to birthday emails and 73% of them rating their birthday campaigns as effective or highly effective, they’re a proven way to connect with your customers and show them some love on the day that’s uniquely theirs.

Birthday emails regularly outperform other promotional emails. Take a look at some of these KPIs; birthday emails have…

  • 481% higher conversion rates
  • 342% higher revenue per message
  • 179% higher unique click rates
  • 89% higher open rates

While holidays like Christmas or Valentine’s Day have their own appeal for marketers, birthdays are special for two reasons. First, everyone has a birthday, while not everyone celebrates the same holidays. Second, a birthday feels uniquely yours, with good reason.  It makes you feel special and celebrated just for, hey, being you.

So there’s obviously plenty of opportunities to take advantage of birthdays every month. And with performance statistics like those just mentioned, there’s a good chance you already are, if you’re a marketer with a subscriber list. The question is, are you doing it as effectively as you could be?

Let’s take a look at some of the better examples of birthday email marketing we’ve seen, and what they’re doing right to engage their customers.

Every birthday is a gift – so offer them one!

Everyone wants to be celebrated on their birthday. Put a smile on your customer’s faces by spoiling them with an exclusive offer that can help boost your sales too. Sephora is no slouch at email marketing with a personal touch and drops a birthday treat to customers on their special day each year.

When sending out these offers, something to keep in mind is that you should add an expiration date to the offer to create a sense of urgency. Without a clear expiration, it’s far more likely that your customer will save the email to come back to at a later time…and then forget about it altogether.

Timing is another aspect of birthday emails to keep in mind. 55% of these are sent on the actual birthday, while 38% are sent one to three weeks earlier. It can feed into the recipient’s building sense of excitement, and even encourage them to treat themselves for their big day. This way, you’ve got time to send a few reminders, prompting them to take action before the offer expires.

A popular expiration date for birthday offers is 30 days after issuance, such as this sweet birthday promotion by Sweetgreen (and we can’t resist a great veggie-related pun).

What’s the big date?

A major challenge with these emails can be obtaining the customers actual birthday. Customers are less likely to opt-in if they have to provide more information about themselves when signing up for a product or newsletter.

One tactic is to be blunt. Hinting at an exclusive offer or gift may be enough to encourage your customers to share their information, and asking in a cute, fun way makes them feel better about giving their birthday out than filling out a form when opting in.

Seamless did a great job here by being straightforward and having a clear CTA (even including step-by-step illustrated guidance).

Bodyrok has done something fundamentally smart in this next example. Without going into a deeper level of personalization, this email makes sure the birthday offer can apply to everyone. The offer of 25% a retail item is a fantastic way to be inclusive and definitely something to keep in mind if you offer a subscription-based service that may render your birthday offer moot.

Not all successful birthday emails have to include a gift or promotion. Especially for companies who aren’t in retail, it can be impactful to emphasize the relationship you have (and have had) with your customer.

Intuit shows the way with a yearly recap of sorts – it’s a good reminder to check your numbers but sugar-coated (ha!) with an optimistic look forward to the upcoming year.

The main ingredient?

While it might seem like obvious advice, it stands repeating: have fun! Birthdays are a celebration, after all.

In that vein, what better way to celebrate another year of life than by really energizing your emails? GIFs and animation are a favorite of ours, and we’re willing to bet they’ll appeal to your customers. Take a look at these examples by Payoff and Artifact Uprising that sparkle with promise.

~ Erica

 

 

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9 Interview Questions You Should Be Asking Email Marketing Manager Candidates https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/9-interview-questions-asking-email-marketing-manager-candidates/ Fri, 25 Oct 2019 13:00:30 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=47856 email marketing managerIn the process of hiring an email marketing manager? We’ve put together 9 questions that can help you during the hiring process.

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Email may be the oldest form of digital communication, but it’s currently used by over half of the people in the world, with the population of email users expected to reach more than 4.3 billion by the end of 2023.

In addition, over 293 billion business and personal emails are sent and received every day, a number that will exceed 347 billion by the end of 2023. And if you’re worried that email usage could die out, never fear: 78% of teenagers use email.

Given its ubiquity, email marketing remains a key way to build brand equity, develop relationships with customers, and, of course, grow revenue. In fact, every dollar spent on email marketing can bring in an average return of $38, according to Constant Contact.

That’s why it’s important to hire the right person to manage email marketing at your company. We’ve put together 9 questions that can help you during the hiring process.

1. Which companies currently do email marketing well?

This question helps you set a baseline for the interviewee’s industry knowledge. This shouldn’t be a tough question for them, so if they struggle with it, then you know they’re not up to speed on the latest trends. Just because email has been around since the early 1970s doesn’t mean it’s a static medium.

The word “currently” helps ensure that they won’t cite an email they received from Amazon five years ago. You could follow up by asking for specific examples of email marketing campaigns from the companies they mention, as well as why those campaigns work well.

2. What’s the best email marketing campaign that you’ve created?

This is their chance to show how they apply what they know about the industry and its trends. After all, staying up to speed on their chosen profession is one thing – putting those lessons to use is another.

A good follow-up here could involve asking them to walk through that campaign and point out specifics about the subject line, preview text, tone of the text, and the imagery that was used. Bonus points if they can discuss the intended audience and why the email was geared toward them.

3. How do you develop the voice for your email campaigns?

Anyone who’s thrown off by this question, unless they need you to explain what you mean by “voice,” likely doesn’t understand audience segmentation, which is a red flag. No company should have a “one size fits all” approach to their email marketing, so it’s crucial that the interviewee be able to explain how they target their messaging to different audiences.

Bonus points if they toss in a few literary references. Sure, your email campaigns aren’t the second coming of Hemingway, but it’s never a bad thing if your email marketing manager takes a few cues from literary giants in their work. You’ll also get a sense of what they’ll be like to work with on a daily basis.

4. What are some of the ways you’ve used A/B testing in your campaigns?

Ideally, your new email marketing manager will understand the industry well, know how to target their messaging, and possess the desire to A/B test their content to see what works well. Every email marketer knows that no matter how well they’ve dialed in their campaign, they should try a test to make sure they don’t have any blind spots in their setup.

This is a good open-ended question that should involve not just a simple “We tested this” response but also an explanation of why they chose that variable to test. The interviewee should know that you test one variable at a time, to avoid muddying the results.

Bonus points if they’ve tried some tricky tests, such as seeing what kind of imagery resonates best with an audience.

5. How do you judge the success of your email campaigns?

The ideal email marketing manager should be as comfortable creating a style guide as they are digging through data. Ideally, they look at open and click-through rates, as well as conversion rates on a landing page or other destination. Hopefully, they’re well-versed in more advanced metrics too, such as deliverability rates, mobile vs. desktop email stats, and ROI.

A good follow-up here could involve how they’ve applied past lessons to future campaigns, with specific examples. Bonus points if they can show how they’ve moved the needle on a KPI (key performance indicator) with at least one campaign.

6. How have you used different kinds of emails as part of a customer lifecycle strategy?

Any good email marketing manager understands the difference between triggered, transactional, and promotional emails and how to use them as part of a customer journey. The interviewee should be able to explain how they’ve crafted a strategy that takes a new customer from onboarding to tenured status to a win-back situation where they’ve stopped making purchases or have closed their account.

Bonus points if segmentation is part of their strategy. For example, do they treat customers in one demographic different from those in another? Do they consider how long people have been customers, how much they spend monthly or annually, and how they’ve engaged with emails in the past? Ideally, they have developed parallel customer journeys that take those things into consideration.

7. How do you handle deliverability problems?

Anyone who’s been around the block a few times with email marketing understands that just because you send a message to someone, it doesn’t mean it will actually land in their inbox. It could end up in their spam or promotion folder, or it could simply never arrive.

An interviewee should demonstrate knowledge of sender reputation and how it affects deliverability. Bonus points if they can relate some examples of how they’ve fixed deliverability problems on their job, and extra bonus points if they understand Sender Policy Framework (SPF), DomainKey Authenticated Mail (DKIM), and Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance (DMARC), as well as how they use those security standards as part of their deliverability efforts.

They should earn some big bonus points if they’ve used an analytics dashboard, like the one SparkPost offers, to diagnose deliverability problems at a deeper level.

8. How have you reacted to an email marketing campaign that failed?

After giving an interviewee the chance to show off what they know and how they’ve shined in their work, this is a chance to understand how they handle adversity. Every email marketing manager will have failed campaigns, so they should be able to explain what they learned and how they applied those lessons to future campaigns.

Bonus points if their answer has a mix of technical detail, such as how they tackled a deliverability problem, and behavioral insight, such as how they handled the failed campaign within their company.

9. How do you manage your daily work?

Anyone with the word “manager” in their job title should be able to work independently, stay organized, and follow up on their to-do list. They should also be able to demonstrate how they work with their teammates, as well as their cross-functional stakeholders in engineering, product design, and other parts of the company.

Bonus points if they can relate situations where they’ve shown the initiative to tackle certain tasks without being told to do so. Extra bonus points if those tasks were outside their job description and/or their comfort zone.

~ Erica

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How to Build an Email Program to Increase DAUs https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/build-email-program-increase-daus/ Wed, 23 Oct 2019 13:00:03 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=47792 increase DAUsLearn how to build an email program that will bolster and sustain meaningful engagement with your app as well as increase DAUs.

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If you’re marketing an app, you likely keep a close eye on how many daily active users, or DAUs, are taking action within your app.

Why? Well, many companies consider DAUs to be the most significant measure of product stickiness and growth – two factors imperative to measuring the success of your app.

Okay, so you have your DAUs. Any app does. What’s the issue?  It’s how, over time, the retention stats don’t look great for a typical app.

According to an in-depth study by Quettra, the average app loses 77% of its DAUs within the first 3 days of installation. Within 30 days, it’s lost 90% of DAUs. That’s pretty drastic.

Now before you think “that study has to be incorrect; our own experience is different, we’re seeing lots of regular engagement,” note that a lost DAU is not completely inactive – it may be a user that’s taking action a few times a month. Losing a Daily Active User isn’t the same as losing a Monthly Active User, but they do correlate.

So how do you bolster and sustain meaningful engagement with your app, and retain existing DAUs and even convert others into using it more frequently?

Why use email to drive DAUs?

As we’ve mentioned before, email isn’t going anywhere. With a predicted 255 million users in just the US by 2020, email is a channel that retains enormous reach and effectiveness. After all, it’s all about reaching your audience, and chances are pretty high that your audience is looking at their inbox at least once a day (if not constantly).  And a lot of younger or more app-savvy consumers view email as a key channel.

What’s wrong about relying mainly on push notifications? With the number of apps on individual devices soaring, consumers are growing more likely to download apps and then abandon them. Email is a channel to reach them that’s both non-intrusive and effective because of the fact its users feel they’ve got more power over it.

Source

Push notifications, on their own, may not be enough to recover users who have forgotten about your app or may be slacking off in usage.  They’ve got a short character limit and rigid structure; even with emojis, there’s only so much a marketer can do with that. Plus, once they’ve abandoned the app, users are likely to turn off notifications, if they haven’t already. Some users simply don’t want to see them.

Email offers way more leeway in grabbing the user’s attention. As a marketer, focusing on optimizing what you do within their inbox opens up a world of possibility with images, messaging and personalization options.

We aren’t saying you should overlook other channels – omnichannel marketing succeeds by integrating different ones seamlessly. Stir in your push notifications and targeted ads, but with its wide reach and range of possibilities, don’t neglect email.

Source

Types of DAU-directed emails

Here are some of the building blocks of a campaign aimed at retaining DAUs, or turning other users into DAUs. But one reminder: Don’t forget to test. No matter what type of email program you mount, A/B testing of different message types, timing, frequency, copy, creative, and incentives is always the key to success.

Welcome

A simple welcome email can bring your app to the front of mind for users and tip some of them into usage.  Beyond reminding them why they downloaded your app, you can offer help with set-up, quick tips for using or navigating the app, or just thank them for their download.

Thank-you emails have an engagement rate of 62% and every marketer pulling his/her weight should be tapping into that. Everyone likes being thanked!

Onboarding

Sending users step-by-step instructions helps them become comfortable with your app, making them more likely to engage with it. Depending on your app’s functionality, you may want to have a more protracted onboarding campaign to get them really enmeshed in the orientation process over a longer time.

There may be hidden features or options and settings that are tricky to navigate, or that you can deliberately “reveal” at later stages of the campaign.

Re-engagement 

Whether a user didn’t complete signing up or has simply been inactive, email can provide the perfect tool for re-engagement.

This example from eFax, for instance, doesn’t offer anything new – the free trial is always included on signup – but it serves to remind the user why they signed up in the first place. They highlight some of the major features they offer, but place emphasis on messaging that’s structured around a keen financial motive: Stop wasting your money. Hard to argue with that, isn’t it?

Plus, eFax offers an incentive (more on these below) for customers to re-engage with the app: they’ll get a free month of service.

Here’s another approach to re-engagement: Cornerstone cares enough about the user’s reasons for not engaging with the app that they want them to fill out a survey. And by the way, they’ll give you free store credit for doing so.

Incentives

As we’ve just seen, another popular method of encouraging DAUs? Offer incentives. We’re only human, after all, and putting something in our pockets, or helping us save, always draws attention.

Emails that offer users a reason to return (particularly for financial reasons) get traction with users. While many products offer sign-up incentives, using them, later on, can lure a user back to engagement. Motivating customers to come back is crucial and it doesn’t have to be costly; a discount, free upgrade, or “Exclusive! Limited availability!” feature unlock might do the trick without breaking the budget.

One good point to remember about using incentives? A DAU isn’t necessarily generating value for you unless s/he’s taking specific actions that drive revenue, like buying stuff or shelling out for upgrades. Incentives help steer them down that path.

One company that constantly sends rewards and special offers through email is Starbucks. While the rewards are easily loaded into the app, most are first sent to the inbox and require users to engage before they activate.

Community Announcements

Everyone wants to think they’re hanging out with the popular crowd, right? So as your user community grows, make sure members know they’re part of a burgeoning bunch of fellow cool kids. Or at least like-minded people.

This accomplishes a few things: It lets the user know you value him/her, and that others have ratified that user’s app choice – the sheer popularity of a product can be motivating for some users. Also, it makes you look successful and stable, implying the app will be more likely to be updated and supported in the future.

Here’s an example from Readdle that hits that mark:

Usage Updates

One personalization tactic? Celebrate user engagement! This shows a user you’re paying attention, and you’re going to recognize them for engaging with your app. Or you can go even farther, in an entertaining way. Lyft provides a great example below: their “year in review” emails are really just showing users their own usage data, yet it’s a fun way for them to feel connected to the company and the use of its app.

By providing your users with a sense of accomplishment, you give them a reason to come back to you every day.  Create some usage mileposts as the basis of a DAU-targeted campaign, even if they’re arbitrary or whimsical ones, to power emails that reward users with recognition so they can celebrate with a smile or a fist-pump.

~ Jen

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Diagnosing and Solving Deliverability Issues with Email on Acid https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/diagnosing-and-solving-deliverability-issues-with-email-on-acid/ Mon, 21 Oct 2019 13:00:36 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=47773 Solving Deliverability IssuesRead up on what we discussed during the twitter chat we co-hosted with Email on Acid titled Diagnosing and Solving Deliverability Issues.

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Earlier this month we co-hosted a Twitter chat titled Diagnosing and Solving Deliverability Issues with Email on Acid, a pre-deployment email tool that helps you to find & fix email mistakes while you QA, even if you don’t know HTML. During the Twitter chat, Email on Acid tweeted out deliverability questions and welcomed anyone who was following along to respond in live time.

Through this casual Q&A format, we intended to educate our followers on the basics of deliverability, something that can get lost in the shuffle when addressing high-level concerns about delivering to certain ISPs or increasing open rates. With Email on Acid’s email expertise and the overwhelming amount of #emailgeeks we have over here at SparkPost, together we answered and addressed deliverability questions big and small:

Here are the questions Email on Acid asked during the Twitter chat:

  1. What is the difference between delivery and deliverability?
  2. How can you determine if your email campaign is successful?
  3. How can you ensure that you are sending to legitimate addresses?
  4. How can sending to invalid addresses negatively impact deliverability?
  5. How does engagement affect my deliverability?
  6. What steps should you take to warm-up your IP address(es)?

Check out the answers to these deliverability questions below!

 

While the above questions may seem very basic to a seasoned email pro, there is no harm in re-reviewing their answers as concerns around deliverability are ever-changing. On the other side of the coin, these questions and answers offer a great jumping-off point for those just getting started in email sending.

For those looking for more information about deliverability, we recommend checking out our guide: The New Rules of Email Deliverability. In addition to addressing the changes to deliverability seen in recent years, this guide also includes new rules and techniques that email senders should be following. Additionally, if you’re looking for a quick read check out some of my favorite blog posts on deliverability:

17 Ways to Improve Email Deliverability

10 Steps to Email Deliverability for Beginners

Deliverability: Half Art, Half Science

How to Segment your Subscriber Data to Improve Deliverability

We hope that our Twitter chat with Email on Acid was helpful and would love your feedback! What topic should we focus on for our next Twitter chat? Feel free to drop me a line and let me know!

~ Erica

new rules email deliverability best practices

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Macabre Marketing: Why Marketers Should Care About Halloween https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/macabre-marketing-why-marketers-should-care-about-halloween/ Fri, 18 Oct 2019 13:00:28 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=47758 halloweenWhether you’re in B2B or B2C, we suggest pulling up your spooky socks and getting to work on your Halloween marketing campaign.

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It’s that leaf-crunchin’, apple pickin’, scarifyin’ time of year!

Everything around you is pumpkin-related, spiced or spooky. And as the end of October creeps closer, black cats, broomsticks, and bones seem to spring up everywhere.

But if you’re not selling jack-o’-lanterns or IT costumes (yes, that creepy clown seems very popular this year), is Halloween really a holiday marketers should care about?

Absolutely.

According to an annual survey by the National Retail Federation, Halloween spending will reach $8.8 billion this year. If you’re wondering where that stands in comparison to other years, that makes it the third-highest amount in 15 years.

172 million people plan to celebrate Halloween this year. So whether you’re in B2B or B2C, we suggest pulling up your spooky socks and getting to work on your Halloween marketing campaign.

Go big or ghost home?

“Ghost home.” Ouch. But it’s a season for puns, not all of them good.

A Halloween-themed email campaign should start with smart subject lines that sprinkle in a little Halloween wordplay but still serve as great CTAs. It’s the perfect time to test that pumpkin emoji you’ve been looking at. Just be sure to keep everything relevant. It’s too easy to be carried away by “boo”-related puns and bat graphics, so invest in messaging and design that’s more imaginative and doesn’t get buried in clichés.

But whatever you do, quickly relating the creative concept back to your product or service is essential.

Here’s an example of how a Halloween theme can “go big” across an omnichannel B2C campaign. While makeup certainly comes to mind when one thinks of Halloween, it’s more along the lines of face paint and glitter.

That’s why retail cosmetics brand Lush is a superb example of a brand that executes a powerful Halloween marketing campaign by relating their products to the holiday in a unique way.

Despite selling two fairly non-Halloween-esque products – bath bombs and body scrubs – their facebook campaign is relevant, creepy and cute all at once.

While that post has the most interactions, it was the first in a currently ongoing campaign that beautifully switches between adorable and chilling throughout the spooky season. What’s particularly powerful about this is that it’s just a body scrub – but the photography immediately relates it to something darker.

Social media is a solid avenue for engagement, particularly for a brand like Lush where you don’t want to email your audience every few days and overwhelm them with product announcements. By consistently posting thematically-congruent images and copy, Lush scares up better response.

But Lush complements its social media campaign with email that draws on the same spookified sources of inspiration. Here’s one that gives the customer a last-chance opportunity to grab seasonal specials:

Their website is tuned into the same idea – everything on their homepage is consistent with the countdown to Halloween.

All in all, this makes for a seamless, immersive customer experience that just screams Halloween.

Re-animating sales

A jolt of electricity to Dr. Frankenstein’s little re-animation experiment got his monster up and moving.  Why not use a similar tactic to animate sales lift during the Halloween window? It’s the right time to apply fun approaches that might be a bit offbeat for a brand.

This GIF-animated promotion from The Knot drives greater engagement from current registrants by offering the chance to win a $500 gift card just for reviewing their vendor list at the site. They know, of course, that users may take them up on a few featured offers at the site, or add other providers.

Black and orange is so in vogue for an October wedding…isn’t it?

Postable attempts something in the same vein. Though we’re not that sure about how effective Mr. Pumpkinhead is. That outfit does him no favors whatsoever.

Creep-ified content

As always, your audience doesn’t just want fun Halloween-related content – they also want it to be useful.

The U.S. Department of Energy provides a great example of this. Their video, “4 Tips to Keep Your Energy Bill From Haunting You” is fun and does a nice job relating helpful tips to the season.

Beyond this video, the Department of Energy developed other themed assets to play to the spirit of October. Their Spooky Energy Units Calculator, for instance, shows how your energy consumption stacks up against the energy found in candy (and chainsaw hours, because why not?) It’s fun, it’s consistent but most of all, it’s useful.

B2Beast: What’s the trick to treating yourself?

Okay, so a B2C marketer can get away with putting a ghoulish twist on their campaigns. But what if you’re in B2B?

B2B marketers need to work harder to make their holiday themes really resonate, and not simply look silly. Which is one reason many they may shy away from Halloween campaigns – and is exactly why a well-judged, well-executed campaign will have greater impact on the audience.

This example from Dun & Bradstreet from a few years ago highlights a great way to connect data and the Halloween spirit. It really makes a statement with its imagery and clear message, highlighted by a statistic taken from the accompanying report.

The timely image linked to a B2B Marketing Data Benchmark Survey, making an otherwise fact-heavy report (ironically enough) come to life.

Data storage and marketing site provider StorEDGE, on the other hand, uses email to deliver a time-sensitive offer for a free Amazon gift card just for filling out a demo form. This particular offer will turn back into a pumpkin at the stroke of midnight Halloween evening.

~ Erica

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6 Real Life Examples of Financial Services Emails That Don’t Use a “One Size Fits All” Approach https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/6-real-life-examples-financial-services-emails-dont-use-one-size-fits-approach/ Wed, 16 Oct 2019 13:00:03 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=47742 financial services emailsRead about 6 different examples of financial services emails that do a good job of speaking to specific customer personas.

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Marketing emails remain a strong way to engage financial services customers and drive sales. According to OptinMonster:

  • 60% of consumers subscribe to brand email lists to get promotional messages
  • 44% of people check email when they want to find a special deal
  • 60% of consumers have made purchases after receiving marketing emails

However, it’s crucial to ensure that the messages your customers receive are relevant to their needs. If they’re not, the fallout can be deadly: according to SuperOffice, when people see emails that aren’t tailored to them:

  • 60% of them delete the message
  • 27% click the “unsubscribe” link
  • 23% do the worst thing possible: they mark the email as spam

All of those things can not only hurt your engagement numbers but also do damage to your sender reputation, which can make it tougher to reach your customers’ inboxes.

Create personas and develop a customer journey

The best way to keep that from happening and avoid the “one size fits all” approach is to slice your customer list into segments according to specific criteria, such as:

  • Customer’s ages, if you know that
  • How long customers have been with you
  • The last time they interacted with your company, such as opening an email or logging into their account
  • Where your customers live (certain financial services products may not be available everywhere, depending on local laws)
  • Which of your products they use (useful for cross-selling and upselling)
  • How much they spend per month or year, or if they’re only using free services (helpful for ROI calculations for different segments)

You can then create personas for those segments. For example, look at the data for your new customers and imagine who they are and how they feel. Do they tend to be younger or older? What are they likely hoping to get out of their relationship with your company? (That could be different from what your long-term customers want.) How do they feel when they get that welcome email? Excited? Nervous? Relieved that they’ve completed a difficult process?

Repeat that exercise for each segment. If necessary, create a quick profile of who the typical customer is in each segment, so you can write your marketing emails as if you’re talking to them. For example: “John is 28 years old. He downloaded our mobile app and created an account for the first time. He’s single, or possibly newly married, and has some extra money to invest every month, before he starts a family and those funds are diverted to other things. He’s open to riskier investments with bigger potential payoffs, such as crowd-funded start-ups, but he’s also nervous about losing money on them.”

Here are 6 examples of financial services emails that do a good job of speaking to specific customer personas.

1. QuickBooks: “We’re so glad you’re here!”

Intuit has carved out a nice chunk of the market by providing financial software to small businesses as well as accountants and other sole proprietors in that space. Their welcome email sets the right tone by making the customer feel like they made the right choice and, in a nifty bit of personalization, acknowledging why they’re there. (“You told us you want to send invoices.”)

The email is short and simple, as a welcome message should be, and puts the main focus on what the customer wants to do, complete with a list of steps and a CTA that sends them to the right place to get started. Intuit still does a little bit of cross-selling by closing the email with a list of other things that the customer is likely to be interested in too, but it wisely avoids any hard sells.

2. Weekly report from Mint: “Here’s how you’re doing”

This is a good example of a triggered email sent to a customer who has had an account for a while. Mint lets users link their bank accounts, credit cards, investment portfolios, and loans to one account, as well as create budgets and set financial goals. It drives revenues from referrals to financial institutions, credit cards, and other financial services products.

The company sends a weekly email that lays out everything the customer needs to know about their account, providing them with a useful visual snapshot of a point in time, so the customer understands the complete picture of their financial health. They adopt a breezy, conversational tone, speaking to the customer as if they’re a good friend giving them some useful advice.

Mint also uses the email to drive engagement if the customer hasn’t completed their account setup, with comments like, “You spent $0.00 in the last week. Wait, that can’t be right…” They make sure to include value props, so the customer understands why they should click through and finish those tasks.

3. ScholarShare 529: “The new year brings a new opportunity”

ScholarShare 529 helps parents save for their kids’ college educations, or private elementary and high school educations, by setting up 529 plans, which are college savings accounts that are exempt from federal taxes.

This promotional email was sent out during the first week of January, so it assumes the recipients are likely making personal improvement resolutions and feeling optimistic about getting a fresh start. It also acknowledges that the reader is very likely a parent, so it adopts the tone of a financial planner who’s letting their client know that they should start thinking about saving for college and, by the way, it’s never too late to get started on that.

4. Wells Fargo: “Depositing checks is as easy as snapping a photo”

This marketing email from Wells Fargo is aimed at longer term customers – probably older Gen Xers and Baby Boomers – who haven’t made the leap to smartphone-based deposits yet by showing them how easy it is. The lifestyle photo conveys the idea that members of an older generation can do it too: “Look how easily her daughter is making a deposit,” it seems to say.

The bullet points reinforce the idea that depositing a check with your phone is easy, convenient, and secure, and the Sign On CTA button takes the recipient straight into their account, which makes sense given how many people read email on their phones.

5. Great Lakes: “Your 2018 Student Loan Tax Information”

This triggered email was sent to all student loan borrowers at the end of November, a time when many people are not only thinking about the holidays but also wrapping up their finances for the year. The lifestyle image and the text assume the recipient is probably in their 20s, or maybe 30s, and needs a prompt to remember about accounting for their student loan interest on their taxes.

That’s why the tone is a bit parental, like someone sitting down with their adult child to remind them about something that may not be top of mind at tax time, when they’re more likely to be thinking about W-2s, 1099s, charitable contributions, and other items that tend to get more focus.

6. Acorns: “Let’s talk mortgages”

We’ll wrap up with a promotional cross-sell message that’s also aimed at a younger crowd. Acorns is an investment service that rounds up its users’ purchases to the nearest dollar and puts the leftover change into investment funds, so it fosters many partnerships with financial companies that can be useful to their customers.

This email is written as if it’s coming from a parent, or perhaps a financial advisor, who wants to explain how the home buying process starts before segueing into a pitch for a partner who can help with the first step in that journey. The message also assumes that the reader has been a customer for a while and trusts Acorns to steer them in the right direction with their financial decisions.

 

~ Casey

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3 Key Strategies for Announcing New Features via Email https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/3-key-strategies-announcing-new-features-via-email/ Fri, 11 Oct 2019 13:00:18 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=47716 announcing new featuresEmail is the best strategy for announcing new features, and we have some quick tips that’ll help ensure your customers love what you want them to know.

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Rolling out new application features or content is exciting. Or it ought to be, for providers and users alike. As a software marketer, you know in your heart of hearts you’re launching highly valuable enhancements; of course, your customers should want to know what’s new with your product!

The challenge is to be conveying this in an exciting, immersive way. In short, your marketing has be equal to the coolness of your new feature or content – and that’s what we’re here to look at.

Your users need to know they’re top-of-mind, as far as you and your team are concerned, and announcing updates and new features can build their faith. If you fall flat in communicating these updates, either by providing poor information or uninspired execution, they may think you aren’t putting enough work into building the relationship.

Or worse? That your product isn’t evolving enough. Email is the best way to announce these new features, and we have some quick tips that’ll help ensure your customers love what you want them to know.

Keep it concise

While the meat of your announcement is important, the actual language and messaging relating new features can easily fall into being bland and – worst of the worst! – boring. Yet this doesn’t have to happen.

As seen here in this example by VWO, announcement emails don’t need to be long and drawn out. Introducing the launch of SmartStats, this email works because it keeps it simple.

With an attractive, on-brand color palette and a clear and very compelling CTA, the message conveyed here is effective because it’s simple. If reducing your testing time by half interests you, as a user, just go ahead and click ‘learn more’. It seems pretty apparent that any current customer of VWO would want to explore this update. Explaining not just the new update but the benefit it gives your current customer base makes it successful.

When the points of difference (PODs) and CTAs you communicate are strong, it’s essential to make sure they’re delivered clearly and cleanly. Think of a POD as a car design: A well-designed car will look good even in base white because it doesn’t need fancy paint jobs or overdone trim. A well-crafted POD statement doesn’t need flourishes – or should inspire creative execution ideas that flow naturally and directly.

Use your imagination – add animation or video

While we may never learn the correct way to pronounce GIFs, they can be a fantastic tool for email marketing. By keeping animation short but to-the-point, you add more interest to your announcements than just a static picture.

They aren’t a new tool – in fact, way back in 2014, Dell launched a GIF-centered email campaign and the results spoke volumes. Compared to quarterly campaign benchmarks, they saw a 6% increase in open rate.  Not convinced yet? Wait for it…

They also say a pleasant 42% increase in click rate, a 103% rise in conversion rate and a whopping 109% bump in revenue!

Some things to keep in mind with animation or video – especially GIFs?

Once again, make sure you keep your animation on-brand and focused. GIFs or video can be fun, but it’s easy to get carried away, and it’s important you stick to your main message. Just because a GIF may be popular at the moment with, say, Millenials, doesn’t mean it properly reflects your brand, your message, or your audience. Be careful to make sure you don’t overwhelm your reader with arbitrary-seeming use of animation.

You’re also more likely to lose your audience if you use animation you’ve scooped off the web. Customized animation or explainer video that shows off your new features is more likely to resound.

Sprout Social knocked it out of the park with a simple animation to announce their iPhone and iPad app. It’s personal, quick and helpful. The immersive demonstration of their new app is much more engaging than a longer video, which many customers wouldn’t sit through in its entirety.

Don’t lose the fun

Just because an update may be somewhat technical or low-key in nature doesn’t mean your email has to be, as well. Mint regularly sends out tres engaging emails, and this is a great example of how they make them fun.

As always, they include a message to remind you that you matter most (you really are important to us!) and the tone of the message is familiar and friendly. The language serves to remind you that Mint works tirelessly for you, your money and your savings.

Combining positive, unambiguous message execution with user-directed personalization just plain works in optimizing engagement, no matter what kind of email campaign you’re setting up. Check out our tips on personalizing your next Martech email campaign.

~ Erica

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How ZipRecruiter’s Emails Empower Job Hunters https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/ziprecuiters-emails-empower-job-hunters/ Wed, 09 Oct 2019 13:00:24 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=47679 ZipRecruiter's emailsEdTech Customer Success Manager, Stephanie Weiss, shares how ZipRecruiter's emails made her feel well-informed and empowered when searching for a new job.

The post How ZipRecruiter’s Emails Empower Job Hunters appeared first on SparkPost.

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Job hunting can be scary and stressful particularly when making a big career change. When I began looking for opportunities in the EdTech world after years in front of the whiteboard as an elementary school teacher I was overwhelmed to say the least. During that time I found that while there was no shortage of job board websites there were few that made the job hunting process feel personalized to my needs and skills.

After looking through tons of job reqs on every site you can think of I found ZipRecruiter, an employment marketplace with a focus on tailoring the job hunting experience to each candidate (and their resume). One of the major ways ZipRecruiter executes on a highly-personalized customer experience is through triggered email. Whenever there was a position posted that they thought could be a fit for me, I received an email notification within moments. This allowed me to apply for positions as soon as they hit the market and be an early applicant for jobs that I was really excited about. When I saw the email to be an Account Manager at an EdTech company I jumped at the opportunity and scored the job!

In addition to helping job seekers, ZipRecruiter also helps companies find qualified candidates for their open roles. Hundreds of thousands of recruiters rely on new candidate notification emails to help them identify great applicants for the jobs they are hiring for. With such a great focus on email communication with customers and applicants it’s no surprise that ZipRecruiter relies on SparkPost to send their messages. In fact, SparkPost takes care of sending the 20,000,000 emails that ZipRecuriter sends daily!

Now, 2 years later, my days of checking my email for ZipRecruiter notifications feel like a world away. ZipRecuriter’s emails made me feel well-informed about job opportunities and empowered during a process that was at times incredibly taxing for me. With the help of ZipRecruiter and their personalized triggered emails I was able to find a meaningful career helping teachers and students across the country.

~ Stephanie

Stephanie Weiss is a Customer Success Manager at an EdTech company. With a Masters in Education and years of teaching experience, she is passionate about helping educators find new ways to engage their students.

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Peeking into Email Validation Techniques https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/peeking-email-validation-techniques/ Mon, 07 Oct 2019 13:00:33 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=47656 email validationA long time ago in an era far, far away...email validation was very different from what it is today. Learn about the different eras of email validation.

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Email validation has gone through a few different eras

A long time ago in an era far, far away… it started with Syntax Validation

Checking an email address for syntax accuracy has been the simplest version of email validation. The core elements of a valid email address are the local part, the @ symbol, the domain, and finally, the extension (.com, .org, etc.). To help standardize all the various syntaxes, specifications called Requests For Comments (RFCs) were published to determine what characters would be acceptable for local and domain parts. These RFCs eventually became quite extensive and created the need for open-source libraries to help validate email syntax in many languages.

Validation SMTP Command and The Attack of the Spammers

Recognizing the need for help on validating email addresses, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) started to build in email address validation functionality. Thus, “VRFY” (also known as Verify) was built as an SMTP command which enabled senders to ask a receiving mail server if an email address was valid. With the hope to use VRFY to bring peace and order to the galactic Internet, it soon fell into the wrong hands of the dark side; spammers. After wide-scale abuse of this functionality, ISP administrators disabled VRFY, leaving email address validation in disarray.

SMTP Ping (The Spammer Menace)

After the fall of VRFY, senders creatively devised SMTP Ping, a different method to verify whether or not an email address was valid. SMTP Ping would be used to check against a remote mail server to see if an email address was alive. A connection to the Internet Service Provider (ISP) remote mail server, such as Gmail, would be made as if actually sending an email, but abruptly cut short without actually sending the email.

Typically, the conversation held in the connection between the sending mail server and the receiving ISP mail server would look like this:


In some scenarios, the ISP could provide feedback like this instead:

With SMTP Ping, senders could cut the conversation short after seeing the response back from the ISP, after requesting to send mail to the specified email address. This became a way to ping against an ISP to see if the receiving mail server found the email addresses to be valid or invalid, with some degree of confidence.

The Dark Side of SMTP Ping

ISPs consider SMTP Ping as spammer behavior. ISPs can easily tell that you’re doing this by looking at the conversation patterns: Calling in and hanging up repetitiously, with no (or very little) messages actually being sent, ends up in their mail server logs, After the history with SMTP VRFY, this type of behavior is now known to be spammy. ISPs are cracking down on this behavior and cracking down hard. Microsoft for example, considers this type of practice to be malicious and Hotmail finds SMTP Ping as evidence of a directory harvest attack. SMTP Ping attempts in progress will typically drop a hard block on all connections from the sending IP address. ISPs dislike SMTP Ping, and so do blacklist operators. Keep it up, and you’ll almost surely end up getting blacklisted. Long story short, it’s a really bad practice.

A New Hope: Data-Driven

Rather than rely on SMTP Ping, there’s a different data-driven approach that does not make enemies with ISPs. Validating email addresses can be done by looking up against a large data set, with event data including hard bounces, deliveries, and engagement, as well as incorporating syntax validation, typo detection, DNS queries for valid domains, and quality checks for free, role-based, and disposable email addresses.  This method heavily relies on the depth and breadth of the data the email validation tool or service is built upon, instead of depending on the ISP to provide back a specific response. You may not want to judge Master Yoda based on his size, but you’ll want to judge an email address validation tool by its data size.

SparkPost’s Recipient Validation is built on top of its large email data footprint, sending more than 37% of the world’s B2C and B2B email. Our data science team has done a thorough analysis of billions of email bounces and delivery events. Our findings establish that a single hard bounce isn’t enough to establish you shouldn’t send to an address. Using our data footprint, we are constantly updating our list of recipients and our algorithms to capture the true validity of a hard bounce, and analyzing all related email events to best answer the question: Can you deliver to this given email address?

As we continue to build and iterate upon our Recipient Validation, our goal is to make ours the most dependable and fastest validation tool on the market. Rumor has it our Recipient Validation will be able to make the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs, or at least something along those lines…

— Isaac Kim, Technical Product Manager

@isaacswkim

The post Peeking into Email Validation Techniques appeared first on SparkPost.

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Spamhaus’ Crackdown on Abusers https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/spamhaus-crackdown-on-abusers/ Fri, 04 Oct 2019 13:00:53 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=47607 spamhausRead up on the new changes renowned blacklist operator Spamhaus recently announced to its DNSBL (a.k.a. blacklist) products.

The post Spamhaus’ Crackdown on Abusers appeared first on SparkPost.

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Renowned blacklist operator Spamhaus recently announced some changes to its DNSBL (a.k.a. blacklist) products, and while we don’t think it’ll have a big impact on SparkPost customers, we wanted to bring it to your attention all the same.

Spamhaus has long had a policy of allowing free use of its DNSBLs up to a point, a policy that’s clearly spelled out on their website. Basically, if you’re a small site making a relatively limited amount of queries, you can make use of Spamhaus’ public DNS servers to facilitate your use of their DNSBLs. This usage came with the caveat that such queries couldn’t be made indirectly through open public DNS resolvers, such as those offered by Cloudflare (IP address 1.1.1.1) or Google (8.8.8.8), but instead would have to come directly from you. Those sites with higher volume query needs are required to become subscribers to the DNSBL products and pay Spamhaus an annual fee for a data feed.

In its latest announcement, Spamhaus is indicating that they’re stepping up enforcement of both of these rules. Like all DNSBLs, the Spamhaus DNSBLs function by answering DNS queries, returning a pseudo-IP address (e.g., 127.0.0.2) if the subject of the query is listed, and returning the DNS code “NXDOMAIN” if it’s not. Most mail server software and other tools that query DNSBLs rely on the answer to this query to determine what action to take, with different IP addresses meaning different things.

What Spamhaus is doing is adding two new IP addresses to the list of possible returns:

  • 127.255.255.254 if the query came through a public resolver
  • 127.255.255.255 if the query came from a source that has issued too many queries

Spamhaus believes that it “will be quite uncommon for most Spamhaus users to encounter these codes”, but we here at SparkPost know from our own data that there are some sites out there that appear to be misconfigured in their use of DNSBLs. Those sites tend to be small ones that not many people send mail to, but the subset of those sites that try to make use of Spamhaus may encounter issues related to this change that causes them to incorrectly refuse mail that they might otherwise accept. Should this happen, we anticipate that they’ll figure it out in short order, especially if their inbound mail stream dries up, but we at SparkPost will do our best to spread the word about this change if we see it having a large impact on our customers.

~Todd

new rules email deliverability best practices

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How to Incorporate Marketing Messages into Your Transactional Emails https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/incorporate-marketing-messages-transaction-emails/ Wed, 02 Oct 2019 13:00:03 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=47558 Transactional EmailsDiscover 7 best practices to keep in mind when creating double-duty transactional emails that also include a marketing message.

The post How to Incorporate Marketing Messages into Your Transactional Emails appeared first on SparkPost.

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Every email has a recipe. Sometimes it’s a really simple one, such as a transactional “Your order has shipped” message. Other times it’s a perfectly crafted concoction, like a personalized marketing message that tells the recipient about new products that have been chosen just for them, based on their purchase history.

Like fusion cuisine, you can also mix different kinds of emails to create something unique, such as putting a marketing message in an email that has an order confirmation or an account update notice. According to Experian, transactional emails are opened 8 times more often than regular marketing emails, so that gives you an opportunity to slip in a marketing message.

However, if you don’t do it right, you’ll end up with an email that leaves a bad taste in your customers’ mouths, so here are 7 things to keep in mind if you want to spice up your transactional emails.

1. Be careful with certain kinds of transactional emails

When looking at your suite of transactional emails and considering which ones could benefit from some marketing, consider how your customer will feel when they receive the messages.

If it’s an order confirmation or a shipping notice, they’ll likely be in a good mood. The same should apply for new account creations, as well as triggered emails that contain monthly account activity summaries and similar types of information. That means you can probably slip in a marketing message.

However, if the transactional email lets them know that a product they ordered is on backlog, or it’s a password reset, your customers probably won’t be as receptive to an additional marketing message. The same goes for triggered emails such as suspicious log-in attempts and notices about upcoming payment due dates.

While you’re conducting that email audit, it’s also a good time to check for outdated information, review the conditions that cause those emails to be sent out, and so forth. Even the copyright notice at the bottom of an email should be looked out to make sure it’s current.

2. Watch your mix of transactional and promotional messaging

A good rule of thumb is 90/10: Roughly 90% of your email should contain the primary information while about 10% can be reserved for a promotional component. You could probably adjust it to 85/15 if needed, but it’s a good idea not to push that ratio too far. Promotional content should almost always reside toward the bottom of the email unless there’s a really compelling reason for putting it near the top.

Not only do you have to worry about how customers will react to your email, but you also have to consider any laws that apply to marketing activities. For example, the CAN-SPAM Act in the United States notes that transactional emails are exempt as long as they don’t “contain false or misleading routing information.”

You should also be careful with your subject line since email providers will typically handle a transactional message differently from a pure marketing one. (Consider Gmail’s Promotions tab.) Your subject line should only refer to the primary purpose of the email, such as an order confirmation. It’s a good idea to follow the same rule with the preview text.

While it’s tempting to throw a little marketing spin into the subject line and/or preview text, you run the risk of irritating customers and causing them to flag your email as spam. That will not only damage customer loyalty but it will also hurt your sender reputation, which will make it tougher to reach people’s inboxes next time.

3. Try cross-sells

Amazon is one of the masters of this technique – in fact, they’ve said in the past that up to 35% of their revenue comes from cross-selling, thanks to the “Frequently Bought Together” and “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” notices that are found all over their site.

They’re also good at cross-selling after a purchase has been made, such as in this order confirmation email. Note that the bulk of the messaging applies to the email’s primary function.

This is an easy way to scoop up a few extra sales post-purchase, and you can even apply it to emails like product backlog notices. Yes, we noted in the introduction that consumers who receive such emails probably aren’t receptive to additional marketing, but cross-sells and upsells can be an exception to the rule. It’s an opportunity to let the customer know that even though the product they want isn’t available right now, there are similar items they might prefer instead.

4. Follow up after the purchase

Yes, this isn’t an example of putting transactional and promotional messaging in one email, but it is a way to leverage a sale for additional cross-selling or to simply follow up with some customer care. Making customers feel good about their purchase decisions doesn’t always lead to immediate additional sales, but it goes a long way toward creating goodwill that typically leads to loyalty.

This Apple email is a good example of a purchase follow-up. The buyer of an Apple Watch is invited to schedule a session with an Apple Specialist, and, of course, there’s a link to accessories at the bottom of the email.

5. Offer related information

Another less sales-y way to build goodwill with customers is to give them useful information, such as links to blog posts, how-to guides, and events, or short notes about things like referral programs.

You can also include relevant reminders, such as letting a customer know about mobile app deposits in a transactional email confirming an in-person deposit. And it never hurts to include links to your social media accounts, so customers can interact with you there.

This email from Airbnb does a good job of giving the user links to useful how-to information while confirming that their listing has been published, which is clearly stated in the subject line. The links address three concerns that many users are likely to have, so the email is a nice way of helping give them peace of mind.

6. Help people connect with the community around your business

People like to connect with each other in various ways, even if it’s as simple as reading product reviews. Just about any business can benefit from that, whether that means creating a forum where people can talk to each other, engaging customers on social media, or simply hosting product reviews and testimonials.

Appliance parts might seem like an unlikely topic of conversation, but Appliance Parts Pros has built a niche for itself by catering to do-it-yourselfers. This order confirmation email does a nice job of connecting its community by including links to relevant DIY stories with each part purchased. While the email could use some design tweaks, it’s a good example of building customer connections.

7. Check out examples of emails that do it right

In addition to the examples shown above, we wanted to close with an email that does a great job of balancing transactional information and promotional messaging. This order confirmation from Apple clearly lays out everything the customer needs to know about the expensive Apple Watch they ordered, since that’s what they’re likely most concerned about when they open the email.

The company leaves the promotional message for the end of the email. In typical Apple style, the email takes a Spartan approach, with minimal text and just a few images.

~ Erica

The post How to Incorporate Marketing Messages into Your Transactional Emails appeared first on SparkPost.

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Deploying Signals for On-Premises: PowerMTA Integration – Part 2 https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/deploying-signals-for-on-premises-powermta-integration-part-2/ Mon, 30 Sep 2019 13:00:25 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=47491 PowerMTAIn part 2 of his series Senior Messaging Engineer, Steve Tuck, dives into the details of setting up PowerMTA for SparkPost Signals.

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Part 1 introduced SparkPost Signals for on-premises deployments. In this part, let’s dive into the details of setting up PowerMTA for SparkPost Signals. You’re going to need:

  • A host to run the latest version of PowerMTA on – either new, or an existing machine
  • A SparkPost account with API key permission for “Incoming Events: Write” as described

We’ll set up PowerMTA to stream events up to your SparkPost account, then you’ll be able to use the following:

Signals reporting such as Health Score and Engagement Recency will take more setup surrounding PowerMTA for engagement tracking, covered in a coming article.

Firstly, install (or upgrade) to PowerMTA 4.5r20, following the usual instructions which are pretty straightforward. Then we’ll work through the following steps:

  • Configure PowerMTA connector to SparkPost Signals
  • Select which PowerMTA traffic streams to report to Signals
  • How to use meaningful names that show up well in reporting.

We’ll also cover the other specific PowerPMTA setup aspects used in our Signals demo:

  • FBL events (Spam Complaints) and remote (out-of-band) bounces
  • Injection configuration, including DKIM
  • FBL and OOB configuration
  • VirtualMTA setup and naming (and how this appears in your SparkPost Signals reports)

Finally, there’s a “bonus feature” with code to ensure your campaign names are compatible with PowerMTA

X-Job
  name conventions.

Configure PowerMTA connector

The Signals configuration is described in the User Guide section 10.1. Here we’ll start with “Use Case #2”, which enables Signals for all traffic from this PowerMTA host.

#
# SparkPost Signals
#
<signals>
  api-key ##my ingest API key here##
  upload-url https://api.sparkpost.com/api/v1/ingest/events
  log-verbose true
  engagement-tracking true
  min-free-space 1G
</signals>
enable-signals true

Here’s what each attribute does:

api-key

This is unique to your SparkPost account, it’s the value you got from SparkPost earlier.

upload-url

This needs to match the address of your SparkPost API service, whether it’s US or EU. For more info see here. The usual values are:

SparkPost (US):

https://api.sparkpost.com/api/v1/ingest/events

SparkPost EU:   

https://api.eu.sparkpost.com/api/v1/ingest/events

log-verbose

This directive is optional and when enabled, gives a bit more info in the pmta.log file, which can be useful during setup to confirm that everything’s working correctly. Each minute, even when there’s no traffic, you’ll see:

2019-07-26 11:47:57 Signals: Discovered 0 files

With traffic, you’ll see something like:

2019-07-26 11:50:57 Signals: Discovered sp1-0000000000003FBD.json
2019-07-26 11:50:57 Signals: Transferred sp1-0000000000003FBD.json successfully.
2019-07-26 11:50:57 Signals: Discovered 1 file, transferred 1 file successfully

engagement-tracking

With this flag set, PowerMTA tells SparkPost Signals to look for engagement events (opens and clicks) relating to email deliveries. The open and click tracking requires an external integration, covered in part 3 of this series, rather than coming from PowerMTA itself.

min-free-space

This tells PowerMTA the disk space threshold at which it should start to delete the oldest SparkPost JSON event files to make space for new files when disk space is running low.

enable-signals

This tells PowerMTA to upload to Signals, in this case globally for all traffic (more info here). You can be more selective about what traffic streams to upload if you wish.

You can also mark particular PowerMTA traffic to be reported as belonging to a SparkPost subaccount – this is another way to distinguish one particular traffic stream from another.

Select which PowerMTA traffic streams to report to Signals

You can select Signals to be active:

  • Globally (this is what we used in the above example)
  • For some Virtual MTAs and not others
  • For some Virtual MTA pools and not others
  • For specific “Sender” or “From” addresses relayed by PowerMTA, in combination with the Virtual MTA / Virtual MTA pool selections

This configuration is very powerful and is illustrated through a series of example use-cases in the User Guide.

Testing

Here’s a view of SparkPost Signals, connected to PowerMTA. You can see on July 19, about half-way through this sequence, that engagement tracking (described in part 3) is switched on and begins to drive the health score. (Until you have that, the health score will just show values around 50).

The Campaign names are available as reporting facets, along with Subaccount, IP Pool, Mailbox Provider, and Sending Domain.

Using meaningful names that show up well in reporting

Setting up the PowerMTA VirtualMTA Pool names and Job names to be meaningful and human-readable is well worth doing. These show up directly in your SparkPost Signals facets and the Summary report.

As mentioned earlier, you don’t need to create these pools in your SparkPost account. SparkPost picks them up from your PowerMTA configuration.

Here’s how PowerMTA configuration terms translate to SparkPost terms.

PowerMTA term SparkPost Reports / Signals term
Recipient Domain
(domain portion of “rcpt” field in Accounting file).
Recipient Domain
The domain portion of the “Sender” or “From” header in the message relayed by PowerMTA.
(domain portion of “orig” in Accounting file).
Sending Domain
VirtualMTA (name)
VirtualMTA Pool (name)
(“vmtaPool” in accounting file)
IP Pool (name)
smtp-source-host a.b.c.d
(“dlvSourceIp” in accounting file)
Sending IP a.b.c.d
Job (name)
(“jobId” in accounting file)
Campaign ID (name)
Template (name)
“Subaccount” is not a native PowerMTA concept.

However, PowerMTA can tag virtualMTAs, virtual MTA Pools, or Sender-or-From domains with a subaccount ID for SparkPost reporting purposes.

Subaccount ID (number)
FBL (event) Spam Complaint (event)
Remote Bounce (event) Out-of-Band bounce (event)

 

Setting up at least one

smtp-source-host
  address also enables SparkPost to correctly identify the sending IP address so that it shows up on Injection and Delivery events, as well as in the Summary report view.

Job names are set in PowerMTA via a header in the injected message. As well as enabling individual job control (pause/resume etc) which is useful in itself, PowerMTA passes the names through to SparkPost Signals reporting as “campaign ID”. See User Guide section 12.8 “Tracking a campaign in PowerMTA with a JobID”.

There are a few things to be aware of regarding job naming. While SparkPost (with JSON format, and JSON escaping) allows characters such as

<SPACE>
  in campaign names, mail headers are more restrictive. Valid characters allowed in the
X-Job
  header are:

A-Za-z0-9!#$%&'()*+,-./:;<=>?@[\]^_{|}~ 

In other words, disallowed characters include

<SPACE>
, double-quotes
  and backtick
`
. If you’re used to working with
X-Job
names, this won’t be surprising, and your campaign ID names will “just work” on SparkPost reporting. If like me, you learned SparkPost first, you might want a tool to ensure your
X-Job
values are safe; see the bonus feature at the end of this article.

FBL events (Spam Complaints) and remote (out-of-band) bounces

PowerMTA can receive and process FBL events (known in SparkPost as Spam Complaint events) and remote bounces (known in SparkPost as out-of-band bounces, because the reply comes back some time afterward, rather than during the SMTP conversation).

There are articles in the Port25 Support Forum on how to set up the Bounce Processor and the FBL Processor. If you are an existing PowerMTA user, you probably already have these.

Here’s the configuration I made for a demo, based on these articles and oriented towards hosting PowerMTA in Amazon EC2.

Injection configuration

We’ll use port 587 for injected messages, which will come over the public Internet from another host. We need to stop bad actors discovering and abusing this service, so we apply username/password authentication and optional TLS, similar to SparkPost SMTP injection endpoints.

We want to be able to send messages from sources that are properly authenticated to any destination. We also want a separate listener on port 25 for FBL and remote bounce responses that don’t require authentication

#
# IP address(es) and port(s) on which to listen for incoming SMTP connections
#
smtp-listener 0.0.0.0:587
smtp-listener 0.0.0.0:25

In the following

<source>
  declarations, we’re using username/password authentication and optional TLS to defend against rogue message injection. We also set rate limits on connections making failed password attempts.

Your setup might be different; for example, if you have a private network between injector and PowerMTA, you won’t need password authentication.

# One source rule for all injection, internal or external. Enforce auth, except for bounces and FBLs
#
<source 0/0>
  log-connections false
  log-commands  false   # WARNING: verbose! just for dev
  log-data    false   # WARNING: even more verbose!
  smtp-service  true    # allow SMTP service
  smtp-max-auth-failure-rate 1/min
  allow-unencrypted-plain-auth false
  allow-starttls true
  rewrite-list  mfrom
</source>
<source {auth}>
  always-allow-relaying yes # only if the auth succeeds
  default-virtual-mta default
  process-x-job true
</source>

The

<source {auth}>
  declaration (see here) applies once authentication has passed. Here, it allows onward relaying, sets up the default virtual MTA group to use, and adds the
X-Job
header (which will be reported by SparkPost Signals as
campaign_id
).

The rewrite-list maps injected messages to use a specific MAIL FROM domain (aka bounce domain or Return-Path:).

#
# Rewrite the MAIL FROM address to match the bounce domain
#
<rewrite-list mfrom>
  mail-from *@pmta.signalsdemo.trymsys.net *@bounces.pmta.signalsdemo.trymsys.net
</rewrite-list>

Then we set up our TLS configuration and SMTP username / password.

#
# Secure the inbound service with username, password and TLS. SMT 2019-05-31
#
smtp-server-tls-certificate /etc/pmta/pmtasignalsdemo.pem
smtp-server-tls-allow-tlsv1.1 true
smtp-server-tls-allow-tlsv1.2 true

#
# SMTP users (authenticated via SMTP AUTH)
#
<smtp-user SMTP_Injection>
  password ##PUT YOUR PASSWORD HERE##
  authentication-method password
</smtp-user>

We can check that the (insecure, deprecated) TLS v1.0 is not accepted using my favorite SMTP test tool,  swaks.

swaks --server pmta.signalsdemo.trymsys.net --port 587 --to test@trymsys.net --from any@sparkpost.com --tls --tls-protocol tlsv1

We see:

*** TLS startup failed (connect(): error:00000000:lib(0):func(0):reason(0))
*** STARTTLS attempted but failed

Let’s also apply DKIM signing on our outgoing messages, as it’s good practice (I followed these instructions to set up the key).

#
# DKIM
#
domain-key mypmta, pmta.signalsdemo.trymsys.net, /etc/pmta/mypmta.pmta.signalsdemo.trymsys.net.pem

FBL and OOB configuration

Now .. finally .. we declare which specific domains are open for remote bounce and FBL responses. We don’t want to relay those anywhere (to prevent backscatter attacks), just internally process those responses.

#
# Enable Bounce and FBL processing on specific domains
#
relay-domain pmta.signalsdemo.trymsys.net
relay-domain bounces.pmta.signalsdemo.trymsys.net
relay-domain fbl.pmta.signalsdemo.trymsys.net
<bounce-processor>
  deliver-unmatched-email no
  deliver-matched-email no
  <address-list>
    domain pmta.signalsdemo.trymsys.net
    domain bounces.pmta.signalsdemo.trymsys.net
  </address-list>
</bounce-processor>
<feedback-loop-processor>
  deliver-unmatched-email no
  deliver-matched-email no
  <address-list>
    domain fbl.pmta.signalsdemo.trymsys.net
  </address-list>
</feedback-loop-processor>

You can see I set up two bounce domains, as I was playing around with using/not using the

mfrom
  rewrite rule.

The FBL domain is usually then registered with external services such as Microsoft SNDS; see this article for more information. For this demo, the FBLs will be coming from the Bouncy Sink, so no need to register.

Testing the SMTP listener

It’s important to test that your SMTP listener is requiring authorization for any general destinations, rejecting any messages that are not specifically addressed to the FBL and remote-bounce domains.

swaks --server pmta.signalsdemo.trymsys.net --port 25 --to test@strange.pmta.signalsdemo.trymsys.net --from any@sparkpost.com

The response, as expected, shows that relaying is denied:

550 5.7.1 relaying denied for recipient in "RCPT TO:<test@strange.pmta.signalsdemo.trymsys.net>

VirtualMTA setup and naming

PowerMTA VirtualMTAs (and VirtualMTA pools) are powerful features for managing message streams, and PowerMTA / SparkPost Signals reporting features work best with these active.

#
# Route all outgoing traffic through this virtual mta / pool.
# Declare the delivery IP address here, so that SparkPost signals ingest injection (aka "reception") events
# will carry the correct sending_IP attribute
#
<virtual-mta mta1>
    smtp-source-host 172.31.25.101 pmta.signalsdemo.trymsys.net
</virtual-mta>
<virtual-mta-pool default>
    virtual-mta mta1
    <domain *>
        max-smtp-out    20       # max. connections *per domain*
        bounce-after    4d12h    # 4 days, 12 hours
        retry-after     10m      # 10 minutes
        dkim-sign       yes
    </domain>
</virtual-mta-pool>

The

virtual-mta-pool
  setting is reported in SparkPost as “IP Pool”, and is available as a SparkPost Signals reporting facet (the drop-down menu underneath the charts).

The Summary Report also shows IP Pool as a “Group By” reporting facet.

As noted earlier in this article, setting up at least one  smtp-source-host address also enables SparkPost to correctly identify the sending IP address, so that it shows up on Injection and Delivery events, and on the Summary Report:

That’s all you need to get a basic integration working between PowerMTA and SparkPost Signals. You’ll find the full config file example here.

In Part 3 of this series, we’ll set up Engagement Tracking alongside PowerMTA and stream the events into SparkPost. That will enable the Health Score and Engagement Recency charts to provide useful information, as well as making open and click events available on the Events Search and Engagement reports.

Before you go, here’s the bonus feature I mentioned.

Bonus feature: X-Job name checking/filtering

To ensure any character string is safe for use as a PowerMTA

X-Job
  name, here’s a simple Python function to map any unsafe characters to an underscore “_”

import re
def pmtaSafeJobID(s):
   """
   :param s: str
   :return: str
   Map an arbitrary campaign ID string into allowed chars for PMTA X-Job header.
   See https://download.port25.com/files/UsersGuide-4.5.html#tracking-a-campaign-in-powermta-with-a-jobid
   Specifically disallow <sp> " ` but allow through most other chars.
   """
   # Note have to escape ' - [ ] and double-escape \ - see https://docs.python.org/3/library/re.html
   disallowedChars = '[^A-Za-z0-9!#$%&\'()*+,\-./:;<=>?@\[\\\\\]^_{|}~]'
   return re.sub(disallowedChars, '_', s)

This uses Python regular expressions in a specific way. It declares the set of disallowed characters using the “set complement” operator ^ rather than list all allowed chars. That means we catch (and make safe) characters beyond the usual 7-bit set. We can show that using this test fragment:

s=''
for i in range(32, 256):
  s += chr(i)
print(pmtaSafeJobID(s))

Giving

_!_#$%&'()*+,-./0123456789:;<=>?@ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ[\]^__abcdefghijkl
mnopqrstuvwxyz{|}~___________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________

You can see that

<SPACE>
, double-quotes
, and backtick
`
, as well as all characters beyond ~ are mapped to underscore.

~ Steve

The post Deploying Signals for On-Premises: PowerMTA Integration – Part 2 appeared first on SparkPost.

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Why Data Integrity Matters https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/data-integrity-matters/ Fri, 27 Sep 2019 13:00:49 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=47477 data integrityLead Deliverability Analyst, Tracey Crawford, explains how and why senders should maintain data integrity when it comes to building email lists.

The post Why Data Integrity Matters appeared first on SparkPost.

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Hello SparkPost Readers,

I’d like to introduce myself, my name is Tracey Crawford and I am the Lead Deliverability Analyst at SparkPost and this is my very first blog!  Today’s post will discuss why data integrity matters and how Recipient Validation can help improve your data integrity.

I know you may be asking yourself, what does data integrity mean? And, why does data integrity matter to me? I mean, SparkPost is already automatically removing invalid users, spam complainers, and list unsubscribers, what else is there? Well, I am here to answer these questions.

What is Data Integrity?

Data integrity is ensuring that your data is accurate and valid. For email delivery, this means ensuring that your email addresses consist of legitimate recipients. And, those recipients have consented to receive your content and are actively engaged.

Why Does Data Integrity Matter?

By maintaining data integrity, you are proving to mailbox providers that you are a responsible sender.  Mailbox providers look at data integrity along with other factors to determine deliverability, all of which ultimately dictates where your email lands.  If you do not maintain data integrity, you risk your reputation with mailbox providers and may suffer one or more of the following negative consequences, all of which result in low open rates:

  • Junk folder placement
  • Delayed acceptance of email
  • Blocking/Blacklisting

How can Recipient Validation Help my Data Integrity?

I am glad you asked. Keep in mind the first part of the definition of data integrity– ensuring that your email addresses consist of legitimate recipients.  How are you determining that your email addresses are coming from a legitimate source?  SparkPost has a new tool that can help, it’s called Recipient Validation and it can help you maintain your data integrity.

Some of the typical reasons for failing to send to a recipient are: sending to an address that has been incorrectly entered upon signup (aka fat-fingering), sending to an old address that is no longer active, and sending to an invalid address that was entered by more unscrupulous means (bot activity).  Let’s see what Recipient Validation can do to help with these issues:

  • Fat-Fingered Domains –  Use the Recipient Validation tool to identify when a user inadvertently enters an incorrect email address, for example, “gmial.com” instead of “gmail.com”.  Correcting mistyped domains at signup will help you reach the intended user and eliminate the possibility of sending to an unknown or invalid domain.
  • Old Addresses – Sending to old addresses that are no longer active will hurt your reputation at mailbox providers and may cause your email to be placed in the spam folder, deferred, blocked, or even blacklisted if the old email address has become a recycled spam trap. To help you identify these old addresses, Recipient Validation makes use of SparkPost’s global data footprint to flag previously identified old accounts, saving you the hardship of discovering them on your own.
  • Invalid Address – Use Recipient Validation to identify email addresses with invalid domains.  Addresses that are inadvertently added by bots or some other method can result in sending to addresses that don’t exist.  Although this does not hurt your reputation (since the email never leaves SparkPost), it does use resources and these addresses are continually retried until they expire.

Remember, Recipient Validation is not intended to replace the industry-standard best practice of confirmed opt-in for acquiring email addresses, however, it can support your current opt-in methods by adding an additional level of checking to help maintain your data integrity.

To learn more about how Recipient Validation works, please click here.

Happy Emailing!
Tracey

new rules email deliverability best practices

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What Traditional Financial Services Firms Can Learn About Email from FinTech https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/financial-services-firms-can-learn-email-fintech/ Wed, 25 Sep 2019 13:00:42 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=47459 financial services firmsDiscover what traditional financial services firms like banks and brokerages can learn from FinTech companies when it comes to email marketing.

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There’s no denying that FinTech startups are disrupting the financial industry. Every day, more startups enter the financial scene with new trends and ideas. Searching for “FinTech” firms on AngelList as of this writing brings up nearly 2,800 of them. Is it time for traditional financial services companies – like an example we’ll call the Old Reliable Bank & Trust – to throw in the towel?

Absolutely not.

With these newbies eating away at market share, revenue and profits that used to belong to traditional financial services providers like the Old Reliable, the latter are being forced to adjust their marketing strategies. It’s adopt and adapt time, and luckily this is where they can swipe adapt a few things from FinTech.

According to McKinsey Panorama, nearly 80% of financial services institutions had entered FinTech partnerships as of December 2018, either as investors or through strategic partnerships. While this is a logical approach – “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em…or own ’em” – some might not be able to take that avenue, or may still want to go it alone, or just want to apply a partner’s best practices to their own marketing.

It’s time to take a closer look at what FinTech does well. More to the point, what can a traditional bank, brokerage or other financial firm learn from FinTech email marketing to become more effective?

Keep on keepin’ on

Sometimes, the lesson is to just keep doing what you’re already doing, because the new kids on the block are endorsing it, too.

With roughly 281 billion business and consumer emails sent and received per day last year, it’s safe to say that people check their inbox pretty darn frequently. In this day and age, email is a tentpole marketing channel for any industry.

But more specifically, email works for both FinTech and Financial Services. Especially when personalized.

According to an Epsilon report from 2018, 89% of consumers would be more likely to do business with a web- or app-based financial provider if it offered personalized experiences. When asked how they’d prefer to receive personalized experiences, 55% responded their most preferred channel would be email, which led all others.

As for financial institutions with brick-and-mortar footprints, the findings were similar. 77% of consumers would be more likely to do business with companies that offer personalized experiences. But again, email was the most preferred method of delivering personalization, picked by 61% of consumers.

In other words? Personalized email marketing is a top performer among both mobile/app and lobby-loving financial consumers.  It’s why FinTech marketers have embraced email – and why the traditionalists at the Old Reliable Bank & Trust should never overlook its power, or be tempted to replace it with some shiny new pretender.

Be sure you’re doing the right personalization

The problem isn’t that personalization is a newfangled thing to the folks running the Old Reliable.  According to the Digital Banking Report, 76% of organizations believed that personalization has a “strong” impact on relationship building. Still, a humungous 94% of financial institutions were unable to deliver on the “personalization promise” in 2018.

Why is this so hard? One reason might be that financial information is a sensitive subject. Not only are people less likely to broach subjects like money problems in open discussion, but they’re also wary of sharing information. In fact, 25% of consumers view personalized offers as “creepy” and 32% believe that personalization is not worth giving up their privacy.

Marketing guru, and OptIn’19 moderator, Neil Patel has an interesting take on personalization, and why people are put off by how some marketers attempt it. Just inserting a target’s first name into an email, he says, isn’t enough: everybody knows it’s sent by a robot, right? That’s what makes it “creepy.” Instead, personalization has to happen by customizing message content so it offers relevant value to the recipient.

FinTech companies are constantly re-designing their products and services around customer wants and needs, with marketing that articulates that focus. That’s a deeper form of “personalization” than merging names from a list.  So in financial services marketing, avoid telling them how lucky they are to have signed on with you, how established, large, and impressive the Old Reliable is.

Younger consumers, especially, don’t give a whoop: they expect you to be catering to them, first and foremost. 71% of millennials would rather go to the dentist than listen to what banks are trying to tell (or sell) them.

Streamline and simplify

To get past those financial services privacy concerns we mentioned, and make the Old Reliable come across as approachable?  Send them authentic, needs-focused onboarding emails. App providers have made a high art of this over the years, making sure messages seem genuine and tuned-in to the real motivations that brought people to their product.

Another way to accomplish this?  Simplify the complex. Ease-of-use is one of the main selling points of FinTech products, so why not emulate that when you’re trying to get customers engaged with financial services products? One of the biggest obstacles facing the Old Reliable Bank & Trust is how hard it is to grab and keep a customer’s attention because finance simply ain’t synonymous with sexy. Barring the occasional outlier, most people aren’t excited by the thought of retirement planning or mortgage rates.

So avoid complexity and remove confusion; they’ll appreciate plain speaking that seems transparent and sounds human, not legalistic. This example from ExpenseIt helps users jump right into, well, using the product, and makes the process easy-peasy.  Find ways of doing the same in your onboarding.

A.B.G.

Instead of A.B.C. (“Always Be Closing”) as espoused by this guy, we should recognize what many app marketers already know and leverage: Always Be Giving from the start of any engagement with prospects or customers. What are you giving? That’s easy: something of value.

What kind of “value” do we mean? It might mean special content, a personal consultation, or a bonus offer or added service (just like a surprise feature unlock on an app) that keeps them interested. Here’s an example – cited by Neil Patel – from Carrot, a platform aimed at real estate investors and agents.

Notice something? It doesn’t ask for anything from the customer but simply offers up value on a very human level. In a world where most customers desert a brand or company because of perceived indifference, giving them a steady stream of value-oriented messages via email shows you care. That’s why FinTech companies, who survive or die based on user retention, pay close attention to keeping customers engaged through every means possible, especially email.

The Old Reliable should pay attention to optimizing its email campaigns for mobile, just like FinTech providers do; check out the best ways of doing this.  A couple of scary stats? An email that doesn’t render correctly on a mobile device is likely to be deleted in 3 seconds or less, and up to 15% of recipients will unsubscribe in that situation, says Campaign Monitor.

So in the end, what’s the biggest lesson for the old guard down at the Old Reliable Bank & Trust?  To stay flexible, innovative, and customer-centric in they market themselves, and to never forget the very significant power of the one tool they’ve already got in their arsenal: email. Because those in the FinTech universe are already all over it.

~ Casey

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How Zillow’s Emails Ease the Home Buying Process https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/zillows-emails-ease-home-buying/ Mon, 23 Sep 2019 13:00:00 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=47413 Zillow's EmailsThere are few purchases that are more time-sensitive than buying a home. Read how Zillow's emails help make the process of buying a home less stressful.

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Anyone who’s ever shopped for a home knows what a grueling process it can be. While it can be a very exciting time, it also tops the list for one of the most stressful things you can experience as an adult?

Having recently been through the process, I thought it was cool to know that Zillow, the leading real estate database company uses SparkPost technology to send their emails! While we did work with a real estate agent through the process, Zillow was an awesome supplemental tool in our search. Zillow made it easy to quickly rule things out or favorite items to add to our weekend open house circuit. The tool allows you to save specific search parameters based on location, budget etc and get notified immediately via email as listings hit the market.

Before our agent could even dial my number, any listing that had gone on the market fitting my search parameters would be in my inbox. In a hot real estate market, delays in those emails could make a huge difference to home shoppers. With only a limited number of houses hitting the market each week, it was so important to get these emails as close to instantly as we could – and it was really sweet to know that SparkPost was responsible for making that happen!

Below is a bit more detail on how Zillow uses SparkPost to communicate and why it’s such a cool application.


When it comes to purchases, there are few that are more important and time-sensitive than buying a home. Not only do prospective homeowners have to handle timing their buy with the rise and fall of the housing market, but on a much smaller scale, they must make time in their schedules to go to open houses.

Launched in 2006, Zillow has become the dominant marketplace for real estate information online relying heavily on email to deliver up-to-date content to homebuyers. And, with over 110 million U.S. homes in its database, it’s critical that Zillow provides its users with timely notifications as to which homes are up for grabs. More than that, messages need to be sent out in time for users to build out their open house viewing schedules for the upcoming weekend. If a user’s dream home is open for viewing on Sunday but they don’t get the email message regarding the open house until minutes before the showing…that just won’t work!

That very scenario is why Zillow relies on SparkPost to send their email. In fact, Justin Faris, Director of Product at Zillow, said “SparkPost’s API and reliability have been solid. SparkPost can handle surges in our email volume any time those bursts occur, such as when we need to deliver messages for the time-sensitive weekend open house and buying cycle.”

Zillow carefully sends email notifications to customers based on where they are in the homebuying process. Are they just starting their search for a home? Are they in escrow? These two different customer profiles require different kinds of emails at different cadences. With such attention to detail and an overwhelming amount of customer personas, it’s not shocking that Zillow has chosen SparkPost to make sure emails are sent to users without any hiccups.

With SparkPost, Zillow has seen a 161% increase in open rates indicating that email continues to be one of the core ways that Zillow’s customers interact with their brand. Zillow’s continued reliance on and success with SparkPost isn’t rare. As the world’s #1 email sender, trusted to send 37% of the world’s business email, it’s no surprise that when great companies like Zillow need to get email right they choose SparkPost.

~ Jen

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SparkPost Navigation Updates: What’s Changed? https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/sparkpost-navigation-updates-whats-changed/ Fri, 20 Sep 2019 13:00:05 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=47389 Read about the new simpler and reorganized navigation in the SparkPost app. We are so excited to announce these navigation updates driven by user feedback!

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Today we are releasing some major navigation updates in the SparkPost app! Driven by user feedback, the new navigation is simpler and reorganized, with all the related sections grouped together.

And don’t worry – next time you visit the app, there will be a guide to assist you through these changes. If you have questions, you can learn more about the reorganization.

Why the change?

Over the past year, we’ve shipped a lot of new and exciting features. For most of them, we’ve created new pages and navigation items in the SparkPost app.

Here are some of the things we’ve launched:

Behind the scenes, we’ve been preparing for some substantial investments and improvements in the user experience of our app, big and small alike. This constant cycle of new feature development and improvement means that from time to time the navigation can get a little messy. We’re excited about the opportunity to start putting the pieces back together in a way that fits our users.

Research & process

To figure out the right information architecture for our app, Aubrey – our Director of User Experience – and her team ran a card sorting exercise with 50 SparkPost users. Without any outside help, each user sorted 33 cards into categories that made sense to them, and then named the categories. Using the results from the exercise, we created a plan on how to move our product towards the ideal state, with this update as the first step!  We were tempted to borrow Hogwarts’ Sorting Hat and have it decide on our behalf, but our User Experience team has been stirring up some magic of their own 😉

Our other goal with this change is to rethink how Signals is presented in the app. When we first pushed Signals live, we shipped it under its own navigation item. But when we talk about Signals, we aren’t just referring to Health Score, Engagement Insights, and Spam Trap Monitoring; all of the SparkPost analytics features are part of Signals – from the Events search to the Summary report. PowerMTA or Momentum users who wire Signals up get access to all of our analytics features. This change aligns the product with your experience and access. Professor Trelawney, Hogwarts’ Professor of Divination, couldn’t find better alignment in her tea leaves.

What’s next?

We’ve got lots of improvements coming down the line that will make you a more successful sender. Check back in October for an awesome update from @isaacswkim.

As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts. Shoot an email to product@sparkpost.com if you have any suggestions on changes or improvements we should make. If you want to get on a call to talk about email, Signals, or anything else, you can reach me at avi@sparkpost.com.

Happy sending!

—Avi, Technical Product Manager

@theavigoldman


❤️ Thank you to Aubrey Altman, Patrick Sison, Kevin Chu, Cole Strode, Daeyon Griffin, and the Product, Engineering, Marketing, Sales, and Customer Success teams

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Welcoming PowerMTA 5.0 https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/welcoming-powermta-5-0/ Wed, 18 Sep 2019 13:00:54 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=47175 PowerMTA 5.0Technical Product Manager, Harold Vass, shares the key items included in the launch of the newest version of PowerMTA - PowerMTA 5.0!

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Why On-Premises Solutions are a Vital Part of SparkPost

When I talk to people about SparkPost, it’s easy for the conversation to hone in on one of our cloud offerings. Specifically, SparkPost Cloud or SparkPost Signals – our analytics suite designed to optimize email performance and increase your customer engagement. And who can blame them? These highly performant tools are getting a ton of coverage in the media, growing like a wildfire, and are having a significant impact on customers’ bottom line. In all the hype, it is easy to forget about the steady drumbeat of innovation happening in other corners of the office. Specifically, our massive footprint in the on-premises MTA world made possible by our Momentum and PowerMTA products.

What’s new with PowerMTA?

One of the most exciting pieces of news I get to share about our on-premises products is the launch of the newest version of PowerMTA – PowerMTA 5.0! This product has spent years in development and many of the features included have spent substantial time being used and abused by our great network of early adopters in two separate beta releases. I’ll avoid going into too much detail here but a few key items of the 5.0r1 release include:

  • A huge refresh to our web monitor making things easier to find in a single place and reducing the need to reference the User Manual.
The revised Command Page is designed to create a more user-friendly experience without the need to frequently reference the User Guide.
  • Outbound proxy support allowing IPs to be placed in a centralized external proxy server rather than on each individual MTA.
  • Email submissions via HTTP – more on this below!

Signals for On-Premises (Momentum and PowerMTA)

SparkPost technology is used to send over a third of the entire world’s business email. That means we generate an absolute mountain of data which we can use to power the world’s best email analytics suite – SparkPost Signals. One of the most satisfying puzzle pieces to put into place on our roadmap is bridging the gap between the on-premises world and the cloud. We have dedicated a ton of time and effort in 2019 to building connectors that allow our on-premises Momentum and PowerMTA customers to use SparkPost Signals in a way that wasn’t previously possible for on-premises MTAs.

Not only does Signals provide insight into your own sending patterns but by leveraging our massive data footprint, we’re able to present benchmark data to compare your sending against the world. Leverage like this is the only way to truly optimize your messaging strategies and has never been possible for on-premises MTAs before now.

Here are a few roadmap highlights from out Signals for On-Premises development efforts for 2019. These features are available for Momentum and PowerMTA:

  • Subaccount designation enabling traffic segmentation and creating valuable reseller opportunities to bring the power of SparkPost Signals directly to your customers; and
  • Custom Message ID allowing for integrating your own engagement tracking data directly into SparkPost Signals. Simply let us know which header contains the message ID and we’ll take care of matching everything back up behind the scenes.

Leveraging On-Premises and Cloud Offerings in Combination for Resiliency and Disaster Recovery

Email is, hands down, the most valuable communication channel. A recent study by Litmus put the ROI for email at something close to 38:1. Couple that with the security and general acceptance of email as the go-to channel for transactional messaging and it becomes invaluable to nearly any business. That’s exactly why so many teams are investing heavily in creating a backup plan. Some teams are opting for a dual vendor strategy while others are choosing to use multiple products from the same vendor. Obviously, we’re partial to the latter when customers are choosing SparkPost to provide their solutions so we’ve made investments to improve how we’re able to be your sole provider while making sure we offer comparable resiliency to a dual-vendor strategy without all the extra headache.

One way that’s available now is a hot:hot strategy that uses an on-premises product in combination with SparkPost cloud. This works by simply maintaining an active SparkPost cloud account and an active PMTA or Momentum on-premises instance. Since both will have warm IPs, it’s very straightforward to reroute injections if an issue arises with one or the other. As a bonus, now that PMTA supports REST Injection, many of the processes in place will play nice with one another between SparkPost cloud and PowerMTA meaning a reduced learning curve to get started and less lost time switching between the two.

Looking Ahead

We’re excited about the opportunity to continue to serve both the on-premises and cloud markets into 2020 and beyond. Our on-premises customers can continue looking forward to regular updates as well as enhanced support for valuable integrations such as SparkPost Signals. By combining the security and flexibility of on-premises MTAs with the deep insights of SparkPost’s cloud offering the future for your sending is bright.

If you’re an existing customer that would like to talk shop or a team looking to add an on-premises offering to your existing environment, let’s chat.

Thanks,
Harold

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Deploying SparkPost Signals for On-Premises – Part 1 https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/deploy-sparkpost-signals-for-on-premises-part-1/ Mon, 16 Sep 2019 13:00:13 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=47239 deploy SparkPost SignalsIn part 1 of his series Senior Messaging Engineer, Steve Tuck, introduces how to deploy SparkPost Signals for Momentum and PowerMTA.

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You may have heard about the data science tools that SparkPost has created to provide predictive insight into your messaging and your customer relationships. We have been talking about the Health Score, Engagement Recency and Spam Trap Monitoring quite a bit, but were you aware you could get this awesomeness in your Momentum and PowerMTA deployments as well? We’ll go into the specifics for Momentum and PowerMTA in the following parts. Here’s an overview of how the various parts can plug together. Your Momentum Nodes can be upgraded to have the “Signals Agent” onboard. This is configured to talk to your specific SparkPost account, sending packets of data up to the “SparkPost Ingest API”. This feeds the events into Sparkpost analytics. The “Events Search” and metrics/reports that all SparkPost users are familiar with – such as Summary, Bounce, Accepted, Delayed – will show your traffic within just a few minutes. It’s amazing to be able to use Sparkpost Event Search tools to track down specific messages and event sequences in your mail streams that were actually sent by your on-premises MTAs. But wait, there’s more! the real power becomes obvious once you have a few days of running under your belt. SparkPost Signals gives you charts showing your daily variations in:

For PowerMTA, the process is similar. Starting with the latest software versions, a small addition to your config starts an upload process that streams events up to your specific SparkPost account, via the SparkPost Ingest API. Because PowerMTA doesn’t have its own engagement tracking, the events you’ll see will relate to email delivery, bounces and so on, but not opens and clicks. We’ll cover more on how to get open and click events into Signals for PowerMTA customers in a later article.

No stop signs, speed limits…

The SparkPost account you use should be new and unused for other traffic, to keep things straightforward. You don’t need to set up Sending Domains, Bounce Domains, Tracking Domains or any other usual sender configuration of your SparkPost account – after all, you’re already sending the messages via your existing MTAs.

The keys to the kingdom

One thing we’ll need from our SparkPost account is an API key. This needs one (and only one) permission, known as “Incoming Events: Write”. If you don’t see this permission on your account, contact SparkPost to have it enabled. Keep that key-value safe (see security notes here) – we’ll use it to set up our on-premises connector.

You get Signals, you get Signals, and you get Signals!

You can invite more users into your SparkPost account so that many people within your organization can benefit from their own view of SparkPost Signals and analytics reporting. OK, that’s the basic steps needed to get your account ready for SparkPost Signals usage with on-premises solutions. The next part will dive into the details of setting up PowerMTA for SparkPost Signals. ~ Steve

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3 Things You Should Know About Email Validation https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/3-things-you-should-know-about-email-validation/ Fri, 13 Sep 2019 13:00:33 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=47186 Email ValidationDiscover how Email Validation can protect your sender reputation, drive inbox placement, and improve the performance of your email campaigns.

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Email validation is an important tool for email senders. It can help you protect your sender reputation, drive inbox placement, and improve the performance of your email campaigns. Here are the 3 things you should know as you get started.

1. It helps you protect your reputation

Your reputation with mailbox providers is driven by many different factors. Your content, which people you send to, and whether those people engage or complain about your emails all feed into their picture of you as a sender. Having a bad sender reputation can reduce your inbox visibility, or cause your email to be quarantined or filed into the spam folder.

Sending to people who want your emails is key to being a good sender. One way that mailbox providers can tell that you’re not following this golden rule is if you send email to a lot of nonexistent addresses. Email validation can make sure the email addresses that people give you aren’t undeliverable so that you can avoid those hard bounces.

There are other indicators that can help you decide whether or not you want to actually send to someone. For example, role-based also known as shared email addresses tend to unsubscribe and complain more about emails. An email validation tool can help you avoid those hurtful subscribers.

2. It can increase your ROI

Email is one of the most powerful channels for marketers to drive revenue. But high ROI can hide opportunities for growth. There are hidden problems that are hard to detect that email validation can help solve to help you get more out of your sending. An example of this are human typos. When John is entering his email into your newsletter he accidentally enters “john@gmal.com” instead of “jon@gmail.com.”

Without a validation tool, his typo will slip by unnoticed and you’ll lose the chance to email him. Tools like Recipient Validation can help catch these mistakes and other impactful issues that take away your chance to connect.

3. Validation isn’t enough on its own

While validating emails will help you avoid a lot of potential problems, it isn’t enough on its own. Validation tools won’t catch every problem you’ll run into as a sender.  Implementing other protections and focusing on fundamental best practices will make sure that you are a successful sender.

Now that you’re an email validation expert, learn more about Recipient Validation and check out our guide on 101 best practices to learn about proven ways to boost deliverability and engagement.

Happy sending!

—Avi, Technical Product Manager
@theavigoldman

new rules email deliverability best practices

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5 Best Practices for Helping Prevent Email Address Typos https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/prevent-email-address-typos/ Wed, 11 Sep 2019 13:00:14 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=47177 prevent email address typosDiscover our five best practices for helping prevent email address typos when your customers fill out your sign-up form on your site.

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You’ve been diligent about your sender reputation. You know that it impacts how the digital gatekeepers at Gmail, Yahoo!, and other email providers view your sending domain, so you’ve been keeping best practices in mind by:

  • Honoring unsubscribes as quickly as possible
  • Adopting an opt-in policy
  • Pruning dead email addresses
  • Looking closely at bounce codes
  • Making your emails worth people’s effort to open them and click a link or two
  • Creating and executing a warm-up plan before you start sending emails from a new IP address

But you may not have considered one place that can negatively impact your recipient list and lead to a poor sender reputation: your sign-up form. It’s the first line of defense against ensuring that your customers provide correct email addresses.

One wrong character in an email address can create a bounce-back, or it can put your message in the wrong person’s inbox, which can lead to them clicking the unsubscribe link, filing a spam complaint, or simply never opening the email. All of those results negatively impact your sender reputation, which harms your ability to get emails into your customers’ inboxes.

But don’t worry – here are 5 best practices to help you prevent typos in your customers’ email addresses when they fill out your sign-up form.

1. Require them to enter their email address twice and check that they match

That’s a pretty common tactic to ensure an email address is correct, but go one step further by not letting them copy and paste from the first email field into the second one. That way you know that the email address is probably right, since there’s a decent chance that if the user typed the address wrong the first time, they’ll get it right on their second try. Then they’ll be alerted that the addresses don’t match and will fix the problem.

Doing so will add some friction to your sign-up process and could increase drop-off rates, but if you’ve had problems with typos in email addresses, or you foresee it could be a problem, this is likely a worthwhile trade-off. Yes, the owner of email-is-awesome-forever2019@[insert a domain].com may be annoyed, but to be fair, perhaps they should rethink that address.

2. Send an opt-in email to verify the email address

Many companies don’t do this, since it adds a step to the sign-up process and there’s a good chance people will miss the email, or it will never land in their inbox. Then they’ll be left wondering what happened to that thing they signed up for, and they might complain on social media and other places online.

We understand why it’s better to just take the email address they submitted and add it to your list, but the opt-in is a nice way of double-checking that it’s correct. If you decide to implement such an email, this verification from Jimdo is a good source of inspiration. It has a handy button, along with a link that can be copied and pasted, and it ends with a breezy PS to ignore the message if the recipient didn’t create an account, so they hopefully don’t file a spam complaint.

3. Offer a social media sign-up option

The nice thing about letting people sign up with a social media account is that it provides a one-click option that’s about as friction-free as possible, unless they’re not currently logged into that social media account on that device. And you know there’s a good chance that the email address they provided to that social media service is valid.

However, many people shut off email for social media, opting instead for on-device notifications, so they may be using a different email address than the one they provided when signing up many years ago. That old email address might be defunct, it could belong to someone else now, or perhaps they rarely check it anymore – all of those things can ding your sender reputation.

If you do provide a social media sign-up option, make sure you offer a standard registration form too, since some people are leery of giving third parties access to their social media accounts, no matter how benign the intentions may seem.

4. Give people a reason to not sign up with a fake email address

No matter what you do to avoid typos in email addresses, sometimes people purposely sign up with fake email addresses, or so-called burner accounts. That way they can get what they need without dealing with marketing emails, or because they’re not sure they can trust the site.

In fact, there are several services, such as 10MinuteMail, that let users create an email account that doesn’t even live as long as a housefly, simply so they can click a confirmation link or deal with a similar task. Once they do that, your database contains a seemingly valid email address that will start generating bouncebacks and – you guessed it – hurt your sender reputation.

To counteract that problem, make sure you’re clear about how often you’ll email them once they sign up. If they’ll never hear from you unless they need to do something like reset a password, then make sure you’re up front about that, because most users will love you.

Even if you’re going to send them marketing messages and triggered emails, you can still put people at ease by offering them options, such as message frequency and type of contact. If someone considering using 10MinuteMail knows that they can tell you to only send them triggered emails tied to specific account activity, they might be more inclined to give you their actual address.

5. Check out SparkPost’s Spam Trap Monitoring and Recipient Validation tools

Finally, we’d be remiss if we didn’t point out that SparkPost knows a thing or two about email deliverability, since we send 37% of the world’s B2C and B2B email. One of our tools that helps our customers with their sending reputations is Spam Trap Monitoring, which lets senders know how many spam traps they’re hitting, and what types they are.

Spam traps are a way to catch spammers and otherwise well-intentioned senders who don’t follow good list hygiene. They’re email addresses that seem legit but aren’t, and they come in a variety of forms – we have a blog post that contains all the details.

We also offer a feature called Recipient Validation that verifies email addresses are valid before you send them a message. It’s a great way to catch addresses with typos, burner accounts, outright fake addresses, and other problems before they negatively impact your sending reputation. Check it out.

~Erica

The post 5 Best Practices for Helping Prevent Email Address Typos appeared first on SparkPost.

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Constant Vigilance: Improvements to SparkPost Signals Reports https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/constant-vigilance-improvements-sparkpost-signals-reports/ Mon, 09 Sep 2019 13:00:58 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=47157 SparkPost Signals reportsTechnical Product Manager, Avi Goldman, reveals our newest improvement to SparkPost Signals reports. Try SparkPost Signals today!

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My fellow Harry Potter geeks probably had an image of Mad-Eye pop into their heads the moment they read the title. This is how I think about product development: “constant vigilance.” As a Product Manager, I’m always on the lookout for ways we can improve our product to better serve our customers.

Creating useful, intuitive products isn’t easy; it feels like there are a million considerations and deciding which problem to solve is quite the challenge to wake up to every day.

The most clarifying activity is simply getting on a call with our users and chatting about email and analytics. Those conversations uncover the most impactful ways we can improve our product and helps me focus on the most valuable problems.

For example, when our users want to compare several different domains or subaccounts or any other filters they have to rebuild the report in different tabs from scratch, which is quite annoying. One of our awesome power users walked me through one of his normal flows through SparkPost and showed me how much frustration this small issue caused.

All this is a very long way to lead up to the fact that you can now right-click on the filter links inside of the SparkPost Signals reports and open up the report in a new tab, as you’d expect.

In the end, this isn’t a big change or major launch, but it is the kind of quiet, behind-the-scenes, incremental improvement that helps make the product better.

So give it a try! Maybe this change will make your day a little bit easier.

As always, we love to hear your feedback. Send us an email to product@sparkpost.com if you have any suggestions on changes we can make to make SparkPost work better for you. If you want to get on the phone and talk about email, analytics, or SparkPost, shoot me an email at avi@sparkpost.com and we’ll find a time.
Happy sending!

—Avi, Technical Product Manager
@theavigoldman


❤️Big thank you to Kevin Chu, Brian Kemper, Jon Ambas and to all the Product, Engineering, Marketing, Sales, and Customer Success teams for their effort in making our product and service better

The post Constant Vigilance: Improvements to SparkPost Signals Reports appeared first on SparkPost.

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The Future of Voice in Email: 7 Things to Consider https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/future-voice-email-7-things-consider/ Fri, 06 Sep 2019 13:00:48 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=47146 voice in emailThe future of voice in email is here: read up on 7 things to consider when creating emails that could be read by Alexa, as well as other virtual assistants.

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Sure you’ve asked Alexa to tell you the temperature outside or the final score of last night’s big game, but did you know she can also read your emails to you?

Amazon’s Alexa can currently read, delete, archive, and reply to emails, with the ability to read emojis up to Unicode Version 10. However, note that Alexa can’t read Alt tags.

In addition to Alexa’s availability as an app for portable devices, Amazon currently dominates the American smart speaker market, with a 61.1% share compared to Google’s second-place 23.9%. By the end of 2018, there were 66.4 million American adults with smart speakers, comprising 26.2% of that population.

With that in mind, here are 7 things to consider when creating emails that could be read by Alexa, as well as other virtual assistants. While Alexa is currently leading the space, Apple’s Siri can read emails, and it’s not hard to imagine that Google and other companies are working hard to catch up.

1. Consider how your brand voice will sound when read aloud

You’ve likely created a standard for the tone you use when communicating with customers. Whether it’s breezy and informal, serious and business-like, or something in-between, it’s important to maintain consistency in your writing across all channels, especially email.

However, how will your messages sound when read aloud? It’s never a bad idea to read your emails out loud before you finalize the text, to see if you catch any errors or if anything sounds wrong, but doing so is even more imperative now. Ideally, you’ll want to also send a test email to yourself and have Alexa read the message so you know how some of your customers will hear it.

2. Watch your email length

You may discover that emails you think are short actually feel a bit tedious when read aloud. When Alexa reads a long email, it stops part way through, tells the user that it will take X minutes to finish, and asks if they want to continue. That’s a good reason to keep your most important information at the beginning of the message, so it doesn’t get lost if the recipient declines to keep reading.

3. Pay even closer attention to your subject line and preheader text

Writing an attention-grabbing subject line and complementing it with engaging preheader text is Email Marketing 101, but even if you feel you have that area dialed in, you need to revisit it if you think many of your subscribers will have their emails read to them.

One key concern is the fact that Alexa only reads the sender and subject line of an email when going through the user’s inbox, so you can’t rely on preheader text to help increase your open rates. However, Alexa does read the preheader text if the recipient says they want the email read to them, so that’s where you can help ensure that the listener pays attention to the whole message.

That’s particularly important if the email is long enough that Alexa will stop and ask the listener if they want to continue. If you know that’s going to happen, you could, for example, ensure that the preheader references information that will be read in a later part of the email.

Note that Apple’s Siri does read preheader text when introducing an email, so if you find that many of your subscribers are using that virtual assistant, you might want to try presenting your preheader as a question. Doing so will create a natural lead-in to Siri asking “Would you like to reply?”

4. Use a from name that makes sense and a reply-to address that’s functional

From names are another part of Marketing 101 that you’ve probably thought about, debated, and settled on, but they can take on a new dimension in auditory emails. Whereas many recipients may focus more on subject lines and preheader text and only give from names a cursory glance, having the from name read to them will change that mindset.

If you’ve been sending emails with an individual’s name on them, you might want to add “on behalf of,” or similar language, so it’s clear what company sent the message. For example: “Sparky on behalf of SparkPost.”

In addition, the reply-to email address you use is key because Alexa won’t read it. If the recipient decides to reply, they will end up with a frustrating bounce-back, or no response at all, if the reply-to address isn’t valid.

5. Watch out for image-heavy and image-only designs

Sure, an email that’s one nicely designed image is always appealing, but since Alexa ignores HTML and only reads what’s left, your message won’t come through to listeners. The same principle applies with emails that are heavy on images with text on them, as well as call-to-actions that are in images.

6. Use punctuation strategically

In addition to using proper punctuation because it’s important, you’ll also find that you should employ it in certain circumstances. For example, if there’s no punctuation in your header, Alexa could read the beginning of an email like this: “SparkPost News Update Hello! Here’s the latest news from SparkPost.” It will run everything together until it hits a punctuation mark. (Note that it doesn’t actually say “Hello exclamation mark.”)

Of course, you likely won’t want to put punctuation in your header, so that’s where you can employ some hidden punctuation. For example, you can add HTML like this. The recipient won’t know the period is there, and it won’t show up if they read the email, but it will cause Alex to pause at the end of your header.

<span style="display: none; max-height: 0px; overflow: hidden;">.</span>

In addition, you’ll want to tread cautiously with abbreviations. For example, if you write, “This deal is only available in the US,” Alexa will read “US” as “us” because of the lack of punctuation. You’ll want to either write “U.S.” or use a hidden punctuation hack to make Alexa read each letter individually, rather than run them together as one word.

7. Put these tips in a file and revisit them later

While virtual assistants are a new trend, they’re in the early stages of their existence; many people have expressed the kind of skepticism that accompanies any new technology. For example, while 26% of marketers surveyed by Voicebot.ai are enthusiastic or very enthusiastic about virtual assistants, 33% are interested but not fully on board yet, and nearly 40% are either not interested right now or have no opinion on the matter.

Unless you see a surge in subscribers using virtual assistants now, you should keep an eye on the macro trends and revisit these tips later. It might not hurt to include a question about virtual assistants in any surveys you do, so you can track responses over time.

Finally, keep in mind that when Alexa reads an email, it doesn’t trigger an open in your email analytics, so a drop in open rates could mean that many of your subscribers are having their emails read to them. If you can’t explain the decline any other way, maybe it’s time to revisit this blog post.

~ Erica

The post The Future of Voice in Email: 7 Things to Consider appeared first on SparkPost.

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Recipient Validation: API-based Validation https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/recipient-validation-api-based-validation/ Wed, 04 Sep 2019 13:00:48 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=46679 API-based validationSenior Messaging Engineer, Steve Tuck, explains how to use his simple command-line tool to validate email addresses with SparkPost's API-based validation.

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SparkPost has just launched Recipient Validation, a new paid product feature that checks email addresses for you, prior to sending to them. It provides a way to check for:

  • Email address syntax errors and typos
  • Invalid domains/domains unable to receive email
  • Throw-away addresses on disposable domains
  • Non-existent mailboxes
  • .. as well as telling you if the address is served by a free email provider (e.g.
    …@gmail.com
    ),
    .. is r
    ole-based  (e.g.
    sales@…
    ),
    .. or looks like a typo (e.g. ask about
    steve@gmal.com
     –  we will tell you “did you mean 
    steve@gmail.com
    ”).

SparkPost has the broadest visibility into bounces and invalid addresses on the market because we send 37% of the world’s business email. 

Bulk validation

If you need to validate a lot of email addresses, the most efficient way is to use the page in the SparkPost app described here. This can deal with millions of addresses at a time and is the fastest form of bulk validation.

API-based validation

The API provides a way to validate email addresses one at a time. This could be built, for example, into your website sign-up process, and is an ideal way to ensure your contact database is as clean as possible.

You should call the SparkPost API from your server, not from the client (browser) side – don’t expose your API key, otherwise, bad things will happen. To demonstrate how to call the API, I’ve built a simple command-line tool that you can play with. First, let’s set out some goals for this tool:

  • Provide a simple, short but working example of how to use the new API
  • Works with SparkPost.com in the US, the EU, and SparkPost Enterprise
  • Easy to configure and get started with
  • “Scriptable” into your own processes and workflows easily
  • Takes either a single address or many addresses
  • Works with the same file formats (.csv) as our efficient bulk-load web app

I found the SparkPost API response time is pretty fast, but the round-trip time between your servers and ours is always a factor worth considering – more on that later.

Getting started

There are just a few steps to follow – see the GitHub repo

README
  for installation steps. You can quickly be up and running once you’ve set your API key, with the required permission. It’s good practice to grant keys with just the least privilege needed.

export SPARKPOST_API_KEY=<YOUR KEY HERE>
./sparkyRecipValidate.py --email 123@gmail.com

You will see:

Scanned input from command line, contains 1 syntactically OK and 0 bad addresses. Validating with SparkPost..
email,valid,result,reason,is_role,is_disposable,is_free,did_you_mean
123@gmail.com,False,undeliverable,Invalid Recipient,False,False,True,
Done

There’s a useful subtlety going on here. The text line “scanned input from …” is going via 

stderr
 – which means it appears on your screen, even if you redirect the tool output to a file. The
--email
 
parameter accepts more than one email-address, comma-separated; you can also use the short-form
-e
. This costs us nothing in code complexity, thanks to the beautiful
argparse
 
 standard Python library. The command

./sparkyRecipValidate.py -e 123@hotmail.com,fred@example.com > out.csv

Gives:

Scanned input from command line, contains 2 syntactically OK and 0 bad addresses. Validating with SparkPost..
Done

Reading and writing files

You can also provide the tool an input file to process in plain-text .CSV format, the same as the SparkPost UI accepts. Thanks to Python argparse, we can easily handle named input files, or from

stdin
 so that the tool acts as a “filter”. All the following are valid ways to provide an input file:

./sparkyRecipValidate.py -i valtest.csv
./sparkyRecipValidate.py --infile valtest.csv
./sparkyRecipValidate.py <valtest.csv
cat valtest.csv | ./sparkyRecipValidate.py

The tool can, therefore, act as a Unix-style filter, so it can be easily plugged into your own workflows. The first three forms allow our code to “rewind” (seek) the input file stream to re-read it. The tool can check, and report on the number of email addresses in the file before starting the actual validation, like this:

Scanned input valtest.csv, contains 15 syntactically OK and 0 bad addresses.
Validating with SparkPost..

The “pipe” form does not allow seeking, so you’ll see:

Skipping input file syntax pre-check. Validating with SparkPost..

You’ll see no actual code in this project for deciding whether to read from

stdin
 or a file and similarly for whether to write to stdout or a file. It’s all taken care of elegantly and automatically by the
argparse.FileType
 
parameter. Yay! I love Python for things like this. Another sweet trick I should explain, is how the
--email
 
option works. I made the file-input version first, and thought I’d have to refactor everything to handle command-line address inputs. But wait! Python lets you do this:

cmdInfile = io.StringIO(args.email.replace(',', '\n'))
cmdInfile.name = 'from command line'

Oh yeah! That takes the

--email
 argument payload (comma-separated), makes a “file” with newline-separated input, and gives it a filename so the comfort reporting doesn’t look silly. Python makes lazy programmers look like heroes, definitely the bright side of life

Bonus feature: syntax pre-check

The tool counts and reports the number of addresses before starting the validation, if it can; so you know whether to go for a coffee, for lunch, or a short vacation while it completes. Rather than just count lines in the file, it uses the excellent email_validator library to do a proper email syntax check, and report addresses as OK/bad before we start the actual validation. As long as we disable its own deliverability checks (like this) it will be fast.

validate_email(recip, check_deliverability=False)

Every address in the file is submitted to SparkPost, this is just a pre-check before we start. In case you wish to disable the pre-check, simply add the

--skip_precheck
 flag.

csvkit

You don’t need Excel to work with .CSV files. csvkit is an awesome, free command-line tool kit that enables you to sort, filter, and pretty-print .CSV files, making them much easier to read. These tools also play nicely as Unix-style filters, for example:

./sparkyRecipValidate.py -i valtest.csv | csvlook
Scanned input valtest.csv, contains 15 syntactically OK and 0 bad addresses. Validating with SparkPost..
Done
| email                            | valid | result        | reason            | is_role | is_disposable | is_free | did_you_mean    |
| -------------------------------- | ----- | ------------- | ----------------- | ------- | ------------- | ------- | --------------- |
| postmaster@yahoo.com             |  True | valid         |                   |    True |         False |    True |                 |
| admin@geekswithapersonality.com  |  True | valid         |                   |    True |         False |   False |                 |
| dahoju@heximail.com              |  True | valid         |                   |   False |          True |    True |                 |
| gpiohwxy@sharklasers.com         |  True | valid         |                   |   False |          True |   False |                 |
| kobapracro@memeil.top            | False |               | Invalid Domain    |   False |          True |   False |                 |
| planetaryhacksaw@maildrop.cc     |  True | valid         |                   |   False |          True |   False |                 |
| austein@yopmail.com              |  True | valid         |                   |   False |          True |   False |                 |
| vemugi@banit.me                  |  True | valid         |                   |   False |          True |   False |                 |
| sales@sparkpost.com              |  True | valid         |                   |    True |         False |   False |                 |
| jeff+friendly@messagesystems.com |  True | valid         |                   |   False |         False |   False |                 |
| 123a@gmail.com                   | False | undeliverable | Invalid Recipient |   False |         False |    True |                 |
| sam@hotmal.com                   |  True | valid         |                   |   False |         False |   False | sam@hotmail.com |
| abc@yahoo.com                    | False | undeliverable | Invalid Recipient |   False |         False |    True |                 |
| 123@hotmail.com                  |  True | valid         |                   |   False |         False |    True |                 |
| sweettomatoes@hottomattoes.com   | False |               | Invalid Domain    |   False |         False |   False |                 |

A few random thoughts. Experienced Pythonistas can skip this section.

common.py

I have found myself forever needing environment-variable readers/checkers, URL fixer-uppers, and other helper-type functions. As a beginner Python programmer, I was copy/pasting these between files. No more! I’ve reached the point where I should have a file

common.py
 with this sort of thing, to bring order out of chaos.

Bringing these into the main code scope “as if they were in the same file” is simply a matter of

from common import eprint, getenv_check, getenv, hostCleanup

To pipenv or not pipenv…that is the question

An experienced programmer has pointed out to me that

pipenv
  is not good for everything. However, for mini-projects like this, it makes the installation easier for you. Because I make only basic use of external libraries, the Pipfile has:

[packages]
requests = "*"
email-validator = "*"

I don’t put

Pipfile.lock
  into the repo. That means your system fetches the current stable version of the above packages when you install it. If this was 24×7 Production code, having a defined
Pipfile.lock
 
 (with versions and hashes) provides safety i.e. “the version you tested is now the version in Production”. 

I feel that would be overly pedantic for a demo project. The Requests library has had a few recent vulnerabilities found and fixed, and tying you to a specific version seems less good than you getting the latest stable versions.

Travis CI

This is another shiny thing. I love the way Travis tests my code is not broken, and checks for compatibility across several Python versions each time I check changes into Github.  Of course, it works on many languages, not just Python.

Environment variables vs .ini files

I’ve pretty much switched to using environment variables rather than .ini files now, for the following reasons:

  • Security. Having a .ini file lying around with API keys in is not great. You have to remember to
    chmod 0700
     it. If you really want to set environment variables up in a file, just create a .sh script (and
    chmod 0700
    it).
  • Heroku. This provides an elegant way to set config via environment variables that you can even edit after deployment on their web UI. I like that.
  • Playing nicely with Travis. It took me a while to realize this. You can set up private environment variables that get used for automated tests. That means your test cases can be “real” i.e. do things via a SparkPost account, exercising more of your code and providing better quality tests for little effort. In contrast, checking in a .ini file with credentials to your repo, so Travis can find it, would be a bad idea.

I think this sentiment applies to any language, not just Python – see here.

More on latency/speed

I found that response time from the UK to our EU service in Dublin was around 40ms, whereas the response time from the UK to the US service is around 200ms. There’s nothing too surprising about that – the difference is due mostly to the distance involved (nearly 10,000 miles round-trip) and the corresponding router hops. I suggest using the service endpoint near your own servers.

On an Amazon EC2 Linux host in US-West2, validating with sparkpost.com, 100 recipients took around seven seconds. As you’d expect, runtime is basically linear for this tool. For large batches, the SparkPost app (web UI) is considerably faster – use it instead of this tool.

Number of recipients Demo tool runtime
(seconds)
SparkPost web UI runtime
(seconds)
100 7 21
1000 62 22
10,000 613 24

It’s a wrap!

We have taken a stroll through Recipient Validation via a tiny command-line tool. I hope you enjoyed reading this (and using the tool) as much as I enjoyed writing it. That’s it for now! Happy validating.

~ Steve

The post Recipient Validation: API-based Validation appeared first on SparkPost.

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Rest Easy with Real-Time Alerts https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/rest-easy-real-time-alerts/ Fri, 30 Aug 2019 13:00:30 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=47067 Real-Time AlertsRead about Real-Time Alerts, our new feature which sends notifications about changes to important metrics that measure sending performance.

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Keep your finger on the pulse of your email program 24/7 with our new feature: Real-Time Alerts!

We all know how important email delivery is. Whether it’s a password reset or a flash deal, we want our customers to get our emails on time and in the inbox. But sometimes things go wrong. As the old adage goes, “you don’t know what you don’t know.” Without knowing that something is off, you can’t fix it. That unknown danger hanging over your head causes unnecessary stress and worry.

Problems come in many different forms – drops in engagement rate, increase in bounces, and even going over your sending limits.

That’s why we’re excited to announce Real-Time Alerts. Alerts make it easy to receive notifications about changes to the important metrics that measure the performance of your sending. Powerful filters and multi-channel support, give you the flexibility to configure alerts about your important sending resources and ensure those alerts go to the right people.

Monitor key metrics

Bounces

With Real-Time Alerts for hard bounces, soft bounces, and block bounces, you can configure alerts for when any of these metrics spike to dangerous levels. With advanced filters, you can configure your alerts to watch the resources that are keys to your sending and avoid unnecessary noise. For bounces, you can watch a combination of subaccounts, sending IPs, sending domains, and mailbox providers, meaning you can watch many combinations with just one alert.

Health Score

Major Health Score changes or drops indicate that something is wrong with your sending and you’ll likely see a drop in your email’s performance over the next few days. With alerts on your Health Score, you watch for predicted issues the moment they’re available. In fact, you can even set up a single alert for all subaccounts, so you can monitor all senders on your platform.

Monthly Sending Limit

As your business grows, so will your sending volume. It’s important to know when your volume is passing your limits so you aren’t surprised by overages and your emails don’t get delayed. With an alert on your monthly sending limits, you’ll know when it’s time to upgrade your plan before it becomes an issue.

Send alerts to the right place

You can receive alert notifications through email and Slack, so you can direct your notifications to the place that makes the most sense for your team. And with webhook support as well, it’s easy to connect alerts to any tool you use to monitor.

Get started!

Today, Real-Time Alerts are available for all Premier senders. For step-by-step instructions on setting up alerts, visit the User Guide.  We’re excited to see how you use alerts. If you have other metrics you’d like to see supported, let us know!

Happy sending!

—Avi, Technical Product Manager
@theavigoldman


❤️ Special thanks to Aubrey Altmann, Tim Ecklund, Alice Haber, Jim Braman, Tom Thibodeau, Kevin Chu, Jon Ambas, Brian Kemper, Greg Walls, Julian Moyse, Sai Pisupati, Jose Zamora and to all the Product, Engineering, Marketing, Sales, and Customer Success teams

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How to Segment Your Subscriber Data to Improve Email Deliverability https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/how-to-segment-your-subscriber-data-to-improve-email-deliverability/ Wed, 28 Aug 2019 13:00:23 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=46999 segment subscriber dataBrand Designer at Hive.co, Cynthia Dam, gives tips on how to segment subscriber data to improve deliverability and increase engagement.

The post How to Segment Your Subscriber Data to Improve Email Deliverability appeared first on SparkPost.

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**Today’s blog is a guest post from our friends over at Hive.co, enjoy their tips and strategies on segmenting your subscriber data!

The most powerful data you have on your email list is subscriber engagement data – and every email marketer should leverage this data for healthy deliverability. Why? Email engagement and deliverability go hand in hand. Internet service providers (ISPs) like Gmail, Outlook, and Yahoo are looking to see if subscribers actively engage with your emails to determine whether to serve your emails to inboxes (in other words, whether you have a strong sender reputation). That’s why it’s best practice to segment your list by subscriber engagement level and use this as the basis of your email sending strategy.

Segmenting on engagement level will help you send targeted emails with a higher chance of getting opens and clicks. Think about it this way – your list is made up of subscribers in various stages of the customer journey. You’ll have some subscribers with no engagement history who have just signed up to your list, and others who’ve established a long history of engaging with your past emails. You’ll want to be sending your core blasts to subscribers who you know are likely to engage, because their engagement will signal to ISPs that you’re a strong sender. It’s riskier to send emails to subscribers you can’t positively say will engage, which makes it extremely important to send strategic emails to engage these segments. Here’s how:

Engagement Levels You Should Segment On and What to Email Them

Actives

Your most active subscribers are those who continuously engage with your emails. This is your bread and butter – these subscribers have engaged with your recent emails and chances are, they’ll likely open and click the next email you send them. You should be sending your core marketing blasts to this segment.

New Subscribers

These subscribers have just joined your list, whether through a signup form, in-store point of sale (POS), or contest. You want to treat new subscribers differently – you have one chance to educate them about your brand and you should use it to engage and convert. It’s best practice to send a welcome email right upon signup. You can automate this by setting up a welcome email series, which we’ll dive into in the section below.

At-Risk Subscribers

It’s natural for subscribers to start losing interest in your brand. When subscribers haven’t opened an email recently (e.g. your last 5 emails), chances are they’ll need a reason to re-engage with your brand. Your typical marketing blasts are less likely to be opened – you should send a winback email that includes an incentive to get these at-risk subscribers to re-engage.

Inactives

Subscribers who haven’t engaged in a while (i.e. your last 10 emails) are likely to never engage again. You’ll want to set an intentional strategy to win back contacts in this segment because they’ll fully lose interest if you send them an irrelevant email. It’s important to spend time designing a winback email for this segment that you actually believe in.

Invalid Subscribers

These are contacts who have unsubscribed from your email list or have been marked as invalid (bounced, undeliverable). You never want to email this segment.

Email Automations to Optimize for Segment Engagement

Timing is everything, especially when it comes to email. You can leverage email automation (triggered campaigns) to engage these segments at exactly the right time with exactly the right content, further improving the chances they’ll engage:

Set Up a Welcome Email Series to Engage New Subscribers

New subscribers have just signed up to your brand, and have signaled that they want to receive email from you. Now’s the best time to send a highly relevant welcome email. With the highest open rate and a CTR 4x higher than any other type of email, it’s a smart move to automate welcome emails in your email strategy so you don’t miss out on engaging any of your new subscribers.

Automate an ‘Update Your Preferences’ Email to Engage At-Risk Subscribers

At-risk subscribers are starting to lose interest in your emails, and it may likely be because of the content you’ve been sending them. You should automate an email campaign with a link to your preferences center, and ask this segment to update their preferences so you can send them only the emails they want to receive. This is also a good time to ask for their birthday, gender, and any personal preferences so you can send more personalized emails.

Set Up a Winback Email Series to Re-Engage Inactive Subscribers

Inactive subscribers haven’t engaged with your emails for a while, and chances are they won’t engage with any basic emails you send. You should set up a winback email series with several emails including incentives that increase in value (e.g. each email includes a higher discount code). If a subscriber enters and goes through the entire winback email series without engaging, you should treat them as invalid since the chances they’ll ever engage again are close to null.

Wrap Up

Every email marketer has access to subscriber engagement data, and this data is a powerful tool you can use to improve your email deliverability. Basing your email sending strategy on engagement level segments will not only boost your email performance, but it’ll also help you send emails your subscribers actually want to receive. Plus, you can leverage email automation to trigger based on unique subscriber actions, so you send email exactly when subscribers are most likely to engage. It’s a win-win for your email strategy and your deliverability.


Cynthia Dam
Brand Designer @ Hive.co

Cynthia is the Brand Designer at Hive.co and creates content fuelling the company’s customer experiences across all marketing channels. Read more of her email deliverability articles on the Hive.co blog.

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The Next Generation of Recipient Validation is Here https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/next-generation-recipient-validation/ Tue, 27 Aug 2019 13:00:55 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=46987 Recipient ValidationRead about the next generation of SparkPost’s Recipient Validation – data-driven email address validation powered by the world's largest email database.

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Data-driven email validation powered by the world’s largest sender.

We are excited to announce the next generation of SparkPost’s Recipient Validation – data-driven email address validation powered by the world’s largest email database. Our Recipient Validation now catches twice as many invalid addresses as before, giving you the best sender reputation protection on the market. Our new data-driven system uses data from thousands of other senders, so you can remove more undeliverable and toxic addresses from your lists before they bounce and hurt your sending reputation. We analyzed a sample of customers using another validation solution and found that on average our Recipient Validation would catch an additional 31% of their hard bounces missed by our competitors, helping you send with confidence. With this release we have also added typo detection and suggestion, plugging a top source of lead loss for customers.

Recipient Validation

One of the hard and fast rules of being a good sender is to only send to real people who have explicitly opted-in. As an email marketer, you want to grow your list with real, high-quality email addresses that are going to engage, without letting damaging addresses through. You need to verify that an email address isn’t going to damage your reputation before you send to it.

Every experienced marketer and deliverability specialist can tell you how damaging it is to send to undeliverable and low-quality addresses. And just as important, you also want to be sure you never miss an opportunity to connect with someone. As a customer of yours, I want you to catch my mistakes before I finish signing up because I really do want to hear from you!

Diving in!

Hard bounces

Back in December, we decided to tackle this universal problem and released a beta of Recipient Validation. With it, we started with the industry knowledge and worked with our team of data scientists to validate best practices and create our solution. With our research, we developed a data-source to identify undeliverable addresses and released Recipient Validation for all SparkPost customers in June. Since then, we’ve continued our research and have constructed an improved system to identify undeliverable and risky email addresses so you can be confident in your sending, instead of relying on outdated and inaccurate checks.

Our data scientists discovered that not all hard bounces are equal – one hard bounce isn’t enough to discount an email address for everyone. When Recipient Validation suspects an email address will hard bounce, we surface that so you can make the decision on whether you want to take on that risk.

Low-quality addresses

Recipient Validation helps you identify low-quality addresses. It identifies disposable domains, including both masked email addresses – addresses that good engagement rates but can’t be tied to a real user – and throwaway email addresses – addresses that hurt your ROI with extremely low engagement rates. With the average engagement rate of less than 0.80%, you can confidently eliminate throwaway addresses. In fact, 95% senders who remove disposable addresses will see no change or an increase in their engagement rate while decreasing their overall traffic.

User experience

We know how important user experience is for your success (keep your eyes peeled for some exciting UX changes in the SparkPost app). That’s why we built Recipient Validation with that in mind. Recipient Validation will catch typos before your user submits, and with the majority of validations completed in under 30 milliseconds, you won’t introduce extra friction.

In sum, Recipient Validation will catch:

  • Email address syntax errors
  • Role-based or shared email addresses
  • Throwaway and masked addresses
  • Accidental typos
  • Potentially undeliverable addresses
  • Known undeliverable addresses

Jump into the SparkPost app (EU) to validate your list now. And dig into the documentation and start validating email addresses in real-time with our real-time API.

As always, we’d love to hear your feedback. Send us an email at product@sparkpost.com if you have any thoughts or suggestions for Recipient Validation or our other sending features.

For more information about Recipient Validation click here.

Happy sending!

—Avi, Technical Product Manager
@theavigoldman


❤️ Special thanks to Sailakshmi Pisupati, Tim Ecklund, Jason Sorensen, Patrick Sison, Brian Kemper, Nick Lemmon, Jose Zamora, Lynn Murphy, Angelica Garcia, Julian Moyse, Jason Soni and to all the Product, Engineering, Marketing, Sales, and Customer Success teams

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3 Steps to Using Email to Improve Customer Loyalty and Reduce Churn https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/3-steps-using-email-improve-customer-loyalty-reduce-churn/ Fri, 23 Aug 2019 13:00:11 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=46979 customer loyaltyDiscover how incorporating surveys and sentiment analysis technology into your email strategy can help improve customer loyalty and reduce churn.

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Customers are getting harder to please. According to HubSpot:

  • 55% of consumers in the US and the UK don’t trust the companies they buy from as much as they used to
  • 65% of them don’t have faith in company press releases
  • 81% of them prefer to get advice from friends and family rather than a business

It’s also getting tougher to acquire customers. ProfitWell found that overall customer acquisition cost (CAC) is up almost 50% during the past 5 years, so it’s crucial to keep as many current customers as possible. That’s where customer satisfaction comes into play, because it’s typically cheaper to retain a customer than acquire a new one. High churn rates have toppled many companies.

Luckily, you’ve probably already invested in a communication medium that offers plenty of ways to track customer sentiment: email. You can use email to get a handle on how people feel about your company and its products and services, and then you can tweak your triggered and promotional emails accordingly, along with your products and services and many other things.

When you improve your customers’ satisfaction, you not only grow near-term sales but you create advocates who will recommend your company to their friends, family, and colleagues. That’s a key element of evangelism marketing, in which your customers preach the gospel, so to speak, of your business to others.

Here are 3 steps to using email to help improve customer loyalty and reduce churn.

1. Deliver 1-question surveys via email to calculate NPS, CES, and CSAT

You’d be surprised what kind of information you can glean from 1 question, especially since the low level of effort means customers are much more likely to respond than if you ask them to fill out a multi-question survey. There are a variety of options for 1-question surveys, but 3 of the most popular ones measure different aspects of customer sentiment:

  • Net Promoter Score (NPS)
  • Customer Effort Score (CES)
  • Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT)

Net Promoter Score (NPS) is a tool that helps you determine the loyalty of your customers. It ranges from -100 to +100, but any score above zero is considered good, while +50 is seen as excellent and +70 means your most of your customers aren’t leaving for the competition any time soon.

Calculating NPS is fairly simple: You ask your customers, “On a scale of 0 to 10, how likely are you to recommend our [company/product/service] to others?” You can hone in on a specific product or service, if you’d rather measure customer loyalty to it, rather than your entire company. All answers between 0 and 6 are detractors, 7-8 are passives, and 9-10 are promoters.

Toss out the passive answers and subtract the percentage of detractors from the percentage of promoters. For example, if you surveyed 1,000 customers and the passive/detractor/promoter percentages were 15%/31%/54%, your NPS would be +23. Track your NPS over time to see how it changes as you tweak your email strategy, roll out product updates, and make other decisions.

Here’s a good example of an NPS survey from Insurify, an auto and home insurance comparison service:

Any 1-question survey you send by email should be simple like this one. Your goal is to get them to click a response and give you a result, so there’s no reason to muddy the waters with cross-sells, upsells, and other promotional messages. Note that Insurify uses a color range to help cue what the numbers mean, and a simple image reminds the recipient what the company does.

You can take a similar approach when sending Customer Effort Score (CES) and Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT) emails.

Customer Effort Score (CES) measures how customers feel about their experiences with a product or service, including support interactions. They typically choose their responses on a 7-point scale from Very Difficult to Very Easy, although you can also use approaches like “[Product Name] met my expectations,” with a 7-point range from Strongly Agree to Strongly Disagree.

The scale might be something like this:

  • Very Difficult
  • Somewhat Difficult
  • Fairly Difficult
  • Neutral
  • Fairly Easy
  • Somewhat Easy
  • Very Easy

You can also try a scale of 1-5 that drops the “Fairly” responses or a 3-point scale where the choices are Difficult, Neither, and Easy. Those might be better approaches if you don’t get a good response rate from a 7-point range, which could signal that your customers are having trouble parsing the difference between answers like Fairly Easy, Somewhat Easy, and Very Easy. If they struggle with deciding how to respond, they could decide not to bother.

Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT), as its name implies, measures customers’ satisfaction with a product or service, including support interactions. Like CES, you can use a 5- or 7-point range from Very Unsatisfied to Very Satisfied (or variations on that, such as Awful to Great), as well as a simple 3-point range: Unsatisfied, Neutral, and Satisfied.

There’s no industry standard for measuring CES and CSAT, but the conventional wisdom is that you should average the responses and/or look at the median score, if you’re worried about very low or very high scores skewing the average. Anything above a 5 on a 1-7 scale, or above a 4 on a 1-5 scale, means you’re on the right track.

If you use a 3-point scale, you might want to take an approach similar to the one NPS uses: toss out the 2s (Neutral) and subtract the percentage of 1s (Difficult) from the percentage of 3s (Easy) to create a range of -100 to +100. As with NPS, a score above zero is good, +50 is excellent, and +70 or more is “Wow, people are thrilled with us!”

2. Use Sentiment Analysis to track customers’ tone in the emails they send to you

While many people like to interact with businesses on social media, they still use email and are likely to communicate with your business that way too. However, it can be hard to decipher how they feel, especially if a message is nuanced and people in your company who read it may disagree whether it’s net positive or net negative. And sarcasm, such as “Wow, great job taking a week to send my order,” can sometimes be hard to figure out.

That’s where you can use Sentiment Analysis, which uses Natural Language Processing (NLP) to process the raw text in the emails sent by your customers. Then it uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) to add a layer of emotion decoding, tone determination, and overall sentiment output. It’s useful for giving you an objective view of how your customers feel, without the bias people naturally bring to any situation.

You should use Sentiment Analysis in conjunction with survey emails to determine how your customers currently feel about your company overall, or a specific product or service, and then track the changes over time. Sentiment Analysis is a good way to add nuances to the data produced by surveys – for example, people may seem happy overall based on their survey responses, but a deeper dive might reveal a specific trouble spot to hone in on, such as lengthy shipping times.

Admittedly, Sentiment Analysis is much trickier to implement than survey emails, so you should do plenty of homework and spend time researching the available tools before creating a proposal for your engineering team.

3. Decide when to send surveys and how to act on the results from them and Sentiment Analysis

Create a strategy for sending your 1-question NPS, CES, and CSAT surveys, which should be triggered by certain actions, such as:

  • Key milestones
    • Time elapsed since sign-up (30 days, 60 days, etc.)
    • Actions taken in an app (the Xth time they’ve done something, for example)
    • User onboarding completion
  • Shortly after an order has been received, to give them time to form an opinion about a product
  • Immediately after a customer support or other 1-on-1 interaction, when their feelings are still fresh in their minds
  • When customers are considered churned, either by canceling their accounts or lapsing their activity for a certain period of time
  • When customers’ status changes in some meaningful way, such as on-and-off customers becoming more regular in their patterns or vice-versa
  • Just before and right after a renewal date, or when you issue a major release or announce important news

If you use multiple survey metrics, each one should have a specific purpose. While you can, for example, use NPS to gauge how a customer felt about a support experience (“How likely are you to recommend our company to others after your customer support call today?”), you should maintain consistency and always use it that way. One way to look at NPS, CES, and CSAT is like this:

  • Send out an NPS survey once or twice a year to get a big-picture view of how customers feel about your company.
  • Send a CES survey when a customer takes an action that can be a pain point for many people, such as calling your customer support phone number.
  • Send a CSAT survey to see how customers feel after receiving a product, or after you release a software update.

As you begin tracking survey scores and potentially adding Sentiment Analysis to the overall picture, decide how you will respond to your findings, such as:

  • Rewarding happy customers, and reactivating churned ones, with incentives or other kinds of offers
  • Addressing a thorny problem area with an announcement: “We’ve heard your dissatisfaction with our shipping times and we’re pledging to reduce them,” for example
  • Handling different customer cohorts in specific ways: For example, you might find that customers who live in certain areas have different needs than customers in other areas
  • Making changes to products and/or services
  • Altering your strategy for triggered and/or promotional emails – your customers may feel spammed, they may want to hear from you more, or perhaps you’re missing an opportunity to email them at a crucial juncture in their customer journey

If you see discrepancies in the data, such as strong NPS and CES numbers but weak CSAT scores, probe deeper to understand why. You might want to send follow-up surveys to customers who answered in seemingly contradictory ways. It’s possible that they are happy with your company except for a specific thing that they’re unsatisfied with. Then figure out a way to fix the problem with that cohort.

Over time, you should see an increase in customer loyalty and a decrease in churn. If not, you may want to try an in-depth survey with an incentive attached (a chance to win one of several gift cards, for example) to get at the root of the problem.

~ Erica

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What it’s Like to be a New Mom at SparkPost https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/new-mom-sparkpost/ Wed, 21 Aug 2019 13:00:02 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=46965 New MomIn honor of National Breastfeeding Month Technical Product Manager, Haley Solomon, shares her experience as a new mom at SparkPost. 

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In honor of National Breastfeeding Month, I wanted to share my experience as a breastfeeding mama at SparkPost.

A company’s attitude about breastfeeding can make a huge difference in a woman’s breastfeeding journey. Federal law requires that new mothers be permitted time and a private location to express milk while at work, but there is a difference between companies that “do it because they have to” and companies that truly are trying to enable and encourage breastfeeding. Coming back from parental leave is hard enough without having to worry about needing to assert your right to pump and any potential backlash. I wanted to share my top 4 reasons why I think SparkPost is a great place for new moms to work:

  1. Wellness Room: When SparkPost was designing the layout for its new Maryland office a year and a half ago, there was some extra space that was considered for a variety of uses. In the end, SparkPost decided to turn this into a dedicated Wellness Room, for breastfeeding moms to use as well as any other employees who need a little quiet time. Federal law requires “a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk”– but that can be interpreted in so many different ways. Having a dedicated room with a comfy chair, sink, and refrigerator makes pumping a little less sucky (see what I did there? 😉 ).  I also love having lockers to store my pump, which means I don’t have to lug it back and forth to work every day. The Wellness Room also happens to be conveniently located right next to the kitchen (see #4 below!).
  2. Remote Work: With most employees split between our two offices in Columbia, MD and San Francisco, as well as a fair number of other remote employees, conference calls are the norm for meetings at SparkPost. Call-in information is included in nearly every meeting invite you receive. This means that even if a meeting happens to fall during my pumping time, I can participate by dialing in from the wellness room. I don’t need to ask for the meeting to be rescheduled, and it’s not an extra burden on the meeting organizer to set up a call since it’s so ubiquitous. I just double (and triple!) check that my camera isn’t on.
  3. Flexible Hours: I’ve heard tales of moms pumping in the car to and from work in order to be able to get enough pumping time without completely disrupting their day. Since SparkPost has flexible hours, I can get my first pump in at home before driving to work, meaning I have one fewer disruption during the day.
  4. Snacks, snacks, and more snacks! Last but certainly not least, SparkPost provides unlimited snacks for employees! Pop culture loves to make jokes about pregnant women being hungry all the time, but the same can be said about breastfeeding women, who generally need an additional 450-500 calories per day. SparkPost has a constant supply of healthy snacks on hand, like greek yogurt, fruit, bagels, and cheese sticks. And there’s also the candy bowl for the days you just really need something sweet. 

-Haley Solomon, Technical Product Manager

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9 Factors You Should Consider When Selecting an Email Vendor [Infographic] https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/infographic-9-factors-consider-selecting-email-vendor/ Mon, 19 Aug 2019 13:00:37 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=46941 email vendorDiscover which factors matter most when "grading" email platforms with our new infographic: 9 Factors You Should Consider When Selecting an Email Vendor.

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Whether you’re picking an email delivery vendor for the first time, or reevaluating your current provider there is no shortage of information out there to consider. To make an educated decision you not only have to learn all of the industry jargon (can you say Simple Mail Transfer Protocol 5 times fast?), but also sift through the biased reviews left behind by the email marketers of yesteryear. Once you’ve done all of that, you’ll have to narrow down the choices based on which factors are most important to your organization. But, what should those factors be?

In order to help you identify which factors you should use to “grade” email vendors and ultimately make the decision that is best for your business, we created the below infographic: 9 Factors You Should Consider When Selecting an Email Vendor. We hope that this infographic makes your selection process more streamlined and maybe just a little prettier!

While this infographic is certainly a helpful tool in its own right, we recommend using it in tandem with our brand new Buyer’s Guide to Email Delivery Platforms! The guide provides:

  • New trends in email technologies
  • Changes in email over the last 5 years
  • The core elements of email delivery
  • Questions you should ask email providers that you’re evaluating
  • Updated data, privacy and regulatory laws to be aware of
  • A comparison of features across the most reputable email providers

As a driver of nearly 18% of all business revenue, there is absolutely no doubt that email is integral to not only your business but likely your competitors’ as well. With such a great impact on your bottom line, it’s imperative that you select the right email provider the first time (or if you’re reevaluating your current provider…THIS time). More than that, email is often one of the primary ways customers choose to get in contact with businesses. With such a close relationship to the customer experience, email can be make-or-break for customers’ perception of your company. That’s a lot of pressure riding on your email platform!

The good news is that between our Buyer’s Guide and infographic…you’ve got this! We hope that these tools make selecting a provider a little less daunting. It’s time to start your decision-making process, good luck (not that you need it) and happy sending!

email buyer's guide

~ Erica

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Spam Traps: Break it Down https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/spam-traps-break-down/ Fri, 16 Aug 2019 13:00:00 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=46926 spam trapsFind and fix issues faster with our breakdown of spam traps now available as part of our Spam Trap Monitoring feature inside of SparkPost Signals.

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Spam traps are email addresses that look real but aren’t. Instead, they are used by mailbox providers, blacklist providers and filtering providers as a way to measure the quality of a sender and as a way to catch spammers.

Sending to spam traps can damage your reputation and result in your mail being blocked or placed in the spam folder.

At SparkPost, we know how important email delivery is to your business, and we want to help you succeed. Back in January of this year, we rolled out Spam Trap Monitoring with a superset of existing networks, giving us the broadest visibility across both commercial and non-commercial spam trap networks in the world. In addition, we created automated processes that constantly discover new spam traps so we can provide the most accurate information.

But just knowing how many traps you’ve hit may not give you enough to find the source of your problem, whether it be low-quality sources, no validation, or bad list hygiene.

To help you dig further, we’ve added a breakdown of the type of traps you’re hitting to help you find and fix any issues.

Spam trap types

Knowing which type of spam trap you’re hitting helps you find where your email program may have an issue.
Starting today, you’ll see traps broken down by type: recycled, typo, and parked.

Recycled traps are email addresses that once were real, but have been converted into a spam trap. If you have these on your list it’s probably a sign you need to clean out old unengaged recipients. You can look at your engagement recency cohorts (EU) to see if you are sending to a lot of unengaged recipients.

Typo traps are email addresses hosted on a domain that looks like a real mailbox provider, like gmal.com. These usually get onto your list when a real person tries to sign up but “fat fingers” their email address and accidentally adds a trap instead. These addresses signal that you should work to improve your enrollment process. Using a tool like Recipient Validation can help solve this problem.

Lastly, are parked emails. These are email addresses hosted by a parked domain provider. These addresses can point to list quality issues, though they will not affect your reputation.

Our customers have asked about this after we first launched Signals, and we’re really happy that we get to release this today. So jump into the app (EU) now to find what types of traps you’re sending to! With just a few small changes, you can see improvements in your list quality.

As always, we’d love to hear your feedback. Send us an email to product@sparkpost.com if you have any thoughts or suggestions for Spam Trap Monitoring or other Signals features.

Happy sending!

—Avi, Technical Product Manager
@theavigoldman


❤️ Special thanks to George Schlossnagle, Daeyon Griffin, Michael Curtis, Aaron Shen, Brian Kemper, Cole Strode, Tonya Gordon and to all the Product, Engineering, Marketing, Sales, and Customer Success teams

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5 Ways to Optimize Your Financial Services Emails for Mobile Devices https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/5-ways-optimize-financial-services-emails-mobile-devices/ Wed, 14 Aug 2019 13:00:52 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=46912 mobile devicesDiscover 5 ways to ensure that your financial services emails are opened, read, and acted on by customers receiving them on mobile devices.

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Mobile devices account for 42% of email opens, according to a Litmus analysis of 10 billion email opens. In addition, Litmus found that 61% of emails opened on mobile are read for more than 8 seconds, a percentage that’s been on the rise since 2015, and the average reading time is 13.4 seconds, a 29% jump during the past 7 years.

However, if your emails aren’t optimized for display on mobile devices, your carefully crafted messages will likely be for naught: An email that doesn’t render correctly on a mobile device is likely to be deleted in 3 seconds or less, and up to 15% of recipients will simply unsubscribe in such a situation, according to Campaign Monitor.

With that in mind, here are 5 ways to ensure that your financial services emails are opened, read, and acted on by customers receiving them on mobile devices.

1. Implement a responsive email template

A responsive email template automatically adjusts to the recipient’s device when it’s opened, whether they’re on a desktop computer with a large display, an older generation smartphone with a small screen, or anything in between. People with plenty of display real estate won’t mind a non-responsive email template, but those on the other end of the spectrum likely won’t appreciate having to zoom in just to read your message.

If you can’t create a responsive email template just yet, then opt for a scalable template, which uses a single column with large text. It won’t look pretty on a large screen, but it will get the job done on mobile devices.

2. Use preheader (preview) text, but pay attention to the devices used by your subscribers

The text shown below the subject line on Apple Mail for iOS, Gmail for iOS and Android, and other mobile email clients is known as the preheader, or preview, text. If you don’t specify it, your customers will likely see the first several words from the email, which could be the alt-text from the header image, “Click here to view this email online,” or other non-useful information.

Think of this text as a second chance to get people to open your email, if the subject line didn’t quite do the job. Use the preheader to complement your subject line – for example, if you’re pitching an offer, use the subject line to present it and the preheader to emphasize the expiration date or another key selling point.

While your subject line shouldn’t be more than six words, or about 50 characters, you have a little more room with the preheader. Check your analytics and see which mobile email clients are more prevalent among your customers, since Apple Mail for iOS typically displays about twice the amount of preheader text as Gmail for mobile.

However, note that if your preheader text doesn’t fill the space provided by the recipient’s email app, it may pull in the first several words from the email to occupy the gap. To stop that from happening, check out the hack explained by Litmus – it adds white space after your preheader text to ensure that it’s all your customers see.

3. Keep your content lightweight

While mobile email reading times are on the rise, that 13.4-second average still isn’t much time to engage customers and get them to take action. Use short paragraphs that are just a sentence or two, with a few bullet points that convey key value props or other important information. Your fonts should be large enough to read on small screens – make sure you use ones that are broadly supported by the major email apps.

Don’t be afraid to use multiple CTA (call-to-action) buttons. You might want to include one in the middle, if your email is a little long, and don’t forget to make the buttons big enough that the user can easily tap them with a finger from the same hand holding their device. Your CTAs should complete the phrase “I want to…”, such as “Apply Now” or “Check My Account Balance.”

Keep your image file sizes down, since not everyone has access to fast download speeds and you don’t want to take up too much of their data plans. High-def images are perfect for logos and other key visuals, but the rest of the pictures can likely be lower-def and still look fine on a mobile screen. Make sure all of your images have alt-text, since many email clients turn off images by default.

This email from Paypal is a good example of a mobile-optimized message.

  • The text is short and to the point, with no more than 2 lines in any section.
  • You could read just the 3 sub-heads and get enough information to decide whether to tap that nice big CTA button, which is centered at the bottom.
  • The photos are nice but aren’t needed to understand the email.
  • The subject line, “[First Name], 3 Ways We’ve Made Shopping Easier,” is short and to the point.

4. Consider when you send your emails

Litmus’s state of email engagement report also notes some differences in the best time to send email, depending on which platform is dominant among your customer base. This is important because if you send a message when your audience isn’t likely to be checking their email, your email could end up way down their inbox when they download their messages.

Litmus says the difference also depends on where your customers live:

  • United States: While webmail and desktop opens start dropping after 5 pm, mobile opens are fairly steady between 8 am and 10 pm.
  • United Kingdom: Desktop opens are highest at 9 am but have a little jump between 2 and 3 pm, while webmail is fairly steady throughout the day. Mobile opens are heaviest between 5 and 7 pm.
  • Canada: Desktop and webmail opens peak at 9 and 10 am while mobile usage is heaviest between 9 and 11 am.
  • Germany: Opens on all 3 platforms are strongest between 8 and 10 am. While desktop opens start to decline around 5 pm, webmail and mobile opens experience a bounce around that time before starting to drop into the evening.
  • Spain: Mobile and desktop opens are neck-and-neck between 9 and 10 am. Both of them drop after that but bounce up again between 4 and 6 pm. Webmail opens are steady throughout the day.
  • Australia and New Zealand: Mobile opens have a morning spike at 7 am and another one between 3 and 6 pm. Desktop peaks between 8 and 10 am before declining for the rest of the day while webmail is steady all day.

5. Test your emails on a variety of mobile devices and optimize your landing pages, too

Even if you use a responsive email template, you’ll still want to test your messages on as many kinds of mobile devices and in as many apps as possible. There could be quirks in your code that might create issues.

In addition to making sure your links work, check their destinations on mobile too. Your landing pages should also use responsive design.

Deep links into specific places in an app are possible too – see this article in our Help Center to learn more.

~ Casey

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The Current State of Automated IP Warmup  https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/current-state-automated-ip-warmup/ Mon, 12 Aug 2019 13:00:34 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=46871 Automated IP WarmupRead about some of the great results we’ve seen with our feature: Automated IP Warmup, designed to make adding a new dedicated IP a breeze!

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Checking in on one of our newest products that makes email easy.

Early in 2019, SparkPost released an Automated IP Warmup feature designed to make adding a new dedicated IP a breeze. We wanted to circle back around and share some of the great results we’ve seen with this product so far. First things first, if you’ve used the Automated IP Warmup feature or are thinking about using it in the future, I’d love to have a quick chat. Feel free to book me for a quick fifteen minutes to learn more or share your story.

Since releasing this feature, we’ve been able to warm hundreds of dedicated IP addresses with great results. As I’m writing this message, some 1,200 IPs are in the warmup process! Some of our customers have used the feature to warm up to just a couple thousand messages a day while others have gone all the way to stage 22 – that’s 1.75 million messages a day through their IP!

The really exciting part is that the deliverability and health metrics of these young IPs are just as good as the IPs that already exist in the pool! That means that we’ve been able to hone in on a good warm up pattern for most dedicated IPs. Whether you’re just getting started with email, growing your volume, adding a new stream, swapping out IPs, or transferring your traffic to SparkPost – we think you’re going to have a great experience!

We’ve gone through and taken a closer look at a couple accounts to see how their IPs are performing. Here are some great examples of a recent set of IPs that have been added and went through the Automated Warmup Process:

Sender A maintains a dedicated IP to alert customers of critical notifications. To add redundancy to their system, this sender added a second dedicated IP to their critical notifications IP Pool. At the time of writing this blog, the newly added IP is in stage 9 of warmup – capable of sending 50,000 emails per day before falling back solely to the warm IP. Here are the results of how the existing IP and the newly added IP are performing within the same pool for the last 25,000 messages:

Accepted % Hard Bounce % Soft Bounce % Block Bounce % Undetermined Bounce % Open %
Existing IP 98.28% 0.91% 0.40% 0.23% 0.19% 82.21%
Newly Added IP 98.33% 0.96% 0.36% 0.20% 0.15% 83.46%

 

Sender B added two dedicated IPs to an existing pool that previously only had one dedicated IP. Both of these newly added IPs have progressed to stage 8; capable of sending up to a combined 80,000 emails before solely relying on the warm IP. Here’s their performance recently:

Accepted % Hard Bounce % Soft Bounce % Block Bounce % Undetermined Bounce % Open %
Existing IP 99.98% 0.02% 0.01% 0.00% 0.00% 3.76%
1st Newly Added IP 99.97% 0.02% 0.02% 0.00% 0.00% 3.63%
2nd Newly Added IP 99.98% 0.02% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00% 3.97%

 

As you can see, in both situations the newly added IPs are performing just as well as the other IPs in the pool. This is great news and we’re thrilled to share these results.

Even though we’re excited about the results we’re seeing, we’re not done yet. Our goal is to continue to make email easy for our customers. Keep an eye out in the coming months for more posts and continued updates for our Automated IP Warmup product.

Happy Sending,
Harold and Balu

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Going Places…a Reflection on Ten Years at SparkPost https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/going-places-reflection-ten-years-sparkpost/ Fri, 09 Aug 2019 13:00:19 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=46864 ten yearsOur Vice President of Customer Success, Laura Rose, reflects on her first ten years at SparkPost from her first day until now.

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Off and Away

Ten years ago on a warm August morning, I left my two young daughters at home with my husband and drove to Samuel Morse Drive for my first day at Message Systems.  I was carrying a new yellow Fossil bag and matching wallet and when I entered the building I really felt I had “arrived”. I was making a big step up from the field of IT consulting to a proper software firm!  I couldn’t believe that a company with technical powerhouses like George Schlossnagle and Dave Gray would actually hire me.  After I put my yellow bag on my new desk things moved very fast – my official start time was 10:00 am. All my forms were filled out and I was up and running on a Mac (another exciting step up) as a “Project Manager” by 11:07 am.  Little did I know then that my journey would continue to accelerate for a decade … never slowing down, always speeding up like a rock hurtling into outer space. It’s been an ever-evolving adventure full of excitement and challenges, laughs and tears, and many friends.

Steer Yourself

From the very beginning at Message Systems, I had complete control of my destiny and my customers’ destinies! Nobody told me what to do or how to do it. I had complete autonomy in managing customer relationships and getting things done. I went with what felt right, but I was able to do that and be successful because I knew my values were aligned with our company values. When I think back, though rather scary, this autonomy was an amazing gift and something many people don’t usually get in their career. I learned so much during this time and I found it deeply satisfying and rewarding. In terms of balancing work and home – again it was in my full control – never once was I questioned about hours worked, my availability or my commitment (many working parents are not so lucky).

Bang-Ups and Hang-Ups

I certainly didn’t always get it right and there many were stressful moments – especially when I felt the heavy burden of being the primary subject-matter-expert on customer deployments. In the summer of 2012, while on vacation in Colorado, I had to help resolve a production issue – no one else had the knowledge and experience to orchestrate the fix. That experience taught me the importance of having a solid backup plan, proper communication, and sharing risk. Whenever I made mistakes, I knew I would always be supported by our team and never feared I would be admonished. The focus was only on fixing the problem and how we could do better.

Another Chance

In late 2014 we started the transition to the cloud (the birth of SparkPost) and that’s when I began working as a “Technical Account Manager” (TAM). This was incredibly challenging because we had to figure out how to support customers in the cloud as we went along. We didn’t have a blueprint to follow but again leaned on some of our core values of empathy, transparency, and gratitude to get us through. That strategy served us well and during that time we developed symbiotic relationships with customers like Zillow (we like to call them “partners”) that still exist today.

As our cloud business grew, I took on a Team Lead role and gradually expanded the team of TAMs. What I looked for the most was a shared understanding of how to approach and treat customers – especially in tough situations. Using that strategy I assembled a strong team of TAMs with a great diversity of experiences, skills, and talents – many more than mine alone. Working tightly together we continue to keep our customers on track and moving forward.

In our SparkPost offices, you will find our values posted on the walls. In that physical context, they can seem abstract, but in our day-to-day world, they are very much alive. We try to consider our values in the smallest of exchanges (like how to phrase a response to a common support request) as well as large and complicated matters (like talking to customers about an outage). Perhaps the phrase “living our values” is overused but I believe relationships are built on the little things (saying “thank you”, a smile, a text message with an update, an extra loop around to pass someone’s desk) and I can’t think of a better way it can be described.

A Great Balancing Act

The past decade has seen my girls grow from toddlers to teenagers and fine lines develop at the corners of my eyes. I no longer have my yellow Fossil bag and we’re a SaaS company now. But things only move faster and now I have a new adventure – the role of VP of Customer Success. I’m excited and daunted by this new challenge but I’ll lean on my experiences of the last 10 years and this company that is now part of me.  And for that, I’m truly thankful.

~ Laura

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Why Security Breaches are Personal https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/security-breaches-personal/ Wed, 07 Aug 2019 13:00:49 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=46852 security breachesOur Vice President of Compliance and IT Security, James Sipe, explains why security breaches are more about people than data.

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A few years ago, previous to my current position,  I was recruited for a leadership position in IT Security and Compliance at a large private company. The position was newly created and included PCI and data compliance. As I was going through the interview process, I found that the company was in a post-breach PCI settlement negotiation. They, like many others in their industry, were an ongoing target for bad actors stealing both credit card data and Personal Identifiable Information (PII); and they, like many others, had suffered a significant breach with costly results both in fines and also in time spent remediating.

I later found out that the opportunity I interviewed for and accepted was a direct result of that breach event. The Board of Directors had instructed management to go on a nationwide search for someone who could not only continue to remediate the breach and run the department but also help ensure a breach event was not repeated.

I had arrived well after the beach was cleaned up by third parties hired by the cyber insurance firm but before substantial and needed technology changes were implemented. Like most IT Security professionals it was easy to identify the missing layers and weaknesses within the technology stack. Even without reading the post-breach report, which was inconclusive in its conclusions after the discovery and forensics process, it was obvious that the investment had not been made for many years in ensuring that there was proper visibility and control to combat the present threats and risks.

In the past, all efforts and security had been focused on the PCI environment since as a private company, in their opinion, they didn’t need to protect anything beyond the PCI scope. In fact, that approach led to creating easily exploited weak areas that could allow for lateral movement of escalated privileges and data. It actually made the bad actor’s job easier. Compliance is not security.

In the first 3-4 months, we replaced every piece of security technology with new technology and added tools where needed to create defense in depth.

We concentrated on making the solutions highly integrated, creating wide-ranging viability and alerting, and took advantage of automation.  We consciously balanced preventive tools with detective capabilities instead of one or the other.

Just four months into the job I asked to present a 3-year plan to our Board of Directors that included both a plan for technology and most importantly, a more mature IT governance and controls environment to support those tools.

In my presentation to the Board in the opening statements I said that “this will happen again despite my plan and the improvements.” We could conduct data classification, improve access control, do user education, encrypt data, buy new technology, however, it was extremely likely that an event would still occur in the future. Maybe not a PCI breach but some other kind of breach like PII or other sensitive information. The key was how soon we knew something had happened, how quickly we could react and stop it, and how resilient our technology was to recover from a catastrophic event. In the end, preventing a future breach actually had less to do with technology than you might think.

Having gone through and seen many events over the years including breaches, attacks, criminal activities, insider attacks and negligent behavior, the one common denominator was, and still is, people.

In my experience, you can buy all the shiny new technology, but it’s useless without solid processes and controls in both IT and the business. Breaches and attacks, regardless of if they are from the inside or outside hinge on the behavior of people. No technology can stop a motivated person with enough time and resources. It can prevent the majority but not plurality.

Specifically understanding people in your organization and if they embrace security is everyone’s responsibility. How well trained and aware IT, IT Security, and their internal business partners are; and how knowledgeable they are in identifying an event (“See something, say something”) — all of these things contribute to a low success rate for cyber attacks and breaches. The time from detection to stopping an event is directly related to the cost of that event.

The behavior of your adversaries (also people) and their motivations and their habits are key. Due to time zones, activities that take place in the middle of the night in Washington DC when people are fast asleep are actually happening in the middle of the day in some of the places of the world where concentrations of bad actors and organized crime reside.

Having highly skilled and dedicated security and compliance professionals (people) is essential. My team at that company was dedicated and over time well trained. I was lucky enough to be able to build on that and those people were the frontline defense.

Most importantly the biggest takeaway is a company’s responsibility to its customers (people) and the employees (people). The breach I described above caused a lot of sleepless nights and hard work for the employees but for the people who’s card data was stolen it was personal.

IT Security and Data compliance continues to evolve and become more complex it seems. But the most successful security approaches are focused on the most complex element, the people.

~ James

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How to Set Up SparkPost as Your SMTP Relay https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/setup-sparkpost-smtp-relay/ https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/setup-sparkpost-smtp-relay/#comments Mon, 05 Aug 2019 13:00:58 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/?p=9878 SMTP relayA step-by-step guide to setting up SparkPost as an SMTP relay. Start sending emails quickly through any preferred email client with ease today!

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  • This blog post was originally published on 06/24/2016 and was updated on 08/05/2019

Note: If you’re using SMTP to route all of your personal mail through SparkPost, awesome! However, be sure to use an email address with a different sending domain (not one associated with your SparkPost account) for your account login. That way, if you ever run into any issues, you’re still able to contact us for help.

You know you need to send email, but you don’t want to spend a lot of time or effort on it — you just want something that works out of the box. It’s not too much to ask! Many frameworks, languages, and tools come with SMTP support, but the last step is the most important – an SMTP server. SparkPost fills that need with SMTP support and a simple setup process.

Today, I’ll be demonstrating how to set up an SMTP relay, so you can use your own email client to send emails from your personal domain. I’ll be using Gmail as my email client and shopwithkindness.org as my sending domain.

Let’s get started!

How to Setup SparkPost as your SMTP Relay

There are a few things you’ll need before setting up an SMTP relay.

  1. A verified sending domain.
  2. An API key with the “Send via SMTP” permission enabled.
  3. An e-mail client or service which allows you to enable SparkPost as your SMTP relay.

For this walkthrough, I’ll be using Gmail. To begin, navigate to the settings.

navigate to the settings button smtp relay

From there, click on the “Accounts” tab.

click on the accounts tab smtp relay how to

Next, click on “Add another email address you own”.

add another email address you own smtp relay how to

In the pop-up menu, enter the (verified) email address and press next. I’d like to be able to send with “vincent@shopwithkindness.org”, so that’s what I type in.

enter the email address you'd like to use smtp relay how to

Then, enter “smtp.sparkpostmail.com” as the SMTP Server,“SMTP_Injection” as the username, and 587 as the port. Your password should be your API key with “Send via SMTP” enabled. This information can be found under Account -> SMTP Relay in your SparkPost dashboard.

enter your username and port smtp relay how to

 

Let’s get started!

Lastly, you’ll need to login to your inbox to confirm. After that, we’re done! Time to send some Shop With Kindness emails.

Other Resources

If it turns out that SMTP isn’t the right email solution for you, consider taking advantage of the SparkPost API. The API has many pros (and cons). Take a look at Dave’s blog for more information regarding the differences between SMTP and API.

Lastly, if you’re having problems setting up an SMTP relay, join our Community Slack channel or tweet us!

~ Vincent

Dev Survival Guide Blog Footer

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Free Download: The Buyer’s Guide to Email https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/buyers-guide-email/ Fri, 02 Aug 2019 13:00:02 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=46819 Buyer’s Guide to EmailDeciding on an email vendor to deliver your messages doesn't have to be complicated. Download The Buyer’s Guide to Email Delivery Platforms today!

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A Guide When Shopping for an Email Delivery Vendor

In the email industry, institutional knowledge in the form of blogs, guides, webinars, etc. can get pretty niche. As email marketers, email deliverability experts, and product professionals, we need and like to dig into the details. However, there’s a lot of information out there which can be daunting to sift through and cumbersome to find the right information to help make a decision on which email vendor will be most helpful for your needs.

That’s why we’ve put together this Buyer’s Guide to Email Delivery Platforms! This free download is a comprehensive guide to email delivery for those just getting started or those looking to reevaluate their current provider. We believe that while delivering email is complicated, deciding on an email vendor to deliver your messages doesn’t have to be.

Who this Guide is for?

This guide is for anyone who is looking for a new email provider or who would like to reassess their current provider. These roles might include (but are not limited to):

  • Email Marketers
  • IT Decision Makers
  • Product Managers

Why Read this Guide?

This Buyer’s Guide to Email Delivery Platforms will provide:

  • New trends in email technologies
  • Changes in email over the last 5 years
  • The core elements of email delivery
  • Questions you should ask email providers that you’re evaluating
  • Updated data, privacy and regulatory laws to be aware of
  • A comparison of features across the most popular email providers

As a driver of nearly 18% of all business revenue, there’s no argument that email is an important channel. It’s also often the primary way that customers experience your brand. That’s a lot of pressure riding on an email service to deliver your emails.

There are so many factors that go into delivering even a single email. When it comes to mass email communication to your customers, partnering with the right email vendor can be the difference between a so-so and great customer experience. Download The Buyer’s Guide to Email Delivery Platforms now to find out which email delivery service is right for your business. You owe it to your customers and yourself to get email right!

~ Jen

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7 Reasons to OptIn’19 https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/7-reasons-optin19/ Wed, 31 Jul 2019 13:00:12 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=46804 OptIn'19Head of Marketing, Tracy Sestili, dishes on why our brand new vendor-agnostic conference OptIn'19 is THE email event to attend this year.

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In the past SparkPost has held customer forums where we’ve only invited existing customers to participate. That seemed kind of exclusive and not reflective of our welcoming company culture. This year, we decided to do away with our customer forum and instead offer a vendor-agnostic industry conference where everyone can learn and benefit from the knowledge of industry pros.

I’m super excited to announce OptIn’19: The Email Intelligence Conference, we’re holding at the stunning Carmel Valley Ranch resort in Carmel, California on October 29-30, 2019. We have a great lineup of speakers and panels, a professional vendor-agnostic moderator, and plenty of networking time!

Through the course of the two-day event, we will discuss topics that explore how leveraging data impacts email, the customer experience, and marketing organizations as a whole, as well as email best practices.

Now I want to give you 7 reasons on why you should opt-in to joining us at OptIn’19.

  1. It’s vendor agnostic. We welcome competitors, peers, analysts, practitioners, and anyone else who is interested in email to thrive, learn, and connect with email. In fact, that’s our internal motto (TLC with Email) and we have shirts to prove it!
  2. Professionally moderated. We’ve hired former CNBC and Bloomberg journalist, Cory Johnson, to moderate the panel. He’ll be doing his own research and coming up with his own questions so it should prove to be nothing short of awesome.
  3. Diverse and inclusive. As part of this new initiative, the conference is offering Diversity and Inclusion scholarships. SparkPost is subsidizing two of those and will offer up to six more if sponsors are interested in subsidizing. The scholarship includes full passes, hotel, and airfare. If you’re interested in applying for a free ticket, hotel, and airfare, please apply here.
  4. Network like no one is watching. There’s a bit more time built into the schedule to network with folks you really want to hang out with and get to know better.
  5. Be a part of something that was first. This is the first email intelligence conference and the only conference that is centered around data and the future of email. We can’t wait to geek out with you over data and email. #emailgeeks
  6. Great speakers. We have a great speaker lineup so far with motivational speaker Michelle Poler, data scientist Hilary Mason, and a popular magician on Netflix. We also have speakers from Google, Women of Email, Virtru, 250ok, Kayak, and more.
  7. Carmel Valley Ranch. Need I say more? Not only is it super relaxing but as part of your registration, you get to experience one free activity of your choice. Choose from archery (who doesn’t want to be Katniss Everdeen??),yoga (namaste), cycling, cooking, hiking, and more.

So, what are you waiting for? Early bird registration ends August 16th. And, if you’re interested in an extra $100 off, you can DM me on Twitter for a discount code.

Need to convince your boss? No problem, here’s a letter for you to copy and paste in an email:

Hi {boss’s name}

I’d really like to attend the OptIn’19 the Email Intelligence Conference taking place on October 29-30, 2019, in Carmel, CA. The conference is vendor-agnostic and will be covering how data impacts email, the overall customer experience, and email marketing best practices.

Here are three ways in which I envision my attendance at OptIn ‘19 strengthening {your Company Name}:

  1. Many of the sessions will cover best practices in {list what will increase efficiency, reduce costs, increase engagement, e.g. email deliverability, email security, personalization at scale, Google AMP for email, and general email best practices} —all areas that we need to get up to speed on to grow our business.
  2. Interactive Q & A sessions and keynote addresses from email and data science industry leaders and experts will bring me up to date on new and developing tools, which will help us build a more realistic and cost-effective short and long-term technology plan.
  3. Networking is also highly encouraged, so I’ll have plenty of time to speak with other attendees and speakers about issues and challenges facing similarly-sized companies like ours.

The cost of the event is $899, however, there is an early bird registration discount of $200, which ends August 16th. There will be additional travel and hotel costs, but I’ll do my best to stay within a mutually agreed-upon budget.

I realize that this is a significant funding request, and would be happy to write a post-conference report or blog detailing what I’ve learned, and provide a schedule detailing how to best implement any new changes that I learned. You can learn more about the event at https://events.sparkpost.com/optin19. Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns; I do hope we can make this work as I would really like to attend this conference.

Thanks,
{Your Name}

Hope to see you there!

@tracysestili

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How to use Natural Language Processing and Machine Learning in your Email Program https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/natural-language-processing-email/ Mon, 29 Jul 2019 13:00:50 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=46742 Natural Language ProcessingDiscover how to implement AI-related technologies like Natural Language Processing and Machine Learning into your next email campaign.

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Do we really need to remind anybody about the fact that email (and email marketing) isn’t going anywhere anytime soon? If we did, we’d just flash this study by The Radicati Group on them, containing such zingers as…

By the end of 2019, the number of worldwide email users will increase to over 2.9 billion. Over one-third of the worldwide population will be using email by year-end 2019.

For those of us who work in email? Stats like that are pretty temptacious, as the kids say. But today’s email isn’t your mom or dad’s email. The continuing success of email lies, in large part, to how its ability to evolve. Going mobile put email into a lot more pockets, for instance. 

Now, with the arrival of AI-related technologies, your email campaigns can become even more precise, engaging, and effective than they’ve ever been.

The arrival of email AI? That’s so 2018 

At the end of 2018, PwC said it had surveyed U.S. execs, and found 27% of them claiming to be already implementing AI in multiple areas. 

On the global front, 30% of companies worldwide will be using AI in at least one of their sales processes by 2020. But only 17% of email marketers considering automation tools gave any thought to incorporating AI.

The laggards might not realize the impact AI has already had on the email ecosystem. One very visible example was how Gmail handles email classification using Natural Language Processing (NLP) to filter incoming emails as Primary, Social, or Promotions messages. 

Here’s a pretty good explanation of how NLP does its job, presented as a primer for coders who want to hack up a spam filter. But if you aren’t interested in all the plumbing, that’s cool. One thing worth remembering, though? NLP and machine learning are only branches of the bigger, broader category “AI” and have specific goals.  

  • NLP is intended to read, decipher, understand, and make sense of human language in a manner that’s useful in machine-human interaction. 
  • Machine learning involves the application of algorithms and statistical models so computers can make decisions and perform tasks without explicit instructions by recognizing patterns in data and drawing inferences.

Right now, there are multiple tools and tactics where NLP and machine learning are being put to use to enhance email programs. Let’s look at some of the places where you could integrate them into your campaigns, shall we..?

Testing

With machine learning, you can now execute multi-armed bandit testing. If you’re used to split testing, brace yourself: Now you’ll be able to run tests continuously and put your findings to work immediately. Over time, you’ll gradually optimize your results, and simultaneously be able to test content and messaging while also sending your best-performing variant out to prospects or customers.

How’s it done? You set up a campaign and a few email variations, and machine learning does the rest, running tests throughout your campaign and fine-tuning it on the basis of test data. What can you test? Pretty much anything you’re already testing, from copy to design to images to timing. 

Copywriting

Machine learning and NLP – and its cousin, Natural Language Genration (NLG) – are being leveraged by multiple providers to deliver solutions that can actually generate subject lines and other copy.

Take a company like Persado, for instance: Its “message machine” applies its grasp of natural language to create copy that speaks in the marketer’s “brand voice,” leveraging a huge database of tagged and scored works in 25 languages, a database that evolves over time as machine learning delivers insights (and makes judgments) about which messages hold the most appeal for your target audience.

Touchstone, as another example, compares your subject line against a database of 21 billion emails, as well as industry trends, to predict its likely impression, click and conversion rates.

Rasa.io automated the newsletter creation process, and uses machine learning to optimize content based on each recipient’s behaviors to provide 1:1 personalization that’s “tailored to your subscribers’ unique interests and personalities, without the time it takes to manually curate your emails.”

Engagement

Want to pull off a little real-time content optimization to drive engagement? Cordial says it can “ingest and process customer event, behavior, and purchase data from virtually any source,” so messages can be dispatched across multiple channels, based on up-to-right-this-instant behavioral data. So onboarding, re-engagement campaigns, and other triggered emails can be aligned with what they’re interested in this very moment.

Another way to engage? Add a personal touch. Well, a virtual personal touch: Conversica proudly claims to deliver “personalized human touch at scale” through AI sales assistants that reach out to a user within minutes of him or her showing interest in your brand or inventory via email or SMS. 

If you’re worried the “conversation” reads like robo-copy, they claim the AI “empathizes” effectively by analyzing replies to tailor the right responses.  Moreover, the platform isn’t intended simply for initial engagement or onboarding but can handle routine dialogues throughout the entire customer journey.

Segmentation

For companies investing in customer data management platforms, being able to milk the greatest possible insight and benefits from big data to deliver highly personalized user experiences, especially in email, is an obvious concern. 

A machine learning solution that’s connected to these potentially enormous pools of data can do insightful segmentation in ways no human being – or boiler room full of human beings – ever could, making continual adjustments and uncovering new associations, even generating product new segments where none were visible before.  SimMachines is one of these providers, calling their particular flavor “dynamic predictive segmentation.” 

Predictive delivery

If you haven’t heard of it before, that’s because it’s a new wrinkle in applying machine learning to email. By analyzing the behavior of trillions of emails, predictive analytics and machine learning are able to optimize delivery and the overall health of an email program.

This means real-time insights are available about deliverability and performance issues, problems can be identified before they happen, and data-driven recommendations can be made about how to optimize engagement and performance.  Outages can be avoided – while ROI is maximized.

And if you’ll allow just one self-plug? It’s new to the game because this platform, SparkPost Signals, is the first and only email intelligence platform of its kind in the industry, and we’re proud to be offering it.

It’s an AI-for-email explosion

These are just a few of the areas where AI, NLP, and machine learning are making a present-day impact on email marketing. If you think it’s the tip of the iceberg – or the first trickle through the floodgates – you’d be right.

One way to see how feverish a new technology segment is getting is to see how many companies and startups have hung out a shingle, using investor or job sites like AngelList. Right now, a search for “email AI” there shows over 600 firms in the space, and there’ll be more to come.

In other words, there’ll eventually be an AI add-on for every facet of your email program.  In the meantime? Putting today’s existing AI tools to work already offers plenty of potential for discovering how NLP and machine learning can improve the way you’re using a veteran marketing channel that’s just as leading-edge as ever.

~ Erica

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The Future of Email: Google Commits to BIMI https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/google-commits-bimi/ Thu, 25 Jul 2019 21:56:01 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=46784 bimi emailGoogle commits to BIMI! Learn what BIMI is and how it encourages legitimate brands and senders to adopt email authentication protocols.

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Google has announced support for BIMI (Brand Indicators for Message Identification). As the world’s leading mailbox provider—27.8% of worldwide mailboxes according to Litmus—Gmail can make or break a new email protocol or technology. This is a huge step for the BIMI working group and a sign of even greater things to come. Google is now the second major mailbox provider supporting BIMI. Verizon Media Group (Yahoo!, AOL) was the first, beginning their BIMI trial in 2018.

BIMI is a vendor-neutral standard that allows brands to display a verified logo in the receiver’s inbox next to fully authenticated emails. The intent of BIMI is to incentivize major brands to adopt proper email authentication—DMARC in particular—when sending mass messages to consumers. Senders who put in the effort to implement DMARC are rewarded with the display of their logo, similar to what appears for brands with a Google Plus profile.

Why do we need to “incentivize” this?

While setting up proper authentication as a sender isn’t rocket science, getting DMARC in place takes time, patience, and expertise. DMARC is a standard, open framework that allows brands (aka “senders”) to tell mailbox providers (aka “receivers”) what to do with mail that does NOT pass authentication on the sending domain.

The long-term goal for a sender is to enact a DMARC policy that specifically tells receivers to reject any mail that does not pass authentication checks on the sender’s domain, thus safeguarding against phishing and spoofing attacks which would otherwise appear to be “from” the domain in question. Because large businesses and major brands have many different streams of mail, there is risk involved: millions of emails could be rejected if this isn’t set up just right.

Feeling lost?

If you are new to email authentication, start by learning about SPF and DKIM, the building blocks of DMARC. These specifications are absolutely essential for any legitimate sender, especially if you have multiple different technology vendors sending email of any kind on behalf of your brand.

In addition to the resources linked above, SparkPost has the expert team to get your email up to snuff and on the road to beautifully branded BIMI emails! Contact us to get started today.

-Scott

 

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Life at SparkPost: National Intern Day 2019 https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/sparkpost-life-national-intern-day-2019/ Thu, 25 Jul 2019 13:00:50 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=46697 National Intern DayIn honor of National Intern Day, which falls every year on July 25th, we interviewed our amazing intern team about their experience at SparkPost so far.

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Here at SparkPost, we are so lucky to bring on an awesome team of interns every summer! In honor of National Intern Day, which falls each year on July 25th, we decided to interview our amazing intern team about their experience at SparkPost so far:

Tell us about a project that you were able to work on and the role you played. 

Isaac Luther, Engineering: I worked on splitting two of our services off from each other. It was a great introduction to many of the services SparkPost uses since I had to set everything up for the new pipeline.

Matt Leifer, Engineering: I was able to work on a project to create a new testing and validation system. I implemented part of the system, helped test the system, and helped monitor the system once it was rolled out. Being a part of this project during several different stages was an excellent learning experience.

Joseph Borden, Legal: There are so many projects I could choose from, and all of my projects have
been rewarding! I wish I could share all of the work Jason has me doing, but there would be nothing to read by the time I finish redacting all of the confidential material. 😁

What’s the coolest new thing you have learned while being at SparkPost?

IL: I’ve learned a lot about how different factors can affect productivity. My manager, Tim, has shared a lot of knowledge that he’s learned from books with our team, and it’s helped me understand the reasoning behind a lot of decisions.

ML: I have learned how to work with several AWS services. I did not have much experience with AWS before this summer, and now I am much more familiar with how to use and maintain the services that AWS provides. With how prevalent and widely discussed cloud computing is today, it really has been exciting to work with it on a regular basis.

JB: Working with Jason has been an invaluable learning experience thus far.  I have learned a plethora of new things, but the coolest has been learning exactly how legal suggestions/choices can positively impact a business.  For example, the use of a particular word or phrase in a contract can save a company thousands— perhaps millions— of dollars.  I knew lawyers could either anchor or sink a company; however, seeing the immediate impact of good lawyering first-hand has been a tremendous practical and learning experience.

What do you like about our culture?

IL: I loved how close together everybody on my team was! I think everybody eating lunches together—especially in the office on Tuesday and Thursday—helps make a great team and company environment.

ML: I really appreciate how willing everyone is to help other members of the SparkPost team. I always feel that I can receive help when I need it, and this has made me feel welcomed and comfortable.

Obviously, the office perks, such as the free lunches, are very enjoyable as well.

JB: I love that SparkPost is inclusive and diverse; it makes for a great, comfortable workspace and environment.  SparkPost’s culture is what attracted me to apply for this internship and was a huge selling point when I decided to accept this internship.  I am happy to say the culture is better than advertised.

Matt – as a returning intern – can you share more about your experience coming back?

ML: It has been a great experience coming back. Being able to start the summer in a familiar setting allowed me to start learning and working from day one. Also, working on projects that were not around last summer has provided me with many opportunities to learn about new technologies and ideas. Lastly, I really enjoy being around the same people as last summer and meeting new team members. Working with the helpful, friendly people of SparkPost every day makes me even happier with my choice to return this summer.

We also asked Isaac, Matt and Joseph’s respective managers to share their thoughts on our internship program as well:

Nate Durant, Technical Manager, Transmissions: Interns at SparkPost provide a opportunity for not just or interns, but also our engineers.  They bring unique insight and new academic approaches to our team when dealing with technologies like machine learning and quality assurance.  Our interns, both new and returning, have a tangible impact on our products and are by no means limited to internal projects. I always look forward to their time here, and appreciate all their hard work and enthusiasm.

Jason Soni, General Counsel: As valuable as my own internship experience was at SparkPost, I’ve come to value the program more even more as a manager.  While it’s certainly great to get some extra work done around the house and mentor the next generation of my profession, what I value most is that interns challenge “the way we’ve always done it” mentality and bring fresh new ideas to the company.  Interns are good at questioning processes and can often see a better way of doing things that a manager might not.

Happy National Intern Day! Interested in joining our amazing team? Check out our open positions!

~ Michelle

 

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Getting Momentum in the Cloud https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/getting-momentum-cloud/ Mon, 22 Jul 2019 13:00:36 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=46723 cloudRead up on the ability to use any of the SparkPost products in a cloud environment either as stand-alone implementations or together as a hybrid solution. 

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This post is about the ability to use any of the SparkPost products in a cloud environment either as stand-alone implementations or together as a hybrid solution.

If you are a long time Momentum or PowerMTA customer deployed on bare metal in your own data center, you can use this guide to determine a path forward to migrating to a cloud service. If you are a new PowerMTA user wanting to deploy to one of the major cloud services, this is a good guide to a successful implementation.

For the past two decades, the Momentum MTA has been one of the fastest, most agile email engines on the planet.  Whether you know it as the original eCelerity MTA, or Message Systems Momentum, or as the core processing engine underpinning SparkPost, the world’s fastest growing cloud email service,  Momentum has had momentum for a long time. (see what I did there?)

 Alongside Momentum there lived another very similar product called PowerMTA (PMTA), which is equally capable and agile as well as being easy to install and support.  Momentum and PowerMTA were competitors for a long time, but several years ago, came together under one roof and now, along with the SparkPost cloud service, form a trio of email delivery engines that can satisfy any email transport need.

SparkPost lives natively in the cloud – it is built entirely on AWS.  Momentum and PMTA can be installed to run in a cloud platform if needed, but there are many things to consider before committing to a forklift into the cloud. There may actually be very good reasons for NOT doing it, so do your research carefully.

Look before you leap

Chris McFadden, our VP of Engineering wrote about our own journey to the cloud last year and made the very good point that many of the factors in your decision are not technology related at all.  Deploying to the cloud involves a new set of paradigms that you may not be ready for. Business processes may need to change and there may be privacy considerations that were not relevant in a bare metal infrastructure.  

Some time ago, our CTO and Co-Founder, George Schlossnagle wrote about some of the unique considerations for deploying email servers in a cloud service.  Cloud tech is designed for autoscaling and push button deployments that are ideal for stateless systems.  If you have a web service in the cloud, that is one thing, but running a stateful MTA on a cloud platform is a whole new ballgame.

When you deploy in your own data center, you control the environment and it is not unusual to see servers with no individual protection because they rely on the network firewall to protect them.  In a cloud deployment, doing that can be fatal. In the land of elastic computing, you need to be particularly diligent with security. It is extremely important to keep up to date with patches and updates.  Make sure your firewall is well maintained and close any open ports you don’t actually use. Deprecate weak ciphers, lock down ACLs, and remove any packages that are not required for the server’s purpose.

The last clear caveat we can offer is to be wary of the cloud provider’s DNS.  Remember that these systems were designed for web services and databases that only make periodic DNS lookups.  High volume email systems may perform millions of DNS lookups every hour and that has a tendency to break things.  Even running your own separate DNS for the unique needs of high volume email can lead to unforeseen problems.

Pick a cloud, any cloud…

There are many major cloud providers and even more lesser-known services to choose from when making the leap from hardware data centers to cloud services.  Even the concept of “cloud” varies between them. Here is a look at the most common ones we encounter working with our customers.

 AWS (Amazon Web Services)

  • We have the most experience here as SparkPost is built entirely in AWS fabric.
  • While you can deliver on port 25, you can only send very small volumes without attracting negative attention.  If you want to send volume mail, you will need explicit approval from AWS
  • AWS includes a marketplace of 3rd party services you can leverage

 GCP (Google Cloud Platform)

  • Google offers a development platform that enables you to build virtual servers in custom environments on the fly similar to Amazon’s EC2
  • Cannot deliver on port 25 without explicit approval
  • Marketplace of 3rd party services

 Azure (Microsoft’s cloud app platform)

  •  Azure came later to the party, but has an equally refined tool set.
  • Similar offering to AWS and GCP including a marketplace of 3rd party services
  • Cannot deliver on port 25 without explicit approval

SAP, IBM, Digital Ocean, and VMWare Vsphere round out the list of common cloud environments we hear customers using.

There are some things to remember when moving (forklifting) from a hardware data center to cloud services. As you design your platform deployment, keep these in mind. Tackling these issues during your planning phase will save you a ton of stress and frustration in the long run.  For instance, you may find that your chosen cloud provider denies you access to port 25 under any circumstance.  In that case you need to change providers or consider a SaaS solution like SparkPost instead.

  1. Delivery over port 25 is limited or non-existent,
  2. 1 physical CPU != to 1 virtual CPU.
  3. IPs and MACs tend to change periodically; for instance, with AWS EC2, you have to allocate “elastic IPs” to be bound to your instances (or load balancers) to get stable addresses.
  4. Inter-node communication is not the same in the cloud

Before you decide on a cloud host, make sure you can actually deliver email from it.  Apply for any exception you need in advance because you may be denied – no matter how big a deal you think you are, Amazon, Google, and Microsoft are probably bigger.

Get full cost details on not only the compute instance that matches your needs, but also any additional charges for vCPUs, RAM, storage, in-bound bandwidth, outbound bandwidth, static IPs, and billing frameworks.  Each provider calls these something slightly different, but they exist and are often hidden costs unless you do the research.

 A case study

When building out a basic* Momentum server, we recommend 8 cores, 32 GB RAM, and 600 GB of storage. Keep in mind that 1 physical CPU is NOT equal to 1 vCPU. When calculating virtual server sizes, each vCPU = 1 core.  We specifically quote our requirements in CORES for this reason. If you are building a cluster, you will want to enclose the instances inside virtual private cluster (vpc) with an attached elastic IP so you can control the public-facing IP without concern over whether the compute instance IPs change.  In the AWS universe, an M3 medium instance or larger is typically required.

 One interesting thing that the cloud host providers do not highlight, but has been our experience is that you can expect to see 20 to 30% less throughput in the cloud than with bare metal.  For instance, the Momentum deployment mentioned above should operate at ~1 million messages per hour on a physical server, but you should only expect 700,000/hour in a cloud host. This means you need to “supersize” your server deployment plan and overcompensate in the design.

 One last factor to consider is bandwidth cost.  Cloud host providers charge for outbound bandwidth just like most physical data centers do, but the cost calculations may differ from your expectation.  In addition, you may find that some bandwidth is exempt from billing. With Amazon, much of the bandwidth used within a region is not billed, though inter-AZ and inter-VPC is, and that can add up. If your message generation and delivery nodes are in the same region and you are running out of a single VPC, then you may see significant savings.  However, if your message generation is in the Ohio region and your delivery engines are in Oregon, you may find yourself paying bandwidth fees between those systems adding potentially unexpected costs.

 The above has been particularly important to our customers who use both our on-premises and SaaS solutions in a hybrid.  A customer moving their PowerMTA or Momentum cluster to the cloud and also wanting to use SparkPost SaaS delivery as a failover or alternate channel should be deployed in the same region as our SparkPost deployment for that part of the world.  The cost savings can be significant.

 We recently produced a webinar discussing this and also have blogged about our own journey to the cloud.  Here are some interesting links to those resources for some further reading.

https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/hidden-challenge-building-cloud-mta/

https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/cloud-migration/

https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/this-is-my-architecture/

https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/dns-aws-network-lessons/

https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/configuration-management-and-provisioning/

https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/devops-journey-deployment-automation/

https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/undocumented-limit-dns-aws/

https://www.usenix.org/conference/srecon18americas/presentation/blosser

https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/build-scalable-email-infrastructure/

A “basic” Momentum install is designed to delivery 1Million message per hour from a bare metal server assuming a 50k payload and 10Gb NIC.  A full hardware recommendation guide is available on request.

~ Tom

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The Risks of Sending Email to Inactive Users https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/sending-email-to-inactive-users/ Fri, 19 Jul 2019 13:00:45 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=46736 sending email to inactive usersOur SVP of Deliverability Strategy, Kate Nowrouzi, discusses the business risks associated with sending email to inactive users.

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When we onboard enterprise customers here at SparkPost, one of the topics we cover is list hygiene: removing inactive users from your mailing list. The definition of “inactive” really varies by email type (marketing, welcome, transactional) and industry (finance, marketing, employment, etc). For example “inactive” in the employment industry could be six months or more, meaning if a user seeking a new job has not opened or clicked on a piece of email sent by your company in half a year, they are considered inactive. But, for a company like Pinterest inactive could be 12 months, as some users might only check Pinterest during the winter months to get outfit ideas for their company’s annual holiday party. So, there is no hard and fast rule when it comes to defining “inactive” in the email marketing world.

The challenge is to convince the CRM team to remove inactive users as there can be push back since many see each email address a possible source of revenue. But, the risks of sending to a large population of inactive users are greater than keeping them for the sake of possible revenue.

Here’s why:

  1. ISPs turn old email addresses with no activity into spam traps after 12 months. Hitting too many traps will result in a lower IP/ domain reputation.
  2. Major ISPs take engagement into consideration for inbox placement. If a high percentage of the email addresses on your list have zero open rates in the past 12 months, this is an indication of poor list hygiene which will result in heavy spam foldering.

The truth is if you are sending email to the people who want to receive them, they have a higher chance of engaging with your emails. If they are not opening your emails, even if they signed up for them at some point, it means they are no longer interested. There is little benefit to keeping sending them on your list because there is a high chance that they will get annoyed with your company and could report your email as spam. A high complaint rate will damage your reputation. And, even if there is a small chance that a low percentage of these subscribers will open an email after 12 months of inactivity, the risks of hitting a trap are much greater than the revenue that can be generated from that user.

~ Kate

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Email Emojis: When & When Not To Use Them https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/email-emojis/ Wed, 17 Jul 2019 13:00:07 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/?p=10869 email emojisEmojis in email subject lines are becoming a "thing" - but are they the right strategy? Here are some tips on when you should use emojis, how to use emojis and some examples of what to do and what not to do.

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  • This blog post was originally published on 09/28/2016 and was updated on 07/17/2019

With the popularity of  Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn’s reactions, Twitter, and text messaging, everyone is expressing themselves with emojis these days. In fact, 53% of Millenials believe using emojis and text together allow people to better understand each other. This may be why you’re seeing more email emojis in subject lines lately. But is it the right strategy for your email marketing program?

Tips for using email emojis:

  • Be sure you have an emoji that is relevant to your message. For example, Home Depot falls flat when they use falling leaves to signify (I think) the fall season. It’s weak and lacks relevance. Yet, Recchiuti uses a chocolate chip cookie when talking about cookie recipes they crave – very relevant

Bad example
Bad example of email emojis - HomeDepotGood Example
Good example emojis in email - Recchiuti Cookie Emoji

  • Use if your message would benefit from some emotion being added to it. For example, VRBO adds a generic smiley with shades but it’s the effect when you see it in your inbox reminds you that you want to go on vacation somewhere

 Good Example
VRBO uses emojis in email

  • Do use when you think your audience will be able to relate. For example, I’m a big Reddit fan, but Reddit doesn’t use an emoji in their email every time. They use it sparingly. In this example, Reddit uses the apple emoji and the detective emoji when communicating to their audience that a teacher posed undercover as a student on his first day of teaching high school.
               

Good ExampleReddit uses emojis in email

  • Make sure your emoji is legible. The devices we read email on can be small and emojis are even smaller. For example, Williams-Sonoma uses the number five in a circle, but it’s so small that it looks like a black blob. Not until you open the email can you actually see what it was supposed to be.

WilliamsSonoma-email emojiWilliamsSonoma Email Emoji

  • Don’t overuse email emojis. For example, Last Call Neiman Marcus not only sends generic and not very relevant emojis, but they tend to do it often. The first time I saw it, their message stood out in my inbox. But now, I don’t even notice it.

Neiman Marcus email emojis

  • Be sure to TEST IT. Not all email clients accept the use of emojis in email subject lines and sometimes emojis can trigger spam filters or worse, look like □ this. Be sure to test your email before sending it out to the masses.

How do you add emojis to your email subject lines?

Believe it or not, you can just copy and paste your emoji into your subject line. Not all email programs are created equal so not all of them will work with emojis.

Here are a few resources you can try in your next subject line.

See you online!
~ Tracy

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The Differences Between Using SMTP or API with SparkPost https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/differences-sending-smtp-api/ Mon, 15 Jul 2019 13:00:44 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/?p=9790 SMTPSending email through SparkPost can be done through SMTP or using our API. We'll take you through the pros and cons of each method with some examples.

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  • This blog post was originally published on 06/10/2016 and was updated on 7/15/2019

Sending email through SparkPost to your subscribers and/or customers can be done two different ways: using our API, or sending via SMTP. The deciding factor will usually be some combination of convenience for your use case, availability/cost of coding/hardware resources, and the relative priority for your business of things like sending speed and ease of migration.

There are pros and cons to both approaches. Naturally, we think our API is pretty great, and that it has advantages over SMTP, otherwise, we wouldn’t have it. Offering SMTP in addition to our API lets us support a wider range of use cases. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons for both SMTP and our API, as well as examples of each approach.

Sending via SMTP with SparkPost

Sometimes SMTP is the only choice that makes sense, given your constraints. Maybe your legacy system uses SMTP, and nobody is available to write the code to send via API instead. SMTP lowers the friction for this migration path. Common steps such as modifying existing messages by adding a custom header to set the campaign for different message streams, or enabling open/click tracking tend to be significantly less effort than starting to use a new API.

Which is a nice segue to show a pro/con list for sending with SMTP:

SMTP PROS:

  1. Platform-agnostic – SMTP is accepted everywhere
    • If you want to migrate again, it’ll be easier
  2. You have full control over your “mail merge” process
    • Can generate messages however you like
    • Continue to use existing tools
  3. SMTP failures are in-band and always include context
    • Failed command and error code tell you what failed and why

SMTP CONS:

  1. SMTP is not accepted FROM everywhere
    • Some environments’ firewalls block ports commonly used for SMTP
  2. You have to build your own “mail merge” messages
    • MIME and the various email RFCs can be tricky
    • This has a resource (hardware & bandwidth) cost, especially for bulk sends
  3. SMTP is a chatty protocol
    • Each message requires several round trips to our servers
    • This adds up to longer bulk send times

Here’s an example of injecting some test content into SparkPost with SMTP, using swaks. The API key you substitute below will need the

Send via SMTP
 permission, or authentication will fail with
535 5.7.8 Sorry.
 .

$ export SPARKPOST_API_KEY=YSBmYWtlIGFwaSBrZXksIG1hZGUgeW91IGxvb2sh
$ swaks --server smtp.sparkpostmail.com:587 \
	--auth-user SMTP_Injection --auth-password $SPARKPOST_API_KEY \
	--to you@test.com.sink.sparkpostmail.com --from you@sp.test.com \
	--h-Subject 'smtp via sparkpost'
=== Trying smtp.sparkpostmail.com:587...
=== Connected to smtp.sparkpostmail.com.
<-  220 2.0.0 smtp.sparkpostmail.com ESMTP ecelerity 4.2.21.55447 r(Core:4.2.21.2) Wed, 08 Jun 2016 15:55:19 +0000
	-> EHLO test
<-  250-momentum1.platform1.us-west-2.aws.cl.messagesystems.com says EHLO to 54.244.54.135:52798
<-  250-ENHANCEDSTATUSCODES
<-  250-STARTTLS
<-  250-PIPELINING
<-  250-8BITMIME
<-  250-AUTH=LOGIN PLAIN
<-  250 AUTH LOGIN PLAIN
	-> AUTH LOGIN
<-  334 VXNlcm5hbWU6
	-> U01UUF9JbmplY3Rpb24=
<-  334 UGFzc3dvcmQ6
	-> WVNCbVlXdGxJR0Z3YVNCclpYa3NJRzFoWkdVZ2VXOTFJR3h2YjJzaA==
<-  235 2.0.0 Authed. Go on.
	-> MAIL FROM:<you@sp.test.com>
<-  250 2.0.0 MAIL FROM accepted
	-> RCPT TO:<you@test.com.sink.sparkpostmail.com>
<-  250 2.0.0 RCPT TO accepted
	-> DATA
<-  354 3.0.0 continue.  finished with "\r\n.\r\n"
	-> Date: Wed, 08 Jun 2016 09:55:20 -0600
	-> To: you@test.com.sink.sparkpostmail.com
	-> From: you@sp.test.com
	-> Subject: smtp via sparkpost
	-> X-Mailer: swaks v20130209.0 jetmore.org/john/code/swaks/
	->
	-> This is a test mailing
	->
	-> .
<-  250 2.0.0 OK 7D/49-16644-7EF38575
	-> QUIT
<-  221 2.3.0 momentum1.platform1.us-west-2.aws.cl.messagesystems.com closing connection

Sending with the SparkPost API

We like our API, and we hope you like it too. We think you should use it, as there are quite a few advantages over SMTP for many use cases, for example, triggering mail directly from your app’s server-side code. Besides, with a paid account you’re really not getting as much as you could for your money without offloading everything from your systems onto SparkPost that you can, which the API allows you to do.

API PROS:

  1. HTTP is allowed by all but the most restrictive firewalls
  2. Generation AKA “mail merge” is handled by SparkPost
    • Removes load from your servers
    • Can mean generation hardware/horsepower is no longer needed
  3. One connection round trip per API call
    • No per-message latency
  4. Async sending and concurrency is handled by SparkPost
    • Up to 10k message batches for best performance
    • Reduces complexity (AKA things to break) in your app

API CONS:

  1. Using our HTTP API means writing code
  2. Replacing in-house generation may require refactoring
    • Things like pre-processing data to format dates differently
  3. Stats are generally out-of-band
    • Some sending errors are in-band (invalid email, for example)
    • Others require processing event data one of two ways:
  4. For larger sends (10k+ recipients) batching or concurrency is recommended
    • This is a performance sweet spot, not a hard limit

Here’s an example with the same test content as above, using cURL. The API key you substitute below will need the

Transmissions: Read/Write
 permission, or the API call will fail with
HTTP/1.1 403 Forbidden
, and
{"errors": [ {"message": "Forbidden."} ]}
  in the body.

$ export SPARKPOST_API_KEY=YSBmYWtlIGFwaSBrZXksIG1hZGUgeW91IGxvb2sh
$ curl -v -X POST -H "Authorization: $SPARKPOST_API_KEY" \
	--data '{
	"recipients": [
	{
		"address": {
		"email": "you@test.com.sink.sparkpostmail.com"
		}
	}
	],
	"content": {
	"text": "This is a test mailing",
	"subject": "api via sparkpost",
	"from": "you@sp.test.com"
	}
}' https://api.sparkpost.com/api/v1/transmissions
**   Trying 52.34.195.233...
** Connected to api.sparkpost.com (52.34.195.233) port 443 (#0)
** TLS 1.2 connection using TLS_ECDHE_RSA_WITH_AES_128_GCM_SHA256
** Server certificate: *.sparkpost.com
** Server certificate: RapidSSL SHA256 CA - G3
** Server certificate: GeoTrust Global CA
> POST /api/v1/transmissions HTTP/1.1
> Host: api.sparkpost.com
> User-Agent: curl/7.43.0
> Accept: */*
> Authorization: YSBmYWtlIGFwaSBrZXksIG1hZGUgeW91IGxvb2sh
> Content-Length: 312
> Content-Type: application/x-www-form-urlencoded
>
** upload completely sent off: 312 out of 312 bytes
< HTTP/1.1 200 OK
< Cache-Control: no-cache, no-store
< Content-Type: application/json
< Date: Wed, 08 Jun 2016 17:53:12 GMT
< Server: msys-http
< Vary: Accept
< Content-Length: 109
< Connection: keep-alive
<
** Connection #0 to host api.sparkpost.com left intact
{ "results": { "total_rejected_recipients": 0, "total_accepted_recipients": 1, "id": "102364612952283792" } }

So there you have it! As with most things in life, the answer to which will work best for you is (spoiler alert) “It depends.”. We recommend using our API unless there are reasons that won’t work for you, such as lack of development resources to make the switch. SMTP is there as a safety net to help support those cases.

Whichever way you choose, make sure you set up DKIM! Authenticating the source and content of your email is very important, and can have a huge impact on the deliverability of your email. Instructions for setting up DKIM are here.

What were the deciding factors for your choice between SMTP and our API? Let us know on Twitter at @SparkPost or in our Community Slack channel!

~ Dave

Dev Survival Guide Blog Footer

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Be Our Guest: 4 Keys to a Great Welcome Campaign https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/be-our-guest-4-keys-to-a-great-welcome-campaign/ Fri, 12 Jul 2019 13:00:22 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=46640 welcome campaignContent Marketing Manager at Iterable, Michael Huard, shares 4 welcome campaign strategies that will make your audience feel like the belle of the ball.

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Put your emails to the test. When a customer subscribes, does your welcome campaign treat them like a valued guest?

The welcome campaign is your chance to show off the bells and whistles of what you have to offer. It’s a golden opportunity to kickstart a relationship with your audience.

It’s also likely one of your most successful campaigns, so it’s worth investing the time and effort to make it the best it can be.

But too often, brands are gruff, impersonal and, frankly, unwelcoming with their welcome campaigns.

That’s why we’re here to provide you with 4 ways to create a welcome campaign that treats your audience like the belle of the ball.

1. Properly Introduce Yourself

Treat the first email in your welcome series like the moment you invite a new guest into your home.

Introduce yourself. Be warm and express gratitude for them choosing your brand. Offer them a treat or gift as a token of your appreciation. After all, they gave you their personal information. That’s a big step for many.

In this process, make sure to fully introduce yourself and any iterations of your brand that may reach out. Establish your inbox identity by letting your customers know what addresses to keep an eye out for.

ISPs are monitoring spam like never before. Your welcome email needs to be clear with your sender identity for better deliverability.

Don’t be afraid to explain the differences between your brand identities. Your “From” name may change based on the type of email you’re sending, but as long as there is a clear connection to your brand, you can avoid the dreaded unsubscribe or spam folders.

2. Personalize by Their Signup Source

There are a variety of ways your customers can find themselves on your list.
Whether it’s a mobile app install, a first purchase, a contest entry, or gated content download, it’s important that you personalize your welcome campaign by the source of their subscription.

Incorporate the foundation of their subscription in your welcome email so they know exactly how you found them and why they are receiving a message. Let them know why you are in their inbox.

In doing so, you are letting the customer know you are paying attention to their actions. Providing relevant information keeps each member of your audience engaged and promotes interaction with your brand.

3. Give Them the Grand Tour

Your welcome campaign is more than an introduction; it’s the start of a tour of your brand. It kicks off the customer journey.

No matter how or why they subscribed, this is your chance to get them further involved in your brand in the ways that you choose.

Walk your customers through your brand experience. Let them know what it means to be a valued member of your community.

Try starting off with information about their account before describing the benefits of choosing your brand. Lead them to your mobile app and lay out the perks of being a member.

ASOS, a leading U.K. retailer, does a great job in their welcome email showing members how to navigate their product offerings by focusing on different categories (ASOS Brands, Labels you’ll love, Face + Body).

ASOS orients newcomers with their category-specific welcome email.

ASOS sells items from over 800 brands, but by giving customers a starting point, they guide them through the experience so they don’t become overwhelmed by all that the retailer offers.

There is a logical path—that you’ve likely set—to make the most of your brand’s offerings, so don’t make your customers search for it.

4. Incentivize Them to Take Action

The guided tour is an excellent addition to any welcome campaign, but what if you have a particular CTA? Perhaps you need customers to complete their profiles before moving further down their journey with your brand.

Hold their hand in this process. This cannot be stressed enough. Keep it simple, stupid. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Whatever phrasing will help you remember to not overdo this part of the welcome campaign.

If you want your new subscriber to take a certain step, then make it known. Make your CTA button to complete their profile big, central, and bright. The goal here is twofold: engagement and progressive profiling.

Expand on this concept by building a full welcome series that culminates in the completion of your desired action. Topshop, another popular retailer based in the U.K., incentivizes action in their welcome email with a discount code, information about a birthday treat, and a hashtag to find their styles on social media.

Topshop sweetens the deal with a first-purchase promo code and birthday treat.

The call to “Update Your Details” is a vital action for progressive profiling to be used in future personalization efforts. A good follow up to this email would be continued requests to update specific, highly valued profile details.

Remember, you’re the host. You don’t want your guests to get lost on the way to the snack table. Lay it out for them in simple, easy terms to keep them happy and satisfied.

Enjoy the Party

First impressions truly do make a difference when it comes to your brand. You don’t want to come off as rude, beastly, and unpleasant to interact with.

Your welcome campaign is the key. It’s the start of your customer journey and, as such, you want each and every customer to start off on the right foot.

If you do it right, then your guests might just decide to stay awhile and make themselves comfortable.

For advanced tactics to improve your welcome emails, download Iterable‘s guide, Unboxing Must-Have Marketing Campaigns: Welcome Emails, to learn more.

~ Michael

 

Michael Huard is a Content Marketing Manager at Iterable. He is an experienced multimedia content creator having produced written, video, and photographic content for leading companies in technology and entertainment. Michael has a Bachelor’s degree in Linguistics from UC Berkeley and a Master’s degree in Specialized Journalism from the University of Southern California.

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Building an Email Strategy to Connect with your Gen Z Customers https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/building-email-strategy-connect-gen-z-customers/ Wed, 10 Jul 2019 13:00:19 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=46624 Gen Z CustomersSenior Manager of Digital and Content Strategy, Jen Lacey, explains how to create an email program that will really resonate with Gen Z customers.

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It’s always seemed a little bit presumptuous to try to encapsulate an entire generation under a label like Baby Boomers, Generation X, and, now, Generation Z.  We want to avoid the trap of gross stereotyping, especially as marketers.

But there are, of course, real differences between these groups. And how you construct an email marketing strategy to engage any of them relies on knowing those distinctions. Gen Z, naturally, is a group that’s remarkably different from everyone who’s come before.

They’re more realistic than optimistic, more independent-minded than Millennials, and also more cautious about sharing personal data.

Without further ado, let’s get to a stat blast:

  • Born between the mid-1990s and the mid-2000s, Generation Z will include nearly 85 million Americans by 2020, about 24.7% of the population. Worldwide, they’ll total nearly 2.6 billion by then.
  • They already have $143 billion in buying power.
  • When they come of age, they’ll make up 40% of U.S. consumers.
  • 96% of U.S. Gen Zers own a smartphone.
  • In fact, most have never not known life without the web; 40% say working wifi is more valuable at work than working bathrooms.
  • They’ve got an average attention span of 8 seconds.

They aren’t abandoning email

One insight that should bring a smile to email marketers of every generation? Gen Zers really like email, in spite of the fact they also obsess over texting, social media, and other messaging platforms.

Still, they consider email important, too, especially as consumers; 46% of them say it’s a big factor in making their buying decisions, and they’re especially open to using email in the future. 48% see their use of email growing over time, while only 36% of Millennials and 23% of Generation Xers say the same.

58% of them check their email multiple times every day, and the same survey found that an impressive 28.5% of them had purchased something as a direct result of receiving an email.

In fact, the same survey found that while social media is their favorite way of engaging with brands, email ran a very close second, even ahead of face-to-face engagement.

Great news! Problem solved, right? Well, yes and no. They’re willing to embrace email, so long as email marketers are willing to work on their terms.

Be really, really straight with them

What matters to Gen Z consumers? Authenticity and transparency; they don’t want to be “sold” – that’s plain from their huge preference for ad blockers.

In terms of email, that means your copy has to be sincere, avoiding hyperbole and the kind of obvious shilling they’ll turn a blind eye to (or just send to spam). Be upfront and honest, and never, ever be tempted to use misleading subject lines; when you make a promise, it’s got to be kept, or they’ll hold your feet to the fire.

“Honesty is the best policy” may be an old platitude, but it holds for Generation Z like it never has before. Remember: if you violate their trust, they’ll be happy to let everybody they know hear about it.

Loyalty matters (a lot)

Many marketers are fearful that these upcoming consumers aren’t going to prove as loyal as previous generations. But it’s less about them having an innate lack of the “customer loyalty gene” as it is they’ve got a higher bar when it comes to their shopping experience. In fact, loyalty – your loyalty to them, and vice-versa – is a huge deal to Gen Z.

A bit further on, we’ll point to the fact Gen Zers expect a seamless shopping experience; they want to feel appreciated, with a customer experience, personalized messages, and offers that prove they’re valued by a marketer.

According to Accenture, 95% or so of Gen Z members want brands to “actively” court their attention (and dollars), and are most influenced by coupons sent via email or even snail mail. Channels like text messaging have their place in the mix, too, of course.

Personalize, but don’t overstep

Part and parcel of that active approached to engagement is the use personalized email campaigns that emphasize individual engagement, and your appreciation for their loyalty. Give respect, in other words, and they’ll give it right back.

But an important layer of this, says a study by IBM and the National Retail Federation? They also want individualization, where they can initiate and customize their own shopping and buying experiences.  Giving them more power to customize the content, offers, and frequency of emails they get from you can be one component of this, but it’s also about ratcheting up the relevance of every message you put in front of them.

At the same time, though, Gen Z consumers are reluctant about sharing personal data. Therefore, you’ve got to tread the line between delivering targeted messages and offers, and coming off as asking for too much personal information.  The best approach? Tell them exactly the data you’d like them to lend you, and explain precisely how you’re going to use it.

Show commitment to good causes

Email is a terrific channel for communicating commitment: Not just yours to your audience, but also to show off your commitment to good causes. That’s key with Generation Z, so much so it’s practically becoming table stakes for marketers.

Half of worldwide consumers see themselves as being belief-driven buyers, and Gen Z is likely to be even more disposed to look favorably on brands that show a commitment to making life better for others. They’ll also be willing to punish brands that don’t meet their expectations for social responsibility.

Email can be an excellent opportunity to show you’re willing to give back to the community, and it’s also a fine way to get recipients engaged in supporting those efforts.

Here’s an excellent example of that from one of the pioneers in this brand of conscientious capitalism, TOMS. Nobody else does a better job of tying their product marketing and sales pitch into the idea that a consumer can lend a direct hand in global betterment:

Go mobile or go home

If you haven’t figured this one out yet? There’s nothing else we can tell you.

Use video and other interactive tools

According to the research, they’re huge consumers of digital media, and 35% of them prefer viewing video on YouTube versus only 19% who prefer traditional TV.  In their world, video lives everywhere, and you’re a dinosaur if you’re not able to deliver it.

Embedding video in email is, therefore, practically mandatory in making your campaigns more engaging and interesting for this audience. Especially when you also realize how important seamless shopping experiences are to them.

So blurring the lines between online and inbox experiences can work in your favor, so long as it’s a smooth and consistent user experience, even for the more ardent channel-hoppers.

~ Jen

new rules email deliverability best practices

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What is Blockchain Email? https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/what-is-blockchain-email/ Mon, 08 Jul 2019 13:00:57 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=46612 Blockchain EmailBlockchain email has benefits that make it attractive to email marketers, but also has some drawbacks too that could make adopting the technology difficult.

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The Pros and Cons of Blockchain Email

Like the cloud several years ago, cryptocurrency is the new tech buzzword that’s generated a lot of chatter while leaving many wondering if it’s much ado about nothing. The term “blockchain” often goes hand-in-hand with the cryptocurrency talk, but it has applications beyond that, including email.

It might seem surprising, but blockchain email is a thing, and there are a few projects in development that want to use it to disrupt traditional email systems. Because a blockchain is an open, distributed ledger that’s replicated across many computers and has no centralized point of access, it’s seen as immune to attacks by bad actors. Those features make it attractive for email, which has many weaknesses that can be exploited.

Figuring out a way to make email more secure is key because it’s not going away any time soon. According to OptinMonster, people send a staggering 102.6 trillion emails annually, and in the U.S., it’s used by more than 90% of everyone over the age of 15 (yes, even those who have never known a world without social media).

In addition, 60% of consumers join email lists to get promotional offers, compared to 20% of consumers who follow brands on social media for the same reason. And with a potential return on investment of up to 4400%, email marketing remains a strong growth driver for many businesses.

Blockchain email has benefits that make it attractive to email marketers, but it has drawbacks too, as we’ll explain.

The benefits of blockchain email

There are several reasons why blockchain email is an attractive prospect for anyone who wants to disrupt the status quo, including:

  • Each message would be authenticated

Because a blockchain is an immutable set of records that are authenticated by each of the computers that store copies of it, a blockchain email system would feature a message database that accurately reflects the sending and receiving activity of everyone using it. Despite the development of such security tools as SPF, DKIM, and DMARC, spam continues to plague our inboxes, and nearly all of us have been the recipients of phishing and spearphishing attempts by the bad guys.

However, blockchain email would provide a single source of truth for each message sent and received, allowing users to easily verify that everything they receive came from a trusted sender. Bad actors couldn’t impersonate others, and they would have a hard time sending spam, since their messages would need to be verified.

  • Users would (likely) have privacy

Putting email on a decentralized blockchain means that no single party would have control over users’ accounts and their messages. Today, many people “pay” for free email services by letting companies parse their messages for signals that feed advertising machines. Blockchain email would let them keep their messages free from prying eyes, even if those doing the snooping are silicon-based.

In addition, if someone wanted to shut down their blockchain email account, they could easily do so without worrying that their information won’t be completely deleted, unlike many free services that essentially put accounts in hibernation when users attempt to shut them down. If a single third party has control over the data, they can do what they want with it, but if a blockchain email database is copied across many computers, only users will be able to dictate how their information is handled.

  • No one would ever lose an email again (hopefully)

A blockchain email system’s database couldn’t become corrupt because there would be no central email server that could be damaged or experience a failure. Even deleted messages could be saved via a mechanism such as an off-chain node, allowing the creation of an archive that users could access when needed.

  • Email marketers could send more precisely targeted campaigns

Blockchain email could, in theory, result in a wealth of data about its users. Since each person’s identity would be authenticated and the blockchain would contain an immutable source of truth about their email history, email marketers could use artificial intelligence to sift through that data and more precisely target the right people for their campaigns.

While many people might groan at such a concept, it could provide a way to pay for a blockchain email platform. In addition, if people are going to see ads, isn’t it better for them to see ones that are targeted to their interests?

The downsides of blockchain email

However, there are some reasons why you don’t hear a lot of talk about blockchain email these days, including:

  • The staggering storage requirements

Bitcoin, the largest cryptocurrency by market capitalization, uses a blockchain that was 210GB as of April 2019. While that’s a big database, it’s still not much compared to the amount of space emails typically take up. The average email is 75KB – multiply that by the 102.6 trillion emails sent every year and you’ll see that a blockchain email platform with even a modest number of users would quickly have sizable storage requirements.

Since a copy of the blockchain needs to reside on each computer in the network (5 million of them, in the case of Bitcoin), that means a blockchain email platform could easily dwarf the storage requirements for cryptocurrencies. That’s a scalability problem that would intimidate even the most seasoned IT professionals, although a clever developer could potentially solve that problem by, for example, storing messages off the blockchain and only using it to verify senders and receivers.

In fact, Salesforce recently won a patent for a blockchain-based platform that would store only part of an email, so that the sender and recipient’s copies could be compared to determine whether a message is authentic. A discrepancy would result in the email being marked as spam.

  • The need for guaranteed user privacy

There are a few companies developing blockchain email, but it’s not clear that any of them are going to make their code open source. Any company that can’t make their code available can’t necessarily guarantee user privacy, which would be a deal-breaker for something as sensitive as email.

  • The possibility of creating “walled gardens”

At least one blockchain email service currently in development only lets its users email each other, leaving anyone on another platform out in the cold. It’s reminiscent of the old days, before the web became dominant, when people on AOL and CompuServe couldn’t send messages between the two services.

However, this limitation doesn’t seem to be in place for every blockchain email platform that’s in the works, so it’s possible that this problem could end up being nonexistent.

The prospects for blockchain email

Blockchain email currently lags far behind cryptocurrency when it comes to adoption and interest in the long-term prospects of the technology. It also seems to be gaining less traction than messaging, in-app payments, contract creation, and other use cases.

However, the possibility of using it to combat all kinds of fraud is very attractive to businesses, so it’s likely that blockchain-based like the one Salesforce is developing could win out in the long run. Even if blockchain can’t provide an end-to-end, all-encompassing email solution, it can likely supplement the current environment.

~ Casey

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How to Start Sending Mass Email https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/start-sending-mass-email/ Fri, 05 Jul 2019 13:00:26 +0000 http://www.sparkpost.com/blog/?p=7458 Start Sending Mass EmailGetting started with SparkPost is super easy. Check out these step-by-step instructions on how to start sending mass email in minutes!

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  • This blog post was originally published on 10/23/2015 and was updated on 7/05/2019

Are you brand new to email and not sure where to start? Unfortunately, sending mass email is actually a pretty complicated science. Fortunately, we’ve put together this guide so you can tackle the initial steps of sending with SparkPost and fill you in on some of the jargon you’ll need to know when building out your email program.

  1. Are you sending transactional email or marketing email? Sending transactional emails can be considered as a part of doing business so you may not need opt-in consent. If you are sending marketing emails you will need your recipients to opt-in or your emails could be considered SPAM.
  2. Are you sending out immediately or scheduling a “bulk send”? Think about sending limits. Your “bulk send” amount could go over your sending limit.
  3. Make sure you are sending expected content. This could include the copy for your ‘password resets’ to the content of your newsletter. Newsletters should contain something that’s relevant to your audience and in line with expectations for when they signed up for your newsletter. If you said you’d send company news once a month, you shouldn’t start sending promotions once a week. That will generate spam complaints and poor deliverability. Deliverability consists of all the issues involved in getting your emails delivered to the expected recipient. Unexpected content could cause poor deliverability and block your email from being delivered.
  4. Next step is to set-up your sending domains. Sending domains are used to identify you as a sender, help you build a sender reputation with ISPs for better inbox placement, and allow you to send more messages on our system. Find out more about how to set-up your sending domain here.
  5. You will also need a Template. A template defines the body of your email. It is also the place to define where substitution data will go in your emails. Find out more about creating a template here.
  6. Finally, you will need is a recipient list. Recipient lists are lists of email addresses you want your emails delivered to. Again, make sure you get opt-in permission from your recipients. You should never add people to your list who have not opted-in as this can affect your deliverability. More information on setting up recipient lists can be  found here.

You can also set-up email using SMTP. Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) is an Internet standard for electronic mail (email) transmission. Here is a video to explain sending via SMTP:

If you are sending via SMTP or REST APIs you will need an API Key. The API key is used to authenticate you acting on behalf of your account with tools outside of SparkPost. Steps to create and API key can be found here.

 While building a mass email program can certainly be a daunting task we hope that these steps point you in the right direction. With a little elbow grease we’re sure you’ll become a full-blown email pro! 

~Sparky

new rules email deliverability best practices

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Email Tips for Cannabis Companies https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/email-tips-cannabis-companies/ Wed, 03 Jul 2019 13:00:58 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=46598 cannabisEmail marketing may fall into an unclear green area when it comes to marketing Cannabis but SparkPost's Messaging Policy does not.

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Amidst the recent expansion in legalized recreational and medical Cannabis industry, one of the biggest challenges businesses face is how to advertise and promote without violating state and federal regulations. This is especially difficult due to the fact that Cannabis is classified as a Schedule 1 substance.

Standard marketing techniques are no longer applicable due to heavily regulated advertising laws, which vary drastically in different states. Nevertheless, email marketing falls into an unclear green area when it comes to marketing Cannabis.

However, before it is possible to go into Cannabis and Email Marketing the first thing to be considered is the SparkPost messaging policies.

SparkPost’s current policies state the following:

In compliance with the Law, Customer’s use of SparkPost Services must comply with all applicable laws, rules, regulations, ordinances, and court orders of any kind of any jurisdiction applicable to Customer, SparkPost, and to any Recipient.

For the sake of simplification purpose, the use of Washington state as the state law example. Below is a simplified outline that most apply to Cannabis Email Marketing:

(2) General. All marijuana advertising and labels of useable marijuana and marijuana-infused products sold in the state of Washington may not contain any statement or illustration that:

(a) Is false or misleading;
(b) Promotes overconsumption;
(c) Represents the use of marijuana has curative or therapeutic effects;
(d) Depicts a child or other person under the legal age to consume marijuana

(5) All advertising must contain the following warnings:

(a) “This product has intoxicating effects and may be habit forming.”;
(b) “Marijuana can impair concentration, coordination, and judgment. Do not operate a vehicle or machinery under the influence of this drug.”;
(c) “There may be health risks associated with consumption of this product.”; and
(d) “For use only by adults twenty-one and older. Keep out of the reach of children.”

Based on these regulations and policies, it would seem that Cannabis businesses are extremely restricted on their ability to promote brands and products. On the other hand, there is some flexibility in this legal haze.

When speaking with our Manager of Deliverability and Compliance Operations as well as the SparkPost Legal team, the following types of Cannabis messages will be permitted on the platform:

  • Transactional Mail (receipts, order confirmations, password resets, and etc.) For a detailed explanation on what is considered transactional, please refer to the following post: https://www.sparkpost.com/use-cases/transactional-email/

  • Political messaging on the legalities and the current climate of Cannabis regulations
  • Informational messaging about new products and/or Cannabis Strains

The exceptions to the conditions above are as follows:

  • Content being sent out from Cannabis recreational and/or medical stores will need to reviewed and approved by our SparkPost Compliance team on a case by case basis.
    • If your store is interested in becoming a SparkPost customer, please reach out to compliance@sparkpost.com for approval
  • Messages to states where Cannabis is not legal will not be tolerated
  • Attempts to sell Cannabis or include accessible links in messages for purchasing Cannabis products in legalized and unregulated states will be reported to the respective governing authorities.

When navigating the legalities of Cannabis advertising and marketing, SparkPost is willing to work with a range of Cannabis businesses and brands, as long as said businesses and brands are able to provide engaging and legally abiding content.

*The information provided on this post does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice; instead, the information in this post is for general informational purposes only.

~ Amara

new rules email deliverability best practices

 

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5 Ways to Personalize Your Next Financial Services Email Campaign https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/5-ways-personalize-next-financial-services-email-campaign/ Mon, 01 Jul 2019 13:00:21 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=46559 financial services email campaignHere are 5 powerful ways you can personalize your next financial services email campaign beyond simply inserting someone’s first name in the subject line.

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Asked by The Financial Brand for their brand’s biggest digital marketing opportunity in the coming year, optimizing the customer experience was the top choice of marketers. Email personalization is one of the best ways to improve your customers’ experience because it helps them feel like your company is speaking directly to them about things they personally care about.

However, modern email marketing requires more than simply inserting someone’s first name in a subject line and in the body of the message. Here are 5 powerful ways you can personalize your next email campaign.

1. Develop customer personas

Just as you change how you speak when addressing different people in various areas of your life, you should consider creating different ways of talking to your customers in emails. Start by segmenting your customers according to various factors, such as age, gender, location, income, and other characteristics that you know about them.

Then try to see your company through the eyes of each segment. What’s important to those people? What are the biggest obstacles they’re facing, and how can you help them solve those problems? You may want to rely on outside research to discover what your customers are likely experiencing, depending on their age, income, location, and other factors.

Each segment can be as broad or as specific as you want it to be. For example, you could slice your customer base by generational divides and talk to them that way. If you do that, keep in mind that PwC Financial Services found that while Millennials, Gen-Xers, and Baby Boomers are all concerned with saving for retirement, their secondary goals are saving for a home, getting out of debt, and ensuring financial stability, respectively.

You could then tailor your next email campaign around those secondary goals and send each generational cohort messaging that resonates with them. An easy way to sub-divide those cohorts is by their stage in the customer journey. For example, you might talk to Millennials about strategies for saving for a home different ways if they’re new to your business compared to customers who have been with you for a few years.

2. Personalize your imagery

In addition to talking to your customers in specific ways, make sure the photos and other images in your emails match those personas. That includes not just their ages (such as using photos of people in the same age bracket) but also potentially customizing your pictures by location and other factors.

For example, you can use pictures that feature prominent landmarks or notable geographic features in an area where people in a specific cohort live. Campaign Monitor ran a test with images personalized to the recipient’s country (US, UK, and Australia) vs. location-agnostic pictures and found that the former increased the email’s click-through rate by 29%.

3. Personalize your offers

Rather than using a one-size-fits-all approach to offers, such as messaging everyone on your list about a new type of account that doesn’t have any fees, try tailoring those messages to people in a more specific way. For example, using PwC Financial Services’ previously mentioned research, you could limit a special deal on a debt consolidation loan only to a Gen-X cohort.

You could also personalize offers based on past behaviors. For example, you could offer a special type of savings account to people who previously opened checking accounts, particularly those who have seen their balances dip precariously low and could use overdraft protection. Or you could put a generational spin on the offer and aim it at Millennials who want to save money to buy a home.

4. Create triggered emails based on the customer journey

In addition to creating customer personas, you should map out a customer journey that starts with the onboarding process, which is how you welcome new customers. At a minimum, you’ll want to send them a thank-you email that’s personalized based on any information they gave when signing up. For example, based on their address, you could dynamically insert the address of your company’s nearest office or branch location, or give them the contact information for an agent in their area.

In addition to creating triggered emails that alert customers to suspicious sign-in attempts, transaction problems, and other important events, you can also craft messages that are based on other kinds of behaviors. For example, if someone hasn’t logged into their account for a specific amount of time, you could send them an email that prompts them to log in. Try to give them a reason why, such as checking an account balance or viewing certain activity.

Other potential triggers include:

  • Reaching an account anniversary: Wish the customer well and perhaps add in a cross-sell or upsell based on their persona and account history.
  • Hitting a transactional threshold: Such moments might also be a good time for a cross-sell or upsell.
    Engaging customer service representatives through certain channels: Some people like an in-person experience while others prefer phone calls, email, website chats, social media messaging, and so forth. Paying attention to how and when your customers engage with your company gives you an opportunity to nudge them toward other channels if you have a reason to do so. You can also send follow-up emails to ensure that people are happy with their customer service experience.
  • Expressing interest: Maybe someone asks questions but doesn’t create an account, or they fill out a form requesting more information. That’s an opportunity to not only supply what they need but also create triggers that send emails after a certain amount of time has elapsed and they’re still not a customer. Based on what you know about them, try to personalize the message as much as possible to seal the deal and turn them into a new customer.
  • Needing a reminder: When people engage in a cyclical activity, such as providing the information needed to complete a tax return, you can create triggered reminders that prompt them to re-engage with your business. For something like a tax return, you can start sending reminders in January and keep sending them past the deadline, so you can catch the stragglers.

Paying attention to the customer journey is key because 81% of financial marketers surveyed by Adobe and eCounsultancy said that optimizing it will be “very important” over the next few years.

5. Consider who’s sending the email

One aspect of personalization that’s often overlooked is who’s sending the email. That includes not just customizing the from name and reply-to email address, but also the body of the email. Instead of sending the email from your company, it could come from a specific (but fictional) employee. That employee could vary, depending on the cohort being addressed.

HubSpot tried that technique, testing an email sent by the company versus one sent by a marketing manager. It found that the latter generated a higher click-through rate as well as more overall clicks.

~ Casey

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Pride 2019 at SparkPost https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/pride-2019-sparkpost/ Fri, 28 Jun 2019 13:00:59 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=46568 PrideBusiness Operations Administrator, Matthew Slasten, recaps how SparkPost celebrated Pride Month this year.

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To many, Pride evokes thoughts of rainbows, parades, and celebration. Even as I sit at my desk right now, I think of the rainbow flags flying on Market Street and the crowds of people that will descend on the Civic Center this weekend for the SF Pride Parade. And, I also think about what all of this means to me as an LGBTQ individual. Like many, I kept my identity hidden for most of my teenage years for fear of acceptance. Seeing a rainbow flag or any sign of support meant the world to me. And, while I’ve become comfortable with and proud of my identity over the years, it still means so much to me when I see any effort to make the LGBTQ community feel welcomed and celebrated.

As a SparkPost employee, I’ve been fortunate enough to work at a company that celebrates its LGBTQ community. This last month, we’ve hung a rainbow banner in the office, been given Pride t-shirts and pins, and had a special movie afternoon where we watched “Milk”. Our social team also created and promoted a Slide Share that gives viewers “A Brief History of Pride.”

Now to some, this may seem like a corporation taking an opportunity to promote its brand during Pride. We’ve all seen the special rainbow swag and designs that many companies are promoting. While there may be some truth in that, I’d rather not make a negative out of a positive. For many years, Pride came and went, and wasn’t cause for celebration at SparkPost. In fact, it never crossed my mind that it was something to be celebrated at the office at all. But there’s something about seeing your company take the time and the effort to make specially designed swag, hang a rainbow banner, and set aside a whole afternoon to watch a movie about a historic LGBTQ pioneer, that really makes an impact. Like those flags on Market Street or the upcoming parade, these small gestures make me feel welcome and fill me with Pride.

So thank you SparkPost for putting in that extra effort to make your LGBTQ community feel recognized and welcome!

~ Matthew

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What is an SPF Record? https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/what-is-an-spf-record/ Wed, 26 Jun 2019 13:00:59 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=46549 SPF RecordInterested in implementing the Sender Policy Framework (SPF) but not sure where to start? Check out our guide to learn how SPF records work.

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Are you interested in implementing Sender Policy Framework (SPF) but not sure where to begin? Check out our guide to learn how to get started with SPF and how SPF records work:

What is SPF?

SPF can help protect email senders and recipients from spam, spoofing, and phishing. In addition to safeguarding against email risks, properly configuring your email authentication can positively impact your deliverability. SPF is a form of email authentication that defines a way to validate that an email message was sent from an authorized mail server, in order to prevent spam and to detect forgery. SPF was introduced as a supplement to SMTP which by itself doesn’t offer any authentication mechanisms.

What is an SPF record?

SPF establishes a way for receiving mail servers to verify that an incoming email was sent from an authorized host. It works well when used in tandem with the Domain Name System (DNS). DNS takes the domain names people use to search online (like “sparkpost.com”) and finds the corresponding Internet Protocol (IP) addresses so that internet browsers can load information.

An SPF record is included in an organization’s DNS database and is a specially-formatted version of a standard DNS TXT record. It looks something like this:

mydomain.com   TXT "v=spf1 include:myauthorizeddomain.com include:sparkpostmail.com ~all”

Following along from left-to-right this SPF record says that any email that claims to be from “mydomain.com” should be validated with SPF (

v=spf1
). The part of the record that is labeled
include:
 specifies that the records for “myauthorizeddomain.com” and “sparkpostmail.com” should be included when validating email from mydomain.com. This indicates that other domains are authorized to send on the mydomain.com’s behalf.  Finally,
~all
 indicates that any other servers claiming to send mail on the domain’s behalf should be marked as questionable, and possibly fail the SPF test.

Commercial businesses sending transactional email should definitely implement at least one form of email authentication. We recommend implementing, SPF, DMARC, and DKIM for a more complete approach to authenticating your email.

Luckily, SparkPost actually handles SPF automatically— so, if you send with us all email from your account is already SPF authenticated!

~ Erica

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Once Upon a Time in Email Land… https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/once-upon-time-email-land/ Mon, 24 Jun 2019 13:00:24 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=46533 success storiesDirector of Customer Success, Tom Mairs, shares some of SparkPost's customers' greatest success stories using our product.

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For me, as a Sales Engineer, it is all about the story. I could drone on for hours about how awesome our product is and the billions of bytes of code we wrote and the awards we’ve won, but really – who cares? Do you know what people care about? They care about how other people use it. They care about success stories and diving saves. They care about how we can make them be a hero to their peers and their customers.

People want to hear about that time we were able to predict a service outage two days before it happened using crazy data science. Or that time we identified a problem with a customer’s signup form using engagement recency charts. They want to explore how our real-time analytics data identified a failing generation node and prevented thousands of lost messages.

The SparkPost team and their customers can tell you a wide range of stories about how using the right tool can reveal interesting things you didn’t know about your own email sending practices. For 20+ years, we have been the underlying infrastructure of the email space, fueling the vast majority of Email Service Providers and high volume senders. Our visible data footprint covers 37% of the entire world’s commercial email traffic so we have definitely seen a few things.

We have seen customers leverage our flexible API Key management system to allow 3rd party fraud prevention tools to filter bad contacts without exposing access to the messaging engine. API Keys can be very granular to allow send-only or report-only functions as well as provide direct manipulation of the embedded suppression system.

Many customers have taken advantage of the real-time data webhook feed to trigger specific business automation processes like real-time list hygiene and FBL processing for CAN-SPAM compliance. This data feed is also ideal for something often referred to as “Assured Delivery” where you can reroute message to an alternate channel in the event of an initial delivery failure. Mailbox full? No problem, let’s just resend that to the alternate address we have on file.

Customers share exciting stories with us all the time about how they improved business results by doing the unexpected. A great example of this is the sender who we counseled to send LESS mail to get a better result. That may seem strange for a company whose model is to bill on volume, but our primary focus is customer success and in this case, that is what was needed. We identified which users were actually engaging with email and in turn generating revenue. Targeting only those users resulted in eliminating 70% of the outbound volume but increased their open rates by 4x and in turn resulted in higher profits and a more efficient operation.

In a similar way, we could share the story of a customer who came to us in need to migrate off another provider but only had 11 days for a full migration. Most deliverability people will tell you it takes several weeks to warm up IPs to the point where you can send any appreciable volume– so 11 days sounds like an impossible task. Yet we were able to leverage SparkPost technology and decades of experience to meet the challenge.

We would love to hear your story. If you are a SparkPost, PowerMTA, or Momentum customer, we welcome you to share your success story with us. If you have not had the pleasure of using any of our tech yet, please give us a chance to make a diving save, give you a more efficient platform, or resolve a messaging crisis. Your story awaits.

~ Tom

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17 Ways to Improve Email Deliverability https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/improve-email-deliverability/ Fri, 21 Jun 2019 13:00:45 +0000 http://www.sparkpost.com/blog/?p=7629 improve email deliverabilityHere are 17 things you can do to increase the likelihood that your email message will get into your recipients’ inboxes, so they can open, click, and engage with you and your brand.

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  • This blog post was originally published on 12/14/2015 and was updated on 6/21/2019

According to research from Return Path, US email reaches subscribers’ inboxes only 83% of the time! Are you doing everything you can to ensure that your messages aren’t part of the 17% of emails that never make it to the inbox?

Check out our list of 17 deliverability best practices that can help increase the likelihood that your email message will get into your recipients’ inboxes, where hopefully they will open, click, and engage with you and your brand.

  1. Use double opt-in. Double opt-in is compliant with laws like CASL and CAN-SPAM. It generally requires that the recipient clicks on an activation email that you send. It can also set up a pattern of engagement.
  2. Make your from and subject line explicitly you and true to the message. If the message is not “from” your brand, it should be from a person at your brand. The subject line should also clearly reflect the content of the message.
  3. Segment your list. All your recipients are not alike. Segmenting your list by interest and modifying frequency accordingly can drive more engagement.
  4. Implement Sender Policy Framework. By using SPF, you provide ISPs with the assurance you are who you say you are, making them more likely to deliver your message to the inbox.
  5. Prune your list. When it comes to your email list, more is not always better. If the recipient hasn’t engaged with you in 6 months, target them with a special message and if that doesn’t drive engagement, remove them from your list.
  6. Let someone help you avoid bouncing. Hard bounces should be removed from your list. At SparkPost, we add those to your suppression list right away so you don’t see more bounces, but it’s still up to you to remove those addresses from your list.
  7. Watch out for spam traps. Spam traps are emails created by ISPs to find spammers.
  8. Check your reputation. One tool you can use is Sender Score to find out where you stand with respect to your sending reputation.
  9. Don’t add emails from contests and giveaways. You’ll probably get multiple signups from the same email address. If you do these types of promotions, make sure you vet the resulting emails carefully before adding them to your list.
  10. Check blacklists. Make sure your organization isn’t on a list that automatically sends your emails into a black hole instead of the inbox.
  11. Consider the source. Where did you get that email address? Some sources are much more reliable than others. As a general rule, buying lists is a bad idea.
  12. Make unsubscribing very easy. If unsubscribing is difficult, in frustration, recipients may mark your email as spam as a way to stop receiving your email. If recipients cry spam, ISPs listen and you can quickly land on a blacklist.
  13. Register for feedback loops (where you can). How can you find out if a recipient is marking your email as spam? By subscribing to relevant feedback loop reports from ISPs. One notable exception is Gmail, which only sends feedback loop reports to email service providers.
  14. What’s the frequency? Pay attention to how frequently you are sending email and what kind of responses you get. Send email too often and you risk being ignored (or deleted without opening, which harms deliverability). Send too infrequently and recipients may forget about you. It’s a balancing act.
  15. Keep frequency consistent. Once you settle on a frequency, stick with it. Erratic sending patterns are considered a marker of spam.
  16. Study your metrics. Real-time analytics is the best way to drive your email marketing strategy. SparkPost offers numerous real-time reports and webhooks that you can leverage to drive engagement and improve deliverability. Pay attention to clicks and opens. If you’re having trouble with blacklisting, SparkPost can often work with you to help you get removed from those lists. And, if you’re really ready to step up your email game, be sure to check out SparkPost Signals, our brand new email intelligence platform designed to help you identify and address issues before they start impacting your business.
  17. Work to improve your open rate. Deliverability is clearly important, but it’s not the end game. You want to drive engagement, to have recipients open and click on your email. That happens with engaging content, a subject line that tantalizes followed by summary text that draws them in further.

~ Sparky

new rules email deliverability best practices

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5 Email Strategies MarTech Companies Need to Ditch https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/5-email-strategies-martech-companies-need-to-ditch/ Wed, 19 Jun 2019 13:00:58 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=46476 Email Strategies MarTechRead about five email strategies MarTech companies need to scrap, eighty-six, pink-slip, kick to the curb, or otherwise get out from under ASAP.

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When it comes to email marketing strategies, plenty of very shrewd marketers make mistakes. Even, shockingly, MarTech providers.

Sometimes it’s just a matter of picking the wrong strategy in the first place. Other times, the mistake lies in sticking by a strategy that’s been successful in the past, and may still be generating results. But they’re paltry results when compared with the ROI of smarter, more up-to-date approaches.

And if your competitors are pulling ahead while you’re standing pat, those “proven” practices are doing you more harm than good.

Here, then, are five email marketing strategies that MarTech companies need to scrap, eighty-six, pink-slip, kick to the curb, or otherwise get out from under ASAP.

#1: Emailing the unengaged

To extract the most from your lists, you need to monitor engagement at a granular level. You may be sending out high-quality emails, but you’re seeing declining CTRs and open rates. What’s the problem? You’re sending to unengaged recipients – listees who haven’t interacted with any of your emails over an extended period.

“What’s the harm?” you might ask; so long as your messages aren’t being shunted to spam, you might not think it’s a cause for concern. Some senders just re-double their efforts, or re-calibrate and re-re-calibrate their messaging in an attempt to rouse some reaction.

What you’re doing, though, is simply increasing the amount of graymail you’re putting out – email that doesn’t fit the definition of spam. But over time, recipients lose interest in these mailings, and actually become more likely to flag you as spam. In fact, it’s estimated by some that up to 75% of what gets flagged are actually legitimate newsletters, notifications, or other emails recipients were once interested in getting. Now, though, they’re happy to just send them to spam, rather than go through the hassle of unsubscribing (this is another reason to have a very visible “unsubscribe” option in every email).

How to combat this? Simple: Track engagement, and exclude anyone from your active list who’s failed to engage with the last 10, 15, or number-of-your-choice emails you’ve sent. Some platforms even allow you to set this number as an automated function.

#2: Buying lists

The advent of the GDPR and CCPA may put a lot of list brokers out of business anyway since it’ll be harder for them to compile quality lists. Not to mention that just using one of their lists will mean you’re breaking the law.

In the old batch-and-blast days, though, marketers would try to stock up with “leads” generated through pretty indiscriminate mass emailings. Even today, when ABM and precise targeting is supposedly the order of the day, data vendors still shill “quality” lists of “contact” that, all things considered, are still as cold as a baked Alaska.

If you’re prospecting, the secret to identifying the right email targets is to collect and analyze the right data. What’s that entail? Capturing data from people who are specifically interested in your company or products (by tracking interactions with your website and content, for starters), then applying analytics tools (including AI/machine learning platforms) that can help give you far more accurate and predictive insights about which of them are likely to be true prospects…and what messages will succeed in engaging them.

Here’s how HubSpot does it, with a very personalized email with a smiling human face and details drawn from the prospect’s behaviors:

#3: Putting product before solution

In flighting your email messages, an important thing to remember? Always put the customer’s needs ahead of your desire to pitch the product.

We know it’s hard to resist showing off all the shiny bits, like the upgrades or new features your customer should embrace, or the really cool case study jammed full of praise-you-to-the-sky testimonials a prospect really owes it to him/herself to peruse.

But building a relationship means knowing that what they probably want, first and foremost, is answers or insights pertinent to their real “need state” – which is to find solutions to current problems or requirements. Provide relevant content and you’re on the way to a deeper relationship since this instance of content engagement gives you important data about them or their company.

Zapier does exactly that in the example below. A user has begun using one of their connectivity “Zaps,” so it’s a prime moment to offer them tutorials on how to expand their skills.  And it’s from Wade, a co-founder – talk about service!

#4: Focusing on the title, not the role

Targeting strategies rely on segmentation to succeed, and taking that a step further, on building actionable marketing/sales personas of everyone you need to engage who’s part of the decision-making process at a prospective or current MarTech customer account.

Too often, marketers fall into the trap of relying on outdated segmentations that don’t accurately reflect how their target audience has evolved, in general, or within specific accounts. But even when segmentation is up-to-date, they make another mistake: Targeting their email messages on the basis of a person’s job title, rather than their actual role.

The responsibilities of an individual with the title “Marketing Technology Manager” may seem roughly similar company-to-company. The actual variations between what’s involved in their real jobs, and their role in the purchase or decision-making chain, though, can be significant. Company A may have a different market, different IT architecture and digital footprint, and different MarTech goals from Company B, with a different internal procurement hierarchy.

So the seemingly tailored emails you send to MarTech Manager A, who does have a deciding influence over purchases and implementation strategies within the organization, won’t necessarily resonate with MarTech Manager B, who may not.

The solution here? To do the hard work of understanding each target’s real role within the context of their organizations. Sometimes, that information can be easy to come by: Just ask them. Tell them you can service them and their company better by having a clear idea of their relationship with your product.

#5: Providing only superficial personalization

Back in 2014 (I know, it seems like a decade or two ago!), FastCompany sent out 1,000 cold emails to see what the “best practices” should be for effective cold prospecting campaigns.

The results are applicable today. Even when it comes to how you communicate with existing customers as part of your retention efforts. The big takeaway, then and now? Personalization always wins.

But “personalization” is a continuum. Merging a person’s name into an otherwise stock message is one end of it…the low end. It’s cheaper and easier, but it also fails at exploiting a golden opportunity.

Leveraging data-driven insights about their product use, behaviors and interests, the context they’re considering or using your product within, and offering up information or solutions fine-tuned to their potential needs or preferences? That’s where personalization rises to its fullest potential for driving a customer’s loyalty and expanding their lifetime value.

For MarTech providers, there’s also the buff it gives to your reputation. Delivering that level of personalization verifies you in the eyes of each customer as actually practicing what you preach.

Here’s an example of how Grammarly gets it done, using weekly email updates to give users an idea of just how much keyboard-pounding they’re up to, and ranking them against other users. It’s a pat on the back and a useful productivity digest.

~ Craig

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5 Email Missteps That FinTech Companies Need to Avoid https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/5-email-missteps-that-fintech-companies-need-to-avoid/ Mon, 17 Jun 2019 13:00:04 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=44685 FinTech CompaniesStudy up on five all-too-common mistakes that many FinTech companies make when it comes to email but which you should be able to easily avoid.

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You can have the best products and services on the market, but if you don’t craft and execute a strong email strategy, your customers will likely look elsewhere. Email is still one of the most-used communication channels in the world, according to Statista, which says that 269 billion emails were sent and received daily by 3.7 billion people in 2017.

Here are 5 all-too-common mistakes that many companies make but which you should be able to easily avoid.

1. Not creating an onboarding series

It’s important to create a welcome email that brings new customers into the fold. However, making that a one-and-done experience leaves you susceptible to high customer churn rates. You’ll want to craft a series of triggered emails that guide new customers through everything they need to know about your product or service.

Here are some best practices to keep in mind:

  • Get the viewpoints of designers and/or usability experts: Colors, font sizes, icons, button placement, the amount of text, and overall design are all key elements to consider when developing an onboarding experience. Ideally, you should also have an onboarding process in an app and/or on a website, and your emails should complement that flow.
  • Consider simple incentives: Gamification is a great way to reward new users as they move through onboarding. For example, a progress bar or percentage complete can help them understand how much more they need to do and minimize frustration.
  • Create triggers tied to inactivity and other behaviors: In addition to creating triggered emails that are sent out at specific intervals, consider crafting triggered messages that are tied to specific behaviors. For example, if someone fails to complete a step in the onboarding process, create a follow-up email that’s sent after X number of days of inactivity. You can also send follow-up messages when people fail to open onboarding emails.

Make sure you kick off your onboarding series with an opt-in email, which confirms that the customer supplied the correct email address (sending messages to the wrong addresses harms your deliverability). It also serves as a “You wanted to create this account” reminder and lets you opt them in for future emails.

2. Not prioritizing security

Everyone wants to keep bad actors from accessing their company’s data, and we all know about the eye-popping costs of phishing, spear fishing, and spoofing attacks on employees’ email accounts. However, it’s also important to consider the damage done to brand trust when consumers receive malicious emails purportedly from companies they’ve done business with, or might do business with.

That’s why you should spend the resources to set up three free email security standards that can help stop spammers from impersonating your company, as well as alert you to such efforts.

Step 1: Implement SPF (Sender Policy Framework)

SPF is an email authentication standard that defines a way to validate that an email was sent from an authorized mail server. It was designed to supplement the SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) protocol that’s used to send email because SMTP doesn’t include any authentication mechanisms.

SPF also piggybacks on the well-established Domain Name System (DNS) that maps web server names to IP (Internet Protocol) addresses. It’s a standard TXT file that resides in your domain’s overall DNS records and defines your authorized mail servers. Inbound mail servers use that file to compare the IP addresses of email senders with those authorized mail servers. The SPF record tells those servers how to handle messages that fail the comparison.

Step 2: Create a DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail) Signature

DKIM adds a digital signature to the headers of an email message, allowing an incoming mail server to validate it against a public cryptographic key in the sending organization’s DNS records. While SPF defines the mail servers that can send messages on behalf of your domain, it doesn’t offer a mechanism to verify whether the message headers or body have been altered or forged while in transit. That’s why you want to use DKIM too.

Step 3: Add DMARC to the Foundation Created by SPF and DKIM

DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance) allows you to define your email authentication practices and provide instructions to inbound mail servers for enforcing them. It wraps around the SPF and DKIM authentication standards to enable a complete email sending solution.

Since neither SPF nor DKIM alert you to malicious messages that managed to bypass both safeguards, DMARC gives you that information so you can act on it.

3. Not developing good email habits

In addition to watching for bad actors who are trying to impersonate your company, you want to ensure that your emails reach people’s inboxes. You do that by maintaining a strong sender reputation, which tells mail providers like Gmail whether they should put your emails straight into users’ inboxes, mark them as promotional or spam, or even outright reject them.

You can keep develop a good sender reputation by:

  • Keeping people engaged: The more people open your emails and click through from them, the higher your engagement rate will be. Use subject lines that are short and to the point, and ensure your emails are mobile responsive, which means they automatically adapt to the device screens they’re viewed on.
  • Creating, authenticating, and warming up sending domains: Use different sub-domains for different types of email and warm up new ones by methodically adding email volume week by week. Inbound mail servers want to see consistent volume and frequency.
  • Exercising good list maintenance: Immediately remove email addresses that hard bounce, but keep an eye on soft bounces too and suppress the addresses that keep returning that result. Pay attention to engagement rates too: consider removing people who never engage with your emails, or send them a “Would you like to stay on our list?” message every so often.

In addition, peruse the details of the CAN-SPAM law in the United States, GDPR in the European Union, and other important pieces of legislation. Note that GDPR can affect your company even if it’s not based in the EU.

4. Not considering the little details

There are several elements of email sending that are easy to overlook, such as:

  • Preheader text: This is the text that email clients, including all mobile ones, display below the subject line. If you don’t specify it, recipients typically see the first several words of the email, which isn’t optimal. Use the preheader to complement the subject line and give people another incentive to open your message.
  • The footer: That’s where you want to include any legally required language, as well as an unsubscribe link. Don’t make people hunt for the unsubscribe link – you’ll risk them marking your email as spam so they can get off your list, and that will hurt your sender reputation.
  • Opt down preferences: When people click the unsubscribe link, take them to an email preference center that lets them choose less frequent emails, or different types of mailings. That way they can remain on your list.

5. Not choosing a reliable email service provider

Selecting the right email service provider (ESP) can pay dividends for years to come. Choose wisely, though, because it can be costly and time-consuming to switch to another provider. Here are some questions to consider:

  • Are they cloud-based? On-premise solutions are quickly becoming outdated for all but the largest organizations. A solid cloud-based ESP can quickly scale to meet sudden extra capacity needs.
  • What kind of support do they offer? Some ESPs assume that knowledge base articles and an online forum are enough, but that doesn’t work when a critical problem brings your business to a standstill and you need to get someone on the phone.
  • Do they incorporate security by design? In addition to supporting SPF, DKIM, and DMARC, they should provide security at the email content, protocol, and network layers. And you can’t go wrong if they run on a rock-solid cloud platform like Amazon Web Services.
  • Can they ensure your emails will hit inboxes? An email shouldn’t be considered delivered if it hits a spam trap, but some ESPs look at it that way. They should be able to optimize your deliverability rates by adjusting your email sending based on real-time feedback from email providers.
  • Do they offer a strong API (application programming interface)? They should support message injection and sending protocols including SMTP, REST, SMPP and MM7, as well as data integration protocols including ODBC, LDAP and PostgresSQL.
  • Do they supply real-time data and analytics? A good ESP will not only supply send, open, click, bounces, and other metrics in real-time but also give you access to a detailed event history for each message.

You can’t go wrong if you decide to go with SparkPost, which is a cloud-based ESP that runs on Amazon Web Services, offers 98% deliverability rates, features a RESTful API and other key protocols, and gives you all the real-time analytics you need.

~ Casey

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5 Ways to Personalize your Next MarTech Email Campaign https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/5-ways-personalize-next-martech-email-campaign/ Fri, 14 Jun 2019 13:00:50 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=44676 next MarTech email campaignRead up on our tips for personalizing your next MarTech email campaign, and how these strategies can help you nurture your relationship with your customer.

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For a MarTech provider, initial engagement is obviously just the start of the customer’s journey – and of a relationship that ought to bear profitable fruit for both parties for a long time to come. Nurturing that relationship with personalized emails is pretty much a cornerstone of that future success.

In a previous post, we pointed at five MarTech providers who were doing an exceptional job of self-marketing to prospects and customers. You can bet each of them considers personalization to be central. That’s not in the least because being on the receiving end of personalization is ever more important to buyers, too. As one study shows, there’s a primary reason many buyers have limited engagement with B2B vendors: They’re being sent too much irrelevant content.

So in using email marketing to support your MarTech product, “personalization” has to go well beyond just knowing your customer’s name and title. Messages need to be relevant and contextualized so they – and your product – show immediate value to the recipient.

Triggered emails

They’re the bedrock of marketing automation nowadays, and they’re an excellent way to personalize your campaigns. By responding to specific customer actions with messaging that’s punctual and suitable for the situation, you can open up new opportunities.

The number and types of triggers you activate against are nearly endless: content downloads or browsing behavior on your website, for instance; registration for a webinar or user event; the inception or conclusion of a new campaign using your product; making a core update, or adding a plugin or other new functionality.

HubSpot does a good job of this in the example below, where a user’s behavior has triggered a message that will, hopefully, catch them at a moment when their interest in researching social media marketing may be a clue they’re interested in launching a campaign of their own, or upgrading the efforts they’re already making.

Show you know their stack

It’s also vital to demonstrate you know what type of tech stack a customer or prospect is working with, so you’re able to grasp what that says about their marketing objectives and personalize email messaging accordingly. Are they invested in AI? Are they transitioning to ABM? What CRM platform are they relying on? Do they leverage a business intelligence tool?

Understanding a customer’s tech stack gives a MarTech campaign planner the opportunity to demonstrate how their particular offering fits into it, and how it complements or enhances the customer’s existing components. So when you release upgrades that help with cross-platform integration with that customer’s existing solutions, you can make sure they know you’re always improving your own product on their behalf.

When it comes to taking a similar approach in prospecting for new business, or onboarding a new customer without having to grill them about their tech stack, there are new tools that can help do the job. Notablist, for instance, analyzes the email campaigns sent out by marketers to provide a window into what technologies are being used by their brands.

P.S. Notablist uses the tagline “Sending Insights for Closers” — you can easily picture Alec Baldwin spitting it out in Glengarry Glen Ross, right?

Get in sync with their business cycles

One key to personalization is “right time, right message,” and in maintaining engagement with your customers, it’s good to know their business, marketing, and sales cycles. Why? Because by doing so, you’re able to make your messaging more timely and relevant.

If you’re trying to prompt them to use your platform or upgrade to new features, being able to anticipate a marketing cycle where those might be useful means you can hit them with reminders or announcements that play perfectly into their upcoming campaigns.

You can ask for a sneak peek at their marketing/sales calendar, of course, but it’s not always going to be available, or gathering that data is too manually intensive. Here, too, there are analytics tools that can automate the gleaning of insight: Moat is one. By tracking where and how a marketer is investing its marketing resources, in what channels, and the length and breadth of marketing cycles, you’re able to plan your campaigns appropriately.

Encourage and educate

You can put the “personal” in “personalization” by putting a human face on your interactions with customers. They’re investing good money – and their professional standing – in your product, so you should help them along the way by recognizing them reaching individual milestones or other trigger points with pats-on-the-back, by offering tutorials or other skills-building content, or even by giving “power users” exclusive access to new feature demos and the like.

The triggers can revolve around their use of the product, completing tutorials, gaining proficiency ratings, trying out new features, participating in user groups, or any other accomplishments that they can feel good about – and give you a chance to deepen your bond with that customer.

Here’s an example of offering up kudos on reaching a milestone from engagement platform Sleeknote that’s, unsurprisingly, very engaging – particularly since it hails from the CEO, who sounds like a fun guy to hang with.

Let them provide some personalizing

Customers love empowerment, so one way to deliver that – and to help you personalize your relationship with them – is to judiciously give them the power of choice in responding to your campaign.

Newsletters are a classic tool for building a customer profile by tracking the links they click on in each issue, as their choices provide solid data about their interests and needs. Yet there are even more imaginative and expansive ways to accomplish that, as shown in this ProductPlan onboarding email.

ProductPlan isn’t a MarTech provider (they offer roadmap visualization tools), but the idea here translates easily. They’re giving the new customer the power to choose where and how they want to start their onboarding process.

Those choices, naturally, can help a marketer further customize future messages or complete campaigns/tracks. In the moment, though, the customer’s decisions let you direct them to personalized content you can segment as much as necessary to give them a more satisfying engagement.

~ Craig

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The Five Email Love Languages https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/five-email-love-languages/ Wed, 12 Jun 2019 13:00:55 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=44663 email love languagesExplore how to create a multifaceted email program that allows you to communicate with customers in their respective email love languages.

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If you’re familiar with Gary Chapman’s 1992 tour de force, The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate, then you know that a lifetime of love can be easily attained through reading a self-help book. In his masterwork, Chapman outlines the 5 types of communication necessary to create a love that lasts. They are: Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, and Physical Touch. While strong and open communication of all sorts can certainly be used towards building a loving relationship with a significant other, these love languages obviously parlay themselves into how to communicate with someone even more important than your soulmate…your customer!

Check out how you can apply the five love languages as communication and engagement strategies with your customers:

Words of Affirmation: Welcome and Onboarding Emails

Your customers deserve to know that they’ve made a great choice by signing up for your product or service. In fact, Stripe explains that welcome and onboarding emails can drive three times the transaction and revenue per email than any other promotional email! That’s right, welcome emails not only serve as digital words of affirmation to your customer but can also do wonders for your bottom line!

Acts of Service: Triggered Email

When customers make payments to your company or updates to their accounts, it’s absolutely imperative that they are notified of the change via email. Triggered email does just that! A triggered email is a timely, relevant, and individualized email automatically sent in response to an action taken by a recipient, or to a data point about that recipient. These sorts of emails help to serve the customer by notifying the customer of changes before they even ask!

Receiving Gifts: Deals, Deals, Deals!

Customers that opt-in to your emails deserve to be recognized for their loyalty! One of the best ways to communicate your gratitude to devoted customers is by sending them marketing emails that contain discount codes and free gifts! Not only do consumers love free stuff, but these sorts of rewards can help keep your clientele engaged with your email messages and create positive buzz about your brand.

Quality Time: Sending Messages at the Right Time

When this love language is applied to a lover or significant other, it generally means spending A LOT of time with that person. However, when it comes to spending time with your customer it needs to be done on their terms, at a time that is convenient for them. This means that when sending marketing or triggered messages, the content needs to be timely to the customer. There’s nothing worse than receiving a marketing email with a discount code for a sale that has already ended or a “Forgot My Password” email hours after the fact. By focusing on sending your messages at the right time, you can build trust with your customer and create a frictionless customer experience.

Physical Touch: Don’t

Okay, my stretch of a metaphor ends here. Please don’t touch your customers.

Keeping these five strategies in mind can help you create a multifaceted email program where you are able to communicate with customers in their own email love language.

~ Erica

P.S. Interested in finding out which love language you speak? Check out this quiz!

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[Webinar] Retail Banking: How to Optimize the Customer Deposit Lifecycle https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/webinar-retail-banking-optimize-customer-deposit-lifestyle/ Mon, 10 Jun 2019 13:00:09 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=44651 retail bankingJoin us on June 20th at 2:00 PM EDT, for a live discussion of the importance of personalization in the retail banking customer journey.

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It’s not the same bank your parents used – digital is a game changer

Thanks to the digital world, there are new ways to market to today’s financial services customers. New marketing technology presents challenges and opportunities in how we engage with customers and create more personalized experiences, tailored to their needs.

With technology solutions like Novantas and SparkPost, you can use advanced segmentation to learn the value derived from lifetime activities and use analytics and metrics to optimize the customer’s lifecycle with your retail bank, creating a personalized banking experience that results in customer loyalty.

Pump up your Marketing Game

The game has changed. Retail banks used to wait for the customers to come to them.

“Did you know that since 2015, the impact of the branch on new-to-bank checking acquisition declined by roughly 10% while marketing’s impact on the same category has increased 10% and is still growing?” – Hank Israel, director, Novantas

Now, banks need to reach out to use marketing and MarTech acquisition tools to build their clientele. Marketing spend is on the rise.

The Right Marketing Tools Can Set You Apart from your Competition

According to Acquisition IQ Insights, the top priority for many banks will be getting the data and marketing technology to help them gain insights into what consumers want from their bank. Then, they can build it with personalized programs that fit their needs. Analytics and data show the ‘who’ based on engagement and refining those customer lifecycles, allowing the banks to deliver a more personal and continuous journey with the customer.

Novantas offers a range of analytically oriented solutions for banks: pricing, risk, distribution analysis, product development, complemented by personalization, segmentation, and strategy implementation expertise – tools to help them figure out who to target and who to say what to.

Add to that, SparkPost, the #1 Predictive Email Intelligence Platform which unifies email deliverability and email analytics and you are building the right set of tools.

Register for the Webinar to Learn More

Marketing has become a dominant force for revenue growth in the battle for retail bank relationships. As consumer preferences continue to shift rapidly to digital channels, there is both a great challenge and opportunity to create a customer journey that is more personalized and engaging.

In this joint webinar from SparkPost and Novantas, we will explore the evolution to customer-level treatments within retail banking, the challenges of current processes, and how advanced segmentation can be applied to optimize the impact of your marketing efforts in customer acquisition.

Join speakers Tom Mairs, Director of Customer Success at SparkPost and Hank Israel, Director, Novantas in an interactive conversation about:

  • A customer case study illustrating best practices one customer used to enhance engagement
  • The importance of personalization and analytics to highlight data and offer health score
  • How to benchmark your campaigns and marketing spend across others in the industry

Register today!

~ Erica

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AMP for Email: Coming Soon to an Inbox Near You https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/amp-email-coming-soon-inbox-near-you-google-i-o-2019/ Fri, 07 Jun 2019 13:00:52 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=44631 Google I/O 2019Technical Product Manager, Isaac Kim, talks about his experience presenting on AMP for Email at Google I/O 2019 and what he covered during his presentation.

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Recap at Google I/O

On May 8th, Aakash Sahney, Filip Stanis and I had the opportunity to talk about AMP for Email and what’s possible in email when up-to-date content, quick actions, and interactivity are added through live implementations and demos.  As a first-time Google I/O attendee, it was amazing to see the sheer number of developers, Google enthusiasts, and people enthusiastic about being ethically responsible with their data footprint – all converged together for three days. During our AMP email office hours, it was an awesome experience getting to talk with so many people passionate about email and excited about what can be possible with AMP email.

 

Throughout the forty minute session, we covered various topics, including what AMP email is (0:25), how to build an AMP email (14:12), and how to scale an AMP email for mass send (32:06).

What’s New with AMP Email?

The first big announcement is that Gmail lifted the same-zone DNS requirements for AMP emails, meaning that

amp-form
  and
amp-list
 can now use any HTTPS endpoint that has the correct CORS headers. Previously, the HTTPS endpoint was required to have alignment with the sending domain used. Otherwise, the AMP content would break and only the HTML or Text version of the email would render in the inbox.  This update makes it easier for developers to quickly draft, test, and validate using Gmail’s AMP for Email Playground. Although the same-zone DNS requirements have been lifted, don’t forget to meet the following conditions for your AMP email to be delivered successfully:

  • Meet the AMP for Email security requirements
  • Email must contain a fallback HTML (text/html) or plain text (text/plain) in addition to the
  • AMPHTML MIME part (text/x-amp-html). The appropriate fallback version is displayed when the AMP part cannot be displayed
  • Must use valid AMP content in the AMP MIME part
  • Include the AMP MIME part before the HTML MIME part
  • The AMP MIME part must be smaller than 100KB

The second big announcement is that, in early June 2019, the Gmail engineering team will begin enabling AMP email on mobile devices (Gmail app for Android and Gmail app for iOS). The release will be gradually rolled out to all users over the few weeks after this date. No further action is required to enable recipients to receive AMP emails. For email marketers, this should be music to the ears! According to Litmus, mobile opens accounted for 46% of all email opens, followed by webmail opens at 35%, and desktop opens at 18%. With AMP email making a positive impact on engagement with desktop opens, I can’t wait to see the engagement uplift with the rollout to mobile devices!

Stay Tuned – Exciting Features to Come!

As announced at the end of the Google I/O presentation, we at SparkPost are cooking up a lot of really great features to make creating AMP emails manageable and more intuitive. Without giving too much away, keep an eye out about our new template side-by-side code editor! Get started with AMP email on SparkPost, and if you ever have feedback, I’d love to hear it, so please share!

Best,
Isaac

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Deliverability: Half Art and Half Science https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/deliverability-half-art-half-science/ Wed, 05 Jun 2019 13:00:33 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=44613 half art and half scienceOur SVP of Deliverability Strategy, Kate Nowrouzi, explains why deliverability is half art and half science and how to get emails into the inbox in 2019.

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Deliverability is half art, half science. The art part is where creativity, relevancy, and frequency come into play. The science part is how well your infrastructure is set up. This varies from proper authentication (SPF, DKIM, DMARC) to domain alignment in the header (MailFrom, d=domain, FromAddress). The science part is the easy one– most popular ESPs have the science part down. The challenging part is the art of deliverability.

Today’s definition of email marketing is different than what it was 10 years ago. The batch and blast days have shifted to triggered messaging. Still, email remains one of the best channels for personal communication and continues to be a great way for brands to increase their marketing ROI. Many successful brands exclusively send personalized messages to their subscribers, and as emails that are not personalized may end up in the ISP’s spam folder. The one-to-many campaign days are long over now.

Personalization makes people feel special. When customers know that they matter, they’re more likely to engage with an email. And, if you can make note of this type of customer behavior, you can easily modify your future campaigns for greater success.

It is very important to remove inactive users from your mailing list. Inactive has a different definition in each industry, it could be 30 days for one company while it could be 12 months for another. If someone has not opened or clicked your mailing in 12 months, it is best to remove them from your future mailings.

Major ISPs such as Gmail and Yahoo take engagement into consideration for inbox placement. At SparkPost we encourage our customers to segment their traffic based on engagement on separate IPs/ domains/ sub-domains and into 3 groups:

  • Active (opens in less than 90 days)
  • Semi-active (90-180 days engagement)
  • Non-engaged (opens in 6-12 months)

If you have chosen a solid ESP and pay close attention to how customers interact with your emails, you will rock 2019 and beyond.

Happy Delivering!

~ Kate

new rules email deliverability best practices

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FinTech Email Onboarding: Are You Doing All You Can With Your Campaigns? https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/fintech-email-onboarding-can-campaigns/ Mon, 03 Jun 2019 13:00:13 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=44597 fintech email onboardingTake a look at some of the biggest challenges of building a FinTech email onboarding program and best practices to address those challenges.

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There’s no denying that financial technology – fintech – is booming these days.

Just last year, multiple fintech companies added billions in both revenue and funding, and analysts are nothing but positive about the future. With their high growth potential and investors’ hunger for disruptive innovation, Goldman Sachs estimates that fintech startups will swipe $4.7 trillion in revenue and $450 billion in profit from traditional financial services companies.

There’s no denying the future looks bright. But even as they take off, they face many of the same challenges as their unsexy brethren when it comes to marketing and growth. Like how to optimize their use of email, especially when it comes to mounting successful onboarding campaigns.

As fintech provider Stripe explains, welcome emails are important. So important, in fact, that they can drive three times the transaction and revenue per email than other promotional emails. That’s a substantial chunk of future revenue, so maximizing onboarding is vital.

With that in mind, let’s look at a few of the biggest challenges fintech companies face in doing onboarding, and the best practices that can help onboarding emails overcome them.

Drip them in!

Onboarding shouldn’t just be a one-shot email drop, especially if you’re trying to acclimate a new user to using a fintech solution’s features (and making upgrades). A classic example from the brick-and-mortar banking world that still proves a good point: Armed Forces Bank elected to experiment with doing a series of onboarding emails, six in all, in lieu of just one.

When they sent out the series with timing that accommodated the schedules of their customers – military servicepeople – they saw a 40% lift in new savings accounts, versus those who only got a single onboarding email. And these customers also increased their account balances and kept more of them open.

This onboarding “drip” approach will work in fintech, too. Why? Because you’re gradually building a relationship with the user, and showing respect for their life and its demands. Earning that respect earns you the chance to send them more messages.

The lesson? Extending the messaging and gradually growing a relationship with users can drive stronger business results compared to a single email.

That’s why fintechs like PayPal make onboarding a journey, not a blip, as you can see in the select emails below. Each new message puts extra reasons to use PayPal in front of the user, educating over time instead of overwhelming all at once.

Be sensitive and authentic

It’s no secret that finance can be a touchy subject with plenty of people.

According to a recent survey of over 1,000 U.S. adults, 85% of us are sometimes stressed about money, while a whopping 30% of Americans admit they’re constantly stressed about money. You’d think they’d jump at any chance of alleviating this stress. But the truth is more nuanced.

According to Wells Fargo, 44% of Americans felt personal finances are the single most challenging topic for them to discuss with others. With such emotion and insecurity being attached to the very word ‘finance’, it can be hard for a marketer to make a good first impression.

So your first order of business is to make your recipient feel comfortable with your message. While constructing your onboarding email, it’s important to bear these sensitivities in mind. Expressing your thanks for them signing up with you is the first order of business, but avoid getting treacly or falsely sentimental about it.

If they’ve signed on with you, they probably responded to branding and key messages that you ought to follow through on. GoBank takes a wry, cut-to-the-chase approach with the thank-you message below, which aligns with their positioning as the oh-so-friendly provider who’s going to defeat fears about how to manage your money by making banking fun! Welcome to the party!

Make it relatable

While it may be a misconception, many people view “finance” as synonymous with “boring” and “complicated.” It’s your job to prove otherwise.

Technical jargon and detailed explanations can exhaust the reader, or drive them to simply delete your email and move on. Or, worse yet, force a change of heart as they consign you to the Spam folder and delete the app. While it may be tough, coming up with creative ways to make the onboarding experience energizing and motivating, not deadly dull, are critical.

Take another look at the GoBank example above. Or this Facebook ad by Wealthsimple. While it’s not an email, the idea is the same – they’re targeting by customer segment.

The ads feature an influencer from a popular TV show, but with an angle that’s relatable and appealing for its intended audience. It’s built around a personal anecdote the target can understand, not any kind of a hard sell.

Make it visual

Another good way to stand out from the crowd? Including images in your emails that give your reader a graphic idea of what they’re signing up for. 65% of the population are visual learners, so it’s worth playing to this.

Rather than communicating via copy, offer images that tell the story – a visualized walkthrough on how to use your app, for instance. This is particularly important when you consider that over half of us access our email via mobile devices. Storytelling via good graphic design should take precedence over “wall-of-text” copy they have scarce time – or inclination – to wade through anyway.

This clean and simple-to-understand email from ExpenseIt does exactly that, and its own clarity reminds them why they wanted the app in the first place: Because of its ease of use.

Excite them early about using the product

Stoke their early enthusiasm for your product by building a few early – and surprising – messages into your onboarding flow that spotlight the product’s functionality. Send a hearty “congratulations!” when they first try out a new feature, for instance, and add pageantry and flair to even your most mundane, baseline functions. In short, the gamification that makes apps appealing to users should extend into your emails.

See what Credit Karma does in the notification below? As a user, of course you’re using the platform to keep track of – and improve, one hopes – your credit score. Credit Karma makes a big deal out of the fact the user’s score has gone up with this triggered alert, and drives them to check to see whether or not they can get a loan approval for that superyacht (actually, a 2016 Camry) they’ve got their eye on.

Another version of this tactic? Send them actual rewards for using features, like FREE! upgrades or promotional incentives. Remember, you want them as fully engaged as possible as early and often as possible.

Remind them they’re missed

If there’s a hiccup in their onboarding flow, or they stop using your product, never let them go without a winback message of some sort. It never hurts to send them a gentle, or funny, or even urgent reminder that they’re a valued user and you’d love to see them back in the fold, as Simple did in the message below.

Mint are experts at onboarding, and their re-engagement message to delinquent users is no exception. The subject line it uses? “We miss you already.” Nothing like tugging at the heartstrings while also reminding people of the pragmatic reasons they were interested in you in the first place.

And if all else fails, there’s that other carrot you can offer– incentives to come back that take the form of discounts, free upgrades, or other lures.

Get on board more effective onboarding

Email is a powerful component in the onboarding flow, and a natural complement to in-app notifications and SMS messaging. The best practices we’ve just walked through are just cornerstones for a more customized, fine-tuned approach to building strong bonds with a user base.

But getting the blocking-and-tackling right first is essential. Only then can a fintech marketer set itself up for further success by optimizing future campaigns.

~ Casey

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5 Email Tips Insurance Providers Should Keep in Mind https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/5-email-tips-insurance-providers-keep-mind/ Fri, 31 May 2019 13:00:28 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=44589 insurance providersRead up on five email best practices insurance providers should keep in mind when building an email strategy to communicate with customers.

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Like many industries, insurance has moved away from face-to-face interactions and has become a business where many transactions are handled online. However, email remains a key channel for activity, as evidenced by email marketing’s strong ROI of 42:1 on average, according to Litmus’ 2019 State of Email Survey.

Here are 5 tips to keep in mind when building an email strategy for your insurance business.

1. Use triggered and transactional emails to keep customers engaged

Insurance may be a “set it and forget it” part of people’s lives, but you can still use email to maintain a relationship with customers and earn their trust. Triggered and transactional emails are a great way to do that.

  • Triggered emails alert customers to events, such as suspicious log-in attempts, upcoming due dates for premiums and other payments, and monthly reports.
  • Transactional emails are sent in response to customers’ actions, such as premium payments, claim initiations, new account creations, and password resets.

You should set up both types of emails. While many of them aren’t useful for marketing purposes – customers don’t want to be sold on getting another policy while dealing with a claim or a password reset – monthly reports are one kind of triggered email that you can bundle with additional information, such as related insurance products that you offer.

You can also use monthly reports to give customers useful information that’s not sales-related but which can build trust. For example, you can offer seasonal maintenance tips to people with homeowners insurance policies. Doing so helps make your emails more valuable and can increase engagement rates, which is useful for building a positive sender reputation with email providers.

And don’t forget to set a regular reminder to review all your triggered and transactional emails to ensure they’re still current. That review should include everything from the types of policies you offer to the fine print you need to put at the bottom of every message.

2. Give a warm welcome to new customers

According to Campaign Monitor, welcome emails have a 50% open rate, which makes them 86% more effective than other emails sent to customers. That’s why a welcome email should be the first transactional message you send to new customers. Some things to keep in mind:

  • Forget sales pitches: Welcome new customers in a friendly, straightforward way. Keep the message as simple as possible and don’t try to do any upselling or cross-selling in the email – that’s not an optimal way to build trust.
  • Set expectations: Let people know how often they’ll hear from your company, and don’t try to hide the mandatory unsubscribe link at the bottom of the email. You can always offer some options on your unsubscribe page, so people can choose to stay on your list but hear from you less often.
  • Consider multiple welcome emails: Many companies like to build an onboarding experience that walks new customers through their products or services. You might want to do the same, especially for complex types of insurance. You can also use emails after the first one to let new customers know what else you have to offer.
  • Keep it short: Don’t use a welcome email to dump a lot of little details on new customers. Use your website for hosting deep dives into policy features and include a relevant link in the welcome email for customers who want to learn more.

3. Keep an eye on security and compliance regulations

The U.S. insurance industry operates in a fragmented regulatory environment that’s handled mostly at the state level, so it’s important to be aware of which laws affect how you email your customers. There’s likely some fine print that needs to be at the bottom of every message, and you should take care to keep sensitive personal information out of emails.

In addition, you’ll want to ensure your emails are in compliance with the federal CAN-SPAM law in the United States as well as GDPR, which can affect businesses based outside Europe. And don’t forget to do regular email list maintenance: honor unsubscribe requests immediately, and remove addresses that bounce as well as ones that have stopped engaging with you.

You should also be aware of three free security standards that can help ensure your messages are delivered to your customers’ in boxes and you’re notified about any suspicious messages that are sent to spam folders or quarantined.

  • Sender Policy Framework (SPF) enables mailbox providers to verify that an incoming message was sent from a host IP authorized by the sender’s domain administrators.
  • DomainKeys Authenticated Mail (DKIM) uses a private key to create a unique digital signature for an email’s header and content. The key is added to the message’s header and validated against a public key in the sender’s DNS records.
  • Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance (DMARC) enables a company to publish their authentication practices, advise receivers on how to treat messages that don’t validate against SPF and DKIM, and to request that notifications be sent to the business when a mailbox provider encounters non-authenticated messages.

When you implement those three standards in unison, you can dramatically reduce the likelihood that a bad actor will successfully impersonate your company in a phishing email and compromise some of your customers’ accounts.

4. Segment your email list

Email list segmentation involves splitting your customer list into sub-lists based on different attributes. Doing so lets you send more targeted messages to those segments, such as offering a bundled discount on homeowners insurance to people who have vehicle policies. You can vary your imagery and text by segment too, such as using lifestyle photos that match customers’ ages and speaking to them in different ways.

Segmentation can be a powerful way to drive email performance:

  • Revenues can increase by 781% (Jupiter Research)
  • Average click-through rate was 12% higher for emails sent to segmented lists, according to a HubSpot analysis

There are several ways to segment your email list, including but not limited to:

  • Customers’ ages (insurance needs can vary by age)
  • What your customers own, such as homes, cars, boats, and so forth
  • Marital and/or family status
  • Types of insurance policies they have with you (this one and the previous two items can be used in tandem for upselling and cross-selling)
  • How long they’ve been customers (useful for offering special deals for long-time policy holders, or simply thanking them for their loyalty)
  • How much they spend per month or year (helpful for ROI calculations for different segments)
  • How they’ve engaged with your emails in the past (for example, you might want to try a different strategy with people who typically open your emails but don’t click through)
  • Lapsed customers (you should develop a strategy for bringing them back)
  • Sales cycle stage (it can be helpful to create a segment for sales prospects who haven’t become paying customers yet)

You can conduct surveys to get more information about your customers, if you don’t have enough data to create useful segments.

5. Drive healthy open and click-through rates with personalized messaging and strong content

First name personalization is fine, but that’s just a start. You can rely on other kinds of personalization to engage customers too, such as:

  • The types of policies they have
  • Their location (helpful for also including the contact information for your nearest office)
  • Payment acknowledgements (“Thanks for your premium payment on [insert date].”)
  • Their interactions with you (“Thanks for your [phone call/email/letter] to our office last week.”)

Next, pair your personalization with strong content. Subject lines should be simple – try including at least one power word to drive the kind of emotion you want to convey. It can be helpful to think about your subject lines as if they’re headlines, like you’d see on a website. Copyblogger has a useful e-book about writing magnetic headlines, which you can apply to subject lines.

You should complement the subject line with your preheader, which is the text that email clients, including nearly all mobile ones, display below the subject line. If you don’t specify a preheader, the recipient will typically see the first several words of the email, which could be something unhelpful like, “To view this email in a web browser, click here.” Your preheader should offer people an additional incentive to click to open.

And don’t neglect the “from” address and name. Avoid a generic “no-reply@” address that uses the name “Insurance Policy” or something similar. Use a name that makes your customers feel like someone is reaching out to them personally, and use a reply-to address that’s functional and sends the message somewhere useful, such as the customer’s CRM record. Even if you don’t want people to reply to your emails, some will try anyway, so it can be helpful to capture what they have to say.

Finally, prompt the action you want with the body of your email. Make sure all your emails are mobile responsive, which means they’ll automatically adapt to the devices used by your recipients, whether they’re on small-screen phones or computers with widescreen displays. The text, image sizes, and layout will adjust on the fly to offer the best possible experience.

Finally, consider that at least 50% of emails were opened on mobile devices in 2018, according to Campaign Monitor, so in addition to a responsive layout, make sure you use short pieces of text and as many bullet points as you can. Try to deliver one key message per email and include a clear CTA button that indicates what you want people to do, such as “Pay My Premium” or “View My Monthly Report.” Here’s a trick: Say “I want to…” when writing your CTA text to consider it from your customers’ point-of-view.

~ Casey

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7 Types of Fintech Email Notifications https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/7-types-fintech-email-notifications/ Wed, 29 May 2019 13:00:33 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=44556 Fintech email notificationsDiscover the 7 types of Fintech email notifications companies use to communicate and build relationships with their customers.

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Financial technology providers are right at the forefront of finding relevant ways to deploy transactional and triggered email.  That only makes sense, since they’re in constant search of new growth surfaces.

The best of their efforts combine a great grasp of what constitutes “customer service” with a keen understanding of customer psychology. Many people get anxious when it comes to dealing with finances, and the seven examples we’ll share below are each crafted to make the customer experience warmer and more personalized, giving them the sense that they’re the ones in control of the relationship.

And each plays its part in delivering a well-designed customer experience that has continuity and clarity for the customer. As our own Brent Sleeper recently noted, that’s key to making customer engagement a happy place – and not a source of annoyance.

Account Balance Alerts

For users of basic banking services – that checking account or credit/debit card, for instance – it’s always good to be on top of their balances. So using email alerts, triggered by events like getting too close to a credit limit or an overdraft, is a service they appreciate.

The DISCOVER example below from a few years ago is a classic example of how to do this perfectly. To start off, the subject line makes it totally clear what the message is about – and even reminds the customer that they set the alert up in the first place.

In a subtle touch, the pitch for the mobile app is at the end of the message – not intrusive, but a logical place to set this call-to-action to the customer in an email that’s just reminded them how important it is to control their finances.

Stock Market/Trading Alerts

To stay on top of the markets, an investor has to be aware of any shifts that might impact their money – or their chance to make more of it. So emails, either to their regular inbox or to an app inbox, can be set to be triggered by specific developments: a particular stock hits a threshold, the market averages do the same, or reminders to sell off shares on a certain date for tax reasons.

Trading apps have excelled at using email alerts to keep clients on top of movements in the market or key dates. Another trigger? Tracking browsing behavior through the app to deliver relevant content; if a client shows an interest in Apple (though they haven’t watchlisted it), news updates about the company (or other tech stocks) can be dispatched their way.

Onboarding & Nurturing

Once you’ve got a user signed up for your Fintech platform or product, it’s important to onboard them effectively so they’ll begin making use of it – and then nurture them through increasing levels of usage and proficiency, getting them to embrace more features (and eventual upgrades).

Here’s a great instance from QuickBooks, based on the profile they’ve built of the customer using their in-app and browsing behaviors. In this case, that user is self-employed, so QuickBooks encourages them to make use of its business expense management features – and dangles the opportunity to save on his or her taxes as a carrot.

Another tactic for deepening engagement during this part of the user lifecycle? Sending them a survey or questionnaire about how they use the product, what features they like the most, what they’d like to see added, and so on. This works in later stages, too, as a way of showing a provider is interested in their user community. Not to mention how it generates invaluable personalization data.

Winback/Re-engagement Messages

Okay, maybe even the very best onboarding and retention efforts weren’t able to keep a customer from drifting away from using an app or service. In that case, fiserv providers can be pretty adept at sending out win-back emails aimed to bring delinquent users back into the fold.

Those can take many forms, but one of the most effective can show the ex-user “what you’re missing!” in terms of new features, and throw in some testimonials to boot. Mint, from Intuit, does of fine job of exactly that, as it frets about the fact the recipient is “missing all the buzz” about those improvements.

Surveys

Another tactic for deepening engagement during practically any part of the user lifecycle? Sending them a survey or questionnaire.

So long as it’s relevant and well-pitched, you can ask them about how they use the product, what features they like the most, what they’d like to see added, and so on. This works practically any stage as a way of showing a provider is interested in their user community. Not to mention how it generates invaluable personalization data.

It’s important to follow the rules, though, since financial services markets are among the most heavily regulated around. And new laws like the GDPR and CCPA make data privacy compliance vital.

Here’s an offbeat example of how one fiserv platform uses a survey. Kabbage provides small business funding, and in this case, gives users a chance to offer feedback to the Federal Reserve. Not only does it make Kabbage look like a bigger player, but also they’re helping give their users a voice with banking system bigwigs.

Order Confirmations

Sending a customer quick and precise order confirmations with some useful features attached is an email tool of many fiserv providers, and it not only builds reassurance with those users but even an expectation of just that kind of reliable contact.

If you haven’t heard of AliPay, you will; it’s the third-biggest online payment solution in China and has seen staggering growth. One of its key strengths is its ability to let users make cross-border payments in any of 16 different currencies. As you can see from the example below, which is a demo for store owners on how AliPay order confirmations work, it’s also an expert in leveraging email.

The message is short and direct and throws in the option of accessing order status and package tracking. These may be just elementary blocking-and-tackling, but they’re the kind of touches that maintain customer loyalty. And, in AliPay’s case, help it sell itself to retailers.

Suspicious Activity Alerts

With the amount of financial black-hattery that happens constantly, it’s reassuring to the customer to know their provider is on top of things. As, for instance, sending them alerts triggered by suspicious activity on a credit card.

The best examples of these (like the one below from Bank of America) are crisp, clean, and to the point: The recipient quickly sees a list of the suspect transactions with enough detail to help them remember if they’d used the card at that location, and can use big YES or NO buttons to let the card provider know if the charges are legit or not.

One extra feature some have suggested?  The power to put a “temporary hold” on a card if the customer isn’t sure about the charges, and needs to check that office or kitchen drawer full of receipts.

~ Casey

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4 Ways FinTech Unicorns Drive User Growth With Triggered and Transactional Emails https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/4-ways-fintech-unicorns-triggered-transactional-emails/ Fri, 24 May 2019 13:00:03 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=44541 FinTech unicornsExplore 4 examples of the ways current FinTech unicorns are using triggered and transactional emails to help drive their growth.

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FinTech (Financial Technology) is one of the hottest sectors in the technology field. In fact, FinTech set a record for venture capital funding in 2018, with almost $40 billion raised in 12 months. That frenzy of activity helped create nearly 40 VC-backed FinTech unicorns, or companies worth at least $1 billion each, by the first quarter of 2019.

How does a start-up experience the hyper-growth that turns it from a foal gingerly making its way down a path to a gleaming unicorn galloping through the forest? There are plenty of factors driving that kind of success, but one undeniable element is the use of triggered and transactional emails to accelerate user growth.

Another reason to craft a strong email strategy is the fact that email marketing also yields strong ROI of 42:1 on average, according to Litmus’ 2019 State of Email Survey. That ROI increases with user growth, too: companies with at least 500,000 email subscribers see 44:1 ROI, and at the 10 million-plus mark, ROI hits 46:1.

And don’t forget that triggered and transactional emails are a great way to create and nurture customer relationships, as well as build trust, which is crucial when people expect a business to safeguard some of their most sensitive personal information.

  • Triggered emails alert customers to events, such as suspicious log-in attempts, upcoming due dates for bills and other payments, and monthly reports.
  • Transactional emails are sent in response to customers’ actions, such as bill payments, deposits, new account creation, and password resets.

Here are 4 examples of the ways current FinTech unicorns are using triggered and transactional emails to help drive their growth.

1. Welcome new customers to your merry band

Robinhood has reached a $5.3 billion valuation on the strength of its commission-free stock trading app, which is popular among customers who view old school brokerages as stodgy businesses. It may seem obvious, but one trick Robinhood has used to help it reach more than 6 million users is to acknowledge them when they sign up.

The first onboarding email they send is simple, which is the best way to handle such messaging. You don’t want to inundate new customers with upsells, cross-sells, and other promotional material.

You want to let them know their account is ready to go and give them the basic information they need to get started, which in this case includes links to the mobile apps. Robinhood also adds a couple of sentences about setting up a Trusted Contact Person, which is presumably a key part of their user accounts since no one wants to leave their loved ones without a way to access their financials.

Robinhood also includes social media buttons that are integrated into the layout, rather than standing out in an obviously promotional way. In addition, the entire email maintains the company’s official color scheme, which is a key part of brand identity. They close with the required regulatory disclosures, which are unavoidable, and an unsubscribe link.

2. Celebrate customers’ purchases

Many people are still trying to figure out how cryptocurrency will fit into our daily lives, but Coinbase has successfully navigated that space to become a major wallet provider and exchange. They’re valued at $8 billion, or 8 shiny unicorns.

The transactional email they send in response to a purchase matches their bright position in the market, starting with a sparkly congratulatory GIF that strikes the right celebratory tone. The checkmark, a key element of behavioral science, tells the user, “Great job! You just accomplished a task.”

The rest of the email spells out the specifics of the transaction, which are important for countering fraud, and includes a CTA (call-to-action) nudge to set up a recurring buy. It’s okay to do that in this kind of email, since it can turn a one-time or part-time customer into a regular one. The “Learn more here” link goes to a Coinbase blog post that offers helpful insight into why someone might want to set up a recurring buy.

3. Keep account change emails simple

When people make changes to their accounts, you want to take a “Just the facts” approach and give them nothing more than what they need in the email, which should be sent as soon as possible. This is crucial to helping mitigate fraud.

That’s the approach taken in this email from Credit Karma, a $4 billion unicorn that wants to make financial planning easier for everyone. This change of password notification lets the user know what happened and gives them a direct line to the support team in case a bad actor accessed the account.

There’s no need for splashy GIFs, cheeky language, upsells, or cross-sells here. Any of those things will likely irritate the user and potentially erode customer trust.

4. Open the communication line when customers make major decisions

Sending money to a friend to pay for part of a dinner is one thing. Making investment decisions is another. Even closing an account that contains sensitive personal information can be a nerve-wracking experience for customers. They want their request handled quickly and efficiently, and you have to balance the need for security and adherence to financial regulations.

Social payments and investments are both part of the business model at Circle, which is currently valued at $3 billion. It offers two apps, Circle Pay and Circle Invest, for customers in those sectors.

Circle makes it fairly easy to set up an account, but closing one requires sending them a message (users can do so from the app) that triggers the two emails shown below. They do a good job of managing customers’ expectations while giving the company time to ensure that the request isn’t fraudulent.

Like other emails of this type, they wisely leave out promotional messaging. They also refrain from saying things like “Are you sure?” No one wants a company begging them to reconsider when they’ve decided to close their account. Yes, you should have a strategy in place for winning back users, but those emails should be saved for later.

The first email, received immediately after a request to close an account, lets the user know that the support staff is aware and a ticket number has been generated. The decision to include the text of the message that the user sent, along with a date and time stamp and information about the app and device used, helps protect against fraud.

Letting the user reply to the email gives them a chance to add more information to the support request, which is handy in case they forgot something. This is the kind of situation where they don’t want to wait for a response from the support team before they can offer additional crucial details.

The second email, which was received right after the first one, gives the customer a quick follow-up to reassure them that a review is underway. It also sets expectations: It might take a couple of business days to complete the review, a caveat that gives Circle some wiggle room in case fraud is involved.

The link on the support ticket number lets the user click or tap to see the customer support conversation on Circle’s web site. It’s a second chance to add more information to the conversation while the company is initiating a review.

~ Casey

 

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Email Deliverability 101: 4 Tips for the Financial Services Sector https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/email-deliverability-101-4-tips-for-the-financial-services-sector/ Wed, 22 May 2019 13:00:48 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=44495 Financial Services SectorDiscover 4 best practices for the financial services sector for maintaining a sterling sender reputation and keeping email deliverability strong.

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Email remains one of the most-used communication tools on the planet:

  • There were 3.7 billion email users globally in 2017 (Statista, 2018)
  • That number is expected to reach 4.3 billion in 2022 (Statista, 2018)

Email marketing is also a strong performer for the financial services industry, with an open rate of 18.23% and a click-to-open rate of 14.1%, both of which are higher than the average email benchmarks for all industries. (Based on an analysis of over 30 billion emails sent through Campaign Monitor in 2018.)

With that in mind, it’s important to keep an eye on email deliverability along your customer journey, including welcome messages, triggered, transactional, and promotional emails, unsubscribe confirmations, and more. Your emails might be perfectly crafted, but if you have deliverability problems, many people might never see your messages.

Sender reputation is the number one factor that impacts your ability to reach your customers’ inboxes. Just like there are people whose emails go straight to your trash when they arrive, there are sending domains that are viewed with caution by incoming email servers.

It’s important to note that even if an email is accepted, it may be automatically diverted to a spam folder or it could simply vanish. A high acceptance rate is nice, but it doesn’t guarantee a correspondingly high deliverability rate, if a company’s sender reputation is poor.

Here are 4 ways to maintain a sterling sender reputation and keep your email deliverability strong.

1. Keep people engaged

Transactional emails, which are the messages sent when customers do things like pay bills, make deposits, and create new accounts, tend to drive the bulk of ROI, with 8X more opens and clicks and 6X the revenue generation (Experian). Since they’re emails that people typically want to receive and open, they’re a good way to keep your engagement numbers up.

That also means you’ll want to put extra resources into triggered emails, like monthly reports and upcoming due dates for bills. If you don’t, your overall engagement rate could suffer, and email providers and ISPs can start to sour on senders who don’t seem to do a good job of sending their users messages they care about.

Here are a few things to keep in mind to get people to open your emails:

  • Use a friendly “from” address that makes customers feel like you’re talking to them personally.
  • Keep your subject lines short and to the point and try using personalization other than first name, such as their recent account activity.
  • Use complementary messaging in the preheader text, such as a deadline for them to take action.

When crafting the body of the message, consider these tips:

  • It’s key that your emails are mobile responsive, which means they’ll automatically adapt to the devices being used by your recipients, whether they’re phones with small screens or computers with large displays.
  • Include high-resolution images, since HD displays are quickly becoming the norm on most mobile devices.

This email from Acorns is a good example of a message crafted for high engagement rates.

  • The subject line – “Dollar Shave Club wants to invest in you” – is short and snappy and invites a little intrigue. They want to invest in me?
  • The “from” name makes it clear what Acorns is all about: saving found money.
  • The body of the email is short and gets right to the point: Sign up for Dollar Shave Club and 5% of every purchase goes into the customer’s Acorns account.

2. Create sending domains, authenticate them, and warm them up

Set up different domains for various types of email, like one for account activity and another for promotional newsletters. Set them up as sub-domains that make their purpose clear, such as alert.[business name].com and newsletter.[business name].com.

You can also increase the trustworthiness of your sending domains by implementing three free authentication standards:

  • SPF (Sender Policy Framework): This requires creating an SPF record that defines which mail servers are authorized to send email from that domain. Inbound email servers can then compare the IP address of the email sender with the authorized mail servers defined by the SPF record to determine if a message is trustworthy.
  • DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail) Signature: This adds a digital signature to the headers of an email message, allowing the incoming mail server to validate it against a public cryptographic key in the sending organization’s DNS records.
  • DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance): This is a policy that tells inbound email servers whether to accept, reject, or otherwise flag an email, depending on whether it passes the tests established by SPF and DKIM.

Finally, you’ll want to warm up your new sending domains by methodically adding email volume week by week – check providers’ guidelines to see what they recommend. Make sure you maintain consistent volume, frequency, complaint, and bounce levels to establish patterns and send the signal that inbound email servers should trust your sending domains.

You should also create a list of only your most highly-engaged subscribers and use them for the warm-up period, which can help build trust because you should see good engagement rates.

3. Exercise good list maintenance

It’s crucial to stay on top of your suppression list, which consists of email addresses that have consistently bounced as well as people who have unsubscribed and other problematic addresses. If you fail to do so, you’ll see a swift negative impact on your sender reputation, which will quickly harm your deliverability rate too.

You should also pay attention to your engagement rates at granular levels. Do some people never open your emails, or do others usually open them but never click anything? There’s nothing wrong with sending them an email asking if they’d like to stay on your list – if they say “No,” immediately put them on the suppression list. And if they never reply to that message, you should probably add them to the suppression list too.

4. Figure out what your customers want

Most people are fine with receiving transactional and triggered emails by default, since there’s comfort in knowing that a deposit went through and seeing a monthly snapshot of account activity. However, it can be helpful to ask customers what their messaging preferences are, since some people might, for example, want a quarterly update of their account activity rather than a monthly one.

Those preferences can also help you avoid sending people promotional emails that they may have no interest in – and that indifference can cause your deliverability to suffer. It can be useful to give customers an option for more or less frequency with promotional emails too, so you don’t completely lose the opportunity to send marketing messages.

~ Casey

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AMP for Email: Sending PHI and PII to your Customers https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/amp-email-sending-hippa-pii-information-customers/ Mon, 20 May 2019 13:00:56 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=44505 sending hippaSenior Messaging Engineer, Jeff Goldstein, discusses if AMP for Email is a solution for sending HIPPA and PII information to customers.

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Email best practice is to minimize sending sensitive information to your customers via email. In the past, email clients were fairly wide open applications with little to no security and data was often sent over unsecured internet connections. This made it very easy for a hacker to either sniff the email while in transit and/or get into your email inbox and find sensitive data.

But I’m starting to wonder if we are approaching a new era where more personal data can, in fact, be sent via email; there are two reasons for this conclusion:

  1. Today, most email clients need a username/password and many even support multi-factor authentication methods.
  2. Google’s recent launch of AMP for Email.

Over the years in my job as a Messaging Engineer at SparkPost I have spent a lot of time telling people not to send sensitive information in an email to their customers; but to use email as a way to send a ‘call to action’ to their customer; one that typically brought them back to their website. Taking this approach kept sensitive data safe and secure behind the corporate firewalls and whatever login mechanisms they deployed. But the tide has changed in the last few years, and most new email clients force similar security as these applications deploy. In fact, many aspects of email lead to even greater security than those applications. Here are a few examples:

  1. Most of my email clients notify me if my email is accessed from a new device.
  2. While not a perfect security mechanism, I can typically see if my email was read. If the email was read before I got to it, I may have an issue.
  3. Two-factor authentication is widely used to log in to your email client.

Taking all of these items together, give me a fairly high degree of security if I choose to use them.

So what about the email itself.  Most Internet Service Providers mandate that you send your email using an internet cryptographic protocol called TLS, and most of them use version 1.2 that has been around for almost a decade and has been proven to be very secure. But admittedly, I’m still a little cautious about sending sensitive data like names of my prescription over email. This is where Google’s new AMP for Email comes in. Here is a description on AMP for Email by google:

AMP for Email allows senders to include AMP components inside rich engaging emails, making modern app functionality available within email. This dynamic email format provides a subset of AMPHTML components for use in email messages, that allows recipients of AMP emails to interact dynamically with content directly in the message.

What AMP does is allow emails to act very much like an application. Every time a user opens an email built with AMP components, it has the ability to call back to a server and display the latest information to your customer in that email. Maybe it’s when their next appointment is, or what prescriptions are due for refills. While not typically sensitive information; I like the idea of opening up an invoice and having it show me the latest shipping information without having to press a link and go to some third party sites like DHL or UPS!

From a security perspective, all communications from the email client to the server when retrieving the data is done across secured lines, just like the ones you use when logging into a secure web application. So is there really any significant difference between new AMP emails and our current HTML based applications? I’m thinking not.

If we start extrapolating the possibilities of AMP for Email, future email clients may morph from what we have today into a portal listing both normal emails and new AMP emails that take the role of micro applications with very specific functions.  This new email client may be similar to what many companies attempted in the earlier days of the internet when companies like Netscape, Lycos, TopTier and Yahoo attempted to be a one-stop shop Portal page into all things internet. Instead of your typical email client where there is a list of emails that have been streaming through your inbox over the last several days, your email client may have a list of micro applications that perform small tasks that typically were done after going to the website. I would expect that users would select, or pin which AMP enabled emails they want at the top of their list; similar to what Hotmail implements now by pinning important emails to the top of the email list.

Leveraging this microservice approach within emails will also help fight spoofing and typosquatting. Once the user has an email that they trust, they can continue to leverage that email each time they want that service without having to worry if a new email they think is from that company was spoofed or they accidentally typed a bad web address that is actually going to a typosquatting URL.

When taking all of these security measures together we are on a solid trajectory to changing the way our users interact with email and potentially sensitive data like PCI and HIPPA data. To be clear, there are regulatory hurdles that need to be considered and/or modified in order to have this vision come true. PCI DSS prohibits merchants from sending emails that have full credit card numbers or primary account number unless using stronger encryption than TLS; so those numbers will have to be masked or only sent through a stronger encryption mechanism during the AMP callback to fetch data via HTTPS. Email clients may also need to be smart enough to delete sensitive data that it’s at rest in an email after it’s been fetched and displayed to the user.

This is really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to compliance regulations that need to be thought through; not only for PCI and HIPPA but other regulations around the world.

Until regulations around sensitive data get addressed, AMP for Email still has the ability to change the way we work with email; creating a more secure environment against phishing and spoofing in the #1 communication channel between business and customer.

Happy Sending,

Jeff

 

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Life at SparkPost: Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day 2019 https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/life-at-sparkpost-take-our-daughters-and-sons-to-work-day-2019/ Fri, 17 May 2019 13:00:49 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=44459 Take our Daughters and Sons to Work Day 2019HR Generalist and Benefits Manager, Michelle Cunningham, gives a recap of this year's Take our Daughters and Sons to Work Day!

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Here at SparkPost, we are always looking to share our story. Usually, it’s with customers and prospects but on the third Thursday of April, we share our story with a group of people very near and dear to our hearts– the kids of SparkPost!  We host a full day of Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day in both our San Francisco and Columbia offices as well as send out kits to the children of our remote employees that work around the globe.

This year, the kids were able to hear from our CEO, Rich Harris about why it’s important to try out different careers until you find what fits you.  He shared his personal story of starting out cutting grass as a kid, a dishwasher, to scooping ice cream, being a litigator, a professor, and now a Technology CEO.

George Schlossnagle, CTO and Founder of SparkPost shared the types of people we look for to join SparkPost. He shared our four values with the kids and why having people with those values makes our company awesome. Technical Product Manager, Avi Goldman, presented data, analytics, and email in kid speak! Members of our SF office shared their roles with the kids, including our Social Media Manager, Erica Weiss.

In addition to learning about coding, and marketing concepts – the kids had a chance to learn about and help us support two local charities that we support throughout the year. As part of community service commitment, Our Columbia, MD office assembled three housewarming kits for Grassroots in Howard County, MD and our San Francisco, CA office learned about and assembled 30 hygiene bags for Simply the Basics.

We love hearing feedback from our team.  Principal Software Engineer, Dave Gray’s, daughters mentioned that they “loved the scratch games – especially the chase game” in reference to the game in which the kids made a cake chasing and eating a donut. He also said, “They’ve asked to come to work with me every day since then.”

HR Specialist, Angie Parise’s, son Carter, shared that “it was great seeing my friends that I met last year, and the coding was really cool and the ice cream truck was epic!”

Senior Director of Engineering, Balu Pillai’s, son, Rohan, clearly liked Avi’s talk on how SparkPost helps deliver emails. It resonated well with him as his school sends emails via SparkPost and he is very keen on knowing when his school opens late. 😏

Our day would not have been successful without the help from businesses in our communities.  A special thanks to Howard County Fire & Rescue for their CPR lesson for kids, Magician Pravin, The Cow, and Code Ninjas for helping to round out our day!


SVP, Head of On-Premises, Joal Barbehenn, shared that Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day “has easily become my favorite work-day of the year!”

We look forward to 2020!

~ Michelle

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SparkPost Signals: The World’s First Predictive Email Intelligence Platform https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/sparkpost-signals-predictive-email-intelligence/ Tue, 14 May 2019 19:00:02 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=44318 SparkPost SignalsRead up on the amazing features of SparkPost Signals, the world's first data-powered predictive email intelligence platform.

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Today we are so excited to introduce SparkPost Signals, the world’s first data-powered predictive email intelligence platform. Signals has helped senders drive 4x higher engagement while sending 70% less email. At SparkPost we know that the future of email is data-driven. Using a predictive model powered by the world’s largest email data footprint, Signals alerts you when issues arise so that you can quickly find and fix email issues before they impact your business.

Signals measures the pulse of your email health using a machine learning model that monitors engagement and delivery data including opens, bounces, clicks, unsubscribes, complaints, plus dozens of other metrics. SparkPost has the world’s largest email data footprint from sending 37% of all B2C and B2B email. Signals leverages this data to predict future engagement and delivery issues, much like how your doctor monitors your heart rate, blood pressure, and cholesterol to understand your health and predict future problems. Medical advice must be individualized and email health management is no different. Instead of scoring your email health based on generic thresholds, Signals is able to look across our footprint of trillions of data points and give you tailored advice based on the historical activity of other senders that match your profile. Moreover, our team has back-tested against real-world historical performance and outages data to predict future performance and give you early warning of issues before they arise.

Powerful Insights for Supercharged Email Optimization

Signals brings you detailed metrics and an email Health Score, Spam Trap Monitoring and Engagement Recency reporting. Additionally, we’re excited to bring a new level of visibility with enhanced features, including:

Mailbox Provider Faceting

One of the first things our customers asked for when they saw the Health Score was a breakdown by who they were sending to. We’ve heard this loud and clear and are happy to report that this is now available! With Signals you can slice your Engagement Insights and Health Score by this new filter. You can examine all major mailbox provider families, including Gmail, Verizon Media, and Microsoft. You can also see regional breakdowns to help you understand regional differences.

Health Score Alerts

With Health Score alerts you can get updates in your inbox about changes to your Health Score so you can jump in and correct issues before they cause major outages. You can watch for changes in your Sending Health to Gmail, the Health of a specific IP Pool, and any of the other filters Signals provides. Watch for drops below dangerous levels, or shifts day to day, or week to week to alerts for any concerns that require your attention. With this feature, we are also including support for our alerts about monthly sending limits so you can keep an eye out on your total volume. We are excited about this first release with plenty more in the works to help you monitor your sending.

Engagement Insights

Understanding who you’re targeting is one of the first steps to evaluating the health of an email program. Engagement Insights gives you that view into your sending. We decided to take it a step further – now you can start to understand not only your engagement cohorts, but also how each cohort is behaving, including their engagement, unsubscribe, and spam complaint rate. With this view into your recipients, you can see how successful your mail is at re-engaging churned subscribers, analyze which cohorts drive your complaints, and peek into whether your mailing frequency is leading to unsubscribes.

Improved User Experience

With our custom date ranges in Signals, you can dive into historical sending with the same directed experience as if you had sent the emails yesterday. We’ve also put a focus on helping you understand your Health Score with grading lines on each chart and an overall account Health Score to help you see how your total health score is trending over time.

Health Score V2 (Coming Soon)

Our next iteration of the Health Score doubles down on the fact that at the end of the day, what matters most is your engagement. Not only is it a major factor in your sender reputation at most major ISPs, but it also drives the ROI of your email program.

With our new health score model, we’ve added a wider set of features to our model for 50% greater accuracy.

We’ll be rolling this update out over the next two months, along with better recommendations and clearer insights to help you understand the unhealthy areas of your sending.

Available on All SparkPost Platforms

Signals is now available on SparkPost Cloud, and to customers using our Momentum and PowerMTA on-premises email delivery platforms. On-premises users can take full advantage of Signals’ detailed analytics without costly and time-consuming overhaul of existing email infrastructures.

SparkPost Signals gives us a holistic view of our campaigns across all our brands. Visibility into our deliverability health score means we don’t miss critical changes in performance and can quickly take action when issues arise.

– Justin Farris, Dir. Product Management

With Signals, you don’t have to leave email optimization up to hunches or trying to extrapolate data from third-party add-on tools. Signals is powered by real-time engagement data from your email sending to provide you with actionable insights to predict and optimize email performance to drive inbox opens and clicks.

Simplify email performance management.
Maximize performance with data-driven insights.
Accelerate email optimization to predict and mitigate risks. Get email delivered to the inbox on time, every time.

Schedule a demo with a SparkPost Signals expert and start digging into your email health score to get optimizing and boosting your engagement and ROI.

Happy Sending!

~ Avi

The post SparkPost Signals: The World’s First Predictive Email Intelligence Platform appeared first on SparkPost.

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Predictive Email Intelligence – The Next Wave in Email Delivery Performance from SparkPost https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/predictive-email-intelligence-email-delivery/ Tue, 14 May 2019 13:15:37 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=44306 Email IntelligenceLearn more about SparkPost Signals, our new email intelligence platform that analyzes trillions of emails to predict email engagement and delivery health.

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Being able to predict things in the future – when you think about it – is pretty amazing.

In today’s data-centric world, where machine learning and data behavior capabilities are advancing so fast, being “predictive” is now transforming many industries for the better.

Today, we are pleased to bring the first data-driven, predictive email intelligence platform to our own industry, with the launch of SparkPost Signals.

We felt strongly, and our teams worked hard, to bring email delivery and deliverability analytics forward to be more in line with leading-edge technologies in fields like ad-tech, financial services, and consumer marketing.

With SparkPost Signals, we now offer an email intelligence platform that analyzes the behavior of trillions of emails to predict email engagement and delivery health. Our early customers can attest to how it helps optimize email delivery based on predictive analytics and machine learning to maximize revenue and avoid costly outages.

Here’s what our friends at Zillow have to say:

“SparkPost Signals gives us a holistic view of our campaigns across all of our brands,” said Justin Farris, director, product management at Zillow. “Visibility into our email health score means we don’t miss critical changes in performance and can quickly take action when issues arise.”

I think you’ll agree it was time we had a platform to offer predictive engagement alerts to email health problems before they cause business interruption, delivery problems or email outages.

You can learn more about the key features and functions in today’s news release.

At a high level, here are some new insights we now offer to ensure optimized email performance:

  • Real-time insights into deliverability and performance issues – based on the behavior of trillions of emails
  • Actionable delivery health alerts – identifying potential problems before they happen
  • Recommendations to optimize email engagement and performance
  • Industry email delivery performance benchmarks to gauge and improve against

The reason Signals stands up to its claim as “first and only” lies in the fact it is powered by a massive email data footprint, based on our company sending more than 37 percent of the world’s B2C and B2B email. In many ways, we see Signals crossing and combining categories – email delivery and email deliverability analytics – to provide stronger insights than products on either side.

Today, SparkPost Signals is available on our three platforms: SparkPost Cloud, plus PowerMTA and Momentum for on-premises email delivery.

Bringing “predictive” into the world of enterprise email, by unifying delivery, deliverability, and analytics is an important step forward in the data-driven future of email.

SparkPost Signals is our first phase in making email performance better and more predictive. I encourage you to check it out and, of course, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this major step forward for the company and the industry.

~ Amie

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Isn’t Email Supposed to be Dead? https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/isnt-email-supposed-dead/ Fri, 10 May 2019 13:00:09 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=44281 email deadMany have written obituaries for email for years, but now it’s more central and vital to people’s lives than ever. Discover why email is far from dead.

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Isn’t email hanging on by a thread, shambling toward the boneyard, ready to breathe its last?

If it is, then someone forgot to tell its 3.8 billion worldwide users last year. In fact, by the end of 2020, we expect to see almost 255 million email users in the U.S. alone.

So one place email certainly isn’t headed? Extinction.

I recently sat down for a podcast with Benjamin Shapiro to drill down on some of the reasons email isn’t just alive, but thriving.  Some of those?

Email is as Old as Time

For those that grew up in the Internet era, email has remained a constant, reliable, familiar form of communication. It was one of the first things people adopted once dial-up Internet became widespread.

Persevering through the rise of different messenger apps, from AIM to Facebook Messenger to WhatsApp (and others too numerous to mention), social media channels like Twitter and Instagram, and even good old SMS, email has stubbornly held its ground. And even gained ground, when you examine the facts.

Part of this success is owed to how email has already been such an integral part of modern communication. For anyone who grew up using email, moving to an entirely new platform presents a daunting – and seemingly unnecessary – challenge. It’s much easier to have both your Messenger app and your Gmail account cooking simultaneously, used for separate purposes.
This reluctance to move away from email, in turn, forces the next generation coming along to use it if they hope to keep lines of communication open with…well, everybody else.

Similarly, email has the prospect of a long life in front of it because it’s not run or owned by a single entity. Unlike Facebook Messenger, for instance, there’s no single email service provider that has a complete monopoly on the channel. The fact that there’s competition among a variety of providers drives both email’s entrenchment and innovation.

More than Alive – It’s Evolving

While it most certainly is not declining in popularity, email is evolving. As just one example of email technology’s forward march, the arrival of artificial intelligence and machine learning are taking it to new levels.

AI is helping to plan and automate marketing campaigns. The IoT (Internet of Things) leads to more data being collected, which means more app-generated and transactional email.

On yet another level, the rise of voice search technology has a significant impact on email, particularly for marketers’ content and copywriting. The fact that emails can now be read aloud to a recipient means the copy needs to work in both written and verbal form – an intimidating consideration when it comes to making puns!

As email develops and becomes more sophisticated, recipients also will shift their standards about what is acceptable and what isn’t. Gone are the days when spam was something people simply shrugged off – irrelevant email is now flagged immediately, whether by the inbox owner or the increasingly smart spam filters deployed by ISPs and corporations. As their expectations of personalization increase, the window of relevancy may narrow and be in constant flux.

And as people flex these new boundaries about what’s acceptable? Email marketing keeps up by becoming more targeted and relevant. ‘Spray and pray’ campaigns? A thing of the past. 34% of consumers mark some email messages as spam, but 76% of subscribers make purchases based on email marketing – which depends, of course, on that marketing having personal pertinence.

Successful email marketers aren’t squandering budgets targeting the wrong audiences anymore, but are putting metrics and analytics to work as never before. The movement beyond even predictive analytics to prescriptive analytics, where intelligent machines advise human marketers on the best decision to make, is one example. The evolution of email marketing toward greater accuracy and relevance is a win-win for both recipients and marketers.

Stressed About Social Media?

It’s true, social media may have seemed like a threat to email back in the day. There’s always panic about the Next Big Thing, but email is a cornerstone of contemporary communication – it isn’t going anywhere.

As time passed, both email and social channels settled into their respective roles. The most glaring proof? The fact many social media platforms require an email address to sign up.

Social and email work hand-in-hand in countless instances. LinkedIn may be a great way to inquire about a job opening, but any potential employer is most likely to conduct further communication through email. Can we imagine a jobseeker who doesn’t have an email address in this day and age?

Another way in which email has cemented its place? By becoming a centralized storage center. While LinkedIn may be the professional counterpart to Facebook, email has remained untouched as it houses personal to professional communication in one private place. There’s a purely personal aspect to email that derives from the fact that it’s not shared with the world; the digital equivalent of a trunkful of letters in the attic.

Another unique aspect of email is the level of control it offers. That unsubscribe button can be your best friend, so most email marketing campaigns now allow you to pick exactly what frequency or type of communication you want to engage in. Daily, weekly, monthly – it’s all in your hands. Taking it a step further, as with Gmail’s ‘Promotions’ and ‘Updates’ tabs, means your inbox is becoming an automated organizer, helping you keep track of connections and interests and promotions more easily and efficiently.

With newer collaboration tools such as Slack entering the market, one may wonder if email will become less crucial. However, as Techcrunch noted a few years ago, these tools tend to rely on email instead of diminishing it. Notifications get sent through email because platform designers know that’s the best bet for ensuring participants don’t miss anything important.

An Interactive Future

Since email clearly isn’t going anywhere, what’s going to take it to the next level?

Interactive emails are on the rise, where the recipient can interact with the brand directly within their inbox. Google, for instance, is now supporting AMP for Email, in the hopes of making emails look and respond like portable Web pages.

By keeping the interaction within the email, marketers avoid the frustration and time of loading landing pages. The emails are already customized to their targets, making it a more pleasingly personalized experience for the end user.

Has it been worth the effort? According to research, just adding videos to your emails can boost clicks by up to 300%, while interactive content increases CTOR by a whopping 73%.

Check out the podcast

To hear what I have to to say about the lively and far-from-zombified state of email, listen to Part 5 of the “Email Week” series of the MarTech podcast with Benjamin Shapiro.

~ Tracy

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We’re Heating Up! SparkPost’s Automated IP Warmup Feature is Live https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/heating-sparkposts-automated-ip-warmup-feature-live/ Wed, 08 May 2019 13:00:18 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=44250 IP WarmupRead up on our new Auto IP Warmup feature which slowly increases the amount of traffic sent over an IP each day to help you build trust with customers.

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Experienced email senders know that a great sending reputation is essential to delivering messages where they’ll actually be opened and read: the inbox. Building a good reputation takes time—but SparkPost has just made one part of that process a lot easier.

We’ve released a new Auto IP Warmup feature for SparkPost customers who add dedicated IP addresses to their account. Auto IP Warmup uses a stage-based approach that slowly increases the amount of traffic sent over an IP each day that you send email to help you build trust. And during this warm-up period, we overflow any excess traffic to your existing, warm IPs, so you won’t experience any downtime in your ability to send.

Bottom line? As a sender, you won’t have to worry about the impact of cold IP addresses on your ability to connect to your customers. Auto IP Warmup uses a proven process that ensures a good level of trust can be built for your IP in about a month. As long as you’re sending high-quality email to an engaged customer base, you’ll be good to go.

You can learn more about SparkPost’s Auto IP Warmup feature in our Knowledge Base. And if you’d like to dive deeper, our deliverability experts wrote a fantastic article about IP warmup best practices that was invaluable reading when I was just learning the ropes.

Auto IP Warmup makes it easy to get up and running quickly with a dedicated IP address—so you can spend your resources on creating great emails your customers will love, rather than the nuts and bolts of managing the tedious and technical process of ramping up trust for a new address.

Please reach out to share your feedback and any questions.

Happy Sending,
Harold Vass
Technical Product Manager

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Building AMP Email with SparkPost Templates Just Got Easier https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/building-amp-email-templates-amp-preview/ Mon, 06 May 2019 13:00:36 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=44213 AMP PreviewOur first enhancement to the AMP experience, AMP Preview, gives the ability to preview and render AMP content as you build out your email template.

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Preview AMP Emails in SparkPost with Our Enhanced Template Feature

Make way for AMP Preview!

I’m happy to announce our first enhancement to your AMP experience: AMP Preview. AMP Preview brings the ability to preview and render AMP content as you build out your email template. This is an effective way to verify that your AMP content is valid and will render as expected in the recipient’s inbox. You can now preview all three MIME parts of your email (HTML, AMPHTML, and Text), as well as send a test message to yourself, all from the Preview Page.

We’re ridiculously excited about AMP email and what it means for our customers and the future of email! We’ll be at Google I/O this year to present about AMP for Email on May 9th on Stage 5 at 12:30 pm pt, and will be participating in several office hours throughout the developer festival to provide some hands-on AMP email assistance and knowledge sharing. If you’re attending as well, we’d love to talk with you about AMP for email!

Wait, what’s AMP email?

Google and the publisher ecosystem spearheaded the open source AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) Project to help publishers develop fast web pages that are optimized for mobile clients. Since its launch in 2016, AMP has had a large impact on the mobile web user experience and engagement.

Launched on March 26th, AMP for Email (also known as AMP email) adapts the AMP technology to the unique needs of the email inbox. AMP email gives senders the ability to enhance messages with interactive and data-driven features that have the potential to transform the way recipients interact with messages. It seeks to enhance and modernize the email experience through added support for dynamic content and interactivity while keeping users safe.

AMP for Email provides email developers with a set of rich components that include carousels, responsive form elements, and—maybe most exciting of all—the ability to dynamically retrieve fresh content that updates even after a message has been sent. Email recipients can view and interact with AMP components directly in the email, without leaving their primary inbox experience. This means you can now make purchases directly in the email, acknowledge a security alert, submit an RSVP to an event, schedule an appointment, reply to a document comment, and fill out a survey or questionnaire…all without leaving your inbox!

Go get started! More AMP fun is on its way!

Check our AMP Preview documentation on how to get started and start sending some AMP messages to your inbox starting right now! We hope you have a ton of fun creating AMP content and exploring new and exciting AMP use cases!

We’ve been busy supporting AMP email from day 1 of the official launch and helping our customers get started with AMP. We’re now focused on continually adding new features and enhancements to make the adoption of AMP emails even easier and faster! Here’s what’s coming really soon:

Enhanced UI/UX for Templates, including:

  • Full-screen code editor with live preview
  • Inline AMP validation
  • Mobile device preview
  • Improved Templates management page

Enhanced Recipient Lists:

  • Interactive list upload
  • Improved Recipient Lists management page

We Always Want More Feedback!

Hopefully, you’re equally as excited about AMP for email as we are! I’d love to get direct feedback from you on whether or not you plan to send AMP email and any awesome use cases you’ve come up with. Please share your thoughts with me via survey (use the QR code below to take you straight there)! I’ll be checking the responses and will get back to those who request a follow up with me to talk through getting started on AMP or integrating onto SparkPost!

~ Isaac

 

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Building an Email Archiving System: Reporting – Part 5 https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/building-email-archiving-system-reporting-part-5/ Fri, 03 May 2019 13:00:38 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=44148 reportingIn the fifth installment of his blog series on building an email archive, Senior Messaging Engineer, Jeff Goldstein covers reporting.

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* This blog is addressing the process(s) in green

In what I expect to be my last installment of this project, I’m going to describe what I’ve done for reporting. Admittedly, if you look at the code which I have placed in the step4Reporting folder within this GitHub repository you will notice that I have made changes throughout the code base just on the principle of building a better product. Some of the changes are around aesthetics, some on usability, others are around security and then of course reporting.

Compared to the previous blogs in this series, this one will be rather short since most of the work on reporting was done in previous steps; thus only a few coding additions to support reporting were necessary. The first change I’m going to discuss was something that I should have done earlier and simply didn’t think of it until someone pointed it out (ok, I guess I never thought about it); I added code to store (then display) the headers of the archived email. In a perfect world, what we really would want are the headers of the rcpt_to email; but we can’t get those, so this is the second best thing. I decided to store the headers in its own string field in the same table that holds all of the other archive data that was captured in the first development step. Now that I have that information stored, I was able to add the headers into the details section when the email body is being displayed.

At first glance, I wasn’t really happy with how that looked. Depending on the sending and receiving platforms, there can be a lot of headers. An email can easily have 20-30 headers! So in my sample project, I decided to also add code that allows the user to display or hide the headers as they wish. This is definitely a personal issue and an option that many of you may think is going overboard and definitely not worth coding!

Now that I have the header information like I should of in the first place, I started to think about the actual reports. So how would an auditor want to see, print or export this data? I decided on four different ways:

  1. Simply print the page. That one was easy, not a thing to do for that one!
  2. Print the detailed email that was being reviewed.
    • Wide view – In the previous development step where I built the inbox display UI I decided to display the email details in an alert box, but I was forced to change that to a new browser window for this step. The changes were minor but I had to do that in order to have the browser print just the email details. When using an Alert box, the browser would attempt to print both the Alert window and the underlining browser page at the same time; that is not the result I was looking for, and thus changed it to a pop-out window. All-in-all, I think it also produced a better-looking product as well.
    • Collapsed view – This was a little trickier. The email body and details are displayed in a table cell next to the events in the UI. So printing the email details would mean printing out the UI page; not just the specific email. So I decided to add a button that the user would select when they wanted to print the details while leveraging the collapsed view. This action would produce a separate page for printing; just like in the wide view. In order to keep display/print consistency between the two views, collapsed and wide; anytime I create the email body and details output, I store the whole thing in a hidden field. Then when I want to display the details in a new window for printing, I simply grab that field and display it. Now when the auditor wants to print out the details, they simply use the browser print functionality for that new window.
  3. The last reporting option is to create a CSV file for all events still being displayed in the UI (not filtered events). Since there are two different formats for the UI, collapsed and wide, I decided the easiest way to do this was to call the database again and retrieve the data that matches the filter entries. The PHP application grabs the data from the database, creates a CSV file, then passes it back to the ajax call in order to have the file downloaded to the clients desktop. This does create a temporary file on the server so I have a process that removes the files every 24 hours.

So I think this concludes the “Archive for Audit Purposes” project. I described the problem and proposed the solution in the first blog. Then, I built the solution and documented it in the next four blog posts. While I think this is the end of this post series; after showing this code to a few people, I may take this code base and mold it into a more general use display and search tool for all historical SparkPost events. Many SparkPost customers build their own inbox displays similar to this one in order to support their customer service team and I think this project with a few tweaks can be a great start on that project.

Happy Sending.

~ Jeff

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Writing Email that Converts into Business Results https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/writing-email-converts-business-results/ Wed, 01 May 2019 13:00:46 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=44117 writing emailHead of Marketing, Tracy Sestili, discusses best practices for writing email that converts into business results and drives email marketing ROI.

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If you’re running email marketing campaigns, chances are you’re grappling with the same issue as 54% of marketers out there – how to increase engagement rates.

Email marketing can be far more nuanced than it first appears. Especially since as technology evolves, so do consumers’ expectations. I drilled down into the details of this evolution in a series of podcasts where I chatted about how mastering the details can make you the email marketing guru your business really needs.

Here’s a rundown some of the key details I touched on, and what makes them vital to email marketing success and campaign ROI.

It’s all about first impressions

Awareness-driving emails: the main goal here, when you’re first reaching out to your target, is open rates.

Sounds simple, right?

According to PR Daily, the number of worldwide emails sent and received per day stands at 205.6 billion. 66% of consumers unsubscribe from emails because they aren’t relevant, and 34% of consumers mark email marketing messages as spam.

The competition for their very narrow, very self-interested attention? That’s very real. So how do you avoid that dreaded red “spam” flag?  Through personalization, relevancy, and brevity.

Personalization

You want to catch the consumers’ attention, which means standing out among all the other email they’re receiving.

Personalizing subject lines and addressing the recipient is a baseline expectation in today’s world, frankly. Mentioning company names, first (or last) names, and the consumers’ roles are good ways to pique their interest, but they’re worth very little without relevant content to back them up.

Relevancy

As the statistics above indicate, we live in a time of email – and information – overload.

Go one step further when personalizing and ask yourself: What’s your reader’s role?  What are the day-to-day hurdle or headaches they face? And most importantly, how can your content help them solve these pain points?

The main reasons people will engage with your content is because it entertains or helps them. By ensuring your content is relevant, you’ll please your readers and see your engagement levels soar.

Brevity

With the sheer amount of content available online and being delivered to consumers, people don’t have the time to read through everything that lands in their inbox. Everybody skims – which means your content needs to be brief, concise and easy on the eyes.

How to avoid TL;DR (see what we did there?): Embrace bullet points and short highlights.

The old rules don’t apply

Despite what many would-be direct marketing guides may say, the rules on subject lines – your number one attention-grabbers – are constantly changing.

For instance? The use of emojis in email marketing messages increased 775% between 2015 and 2016. Why? Because, well, they work. And when something works, it tends to re-write the rules.

Staying current with changes like this isn’t impossible, but the only way to know what works for your audience is to constantly test and measure your campaigns.

Another rule that’s changed over time? Don’t be afraid to make your emails appealing – even in B2B – by using images.

As email becomes more interactive and fun across the board, recipients expect to receive more than a B&W, text-only email. Using design templates, images, or videos may very easily drive up your engagement rates – but you won’t know until you try by testing to see what design approaches work best with different email types and audiences.

The news on newsletters?

Newsletters, like email marketing in general, are indispensable to marketers of all types. For example? In B2B content marketing, 77% of companies surveyed used email newsletters to support content efforts – and 40% said email newsletters were the most critical tactic in their content marketing.

As a marketer, you want to ensure that your audience is engaged with (and hopefully enjoying) the content you’re sending. There are two basics to cover if you can make sure your newsletters are having the impact you’re aiming for: frequency and (again!) personalization.

Frequency

Segmenting your audience within an email marketing campaign is a necessity. With newsletters, as with drip campaigns or any other email marketing, figuring out the optimal frequency for each segment is key.

Each recipient will have a different threshold, and the frequency of your emails must be tweaked accordingly. If you send weekly messages to a consumer who wants to hear from you once a month, they’ll be quick to unsubscribe.  One way to make sure your frequency is right? Give them the chance to control it by tweaking send settings during the opt-in or onboarding process.

Personalization

Executing the perfect newsletter campaign demands you build datasets and mine insights based on engagement levels within newsletter content. That’s how you comprehend what different segments – or even different individuals – are responding to best.

Setting up separate newsletter campaigns tailored to different audiences and optimizing them as your database expands will result in higher engagement and fewer unsubscribes or (unfortunately, it even happens with opt-ins) the dreaded spam flaggings.

Hear more on the podcast

For more on writing and executing email marketing campaigns that drive real business results, listen to me on  Part 2 of the “Email Week” series on the Martech Podcast with Benjamin Shapiro.

~Tracy, Head of Marketing

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5 MarTech Companies Bringing Their Email A-Game https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/martech-companies-bringing-email-a-game/ Mon, 29 Apr 2019 13:00:38 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=44089 martech companiesDiscover 5 MarTech companies that are bringing their A-game when it comes to educating, onboarding, and engaging with current customers via email.

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“Physician, heal thyself,” the old maxim goes. In a landscape like the one mapped below, it’s important that martech providers lend it their own spin: “Martech company, market thyself.”

Drawn up by martech pundit Scott Brinker, here’s the 2019 edition of his annual Marketing Technology Landscape which includes 7,040 martech companies.

It’s no wonder there’s a gold rush of startups and seasoned competitors alike when it’s estimated the martech market could be worth upwards of $34 billion. With plenty of headroom: One study claimed that 50% of brands had no martech tools in place.

To survive, let alone thrive, in this increasingly crowded marketplace, martech companies need to excel at marketing themselves to potential customers. The best of them have always made this a priority, and it’s no surprise they’ve relied on the best available platform for targeting and engaging B2B prospects: email marketing.

Using the entire toolkit

We could belabor a lot of stats around the efficacy of B2B email marketing, but we’ll stick to just two: 73% of B2B marketers say email marketing is vital to growing their business, according to Salesforce, and HubSpot cites how 59% of B2B marketers say it’s their most effective channel for generating revenue.

Making B2B email marketing deliver optimum ROI, though? That’s a matter of leveraging all the tools in the email toolkit. From deploying welcome and onboarding emails through transactional, account updates, milestone, or real-time-triggered emails, the martech companies that have surged to the front of the pack have made a habit of putting together fully integrated campaigns that hit all the right marks. Here are a few examples.

Onboarding on the right foot

HubSpot does a superior job of bringing new customers into the fold, just like you’d expect. It’s not just because of what they do right; it’s what they carefully avoid that makes a difference, too.

Here’s a  welcome email that goes out to a new customer immediately after they’ve confirmed their HubSpot Marketing Free account. Friendly and conversational, and offering ways for the customer to get started ASAP – but hey, no pressure!

The next day, another onboarding email shows up that does something important: It puts a human face to the HubSpot brand, giving the user the idea they’re getting personal(ized) service.

One thing that doesn’t happen during the onboarding period with HubSpot? New customers aren’t bombarded with a blizzard of messaging trying to push them into using HubSpot.

It’s a wise strategy in a couple of ways. First, it doesn’t inspire annoyance on the part of the customer, unlike some onboarding cadences we’ve seen that seem to want to shame new users into action (“Do you know what you’re missing?”).

Second? It may actually help filter truly interested users from less-committed ones since more of the initiative falls on them to make the first move. That way, reps like James get a better idea which free users are willing to follow through – who be migrated into paid accounts.

But if a martech company wants to prompt new users to begin using the product, it helps to give them inspirational cheerleading like that in this Campaign Monitor example to nudge them into action by focusing on ease of use, friendly support, and feel-good case studies.

Triggering deeper engagement

Triggered emails can be used in any range of ways, and can drive martech customers to engage on any number of fronts.  Here’s a for-instance from Kissmetrics.

Let’s say you’ve sent out an email to existing opt-ins much like the second one above from HubSpot, providing links to resources, to learn about products, etc. A subscriber clicks on one, or you’ve tracked them at your website hovering on a product page or downloading related content.

Any of those scenarios can trigger an email that offers up a free demo of your product, and who can resist that? Especially if you can tailor the email with additional personalization based on other data you might hold about the recipient.

As Marketing Sherpa once pointed out, 72% of people like receiving promotional offers via email.

Announcing yourself

If you’re in martech, you’re probably making regular product upgrades, releasing studies or white papers, appearing at industry events – newsworthy developments you can announce to your subscribers via email.

(If you don’t have anything worth announcing? You’ve got problems that even email marketing won’t fix.)

Here’s an example of how MailChimp announced the addition of a new feature to its mobile app.

The secret sauce here? Be judicious. Not every new feature or event appearance is worthy of an announcement, or follower fatigue will quickly set in.  Save these emails for real news and valuable information they’ll find interesting and useful.

Uniquely proving your product

It’s an imaginative way to demonstrate your offerings’ value, and it won’t work for every platform or solution. Yet you should always look for outstanding ways to use email to tangibly bring home your advantages or benefits.

Here’s an interesting example from demand gen provider True Influence for its Account Based Marketing (ABM) platform, InsightBASE.

First, they used InsightBASE to find decision-makers who were visiting sites and pages related to ABM across the web. Then they sent those targets emails like this one to clearly prove what the product was capable of: it had identified the recipients as prospects, exactly as those recipients could use the product to find their own high-quality leads.

~ Craig

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SparkPost’s Boomerang Employees: Why They Came Back https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/sparkposts-boomerang-employees/ Fri, 26 Apr 2019 13:00:39 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=44061 boomerang employeesHR Generalist, Christina Corey, shares insights as to why some of SparkPost's boomerang employees decided to rejoin the SparkPost team.

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When talking about the employee experience, most people think of the lifecycle from recruitment to onboarding all the way through an employee’s departure. That’s all fine and good, but in reality, the relationship doesn’t stop there.

Alumni employees have the power to be ambassadors for your organization. They can speak to your culture and share insights into opportunities for learning and growth. They have firsthand experience about what it’s like to work for your organization, and that means they can provide a very accurate picture for people in their network.

When you nurture the relationship with your alumni employees and they recall their experience a positive light, they are more likely to recommend you to their friends as an employer of choice.  Even better, they may have enjoyed their time with you so much that they would consider coming back! Enter: the “boomerang employee”.

The great thing about boomerang employees is that they already know what it’s like to work for your organization and the experience was likely a positive one the first time around. The separation, however long, can allow the boomerang a chance to try new things. And, when they come back they will bring with them new knowledge and skills as well as experiences that can most likely only benefit your organization. Even better, they will come back to old friends, familiar processes, and can more quickly jump back into the day-to-day.

Here at SparkPost, we have had quite a few boomerang employees throughout the years.  Sharing their experiences are Kristen Breidenbach (Sr. Manager of BizOps), Tracey Crawford (Lead Deliverability Analyst), and Brian Kemper (Sr. Software Engineer).

Tell us what about SparkPost’s culture that drew you back.

KB: My mentor, Carol Sullivan, brought me back to SparkPost. I realized that I was not done learning from her extensive experience in Sales Operations, and there was still a lot of room for me to grow professionally at SparkPost. I also liked the flexibility with work/life balance at SparkPost and really enjoy all the people I work with in the SF office.

TC: I have always liked SparkPost, even when I wasn’t working here. I like the open environment, food perks, work from home policy, and relaxed atmosphere.  Everyone is willing to help each other out and the overall vibe is positive.

BK: The entrepreneurial spirit at SparkPost is energizing.  Every day is exciting. We are here to win.

What is the best part about being a boomerang employee?

KB: Being gone only about 8 months, I don’t really feel like I ever left. I suppose the best part is that I got experience somewhere else that I can now apply here regarding tools and sales process.

TC: For me, the best part of being a boomerang employee is coming back to the coworkers that I once worked with. From day one, I received warm welcomes from everyone (even flowers on my desk) and was able to reconnect with old friends.

BK: Perspective.  I know what SparkPost has to offer.  I know what other companies have to offer.  It was an easy decision to come back.

What is your biggest accomplishment/most exciting project you have had or hope to have the opportunity to contribute to?

KB: My biggest project and goal is to enable our Sales team to be as successful as possible by providing them with the most effective tools and processes as well as accountability reporting.

TC: I have always loved deliverability, so I hope my addition to the deliverability team will be impactful. I would also like to be more active in M3AAWG and post blogs on the SparkPost website.

BK: Rebuilding of our web application with ReactJS was very exciting, but pales in comparison to the features and products we have/are built/building.  (e.g. Snippets, Signals, support for AMP, etc.)

We’re so grateful to have our returning employees joining us once again!  They are making huge strides in moving our company forward. If you have worked for us in the past or would love to see what all the fuss is about, check out our Current Openings!

#boomerangemployees #SparkPostLife #careers

~ Christina

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What is an Email Seed List? https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/email-seed-list/ Wed, 24 Apr 2019 13:00:38 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=44013 seed listOur SVP of Deliverability, Kate Nowrouzi, explains the purpose of seed lists and the potential challenges of using a seed list during an IP warm up.

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What is an Email Seed List?

An email seed list is a list of test email addresses created for the purpose of monitoring where messages will land when sent. These lists usually contain test addresses at major providers such as Gmail, Yahoo, AOL, Orange.fr and many other ISP domains.

Senders can add seed lists to their upcoming campaigns to measure inbox placement at various providers. A seed list allows you to test where an email will land across different email clients and devices as well as see how your campaigns are rendered in different browsers and email clients.

Email Seed List Challenges

In recent years, many major ISPs such as Gmail, Verizon Media (AOL, Yahoo, Verizon) and Outlook domains have begun to take engagement into consideration for inbox placement. Because of this, senders cannot necessarily rely on seed list results alone to determine inbox placement as the insights gained from seed testing may not present a complete picture of how successful an email campaign was.

Because the email addresses in seed lists are test accounts, there is no engagement associated with them. As a result, ISPs see these accounts as inactive. Emailing to an inactive account can affect a sender’s IP/ domain reputation and can result in heavy spam foldering. This can also add another layer of complexity when warming up new IPs. Since Gmail expects senders to start with really low volume during the first couple of weeks of ramping up email sending, hitting a relatively large number of inactive addresses will complicate building a good reputation on new IPs. We always recommend that our customers send traffic to their most engaged users for the first 4 weeks of a ramp up.

Our recommendation is to avoid using seed lists during the warm-up period. And, if you decide to use seed lists after you have established a solid reputation with the ISPs, then use them as one of many other factors to determine whether or not your campaigns are successful.

Monitoring open rates can provide more accurate data points when determining whether your emails are making it into the inbox. Of course, the open rate may vary based on the type of traffic (welcome, transactional, marketing) but the average open rate for Marketing emails is about 20%, this rate is higher for transactional traffic or triggered messages.

Happy Delivering!

~ Kate

new rules email deliverability best practices

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5 Ways to Replace Snail Mail with Triggered and Transactional Emails This Earth Day https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/replace-snail-mail-triggered-transactional-emails-earth-day/ Mon, 22 Apr 2019 13:00:06 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=43989 earth dayLearn why triggered and transactional emails are a great way to replace notices that used to be sent via snail mail to save paper this Earth Day.

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Despite a push toward paperless offices during the past 15 years, the average employee uses over 10,000 sheets of paper annually, which costs $80-100, and the typical company spends $2.5-3.5 million per year trying to find information and recreating lost documents. In addition, Forbes notes, more than 400 million metric tons of paper were used in 2017, and that amount is expected to surge in the coming years.

It’s not enough to turn paper-based internal systems into electronic ones to cut back on paper use, though. Triggered and transactional emails are a great way to replace notices that used to be sent via snail mail.

  • Triggered emails alert customers to events, such as suspicious log-in attempts, upcoming due dates for bills and other payments, and monthly reports.
  • Transactional emails are sent in response to customers’ actions, such as bill payments, deposits, new account creation, and password resets.

In honor of Earth Day 2019, here are 5 ways you can use triggered and transactional emails to help lessen the strain on the planet and save money on printing, handling, and mailing costs.

1. Acknowledge an investment

Wefunder, which calls itself “Kickstarter for investing,” lets average folks put money into early-stage start-ups, thanks to the Regulation Crowdfunding law that went into effect in 2016. Before then, you had to be an accredited investor to get in on the ground floor of a new company.

They also handle everything electronically. In addition to the expected updates from companies a user follows and suggestions for new investments, Wefunder delivers financial information via transactional email too. For example, the message below confirms a user’s pledge in a start-up called Legion M, which says it’s “the world’s first fan-owned entertainment company.”

The email leads with key details before flowing into an investment summary headlined by a prominent checkmark that confirms funds are in escrow. The summary uses information blocks to lead the recipient through key details, including the required legal disclosures. A block at the end contains important information about canceling an investment, which is likely to be on the mind of a few users who might be nervous about their decision.

An attached PDF contains the electronically-signed contract for the pledge. Nothing was sent via postal mail for the transaction.

 

Later that year, Legion M used Carta to issue the stock certificate for the investment. Again, not a single sheet of paper was delivered via a fossil-fuel-burning, 30-year-old truck – the user signed the certificate on the Carta website and an electronic copy of it was stored in their online account.

2. Issue event tickets

Ticketing has felled entire forests in decades past, but today, it can be completely handled electronically, as this Eventbrite email demonstrates. The attendee can manage their registration in the Eventbrite mobile app or save the ticket attached to the email as a PDF file. The ticket has a QR code, so it can be scanned off a mobile device.

The email’s information blocks highlight text from the event organizer, the order summary, and an “About this event” section that has key links for mapping the location and adding the event to a calendar.

Two promotional blocks close out the email. They’re saved for last because users don’t want that kind of messaging interfering with important information, especially if they’ve arrived at the event and are scanning through the email to find what they need.

3. Provide important tax information

Tax time has likely been responsible for more trees being cut down than event ticketing. In 2018, 90% of individual taxpayers filed electronic returns, an all-time high, so it makes sense to provide the supporting documents they need in a digital format too.

The email below from Great Lakes alerts a student loan borrower that the amount of interest paid on their loans will be available soon. They helpfully note that the amount could be deductible on their taxes, and they clarify the exact time span, down to the hour on Dec. 31, for interest on payments received to qualify.

They make the relevant tax form available electronically, and they point out that the customer just needs the interest amount for their tax return, not the form itself, which will save them the cost of printing it.

4. Send a monthly bill

Triggered email is perfect for sending the kind of information that used to show up in an envelope with a clear plastic window. The email below from Dish Network lays out the basic information about the recipient’s monthly charges, along with handy links that go straight to the main tasks that people typically perform on the company’s website.

5. Process an insurance claim

Insurance claims have typically consumed a lot of paper, between physical photos of damage and reams of forms that need to be filled out. Allstate, however, has figured out how to make the process as paper-free as possible, as shown by the email below.

Insurance claims can be stressful, especially when the customer sees phrases like “Date of loss” (luckily, this one was a fender-bender), but Allstate makes it clear they’re ready to help with a triggered email that includes plenty of personalization. It even includes a link to a personalized video that explains the process.

Personalization is key in these kinds of emails because it makes the customer feel like the company is paying attention to their individual situation, rather than sending them a one-size-fits-all message. That includes not just the customer’s name but also relevant information like a claim number and the name and phone number of the claim representative.

After giving the customer the information they need, along with a nice big “Check Claim Status” button, Allstate includes links to learn more about their mobile apps and the customer’s claim payment options. Allstate’s mobile app offers a seamless, paper-free way to handle a claim, including taking and uploading photos of damage, viewing documents, one-tap agent access, and electronic payments.

Allstate’s mobile app even features digital proof of insurance cards, so a driver doesn’t have to fumble around in their glove compartment when pulled over.

From these examples, it’s not hard to see the positive impacts of triggered and transactional email on our environment. Happy Earth Day!

~ Craig

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What to Do When You’ve Been Listed on Spamhaus https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/spamhaus-listing/ Fri, 19 Apr 2019 13:00:36 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=43979 Spamhaus listingOur SVP of Deliverability Strategy, Kate Nowrouzi, explains what you should do if you've been unfairly listed on Spamhaus.

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Bad things can happen to good people. No matter how good of a sender you are, you may wake up one day to a Spamhaus listing. Many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in the US and around the world take Spamhaus listings very seriously as Spamhaus is one of the leading organizations that track spam-related email activity. Founded in 1998, Spamhaus protects consumers from companies and other entities that knowingly use email to send spam.

Spamhaus listings can affect both your IP addresses and domains (SBL, XBL, PBL, DBL, DROP, ROSKO).

Sparkpost’s amazing team is always available to assist you with resolving Spamhaus listings when they occur. We have automated checks in place to alert our team 24/7 when a Spamhaus listing happens. Of course, you can also choose to deal with Spamhaus directly if you prefer.

If you do end up taking matters into your own hands, here are the steps one should take when dealing with a Spamhaus listing. Do not email Spamhaus and request removal before you have identified the cause of the block and have an action plan in place to address the mistake.

  1. Email the Spamhaus team and let them know you are investigating what caused the block.
  2. Look into your logs. Usually, the bounce message received from the ISP has the IP and the listing included.
  3. Check messages that went out from that IP and see if you see anything suspicious.
  4. When you find out the reason that had triggered the listing, fix it immediately or if it is a wider issue, figure out a plan.
  5. Communicate the fix or the plan with the estimated time for implementation to the Spamhaus team.
  6. Once all of this is done, you can request removal by emailing Spamhaus. Your listing will not clear until you have secured your network– no exceptions!
  7. Make sure you have a solid plan in place to avoid future occurrences and communicate this with Spamhaus team as well.

Generally speaking, if you only target people who have opted-in to receive your email communications, you should not experience any Spamhaus listing. We highly encourage our customers to practice double opt-in to reduce the risk of mailing to misspelled email addresses which can ultimately trigger a Spamhaus listing.

Happy Delivering!

~ Kate

new rules email deliverability best practices

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Customer Acquisition and Loyalty in the GDPR Era: What Retailers in Europe Think [Survey] https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/customer-acquisition-loyalty-gdpr-era-retailers-europe-think-survey/ Wed, 17 Apr 2019 13:00:23 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=43963 customer acquisitionDiscover some of the insights on customer acquisition and loyalty you will learn about in the new eTail Benchmarking Report.

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In Q1 2019, WBR Insights surveyed 100 Directors of Commerce from across Europe to find out more about the challenges they face and the innovative solutions they bring to the table. This month, WBR Insights released the eTail Benchmarking Report: Personalisation, Automation and Internationalisation, which reflects the retailers’ views on matters like customer acquisition and loyalty, business development and expansion, and operations.

According to the results of the survey, customer experience emerges as a defining factor for success for retail businesses in Europe, and investments in technologies and processes that can positively affect CX are on the list of their priorities for the coming year (47 percent for artificial intelligence for customer care, 41 percent for faster delivery, 29 percent for omnichannel enablement).

When asked to rank channels in order of priority for creating the optimal customer experience, web and email ranked first and second respectively. Email is proven to be a highly responsive and effective component of the marketing mix, impacting every step of the customer journey, and Retailers in Europe seem to believe that as well.

While email is considered a trustworthy ally, GDPR remains a concern for retailers in Europe. Almost one in two of responders (47 percent) believe that GDPR is the greatest threat to their eCommerce business. A year after implementation, the regulation is still perceived as an obstacle to the businesses’ commercial development plans, even a bigger issue than fraud (18 percent) or Brexit (22 percent). Things could be different though. As SparkPost’s Head of Marketing, Tracy Sestili, points out, “there is a hidden gem here; a unique opportunity for businesses to improve the quality of their database, focus on customers who are really active and engaged, and improve their email deliverability, as well as the efficiency and ROI of their marketing programs.” At the end of the day, trying to reach out to consumers who are disengaged or indifferent about the business’ products is unproductive, inefficient and can well be a waste of time and valuable resources.

Retail businesses are looking for ways to optimize their performance and efficiency without increasing expenditure. When it comes to driving customer acquisition, 43 percent of the respondents agree that email marketing is a significant tool for their business, while the decreasing conversion rate is their most common challenge. Another common challenge appears to be the increasing costs of current channels and tools used for new customer acquisition.

There was a surprising finding in this report. When asked about the methods currently used to encourage customer loyalty, personalized offers were mentioned by only 29 percent of respondents. Given the increased interest in customer experience and concerns about engagement and conversion, it is clear that retailers in Europe can look into segmentation and personalization to improve the overall effectiveness of their marketing campaigns.

You can download the full report here.

Happy reading!

~ Silvana

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Building an Email Archiving System: Searching and Displaying the Data – Part 4 https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/building-an-email-archiving-system-searching-and-displaying-the-data-part-4/ Mon, 15 Apr 2019 13:00:41 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=43941 email archivingIn the fourth installment of his blog series on building an email archive, Senior Messaging Engineer, Jeff Goldstein explains phase one of the Archive UI.

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In the fourth installment of this blog series and the third in the coding phase, I’m discussing the first phase of the Archive UI (yes, I just said that). Leveraging the UI, an auditor can search for all activities for a given email address filtered between two dates; that will include the original rcpt_to address events and optionally, the cc and bcc events as well. That includes retrieving the email body and a boatload of other fun facts that SparkPost delivers with each event like subject text, campaign name, IP locations, client type used when opening, and much much more.

Just like previous blogs, the code for this version is available in my github repository. For this version, look at the step 3 folder.  The diagram below depicts what part of the process this code is addressing; in this case, the UI (Viewing Application).

 

* This blog is addressing the process(s) in green

The look, feel and capabilities can and typically are vastly different for each designer. In my case I decided on a few principles before building my UI:

  1. I do not support paging. I’m assuming that an auditor is looking for specific emails and will want to see an exact email along with all of its details. Because of this, there is a configuration setting that will limit the number of entries that can be returned. That means that all of the corresponding data will be displayed on a single page; so be cognizant of the amount of data you will display in the browser tab so you don’t cause memory issues.
  2. Allow for in table filtering in order to limit calls to the database.
  3. Leave reporting for the next phase
  4. While I don’t show all the data that is captured by SparkPost, be sure to pull all of the data so it’s easy to display any data. This practice will also cause a lot of memory to be used by the browser.
  5. Since this is an auditing tool, it probably won’t be used very often so DON’T spend a lot of time building the UI; (Keep It Simple S****d , KISS method of design and development)

So with those simple principles, I have created an easy user interface that starts out with the user entering in an email address, a start date, and an end date. The system will then make a call to the database and compare the number of rows returned to the configuration setting that limits how many rows can be displayed. If the number returned by the database is lower than the limit; it builds the HTML table that is then displayed in the UI. Because I like to cause headaches for myself, I did dirty the waters up a bit by allowing the user to see the data in two different formats. One is just a simple table across the page, and the second is a condensed format that actually shows a little more data. Here are two small samples of the UI:

The one on the left is the wide version while the one on the right is the collapsed version. For the most part, they do show the same data, but I was able to get a few more items into the collapsed version without it looking too busy. The collapsed version uses a fixed iframe to display the HTML body along with the selected metadata for that event while the wide version displays the body and event data in a floating window.

Once displayed, the user can filter the displayed rows by typing into any of the five filters.  I chose to allow for filtering on the subject, injection time, campaign, event type and UID fields. These filters do NOT care about upper/lower cases and do NOT care about placement. You can think of these filters as a contains filter. If the text is anywhere in that field, I’m happy and will keep that row.

If you examine the s3.php file, you will see that I added code for storing the HTML body of the email along with the EML object.  After playing around with PHP email libraries in order to display the stored HTML portion of the EML object; I didn’t like the results and came to the conclusion that storing the HTML body into s3 for displaying would be a better approach. This has worked out nicely and in the reporting phase of the project, I plan to support a download process for the EML body from s3, in order to allow the auditor to display the email in their favorite email client.

Overall, the code is fairly straightforward except for the filtering code. Because I have two formats, and the collapsed format has a table within the table, finding the fields to filter on became a little messy. If you choose to make changes in that code, you will have to do some hunting to get to the correct fields.

So that’s a review of the UI. I have tried to keep it fairly simple and light since I don’t expect it to be used very often. The next phase, reporting may force me to make some changes, but that will be discussed in the next blog.

Happy Sending.

~ Jeff

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Emailchella: How Music Festivals Send Email https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/emailchella-music-festivals-send-email/ Fri, 12 Apr 2019 13:00:26 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=43917 music festivals send emailCheck out a few examples of how some of the leading music festivals send email before, during, and after their respective events to facilitate great CX.

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A 2018 study found that a whopping 74 percent of Americans (millennials or otherwise) prioritize experiences over products. While there is no shortage of experiences to spend on, it’s hard not to associate the rising popularity of experiences with that of music festivals. In fact, forty percent of 20-29 year olds say they are interested in attending a music festival. And, since such events can cost a pretty penny it’s no surprise that festivals like Life is Beautiful, Outside Lands, and Coachella rely heavily on triggered and transactional email to keep attendees in the loop about just how much they’ve spent and to collect feedback about customers’ purchases. Check out a few examples below of how some of the leading music festivals use email to facilitate a great digital customer experience before, during, and after their respective events.

Before: Life is Beautiful

You’ve just spent anywhere upwards of $600 for your festival ticket, now what? Don’t worry– Life is Beautiful has got your back. As you can see in the below example, the Life is Beautiful organizers will send you a receipt confirming your purchase letting you know when you can expect your wristband in the mail. Additionally, they provide the answers to some wristband FAQs in their email template for your convenience. There is nothing worse than making a major purchase online and having nothing to show for it. Though the memories you make at Life is Beautiful may last a lifetime, the fear of not having a receipt for your pricey ticket should not. A quick transactional message letting you know your payment was received can provide a sense of reassurance that you did, in fact, purchase your ticket from a legitimate site.

During: Outside Lands

Like many music festivals, Outside Lands, gives festival attendees the option to load money on their wristbands rather than pay with cash or a card to keep food and beverage lines moving. While other festivals may be more opaque as to how those wristband funds can be spent, at Outside Lands every time an attendee charges an item to their wristband balance they receive a transactional email. Between the festival ticket, travel expenses and tons of other charges it is easy for festival attendees to go over budget. Outside Lands’ quick transactional emails provide a digital paper trail for attendees who want to keep close tabs on their budget and for those who might be a bit too intoxicated…by the music to crunch their spending numbers on the spot.

After: Coachella

The end of a festival doesn’t mean it’s the end of an email program. While you’re busy editing your latergrams and perfecting captions like “take me back 😭”, Coachella organizers are already at work strategizing on how to improve next year’s experience. In the below example, Coachella contacted attendees who had taken a shuttle to and from the festival grounds to collect feedback about the ride. This message triggered by the close of the festival shows the ability for email to contribute to a customer’s experience even after the event is over. More than that, the message allows attendees to give their two-cents about the shuttle which will allow the event organizers to address concerns and make next year’s festival even better.

While we tend to think of music festivals as memorable in-person events, triggered and transactional email serve to augment such experiences by keeping customers in the know digitally. With such a seamless customer experience to look forward to, all you have to do now is hit the mall to find that perfect pair of denim cut-offs to match your flower crown. Happy festival season!

~ Erica

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Breaking up the Monolith Monotony https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/breaking-up-the-monolith-monotony/ Wed, 10 Apr 2019 13:00:05 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=43882 monolithTechnical Manager - Transmissions, Nate Durant, discusses the challenges of supporting an established monolithic code base.

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Have you ever supported an established monolithic code base— we’re talking 5 to 10 years established?  I think a decent amount of us have at some point in our careers. I’m not saying it’s bad, as monoliths have their benefits, but it can be difficult to present new opportunities and learning experiences with such an established code base. It also comes with its own unique challenges, such as slow deployments, limited testing framework, and other complexities. But it also comes with many benefits, such as performance, established policies, and flexibility. Many of SparkPost’s newer services are built using a microservice architecture with established testing frameworks, quick development and deployment times, and increased reliability. SparkPost has had great success with this architecture model and it is where our team is and wants to be.

For this discussion, I’ll focus mostly on our Transmissions API. This is by far our largest API endpoint in terms of requests, and also complexity. Since the API was completely written in our monolith, it was the main driver for the project for reasons I’ll touch on below.

Background

I came on to my team about a year and a half ago as the Technical Manager. The team was a single, large, multi-manager group working out of one massive repository.  Although it was a monolith, the team had been very successful in developing a performant and extendable system for injecting and delivery email.

When I joined, the company was coming to the end of a multi-year re-architecture project encompassing many services and teams.  Code deployments to production were going out about twice a week with the updates all done in-place. This, coupled with a complex and limiting test framework, lead to slow development pipeline.  This was hurting our velocity for new features, specifically around our Transmissions API and templating engine.

Getting Closer

About 8 months ago, two events coincided that really got the ball rolling in the right direction.  The first was an engineering re-organization towards service based engineering squads. This broke up the one large multi-manager team I mentioned above into two smaller serviced based squads that had more control and autonomy over specific services in the monolith.  One team took on the services as they related to the injection of mail, with the other team focused on mail delivery and policy. This lead to some issues as both sets of services were still in the monolith and a single repo, tying us together as far as deployments, bugs, and reliability.  On the other hand, we had more ownership and responsibility for our specific services. This gave us more power to look at untying ourselves from the monolith and other teams.

The other event was the completion of the large, multi-year re-architecture of our software and environments that I mentioned above. This greatly reduced our operating costs and complexities. We no longer had to support tens of environments, but rather just a handful. The negative and real determining factor was that our monolith was hitting some scaling limits on the Transmissions API. We spent months trying to tweak, tune, and rework our system to increase stability and satisfy customer expectations.  Although we did stabilize, we felt it was time to press forward with microservices, and received strong support from upper management.

How We Are Moving Forward

We’ve been on this journey for over 9 months, and I want to share some of the key steps we took that set us up for success. Our first decision was what tech stack to use. Our company has a large background in Node.js from other teams already building microservices, including a lot of tooling. On the other hand, we did have some engineers who wanted to look into Golang. We eventually went with what we knew, and while it may be obvious, try to stick with a single tech stack across your engineering organization.  Having tooling and engineering know-how really lets the team hit the ground running versus stumbling through a whole new stack.

Next, we had a team of engineers that had been working in low-level languages (C/C++) for multiple years, and we wanted them to start building microservices in Node.js. Everyone was very excited to dive into something new, but we needed to establish good habits and best practices out of the gate. To help with this, we seeded the team with two very experienced Node.js developers from other teams (and eventually added two more).  They provided training and guidance during the initial development. This was key to getting the team off on the right foot.

Now it was finally time to start breaking the Transmissions API out from the monolith. Instead of diving into our ultimate goal of replacing the complex services of the Transmissions API, we started with one of our simple CRUD API endpoints: Tracking Domains. We knew this could be broken away easily into a microservice and we needed to get the team trained and comfortable with the new architecture. We rotated in different engineers onto the new work while the others supported the existing service to ensure everyone had a chance to work on the microservices architecture and gain experience.

Where We Are Now

As of now, we’ve completed and released our new Tracking Domains API endpoint, built multiple new features using microservices, and are on our second phase of a complete architecture overhaul of our Transmissions API.  We have completed a seamless migration to our phase one architecture into microservices for our company’s largest API, and are well underway into phase two. Given the extensive scope of the project, we broke it up into phases. This was essential to adhere to one of our core engineering tenants: always be shipping. Although our first phase required a full migration of customer traffic, it has put us into a great position to do incremental development of features directly into our new pipeline as we pull functionality away from the monolith.

To address some of the limitations stated earlier, our team is now deploying multiple times a day using AWS CodePipeline, versus our old twice a week deployments. All of our new features are in containers, with support functions in AWS Lambdas. Testing is seamless and actually somewhat enjoyable compared to our legacy framework, which is one of the highlights for the engineers. The best part, in my opinion, is that team morale is the highest it’s been since I started. Everyone is enjoying the flexibility microservices provide and finally moving our services to a modern architecture. We’ve even had a couple more transfers to the team because more people want to get involved with what we’re doing.

I hope some of these insights into how we are handled our transition are helpful. One good takeaway is to always set your team up for success. We ensured that the team had resources, training, and guidance to make the necessary transition to microservices. As such, the team morale is high, productivity is high, and our new architecture allows for faster product development. For our customers, this translates to an increase in the cadence of new features, scalability, and reliability, while decreasing our time to fix bugs and error rates.  Ultimately, this will lead to more growth both for our company and our customers while providing new and exciting work for our engineers.

~ Nate Durant
Technical Manager – Transmissions

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Looping Event Booth Videos: Lights, Camera, Action! – Part 2 of 2 https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/booth-gopher-must-lights-camera-action-part-2/ Mon, 08 Apr 2019 13:00:41 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=43858 event boothOur step-by-step guide will teach you how to make your event booth video file play on a low-cost device such as an Amazon Fire TV Stick.

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In Part 1, we reviewed the who, why, and how of preparing good quality video for your event booth. Now we’ll take that video file and make it play on a low-cost device such as an Amazon Fire TV Stick.

Here are the steps we’ll follow:

  • Get your content ready, optimizing file size/quality
  • Fire up the TV stick
  • Install apps
  • Prepare for content download using a local web-server
  • Download video to the stick
  • Check the videos play in a loop
  • Stop the local web-server
  • Play video at the event

OK, that seems a lot – it will probably take you at least a couple of hours elapsed time, but it doesn’t need your total attention while doing updates, for example. Let’s dive in!

1. Get your content ready

In Part 1, we mentioned the tool MediaInfo, for checking video file formats in detail. Here’s what it says about our original file:

It’s a broadcast-quality file with a high bit rate of 43 Mbps. It’s over 350 megabytes for just over a minute duration. Apart from using lots of space, it will take a while to transfer to the stick – a pain if you’re stuck in the creative review/edit process.

Let’s recode that using the free command-line tool FFmpeg, to have smaller file size, yet good quality:

ffmpeg -i "Sparkpost-GDPR-original.mp4" -c:v libx264 -c:a copy -preset slow gdpr.mp4

Parameters here specify the input file, the video codec (libx264), the audio codec (copy-through). The “slow” preset is a shorthand way to say “give me the best compression”, and finally the output file. You can see the difference in input and output file size here:

-rw-------@ 1 stuck  staff   355M  6 Aug  2018 Sparkpost-GDPR-original.mp4
-rw-r--r--  1 stuck  staff    17M 15 Feb 12:05 gdpr.mp4

I saw no obvious quality difference between the original and the re-coded file, and it plays perfectly on QuickTime and VLC. MediaInfo shows it as:

 

2. Fire up the TV stick

Firstly, follow the instructions to get your stick connected to wifi. I suggest using a guest network rather than your personal or corporate wifi, for security reasons. That way your main wifi access point (SSID) and your password never needs to go on the stick. There’s no need to “save wifi passwords to Amazon” when you’re asked this.

Register with an Amazon account. Leave plenty of time for this, as the stick will probably download and install updates first. You can create a specific new Amazon account just for this task, or use an existing one.


After going through the built-in intro videos and skipping the usual streaming apps, you get to the home screen. You don’t need a Prime account for this project.

Using local storage on the stick

The Fire stick, in a domestic situation, is usually connected to stable wifi, streaming content from commercial services such as Prime Video, Netflix, or YouTube. Here, we are not going to rely on wifi or streaming to play the videos, We will only need wifi to download content to internal storage.

We’ll use an app that can download content to internal storage, and an app that can play content from it.

3. Install apps

Get VLC app

Go to the Home screen, select the Search icon. You might have to press “left” to get it to appear. Search for, and install the video player app VLC.

Get AFTV Downloader app

Older sticks have an SD card slot, which you can use to transfer content; the newer ones have internal Flash storage but no way to access it physically. Mine has around 4.5GB of internal storage, which is enough for a lot of video.

Follow these instructions to get the AFTV Downloader app. This will enable you to download files from a URL you enter using the remote.

4. Prepare for content download using local web-server

I’ve tried the usual file-sharing methods, however, the simple browser on the downloader app doesn’t make it easy to enter the needed long URLs, usernames and passwords.

There is a pretty simple solution to this: use your own local web-server, with a nice short URL and no usernames/passwords. If you already have a public server, then just drop your video file on there, enter your URL and download. The risk, of course, is that anyone (including web crawlers) could potentially find your file. You may not care – after all, the video is about to be seen by everyone at your event – but at least you know.

The simplest and most secure way is to run your own web-server locally. While this used to be a geek thing, it’s now simple. I recommend using a package such as MAMP (free version), available for both Windows and Mac OS X. If you run Linux, you probably know how to set up a web-server already!

MAMP is easy to install and configure. It supports PHP and MySQL, but here we will just use it to serve static files. You go to Preferences and select the specific folder to serve your files from. I recommend using a separate folder with nothing else in, as you are exposing the contents of that folder to anyone on your network.

As an additional safeguard, I connect my computer and the Fire TV stick only to my phone’s wifi hotspot at this point. This is protected with a password. The hotspot also gives my machine an IP address from a specific range.

As an additional check, my phone tells me exactly how many devices are connected, and I can shut down the hotspot as soon as we’re finished downloading. This doesn’t even use your phone’s data allowance, because the traffic is local.

Put your finished video file into the selected folder. Check your machine’s IP address, and open your browser at this address + the port number MAMP is using (the default is 8888). You should see something like this:If you click on the file, the video will play in your browser. Congratulations! You’re nearly there.

5. Download video to the stick

Ensure your Fire TV stick is on the same wifi network as your computer. Open the Downloader app and type in the same URL of your computer’s MAMP server, using the remote control, for example:

Download your file:

When it’s downloaded, you can choose “open” and VLC will play the video.


You can set a single video to repeat via the menus:

Next time, you can just open the VLC app, choose the file, and play. If there’s no obvious thumbnail of your video shown, you can find files in the “Downloader” folder, under “Internal Memory”.

6. Stop the local web-server

Now you can ramp down your  MAMP by selecting “Stop Servers”.

You could leave your stick still able to access your phone personal hotspot in case you need to adjust things at the event, but this is not strictly necessary – you could remove wifi credentials from the stick to be sure.  As an extra precaution, shut down your phone’s personal hotspot. You’re now ready for your event.

7. Play video at the event

On startup, the stick may nag you to connect to wifi. You can simply ignore this, but it becomes a nuisance trying to get to the home screen. If your stick still has your hotspot credentials, you can briefly enable your phone hotspot to get the message to go away; but there is another, better way. Just go to Settings / Applications / Manage Installed Applications / VLC / Launch Application. This works when you have no wifi connection.

Choose your video file, play, and set the repeat options.

Multiple videos in a loop

If you have multiple videos and want to play them in a loop sequence, go to the Video folder, press Play, and you’ll get a “Play All” option. Set the Repeat option but without the “1” in the middle:


You should see each video play in sequence.
It’s a wrap!
We’ve gone through a lot of steps here, so let’s summarise what we did, from start to finish:

• Get your content ready, optimizing file size/quality
• Fire up the TV stick
• Install apps
• Prepare for content download using a local web-server
• Download video to the stick
• Check the videos play in a loop
• Stop the local web-server
• Play video at the event

That’s it for now! Happy eventing.

~ Steve

The post Looping Event Booth Videos: Lights, Camera, Action! – Part 2 of 2 appeared first on SparkPost.

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Don’t Commit: A Guide to Avoiding Distractions While Coding https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/dont-commit-avoiding-distractions-while-coding/ Fri, 05 Apr 2019 13:00:41 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=43846 avoiding distractions while codingManager of Software Engineering - Analytics, Robert Wenner, shares his tips and tricks for avoiding distractions while coding.

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Multitasking is good for processors but bad for people. Each interruption breaks concentration and flow. Each context switch is an interruption. According to Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister’s classic book Peopleware, it can take up to 15 minutes to get back into the flow after an interruption. As a programmer, how much work do you get done when you’re constantly interrupted? How many interruptions until your workday is fragmented into tiny pieces of frustration?

Maybe it’s not even others interrupting you– maybe it’s the code itself. You look for something in some part of the code and notice an odd method. Should that still be here or is it dead code? You skim some function body and wonder if it covers a special corner case that comes to mind. While programming, we keep many details in our heads. How can you not lose all those details? How can you keep in the flow, and at the same time not forget about what just caught your attention?

Get a good-ole to-do list! Leave yourself notes, but not on paper– that would be a medium switch, and even looking for pen and paper may disrupt your flow. On top of that, you may lose notes on paper or forget about them. What use is the note if you don’t come back to address it? Preferably you’ll want to check your notes before you commit your changes and/or decide if the notes merit a separate commit.

Here’s where DONTCOMMIT comes in. Just put a comment in the code, mark it with DONTCOMMIT, and leave yourself enough explanation on what you wanted to do here. For example:

// DONTCOMMIT do we still need this?
// DONTCOMMIT doesn’t seem to handle -1

Then go back to what you were doing, without breaking flow or concentration. It’s like the TODO and FIXME items you probably already have, only better.

These special DONTCOMMIT comments stand out in the code. If you happen to have DONTCOMMIT somewhere else in your code, feel free to pick something else. You now have a unique marker for these notes. You can

grep
 for that marker in the shell. Your IDE can probably be configured to highlight and show the markers as todo items. For example, in Eclipse, go to Preferences and search for “todo”. You’ll find it in  Java -> Compiler -> Task Tags, where you can define your new tag. Once that is done, Eclipse will put a blue marker on the right-hand side of that line, and a little icon on the left. Your new tag will also show up in the Tasks list (Window -> Show View -> Tasks).

IDE is nice, but it’s still easy to forget those DONTCOMMIT items. Luckily, version control systems support hook scripts, so you can register a hook script that looks for your marker (e.g., with

grep
 ) and rejects the commit if it finds the marker. Automatic reminders!

For example, in Subversion you’d place a script like the following in your repository’s

hooks/
  and call it from
hooks/pre-commit
 or just put the following in
hooks/pre-commit
 (and make it executable):

#!/bin/bash
REPOS="$1"
TXN="$2"
set -u
while read file
do
   for bad in "DONTCOMMIT"
   do
       found=$(svnlook diff --transaction "$TXN" "$file" | grep "$bad")
       if [ -n "$found" ]
       then
           echo "Found $bad in $file:" >&2
           echo "$found" >&2
           exit 1
       fi
   done
done < <(svnlook changed --transaction "$TXN" "$REPOS" | cut -c 4-)
exit 0

For git, the hook scripts go in

.git/hooks/pre-commit
 and look like this:

#!/bin/bash
set -u
while read file
do
   for bad in "DONTCOMMIT"
   do
       found=$(git diff --staged "$file" | grep "$bad")
       if [ -n "$found" ]
       then
           echo "$bad found in $file:" >&2
           echo "$found" >&2
           exit 1
       fi
   done
done < <(git diff --staged --name-only)
exit 0

While your hook is already looking for DONTCOMMIT, have it do more! You should also check for DONTCOMIT, DONT_COMMIT or any other “creative” spellings. If you want to take a quick note you shouldn’t be bothered to get the tag name exactly right. Keep in the flow, let the hook script take care of it by adding your favorite spelling errors.

Another idea is to flag your username so that you don’t check in hardcoded paths that only work on your machine. Reject 

System.err.println
,
printStacktrace
, and other forgotten printf debugger statements. Reject any
// IDE generated stub
, and so on.

Mark your code, keep in the flow and let your version control system do the grunt work for you.

~Robert

The post Don’t Commit: A Guide to Avoiding Distractions While Coding appeared first on SparkPost.

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The Anatomy of a Successful Financial Services Email https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/anatomy-successful-financial-services-email/ Wed, 03 Apr 2019 13:00:21 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=43832 successful financial services emailWhen writing a successful financial services email consider how the head, body, and footer of your email work together to help deliver the results you want.

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Whether you’re sending someone a transactional email that confirms an action they’ve taken, or a promotional message that informs them about a new financial services product or a special offer, you’ll want to consider how the head, body, and footer of your email work together to help deliver the results you want.

That’s important because incoming email servers will perform checks on your email when they arrive, and you’ll have just a few seconds to convince recipients to open your message when it hits their inboxes. That process is not unlike the way people make an assessment of someone when they enter a room, based on the way that person dresses, acts, and talks.

Your Email’s Reputation Will Precede It

Just like a person’s reputation affects how others interact with them, each email you send will be impacted by the cumulative impression made by your previous messages. Sure, you’re not a spammer, but there are still a couple of things you need to keep in mind to ensure that your emails put their best foot forward, so to speak.

Build your sender reputation

When recipients don’t bother to open your messages, your emails bounce back, or people report your honestly legitimate emails as spam, your organization’s sender reputation suffers. That means your messages will have a harder time getting past the gatekeepers at Gmail, Yahoo!, and other email providers.

Keep best practices in mind by:

  • Honoring unsubscribes as quickly as possible
  • Adopting an opt-in policy
  • Pruning dead email addresses
  • Looking closely at bounce codes
  • Making your emails worth people’s effort to open them and click a link or two
  • Creating and executing a warm-up plan before you start sending emails from a new IP address

Create trust in your business

Even if your sender reputation is okay, consumers’ trust in your organization can suffer when they receive malicious phishing emails that seem to be from your company. Implement SPF (Sender Policy Framework) and DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail), both of which are authentication standards that help incoming mail servers verify that messages are coming from a legitimate source.

Don’t stop there, though: Top them off with DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance), which unifies SPF and DKIM. It allows you to declare how an email should be handled if it fails an authentication test, so you can stop fraudulent messages from getting through. DMARC also gives you the ability to receive reports that help you troubleshoot authentication issues and identify malicious domains.

Make an Introduction With Your Header

After your email makes it to recipients’ inboxes, you need to make a great introduction and give them a reason to open the message.

Choose personable “from” and “reply-to” addresses

Avoid a generic “no-reply@” address that says it’s from Online Sales or something else equally bland. Your “from” address and name should be friendly and make customers feel like you’re talking to them personally. Make sure you use a “reply-to” address that’s functional and sends the reply somewhere useful, such as the customer’s CRM record.

Get attention with a strong subject line

There’s an art to a great subject line.

  • Keep it short: six words, or about 50 characters, at the most
  • Use more than first name personalization – try referencing their activity, their location, or an account balance
  • Emojis can add some fun, but use them very sparingly and double-check your choices at a site like Emojipedia to ensure they render properly in various email clients
  • Create urgency with a deadline
  • Try a straight-forward approach for transactional emails

Don’t neglect the preheader text

The preheader is the text that email clients, including all mobile ones, display below the subject line. If you don’t specify what it should be, the recipient will often see the first several words of the email, which are usually something like, “To view this email with images, click here.”

Since that’s a poor experience, you’ll want to use the preheader text to help sell the introduction to your email. Don’t simply repeat the subject line – offer complementary messaging, such as the deadline for your special offer or a key feature of the new software someone just installed.

It’s okay to try again

Just like someone can do everything right when walking in a room but not make the connection they desired because of reasons beyond their control, it’s possible for your emails to get lost in the shuffle because something like a major news event was occupying people’s attention.

If your open and click-through rates are poor but you think your content was good, you can always send your email again, but make sure you change the “from” and “reply-to” addresses, the subject line, and the preheader text. No one wants to hear the same introduction twice.

Prompt the Action You Want With the Email Body

Getting someone to open your email is simply the first step in a successful interaction with a customer. Now you need to seal the deal by giving the recipient a reason to click at least one of the links.

The first thing you’ll want to do is make sure all your emails are mobile responsive, which means they’ll automatically adapt to the devices being used by your recipients, whether they’re phones with small screens or computers with large displays. Everything, including text and image sizes and layout, will adjust on the fly to offer the best possible experience.

You’ll also want to include high-resolution images since HD displays are quickly becoming the norm on most mobile devices.

Examples of successful marketing emails

Both of these emails are simple but effective. They use small blocks of text and employ bullet points as much as possible – big chunks of text are hard to read and can be tedious on a mobile device. These emails also rely on basic layouts and a couple of key images to get their messages across, so they’re easy to digest.

This Wells Fargo marketing email’s goal is to inform customers about a new feature and encourage them to sign into their accounts and give it a try. It even goes out on a limb a little with a fun subject line that plays off the idea of snapping a photo.

This email also doesn’t distract the recipient with multiple calls-to-action and a barrage of information. It has one CTA button and includes a few useful secondary links.


This message from Toyota Financial Services uses Giving Tuesday, the first Tuesday after the Thanksgiving holiday in the US, as a springboard for promoting the company’s charitable efforts. Like the Wells Fargo email, it focuses on a single call-to-action and makes all the other links secondary. It also ties into a well-known event, which can help increase open rates.

Take Care of Little Details in the Footer

No one wants their customers to walk away, but giving them the ability to do so, as well as offering a way to for them to contact you, is legally required in many places. You also need to include a clear statement that explains who sent the message and why it was sent since sometimes people forget how they ended up on your email list.

When customers say “Don’t email me, I’ll email you”

It doesn’t feel good to know that a few people will click the unsubscribe link at the bottom of your email, but you don’t want uninterested subscribers on your list. They’ll not only hurt your open rates, but they can harm your sender reputation too.

Make sure the unsubscribe link is on its own line and uses a font size that doesn’t require zooming in to see. No one appreciates it when a company tries to hide its unsubscribe link, and doing so just increases the chance that people will report the email as spam to get off your list.

However, when people click the unsubscribe link, there are a few strategies you can use to keep the relationship going in some fashion.

  • Encourage them to opt down: Offer an email preference center that lets customers choose less frequent emails or different types of mailings. Maybe they’d rather have a monthly product update rather than a weekly sales piece.
  • Give them other channels to stay in touch: Make sure your unsubscribe page includes links to your social media accounts, as well as other places where they can stay in touch in a more informal way, such as a blog.
  • Ask why they’re leaving: Did they sign up by mistake? Are they not interested in what you’re offering? Give unsubscribers a short survey that can help you surface other communication options for them. And even if they still leave, you’ll still get valuable insights to help your marketing strategy.

Keep Your Customers Happy

Even if you do everything right and a customer opens your email but doesn’t take the action you desire, your relationship with them will still be in good standing. They’ll remember that it was a satisfactory experience, and maybe next time you’ll seal the deal.

~ Casey

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Sending Personal Health Information (PHI) with SparkPost https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/sending-phi-sparkpost/ Mon, 01 Apr 2019 13:00:18 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=43797 PHIRead up on how healthcare organizations might consider sending Personal Health Information (PHI/ePHI) to maintain HIPPA compliance.

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I was recently asked how a healthcare organization can send PHI/ePHI (Personal Health Information) safely through SparkPost. The quick answer to that is really pretty simple — please don’t. Email is inherently insecure and no matter how many solutions we (or others) provide, at the end of the day, that email is still going to end up in someone’s unsecured, unencrypted mailbox.

If you need to send PHI, we recommend you email a call to action for your customers to log into your own secure web portal to retrieve the sensitive documents, rather than sending the actual data. Send your customers a quick note that says something like this instead.

    “Hi Bob, Your documents are available for review. Please click <here> to login to your secure portal to view.”

On your end, the smaller message will be sent faster, is less likely to be blocked as spam, and contains no PHI. As a result, the requirements of HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) are not triggered and thus no Business Associate Agreement (BAA) with SparkPost is required. Additionally, your customers will appreciate your sensitivity to their secure data. The smaller message is easier for the customer to read and is more accessible on multiple devices which is an important factor in today’s mobile world.

On the topic of sending sensitive information, the SparkPost team has created many ways to send a secure email. Our top priority is our customer’s email and security is one of the highest considerations on our checklist every time we deploy a new feature. All email from our system is sent with opportunistic TLS security enabled by default – no matter who you are. We are fully SOC2 (SSAE-16) compliant in all domains. We were months ahead of the industry with GDPR compliance. We support and have had seats on boards and steering committees that guide our industry in matters of security, compliance, and anti-abuse efforts. If anyone is going to find a solution to the email security problem, it will be this team.

Earlier this year, my colleague Steve Tuck completed a 5-part series on how to implement S/MIME using SparkPost. This is one of the oldest email security solutions and has been largely forgotten by the industry as a whole, but it still works, and it puts the end-to-end security in the hands of the sender and recipient. A health care agency wanting to send encrypted and/or digitally signed messages using our service should be able to deploy that solution with relative ease. Steve walks you through all aspects of understanding how it works and how to integrate with your SparkPost account.

Some time ago, I also wrote a piece about our partnership with the security company Echoworx.  In that blog post, we introduce you to how SparkPost can accept mail from Echoworx to deliver to your end users in a secure way without any complex integration. Echoworx provides a middleware solution that empowers you to control who can see the message and attachments and when. You also have the ability to REMOVE access to an email you have already sent.

SparkPost leads the industry in security efforts and we are constantly adapting to the shifting threat landscape.  Please review the referenced links above and don’t hesitate to ask anyone on our team if you need more information.

~ Tom

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What Does It Take to Send Billions of Emails? https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/how-to-send-billions-of-emails-momentum/ https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/how-to-send-billions-of-emails-momentum/#comments Wed, 27 Mar 2019 13:01:20 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/?p=8502 high-volume emailHigh-volume email can be mind-boggling to someone who isn’t steeped in the business. Here’s some real-world advice for tuning Momentum email infrastructure.

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  • This blog post was originally published on 2/24/2016 and was updated on 3/27/2019

When it comes to transactional and marketing email, there are email senders, there are high-volume email senders, and then there are really high-volume email senders. Most of us can grok the amount of email that a small or medium sender generates in a typical month, but the volumes at the higher end of the spectrum can be a little mind-boggling. Especially to someone who isn’t steeped in the business of email deliverability.

Setting aside the bad guys like spammers, there’s nothing inherently untoward about sending very high monthly volumes. Just think for a minute about large e-commerce retailers that generate several email notifications (order confirmation, shopping cart abandonment, shipping notification, etc.) for each transaction. Or a social network that sends emails in response to activity and engagement (friend requests, likes, retweets, etc.) on their platform.

It’s really a question of basic math. When you have a large number of users (5–20 million) who receive multiple messages per day, or a really large number of users (40–50 million) receiving one message per day, you’re in high-volume email territory. And that’s just to get past the velvet rope; the highest volume senders like Facebook or Twitter send 1–10 billion emails per day. (I tend to hear Carl Sagan’s voice in my head: “billions and billions of emails…”) The numbers add up really, really quickly.

To be sure, it’s an exclusive stratosphere of senders who reach the very highest monthly volumes, but the tools and practices they’ve developed to do it are applicable to all senders who rely upon email to drive their business. It’s a multi-dimensional challenge: complexity and scalability of message generation, throughput of sending, and deliverability on the receiving end. And it’s a challenge my colleagues and I spend a lot of time helping senders solve. Here are some of the best practices we’ve learned that could help you, too.

First, Pick the Right Platform

As I suggested above, a company’s particular characteristics and business needs have a big impact on what its email looks like. But, in my experience, senders tend to fall into four basic groups:

  • Low volume/complexity who want a cloud solution
  • High volume/complexity who want a cloud solution
  • Low volume/complexity who want an on-premises solution
  • High volume/complexity who want an on-premises solution

For purposes of this framework, “low volume” means sending less than 10 million messages per month, while “low complexity” means business logic like filtering, routing, or content manipulation aren’t performed in the messaging layer. “High volume” and “high complexity” suggest the opposite. (Clever nomenclature, right?)

Here, I’m going to step back and make a small product plug: One of the real advantages of our SparkPost cloud offerings is that our cloud is highly elastic and will scale to meet nearly any load. The efficiency of that model for most senders is really hard to overstate. Just as importantly, SparkPost’s operations team—not your own staff—deals with the details of managing messaging performance, scalability, and deliverability, letting you focus on business differentiation and strategic value.

Now, having said that, we know that not every business is ready to use the cloud today. Some may elect for a hybrid cloud/on-premises architecture. Awesome. Others will want to keep email infrastructure completely in house. We get it. Different businesses have different needs. That’s why SparkPost offers a solution for each of these four categories of sender.

If you use PowerMTA, be sure to check the wealth of PowerMTA resources at Port25 to optimize your installation. And, of course, SparkPost customers get the benefit of these best practices and many more courtesy of our cloud infrastructure and crackerjack ops and deliverability teams. But for the rest of today’s post, I’m going to give some love to folks that are using Momentum.

Making the Most of Momentum

I’m just going to say it: Momentum users really get what high-volume email is all about. (And, by the way, the Momentum platform is a core underpinning in the SparkPost cloud.) Over the years, our services team and our expert customers collectively have developed a lot of expertise about what it takes to optimize this ultra-high performing email platform.  Here’s what we’ve learned works in the real world.

  • Parallelize Processes
  • Remove Bottlenecks
  • Optimize Queues
  • Be Scientific

I’ll touch on each of these areas below.

Parallelize

The Momentum platform was designed as a parallel solution, and there are several areas that benefit from being parallelized when working with Momentum:

  • Inject messages using multiple parallel processes. The scheduler-based architecture leveraged in Momentum provides maximum performance when handling incoming traffic from multiple sources. Injecting across multiple connections will provide maximum performance.
  • Send across multiple IP addresses. Not only will many ISPs have a limit on how much traffic they will accept from a given IP address, but separating traffic streams in to separate IP pools can also help with deliverability.
  • Scale horizontally. Our recommended installations start at three nodes per role to ensure redundancy and availability, and each role can be scaled independently as needs increase from either a sending or reporting perspective.

Remove Bottlenecks

With the right platform, and sufficiently parallel injectors and sending IPs, the next key to sufficient performance is to remove common bottlenecks that can affect platform performance. The most common areas are hardware and network bottlenecks, and will be covered in the next sections.

Hardware

With the 3.6 release of Momentum, a new performance benchmark was achieved through the introduction of the new SuperCharger architecture. With SuperCharger, the scheduler-based architecture that enables Momentum’s performance was parallelized to allow for multiple schedulers to operate in a single Momentum instance. The new SuperCharger technology allows for significantly improved vertical scalability, with a properly provisioned supercharger-enabled Momentum instance able to send several times the volume of a non-supercharger instance.

The development of SuperCharger has continued to improve performance through Momentum 4.2 and now into the imminent release of Momentum 4.3.

With the use of SuperCharger, Momentum instances can leverage multi-core server architectures, moving the hardware bottleneck to disk IO. Physical disks in a RAID-10 configuration can provide performance in the range of 2-4 million messages per hour, while SSDs can double that, and PCIe-based SSD systems such as FusionIO can help reach performance in excess of 10 million messages per hour.

In addition, Momentum’s caching system improves performance and can leverage a large amount of RAM; typically we recommend 4GB of RAM per core.

Performance can be increased through additional cores (with accompanying memory) and higher performance IO systems. Investments in larger systems can be balanced against scaling horizontally with more servers, leveraging the clustered capabilities of Momentum.

Network

With the increased performance available through the SuperCharger architecture, it becomes increasingly important to ensure that the supporting network is capable of handling the bandwidth generated by a Momentum instance, let alone a cluster of nodes.

The following recommendations are made regarding network bottlenecks:

  • Isolate network connections for injection, delivery, and administrative traffic. By separating inbound and outbound traffic you effectively double the available bandwidth to the server.
  • Move to 10GigE Ethernet. A fully provisioned server with PCIe SSD technology can push enough traffic to saturate Gigabit Ethernet.
  • Use bonded NICs to increase availability and to increase the available bandwidth. For many senders bonded Gigabit NICs with separated injection and delivery pathways can provide sufficient bandwidth without a move to 10GigE.

Optimize Queues

As mentioned earlier, spreading traffic across multiple IP addresses has multiple benefits:

  • Each IP address will be assigned to its own Binding, meaning that messages will be isolated to their own queues, helping to prevent queue collisions.
  • Multiple IPs allows you to send sufficient traffic to ISPs that have restrictions on incoming traffic on a per-IP basis.
  • Separating message streams to their own IPs and bindings enables Adaptive Delivery to be more effective at automated traffic shaping by giving it more granularity.

While the number of IPs you will need varies based on sending reputation, at a minimum make sure that you separate out traffic into bulk and transactional. A general guideline is to use one IP address per 100,000 messages per hour you will be sending.

When configuring multiple IP addresses for the same mail stream, take advantage of the Binding Group capability of Momentum to allow for common configuration and easy round-robin IP assignment by assigning to the group.

Be Scientific

As you work with the recommendations in this article, focus on making one adjustment at a time and measuring the results before making further changes. For example, when adjusting the number of injectors, try adding five connections at a time and measuring throughput in order to identify the ideal number.

Similarly, with some of the tunables, start by reviewing data to identify current throughput, then calculate an appropriate setting before testing.

Common Performance Pitfalls

In addition to the overall best practices I described above, I’d like to make special note of a few issues for senders looking to highly tune their infrastructure to improve performance.

Memory Tuning

There are three key memory settings that are often overlooked and left at their defaults:

  • Max_Resident_Active_Queue
     : Controls how many messages are cached in memory on a per-queue basis. Set to either -1 or a larger number like 10,000 if you have sufficient memory.
  • Max_Resident_Messages
     : Controls how many messages are cached in memory on a server-wide basis. Set to 90-95% of RAM divided by
    Growbuf_Size
      (default 16k). I.e. 96GB / 16k = 6,000,000
  • Growbuf_Size
     : Configured the size of memory chunks used to cache messages.  Ideally we want the average message loaded in a single chunk. Set to larger than your average message size (but not to your max message size).

Sieve

One key advantage of using Momentum is the ability to implement policy scripts to achieve complex message and server manipulations using automation. In older versions of Momentum, policy was implemented using a scripting language called Sieve++, an extension of the Sieve filter language used in several messaging tools.

With Momentum 3, we introduced a new option for policy scripting in the Lua scripting language. Lua provides a more robust and extensible scripting language that is better optimized, and which supports the multithreaded SuperCharger architecture. All users looking to leverage SuperCharger and generally increase performance should migrate their policy scripts to Lua.

In Version 4.x we went a step further and made significant improvements to Lua so that Sieve can (and should) be replaced entirely to maximize performance.

DKIM

In recent releases of Momentum we have introduced support for OpenDKIM as a module. The advantage of OpenDKIM signing is that is has multi-threaded support, enabling higher performance when used with SuperCharger. Moving to OpenDKIM is quite straightforward and requires minimal configuration changes.

Headers in Custom Logs

One advantage of Momentum is the ability to use the custom logger module to create log files that contain only the data you need, in the format you prefer. One logging macro available to senders is

%h
 , which will capture a named header and place its content into the log line.

The

%h
  macro comes at a cost: It parses the whole message on each event to find the header and record its contents. A better-performing alternative is to use a Lua script to read the header and place its value into a context variable, then use the
%vctx_mess
 macro to load the context variable into the log.

An even more efficient option is to write those header values as metadata directly instead, using the SMTP-API introduced in Momentum 4.x. This way the message is consumed to the reporting bus immediately and can be pushed as a real-time webhook to automation and reporting services directly.

Conclusion

I can’t tell you how cool it is to see how Momentum and SparkPost are being used out in the real world by high-volume/complexity email senders. I’m thrilled to be able to share these recommendations to help optimize a Momentum installation for maximum performance.

By the way, want to learn more about getting the most from your email infrastructure? The SparkPost Support Center has a wealth of operational advice. And, if you’re interested in learning more about hybrid on-prem/cloud email solutions check out our guide: The Best of Both Breeds: 5 Use Cases for Hybrid Email Infrastructure.

~ Mike Hillyer

 

The post What Does It Take to Send Billions of Emails? appeared first on SparkPost.

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AMP It Up: AMP for Email on SparkPost Is Here https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/amp-for-email-is-here/ Tue, 26 Mar 2019 16:01:50 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=43709 amp for emailGmail has launched AMP for Email, and we’re very excited to announce that SparkPost customers now have the ability to send AMP emails from SparkPost.

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Over the past several months, SparkPost, in collaboration with the Gmail team at Google, has been working with senders like Pinterest and Booking.com to empower them to develop engaging, interactive emails using AMP for Email technology. Gmail officially launched AMP for Email today, and we’re very excited to announce that SparkPost customers now have the ability to send AMP emails from SparkPost.

To mark the occasion, I wanted to share some of the reasons we think you’ll be excited about this new capability, too. Read on to learn:

  • What AMP for Email is all about
  • Some great examples of how SparkPost customers are innovating with AMP for Email
  • How to get started with AMP for Email on SparkPost

What is AMP for Email?

Google and the publisher ecosystem spearheaded the open source AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) Project to help publishers develop fast web pages that are optimized for mobile clients. Since its launch in 2016, AMP has had a large impact on the mobile web user experience and engagement.

Now, AMP for Email adapts the AMP technology to the unique needs of the email inbox. AMP for Email gives senders the ability to enhance messages with interactive and data-driven features that have the potential to transform the way recipients interact with messages.

AMP for Email provides email developers with a set of rich components that include carousels, responsive form elements, and—maybe most exciting of all—the ability to dynamically retrieve fresh content that updates even after a message has been sent. Email recipients can view and interact with AMP components directly in the email, without leaving their primary inbox experience.

AMP for Email Compared to Past Forms of Interactive HTML Email

It’s true that the idea of interactive email per se is not new. After all, senders have had the option of using HTML to engage email audiences with compelling and eye-catching content for some time. But, HTML support in email has always been a limited subset of what we expect from the web. And perhaps most limiting, once a message was sent, the content was more-or-less frozen in time.

Just consider an airline ticket receipt. If you’re like me, you’ve often saved these to keep track of flight details. But that information isn’t fixed—for example, flights are late, and gates frequently change. More often than not, the information in my original flight confirmation email is stale.

So one of the big leaps we think AMP for email brings to senders and recipients alike is the ability to include live, up-to-date content directly to the email. Gate change? Next time I open my receipt, that info can be presented.

Another area where we think AMP could be a game-changer is better alignment with users’ expectations of security and privacy—i.e., eliminating some of the ways crude HTML makes phishing more likely. While there’s no bulletproof solution against this sort of risk, AMP for Email does include modern phishing and spam mitigation strategies not possible with straight HTML. We’ve found it also implements a relatively conservative subset of AMP functionality, an important aspect of containing overall exposure to risk.

SparkPost Customers Innovate with AMP for Email

It’s not hard to come up with compelling use cases for AMP for Email. An email from a social app, for example, might allow users to react to shared posts just as they do within the app, but without leaving the email. In fact, Pinterest is enabling just that. Pinterest’s AMP emails allow Pinners to view and save items to a board with a great user experience very similar to what they’d experience in the Pinterest app.

Example of Pinterest AMP-enabled email

 

Booking.com also is implementing AMP for Email by focusing on content and interaction models that their users would expect to find on their mobile app or website. An example of that is using AMP to display rich content and preview destinations directly within the email.

Example of Booking.com AMP-enabled email

But rather than take my word for it, listen first-hand to the teams at Pinterest and Zillow as they share how they plan to implement AMP for Email.

 

How to Get Started with AMP for Email on SparkPost

SparkPost has been working with the Gmail team to make sure that our customers who wish to use AMP in their messages can hit the ground running. Our initial implementation provides support for AMP in several ways:

First, we make it easy to send AMP-enabled messages. The SparkPost Transmissions API supports a new optional field in the content JSON object: content.amp_html, a UTF-8 encoded string representing the AMP for Email HTML content. SparkPost will insert this as a text/x-amp-html MIME part in the appropriate location of the MIME tree, perform engagement tracking (if enabled), and insert substitution data as expected.

(What if you inject messages via SMTP but want to send AMP-enabled messages, too? No problem! Be sure to use the proper MIME structure; text/x-amp-html must be a descendant of multipart/alternative, and live alongside at least one of text/html or text/plain MIME parts.)

Second, SparkPost has AMP-specific engagement metrics. Basic engagement tracking for opens and clicks are supported through an AMP-specific tracking pixel. As a result, senders can separately report and compare AMP opens and clicks with traditional HTML opens and clicks in SparkPost analytics, Events API, and Webhook events. Down the road, we may provide additional, advanced engagement tracking for AMP messages, depending upon our customers’ needs.

Last, but not least, we have added support for AMP in SparkPost templates, including metadata and substitution data in a template’s AMPHTML MIME part. In other words, SparkPost templates make it easy to implement AMP content, and we treat AMP content as a first-class citizen along with regular HTML and plaintext.

Additional, hands-on detail about implementing AMP for Email in SparkPost supports AMP for Email can be found in our Knowledge Base.

Share Your Thoughts!

I’d love to hear what you plan to do with SparkPost’s support for AMP for Email—and how you’d like to see from AMP for Email and our capabilities evolve as we move forward.

—Isaac Kim
Technical Product Manager

The post AMP It Up: AMP for Email on SparkPost Is Here appeared first on SparkPost.

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Building an Email Archiving System: Storing the Email Log Data – Part 3 https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/building-email-archiving-system-storing-email-log-data-part-3-4/ Mon, 25 Mar 2019 13:00:36 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=43705 In part 3 of his series on email archiving Senior Messaging Engineer, Jeff Goldstein, explains the process of storing log data associated with the email.

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* This blog is addresses the process(s) in green

In the third installment of this blog series and the second in the coding phase, I’m diving back into the process of storing the log (event) data associated with the original email. This step will give us the information around the email injection, delivery and behavioral actions by the email recipient(s). While this blog is similar to the blog I wrote recently on storing all event data for an email, there is enough of a twist in order to support the archiving of the email body that I decided to keep the two blogs separate. This blog will also offer up some sample code for storing the data into a MySQL table. (Please refer to the following Github repository)

When an email is created, SparkPost logs each step of the email and makes the data available to you for storage via API or Webhook technologies.  Currently, there are 14 different events that may happen to an email. Here is a list of the current events:

 

Bounce Click Delay
Delivery Generation Failure Generation Rejection
Initial Open Injection Link Unsubscribe
List Unsubscribe Open Out of Band
Policy Rejection Spam Complaint

* Follow this link for an up to date reference guide for a description of each event along with the data that is shared for each event.

Each log event that corresponds to our archiving project will have a special tag named uid within the metadata block. As described in the previous two blogs, the uid is an application generated field which is generated by your email injection systems during the email send process and placed into the X-MSYS-API header and the email body via a hidden html field.  The uid field in the email body will be the only id that survives through all emails and logging events and thus is needed to pull everything together (remember that the inbound event data does not have the UID metadata, that is why we must hide the id in the email body). But all of the event log data in this step will have the UID entry that we need.

"raw_rcpt_to": "austein@hotmail.com",
"rcpt_meta": {
	"UID": "0093983927113301"
},
"rcpt_tags": [],
"rcpt_to": "austein@hotmail.com",
"rcpt_type": "archive",
"recv_method": "esmtp",

SparkPost webhooks have the ability to allow the user to pick which events they want to be delivered to their endpoint (collector), but they don’t have the ability to filter specific events given specific data. For example, what if you sent welcome emails to your new customers and you only want open events with the subject line of ‘Welcome’ sent to a specific endpoint? Nope, can’t do that. You can filter on the click event, but not on given data within the subject field. That means that our endpoint will get all events of a given type (open, click, bounces, etc) and we need to filter out the data that has nothing to do with our archive process. To filter out the noise, we will search each event for the UID field within the metadata block. If the event has the UID field, then we care about that data; otherwise, we skip that data event (that also means, that the field name that you use for the UID needs to be unique to this project).

* Note: SparkPost does have the ability to filter events for subaccounts. To simplify the storing code, you could send all emails that need to be archived through a specific subaccount.  That would allow SparkPost to filter out the events for just that subaccount and only send those events to your collector.  It won’t save you a lot of code, but this is an option.

In this phase of the code, I have an endpoint that captures and stores all events from SparkPost into a directory. That is all the work the endpoint does. This follows the best practice of doing as little work as possible within the endpoint, so it can keep up with how fast SparkPost may be delivering data to that endpoint (this is the retrieveWebhook.php code). Being honest, this is NOT the approach I did with the first phase of the project when I stored the archive body. I do plan on going back to fix that at a later date.

The next step will be for a cron job or group of cron jobs that will read the directory of files and start processing them (this is the processOutboundWebHooks.php code).

In order to support high volume sending, I expect that this code may have multiple instances running in parallel.  So I have the code read the list of files within a directory and try to lock the file it wants to process. If the lock process works, it will proceed; if the lock process doesn’t work, then it’s assumed that another process is working on that file and skips that file and go onto the next one in the list. Once your code has a file, we need to turn the data into an array and start to process each event separately. But remember, we only want the ones with the uid field; that tells use that this data belongs to the archive process and we may want to store that data. In my code, I loop through each event pulling out specific fields that I know I want to store.

Also for filtering purposes, there is an important key/value pair that I’m paying special attention to, it’s the rcpt_type key/value pair.  When an email is sent out using either the cc, bcc or the archive feature, each event will have a corresponding rcpt_type of either ‘cc’, ‘bcc’ or ‘archive’.  My design allows for the email administrator to decide if they want to keep or filter those out by placing the appropriate values in the config file.

The PHP code to decide on if this event should be stored or not looks like this in my project:

if ($uid)
{
	switch (true)
	{
		case ($rcpt_type == "original" | $rcpt_type == "archive"):
			$store = true;
			break;
		case ($rcpt_type == "cc" && $logCC):
			$store = true;
			break;
		case ($rcpt_type == "bcc" && $logBCC):
			$store = true;
			break;
	}
}

By setting the $store flag to true; the rest of the program will store the corresponding data for that event.

So, in short, we have gone through the following steps:

  1. The collector gets the data from SparkPost and places into a directory (retrieveWebhook.php)
  2. Another process(s) will read the directory of files saved by the collector and try to lock the file from other processes.  If successful, it will continue with that file. If not, it will continue down its list of files until it runs out or finds a file that needs processing. (processOutboundWebHooks.php*)
  3. Since the file may have many events; we create an array of each event.
  4. Looping through each event, we pull data we are interested in.  the rcpt_type and uid are necessary to decide if we care about this event.
  5. If we decide to store this event; we proceed with saving the data to our SQL table.

*This is a truly bad name, but I’m trying to describe the process that is storing the webhooks data coming from SparkPost outbound versus the archive inbound process

In this project, some of the more significant fields that I decided to use for indexing are: campaign_id, subject, timestamp, template_id and of course the rcpt_to field which holds the target email address.

This leaves me with a table with the following fields:

  • Connector Id
  • Rcpt To
  • Campaign Id
  • Subject
  • Timestamp
  • Template Id
  • Raw (a copy of the full data event)

I’m not going to assume that these are the only fields or the best fields for your implementation, but they are what I’m using for this sample project.  The code to store our fields in SQL and a text file log is similar to the one in phase 1:

// Create connection
$conn = mysqli_connect($servername, $username, $password);

    // Check connection
    if (!$conn) 
    {
        	if ($loggingFlag) $archive_output = sprintf("\n\n>>>>>MySQL connection failed
     connecting to MYSQL to log S3 entry:%-200s\nTo: %-50s\n From: %-50s\n Subject: %-200s\n 
     InjectionTime: %-42s\n UID: %-38s\n Event Type: %-38s\n ArchiveFileName: %s>>>>>", 
     $conn->error, $rcpt_to, $friendly_from, $subject, $injection_time, $uid, $event_type, $currentFile);
    		$deleteFile = false;
    	}
    	else
    	{
        	$sql = "INSERT INTO austein_archiver.events (campaign_id, friendly_from, 
     injection_time, rcpt_to, rcpt_type, subject, UID, event_type, raw) VALUES ('" . $campaign_id . "',
     '" . $friendly_from . "', '" . $injection_time . "', '" . $rcpt_to . "', '" . $rcpt_type . "', '" . $subject . "
     ', '" . $uid . "', '" . $event_type . "', '" . $raw . "')";
        	if ($conn->query($sql) === TRUE) 
        	{
            		if ($loggingFlag) $archive_output = sprintf("\n\n>>>>>To: %-50s\n From:
     %-50s\n Subject: %-200s\n InjectionTime: %-38s\n UID: %-38s\n Event Type: %-38s\n 
     ArchiveFileName: %s>>>>>", $rcpt_to, $friendly_from, $subject, $injection_time, $uid, $event_type,
     $currentFile);
        	} 
        	else 
        	{
            		if ($loggingFlag) $archive_output = sprintf("\n\n>>>>>MySQL insert
     failure to MYSQL Event Table:%-200s\nTo: %-50s\n From: %-50s\n Subject: %-200s\n
     InjectionTime: %-38s\n UID: %-38s\n Event Type: %-38s\n ArchiveFileName: %s>>>>>", 
     $conn->error, $rcpt_to, $friendly_from, $subject, $injection_time, $uid, $event_type, 
     $currentFile);
            		$deleteFile = false;
        	}
        	mysqli_close($conn);
    	}
    	file_put_contents("eventLog.txt", $archive_output, LOCK_EX | FILE_APPEND);

Without dragging this on, that is all we need to review for this portion of the code.  As you can see, most of the work was done in the previous steps so all we have to do is retrieve the data, check to make sure it’s data we care about, then log it.

The next code drop will have a sample viewer with something similar to an inbox. Until then, it’s up to you to come up with some ways to view the data.  If you have something to share, I’m sure everyone will be happy to see your work.

Happy Sending.

~ Jeff

The post Building an Email Archiving System: Storing the Email Log Data – Part 3 appeared first on SparkPost.

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The Benefits of a Great Unsubscribe Page https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/anatomy-unsubscribe-page/ Fri, 22 Mar 2019 13:00:26 +0000 https://blog.messagesystems.com/?p=6747 unsubscribe pageLearn about the value of creating a clear and streamlined unsubscribe page and why unsubscribes can actually be a good thing for your email strategy.

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  • This blog post was originally published on 6/3/2015 and was updated on 3/22/2019

In the course of my day, I see a lot of good, bad and the proverbial ugly. Recently, I ran across something I’d call really good: Frank & Oak’s email unsubscribe page. Frank & Oak is an Internet retailer with a mobile app that requires you to log in with your email address to see their products (SMART! Now they can connect the app user to an email address). After receiving emails from the company for months and not purchasing anything, I decided it was time to shut down the mail stream. I clicked the unsubscribe link in their email and was taken to a rather refreshing and paired down page:

FrankOakBlog1

Frank & Oak’s unsubscribe page allowed me to decide if I wanted fewer emails or if I wanted to completely want to turn off the tap. There is nothing extraneous, there is no login required, the shut-off valve isn’t hidden 2-3 pages down, or buried under a metric ton of encouragement to stay—it’s right there, highlighted in red. Red suggests danger/attention but that’s not what’s happening here.

Let me explain.

Unsubscribes are your friend

That’s right, unsubscribes are your best friend because the alternative is your worst enemy: spam complaints. Users who unsubscribe from your email feed might someday come back, or as in my case, be delighted to see a simple page that gives me choice and the ability to control my inbox’s fill rate.

If a user can’t unsubscribe easily from your newsletters or promotions because you buried one or two clicks down from the initial page, or obfuscate the unsubscribe mechanism in some other manner then the easiest alternative (to make the mail stop) is to click the spam button. Enough spam complaints and your email may begin to deliver to the spam folder en masse. If enough spam complaints happen on a given domain or IP in a short span of time then the rest of the email may be routed to the spam folder.

So which would you rather have? A customer that dials down how often and how many emails you send them or a spam complaint?

The choice is yours, however, consider the age in which we live: we’re living among empowered consumers—this includes you. You have a tremendous amount of power to control the conversation that brands have with you. You can shut off their marketing, choose their rivals, never visit a store, or complain on social media and bend the ear of the world. Since the power structure of consumption and advocacy has shifted from the brand to the consumer, you have to apply customer-centric tools and marketing, like this light, efficient and delightful page to let customers quickly make the right choice for their lifestyle (and your brand), versus punishing you for being overzealous in your approach. There’s an old saying: If you love someone, set them free. If they come back they’re yours; if they don’t they never were—that’s what you need to keep in mind when designing your unsubscribe page.

~ Sparky

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3 Predictions for MarTech Email Strategy in the IoT Era https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/3-predictions-martech-email-strategy-iot-era/ Wed, 20 Mar 2019 13:00:59 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=43678 For MarTech providers and marketers, how will the amazing growth of the IoT impact email strategy in the not-too-far-future?

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The Internet of Things (IoT) is growing everywhere.

Technically, the “IoT” encompasses everything linked to the Internet. But it’s typically used to refer to devices, from an Apple Watch to a Nest thermostat to even automobiles, that communicate with each other.

And nearly every ubiquitous device seems to be joining the IoT.  Not only the everyday thermometer, but your egg tray and your infant’s changing pad. Each year at CES there’s a new medley of IoT offerings, from startups and evergreen brands alike, being pitched.

It’s anything but vapor-wear

You’ll be wearing IoT nodes soon, and not just as a smartwatch or fitness tracker.  Last year, packaging and materials giant Avery Dennison announced a partnership aimed at launching the “world’s largest IoT deployment,” adding 10 billion apparel and footwear products from leading brands to the IoT over three years.

Analysts’ forecasts predict the IoT to keep skyrocketing. The North American IoT consumer market alone will surge from $90 billion in 2017 to $180 billion in 2022, a CAGR of 12.25%. That’s in addition to dizzying growth in industrial, infrastructure, healthcare and other segments.

How many total devices are we talking about? Hold your breath: one prediction claims we’ll see 30.7 billion installed IoT devices by 2020, and 75.4 billion by 2025.

What does the IoT mean for MarTech?

Anyone who’s seen or used an Amazon Dash button knows exactly why marketers and martech providers are rushing to exploit the IoT.

First of all, it’s obviously a way to extend actual brand-to-consumer engagement into a new variety of everyday moments and locations. But it also opens up an incredibly rich trove of consumer data to use in an email marketing strategy, a vein the right marketing tech tools can mine to power campaigns more personalized, precise, and effective than ever before.

So what are three ways we predict the IoT will impact martech email strategy?

Extreme personalization

Consumers expect and demand personalization, and martech’s ability to collate data like a user’s geolocation, daily routines, even health data, will take this several steps further over the next few years.

For instance? A fitness enthusiast – let’s call her Sheila – who’s partial to workouts at home or anywhere but a local gym (an insight gleaned by analyzing her geolocation and fitness wearable data) can be targeted with a membership offer featuring content customized to her exact behaviors – running, swimming, biking, tae bo, or whatever.  Plus, the email gets timed to a daypart where Sheila has historically shown a higher CTR.

With the analytics allowed by the IoT, the best martech platforms will be able to accurately segment the Crossfitter from the couch potato, and engage each via a perfectly personalized email strategy.

An evolving emphasis on “mobile first” marketing experiences

In a recent survey we conducted among email marketers, one crucial concern they cited? The need to provide responsive design that works across multiple devices and enables greater user interactivity.

The IoT will only multiply that challenge, because it multiplies the number of different devices and channels to contend with. Email strategy and execution will need to be optimized for a desktop, a smartphone, a smartwatch, an auto infotainment display, possibly even for smart glasses that will try to avoid Google Glass nerditude.

So it’s fair to predict that MarTech platforms, agencies, and clients who invest in responsive design and interactive email solutions will gain a very real advantage in the era of the IoT.

More app-generated and transactional email

That rich trove of consumer IoT data we mentioned earlier? It’ll provide marketers with more data points than ever, as well are more opportunities than ever to deploy app-generated and transactional email to deepen customer engagement and loyalty.

It makes sense that an IoT wearables company, Fitbit, is already leveraging this approach. They’ll send a customer an email alert when the battery in his or her’s wearable is running down – along with instructions on how to replace it.

Let’s say Sheila, the fitness enthusiast we mentioned above, decides to take us up on a trial gym membership. At a basic level, the data she’s sharing from her wearables (or from a membership app she downloads) can trigger emails offering loyalty rewards for making a certain number of visits.

But the IoT can take it to a more granular level: Via her wearable and its connections to other IoT devices, we can identify when she’s taken a spinning class and capture data from the stationary she rode. So Sheila’s session data can be used for an email that recaps her performance and gives personalized coaching – great incentives for her to stay a post-trial member.

The state of transactional email will change enormously, even unpredictably, as the IoT evolves over the next several years. For martech users, staying on top of that game means investing in transactional email technology that’s flexible and scalable enough to rise to the opportunities the IoT presents.

And as we’ve seen, those might be as limitless as the IoT itself.

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4 Strategies for Getting Maximum ROI From Your Tax Season Emails https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/4-strategies-getting-maximum-return-triggered-tax-season-emails/ Mon, 18 Mar 2019 13:00:48 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=43636 tax seasonTax season’s looming April 15 deadline is the perfect date to work backward from when planning triggered email campaigns.

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Tax season is a great time to set up triggered emails that are sent out when fintech customers take certain actions, or fail to do so, such as providing documents for filing their tax returns. Triggered emails can also be scheduled to go out on certain dates tied to major tax season events.

In fact, triggered emails have 8 times better open rates and drive more revenue than regular bulk emails, according to Experian. They’re a great example of sending the right message to the right person at the right time, and tax season’s looming April 15 deadline is the perfect date to work backward from when planning triggered email campaigns.

Here are 4 strategies you can use with your triggered tax season emails.

1. Get a head start with current customers

You want to grow sales every year, and acquiring new customers is a valid part of achieving that goal, but the people who have used your service in years past should factor into your marketing strategy too. You can’t assume they’ll return this year, so you should schedule a triggered email that goes out at an opportune time to catch their interest.

This email from Credit Karma was sent in early January, a time when people are likely thinking about doing their taxes but possibly haven’t decided who will take care of that task for them this year. “Welcome back” is used in the subject line and in the email body to remind the recipient of their past relationship with the company, and the “100% free plus our Accurate Calculations Guarantee” value prop is the main message here, with the goal of enticing the client to click the Learn more button.

Note the use of the recipient’s name in the email body. According to Experian, personalized emails deliver 6X higher transaction rates.

2. Catch the procrastinators, as well as the stragglers

Despite modern technology making it easier to electronically file tax returns and have refunds sent straight to bank accounts, plenty of people still put off what needs to be done. Set up a deadline-themed triggered email that will go out a specific number of days before April 15 to get the attention of procrastinators.

It doesn’t hurt to also get in touch with non-responders after the deadline and let them know that it’s better to file late than never. Add increased urgency to your messaging so they know that penalties are accruing with each day that passes.

This Credit Karma email sent on March 1 does a good job of upping the urgency a little without pushing too hard, since the recipient still had roughly six weeks to file. The use of the person’s first name helps cement the connection, which is smart since people are 26% more likely to open emails with personalized subject lines, according to Campaign Monitor.

The three value prop bullet points add some enticement to the message, and the GIF of someone snapping a shot of their W2 with a smartphone helps drive home how easy it is to file a tax return with Credit Karma.

3. Tie your triggered emails to specific activity

People like to receive emails that acknowledge certain actions, such as an order being shipped. In the financial technology industry, you can keep customers happy by setting up triggered emails that let them know you’ve received their paperwork, their tax return is ready, their return has been filed, and so forth.

Those confirmations also help reduce support costs, since financial transactions typically cause anxiety that can lead to “What’s happening?” emails and phone calls if customers feel like they’re in the dark. A short, friendly email is usually enough. And keep upsells and cross-sells out of the message, since people don’t typically like to be asked to spend more money when they’re trying to find out if their sensitive documents have been received.

This email from Intuit uses a trigger based on the availability of the customer’s W2. They not only came up with a catchy, hashtagged name for their promotional email (#W2sDay), but they let the user know that all they have to do is sign in and Intuit will pull in last year’s information.

The progress bar complements the “You’ve got a head start” messaging to make it clear that all they have to do is click the Go button to get a jump on this year’s filing. The customer quotes give the recipient an additional nudge to click through and get started.

4. Segment your customer list to drive better response rates

Campaign Monitor has noted that segmented email campaigns can drive a 760% increase in revenue. They’re one of many companies whose solutions enable email marketers to segment their customer lists by demographic information, purchase history, and other attributes.

For example, you can segment your list by the types of tax returns your customers file: a simple 1040; a 1040 with a Schedule C for business income; a corporate tax return; and so forth. Then you can send a different email to each group, also known as a cohort, and acknowledge what kind of return they filed last year. You can also customize the list of documents they need to provide to get this year’s return completed.

Apply that segmentation to your triggered emails to create a series of messages tied to different kinds of tax returns. Doing so also lets you include relevant tips, such as best practices for organizing business receipts, that can drive additional engagement. Customers like knowing that a company they’ve done business with isn’t just sending them generic, one-size-fits-all emails.

~ Casey

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Boosting Email Engagement and Conversion with Send Time Optimization https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/boosting-email-engagement-conversion-send-time-optimization/ Fri, 15 Mar 2019 13:00:39 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=43598 send time optimizationOur SVP of Data Science, Daniel Chalef, explores whether send time optimization results in a meaningful lift in customer engagement.

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User engagement is critical to the growth of any product or service and email is a key channel for driving engagement. An increase in email engagement can boost monthly active users, conversion rates, and revenue. In this blog post, I explore whether optimizing when emails are sent to recipients results in a meaningful lift in engagement and outline an approach to optimizing these send times.

While this approach is fairly simple, the model performs quite well in backtesting, resulting in a significant 43.3% lift in email engagement.

If you’re a SparkPost customer, you can utilize our Events API to collect data in order to run a similar analysis to mine below. If you do so, see the caveats section at the end of this post regarding data sparsity.

Sampling and Cleaning the Data

In this analysis, I have the benefit of being able to look at recipient engagement across SparkPost’s customer base. As SparkPost delivers email for many of the largest senders in the world, this offers a reasonably high resolution of recipient engagement but also means the dataset is extraordinarily large. As a result, this analysis uses a smaller sample of 2.2 million US-based recipients.

All of these recipients have exhibited some engagement behavior in the sample period from October 1, 2018, to November 30, 2018. We define engagement as opening an email or clicking on a link in an email.

As with all data science projects, the data needed to be cleaned and outliers noted or removed. In this dataset, system-generated emails (such as alerts sent by software for consumption by IT or development teams) were removed. So too were recipients who received high volumes of email (over 1,000 emails a day) or where I noted recipients opening emails from more than 6 timezones (which I believe may be group email addresses or role-based email addresses such as sales@ or info@ addresses).

Exploring Recipient Behavior

Before diving into building a model for optimizing send times, I wanted to understand the feasibility of building such a model. Getting a sense for recipient behavior and determining whether there were patterns we could potentially model was a useful exercise. For clarity, the exploratory data analysis below is limited to recipients located in the US EST timezone.

In the charts above, we’ve plotted the following for each hour of the week (in EST):

  • Mean Time to First Engagement: The mean time, in hours, from delivery of an email to a recipient’s first engagement with that email. Lower is better.
  • Mean Engagement Rate: The mean engagement rate, where the engagement rate is the count of emails engaged with over the total number of emails sent. Higher is better.
  • Mean Email Deliveries Per Recipient: The mean number of emails sent to recipients.

It’s clear that there are some interesting patterns here, particularly late night, early mornings, and over weekends. The early morning drops in mean time to first engagement and increase in engagement rate are phenomena familiar to many marketers, and so too the significant drop in engagement over weekends.

It’s also possible that the peaks in engagement are being driven by sender behavior i.e. emails sent late at night to night owls are driving high late night engagement rates, rather than this being an organic, recipient-driven behavior.

This is definitely worth digging into further.

Optimizing for Conversion

When we send emails to recipients, we’d often like the recipients to engage as soon as possible: buy something in a sale, attend an event, purchase a plane ticket, read a news article, or start using our app. However, the email time to engagement distribution is highly skewed, with a very long right tail. You can see this depicted in the histogram below, where the right tail is bounded by the sample period of 61 days.

The engagement data for recipients with mean engagement in the long right tail are not ideal for use in optimizing for engagement (and in turn, for conversion). It would be worth calculating the engagement rate for recipients as:

But what should we make x above? It’s clear from the histogram that the majority of recipients engage with an email within hours. In the table below, it looks like approximately 70% of emails are engaged with, and almost 60% of recipients engage with emails, within 12 hours. This seems like a reasonable number to use for determining an “immediate” engagement rate.

 

TTF Engagement for Messages

(percentiles | hours)

TTF Engagement for Recipients

(percentiles | hours)

25% 0.67 25% 2
50% 3.46 50% 8
70% 11.70 60% 13
95% 114.04 99.5% 525
max 1456.84 max 1439

 

I’ll use this “immediate” engagement rate for the rest of the analysis below.

Per-Recipient Engagement “Probability Distribution” and Clustering

I’d like to understand a recipient’s propensity to engage per hour of the week in order to further explore the phenomena we saw above and to potentially optimize recipient send times.

To do this, I mapped every email delivered to a recipient over the two month sample period to an hour of the week, tallied how many were “immediately” engaged with and calculate the hour of week engagement rate.

I did this for every recipient and ended up with a probability distribution of sorts similar to the table below (rows are recipients, columns the hour of the week). In hour 11, recipient 0 has an engagement rate of 0.67.


Clustering is a great exploratory tool. In the next step of the analyses, I used a k-means algorithm on the per-recipient “propensity to engage” dataset to cluster recipients, hoping to surface a higher definition view of recipient engagement behavior. Once I clustered the recipients, I calculated the mean engagement per hour of the week for each cluster and plotted this on the charts below.

The results are super interesting. Many of the clusters exhibit a clear engagement bias. Cluster 3 to evenings ET, Cluster 5 to late night / overnight (night owls or night workers?), Cluster 1 and 6 to mornings to mid-afternoon (with a bias to mornings).

You’ll note that Clusters 0 and 4 have significantly lower engagement rates to the other clusters. In the chart below, I’ve modified the y-axis to give us a better look.
Despite this being a very large dataset, I still have fairly sparse engagement data for many recipients. In particular, I don’t have much data for recipients in Cluster 0: engagement is low and there isn’t a clear pattern, other than a bias to daytime engagement.

I may have to exclude these recipients from our optimization or make a best guess based on some general patterns I’ve observed in the data.

Modeling Engagement Lift from Optimizing Send Time

Clearly, there are recipients that have a higher propensity to engage at a specific time or day of the week. What if I had used this information to modify the time that the emails were sent?

Modeling this is fairly straightforward. I used a Window function (available in Apache Spark and most SQL engines) to look a number of hours prior and ahead of the real-world send time in order to determine if there was a better time within this window to send an email. I defined a better send time as an hour in this window during which the recipient had a higher hourly engagement rate than during the actual send time.

For my model, I used a fairly narrow 8-hour window (4 hours prior to the delivery hour and 4 hours ahead). I was also careful to exclude data points where only a single email was delivered and subsequently engaged with (resulting in a 100% hourly engagement rate).

I ran the entire dataset (all US timezones) through the model and the mean engagement rate results are below. The findings show that had SparkPost’s customers sent these emails to recipients during their optimized engagement hour, they would have seen a mean uplift of 43%. This is really compelling. Imagine what this might do for your monthly active users, conversion, and revenue numbers!

 

Mean “Immediate” Engagement Rate Mean “Optimized” Engagement Rate Uplift
15.7% 22.5% 43.3%

Some Caveats to this Analysis and Model

This approach to send time optimization is exciting and compelling. Some caveats to the analysis and model should, however, be noted:

  1. Purely transactional email such as password resets, shipment notifications, and alerts was not removed from our analysis (our data privacy safeguards limit our ability to do this). In a real-world implementation, we’d probably want to exclude these emails from optimization.
  2. Teasing apart phenomenon driven by sender behavior (i.e. when we send emails) from organic recipient behavior can be challenging, and, given sufficient data sparsity, may not allow us to determine actual recipient behavior. This was, however, somewhat mitigated by the number of senders we included in this analysis.

Additionally, if you’d like to explore this for your message streams it is important to be mindful of data sparsity issues (mentioned in (2) above), i.e., not enough engagement data to make meaningful adjustments to send time. This may not result in a performant model and may even result in a drop in engagement.

~ Daniel

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The California Consumer Privacy Act and its Impact on Email Senders https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/california-consumer-privacy-act-impact-email-senders/ Wed, 13 Mar 2019 13:00:05 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=43585 California Consumer Privacy ActRead up on how the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), a sweeping new data privacy law in California, impacts email senders.

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2018 was a big year in the data protection world, with EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) taking up most of the spotlight with its myriad of privacy-related requirements and potential for high fines. However, while companies may continue to be focused on the GDPR at the moment, it is also important to keep an eye on new privacy laws on the horizon in order to avoid last-minute compliance exercises. Among these new laws is the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018 (CCPA), which was enacted by Governor Jerry Brown on June 28, 2018. The CCPA is a sweeping new law that establishes an array of new rights for California residents regarding the collection, use, and disclosure of personal information. While the Act goes into effect on January 1, 2020, it will not be enforced until the Attorney General publishes regulations, which are not required by law until July 1, 2020. Additionally, since the CCPA was rushed through the legislature to meet the deadline imposed by the backers of the ballot initiative, it is anticipated that it will be subject to amendments prior to 2020 (in fact, at the time of this post, the CCPA has already been amended once). Accordingly, businesses falling under the CCPA should also anticipate some changes to the law before it becomes effective and enforced. In the meantime, below is what we know.

Who does the CCPA apply to?

The CCPA defines “business” as a for-profit legal entity doing business in California that collects personal information of California residents, or on whose behalf the personal information is collected, and that determines the purpose and means of processing the personal information. A business only needs to meet one of the following thresholds for CCPA to apply:

  • Annual gross revenues in excess of $25 million;
  • Annually buys, receives, sells, or shares for commercial purposes, alone or in combination, the personal information of 50,000 or more California residents, households, or devices; or
  • Derives 50% or more of its annual revenues from selling California residents’ personal information.

Certain businesses are out of scope by virtue of being covered by certain other state or federal privacy laws. For example, the CCPA does not apply to the extent it conflicts with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) or the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA).

What is “personal information” under CCPA?

The CCPA greatly expands the definition of “personal information” – previously this term primarily referred to contact information when it was coupled with some other sensitive information such as bank account numbers, social security numbers or health account numbers. Now, personal information is defined broadly as “information that identifies, relates to, describes, is capable of being associated with, or could reasonably be linked, directly or indirectly, with a particular consumer or household.” Examples include obvious personally identifiable information such as name, phone number, email address, social security number, driver’s license number, etc. But the Act also includes less obvious “personal” information such as biometric, geolocation, IP addresses, and professional or employment data.  Notably, the definition includes households. While the definition of personal information may be further clarified by the Attorney General, or even reduced in scope by future legislation, it will likely continue to be broader in scope than any existing law or regulation – including GDPR.

Despite the breadth of the newly defined term, personal information does not include publicly available information. However, the definition of “publicly available” is very limited.  The CCPA provides, “publicly available means information that is lawfully made available from federal, state, or local government records.”

What are my obligations under CCPA?

In brief, the law requires businesses to provide California residents with the right to:

  • Know what personal information is being collected and how it is being used. Consumers will have the right to know the personal information a business has collected about them, its source, and the purpose for which it is being used.
  • Know whether and to whom their personal information is sold or disclosed, and to opt-out of its sale. Companies that provide or make consumer data available to third parties for monetary or other valuable consideration are deemed to have sold the data and will need to disclose this. Subject to certain exceptions, consumers will then have the further right to opt out of the sale of this information by using the “Do Not Sell My Personal Information” link on the business’s home page. This link is required by the Act. Moreover, those individuals 16 years and under must opt-in to have their information sold.
  • Access their personal information. Consumers will have the right to request certain information from businesses, including the sources from which a business collected the consumer’s personal information, the specific elements of personal information it collected about the consumer, and the third parties with whom it shared that information. Once the request is made, businesses must disclose the requested information free of charge within 45 days, with extensions of time available in certain circumstances.
  • Not to be discriminated against for asserting any of the rights granted by the law. The CCPA gives consumers the right to receive equal service and pricing from a business, even if they exercise their privacy rights.
  • Sue for a data breach. The new right of private action for a data breach will likely result in significant class action litigation.

What are the penalties for CCPA non-compliance?

Fines for violations include:

  • $2,500 for unintentional violations and $7,500 for intentional violations of the Act. However, for now, only the California Attorney General can pursue these penalties.
  • $100 to $750 per incident, per consumer — or actual damages, if higher — for damage caused by a data breach.

While these fines may appear relatively low, it is important to note that they are per violation. It is not uncommon for a data breach to affect thousands or tens of thousands of consumers, in which fines and damages could easily reach millions or hundreds of millions of dollars.

How is CCPA different from GDPR?

While there are a number of similarities between CCPA and GDPR, there are also many differences. The table below provides a brief comparison. Companies that implemented GDPR-level compliance can leverage parts of their program to meet CCPA requirements, but additional program development for CCPA will still be required.

 

CCPA GDPR
Scope Transparency, individual rights, enforcement Broader and all encompassing
Personal Information Broader definition by including households Information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person
Transparency Specific requirements for disclosures Less prescriptive
Rights Broad rights to access and deletion Similar rights
Sale of Data Specific requirements for selling data and opt-out Processing requires lawful basis
Enforcement Attorney General and plaintiff’s attorneys Data protection authorities
Security Not included General requirements for protecting information
Breach Notification Not included (addressed separately in another CA law) 72 hour requirement
International Transfer Not included Restrictions on data transfers outside of countries that do not provide “adequate protection”
Privacy by Design Not included Required
Data Protection Officer Not required Required if certain criteria are met

What should an email sender do in light of the impending changes under CCPA?

We recommend email senders that will be subject to CCPA take time in the coming months to evaluate the new California law carefully and assess the potential impact to the business as it relates to its email sending practices. As initial takeaways, emails senders should consider the following:

  • Review existing privacy disclosures to evaluate potential updates mandated by the CCPA.
  • Commence planning to implement the “do not sell” requirement, including cataloging data sales and reviewing vendor agreements for other types of data sharing that will amount to a sale under the expanded definition in the statute.
  • Initial planning for an inventory of data concerning California employees, customers, contractors, mobile app users, website visitors, and other residents to start feasibility planning for fulfillment of access, deletion, and ‘do not sell’ requests.
  • Identify key vendor contracts and evaluate for compliance with California standards.
  • Update vendor privacy language to implement flow-down terms for the new California privacy rights.

Summary

The CCPA requires companies that rely on collecting and processing personal information to further advance their data protection program. Prior to this law, in most cases, information like IP addresses, Internet usage, and browsing histories were not considered personal information – particularly when they were not linked to other information of a more personal nature. Under the CCPA, all of this information is now automatically personal information – effectively granting California residents the equivalent of a Droit Moral in their personal information, which is akin to the fundamental personal privacy rights of EU residents. By combining these sweeping privacy changes with new statutory damages rights, the CCPA is a significant force in privacy law requirements in the United States.

SparkPost is GDPR compliant and will be CCPA compliant by the time it takes effect. As a result, SparkPost will be ready to assist our customers to meet their CCPA obligations when it comes to their email sending.

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Disclaimer: This blog post is meant as a general set of questions and answers and is not legal advice and cannot be relied upon for any legal purpose. You must consult your own professional advisors for your specific facts and circumstances before taking, or refraining from taking, any particular course of conduct. This blog post is not an amendment or supplement to any agreement between SparkPost and you.

~ Jason

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The Challenges of High-Volume Senders https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/the-challenges-of-high-volume-senders/ Mon, 11 Mar 2019 13:00:52 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=43565 high-volume sendersJoin us for our upcoming webinar on March 26th with Blueshift and LendingTree where we will discuss and address the challenges of high-volume senders.

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For High Volume Email Senders, The Struggles Are Real

Email is the backbone for the vast majority of consumer brands’ marketing initiatives. As marketers, we rely on it to send promotions, deliver the latest newsletter, drive revenue, increase loyalty, and so much more. However, with this reliance comes a number of hurdles, pitfalls, and downright showstoppers that keeps us marketers up at night and often panicking over our performance metrics.

For high volume senders of email, the issues compound upon each other and can lead to overall deliverability issues, inbox placement, and even SPAM. The common struggles faced by high volume senders include:

IP Reputation: Every email marketer has to keep IP reputation as a priority. For high volume senders, it’s an even larger issue due to the sheer volume and often different types of emails that get sent. For high volume senders, multiple IPs are often required to handle the various message types.

Ramping: You cannot send a high volume of emails immediately. Beyond simply “warming up an IP address” you have to consciously scale your sending volume to avoid potential IP reputation issues. Whether you have dedicated IPs or shared IPs, this is an issue you will face.

Burst Rates: Trying to send a high volume of emails all at once causes headaches for marketers and their engineering teams. Often these emails can be throttled and spread over hours, which could be an issue for limited time only promotions or other timely messaging.

Personalization: From product recommendations to predictive “next-best” offers and up-sells, personalization can become an issue for high volume senders. Some senders simply show “trending” or “top rated” content, but building true personalization can add delays with throttling or even massive downswings in volume sends.

Rendering: As mentioned in personalization above, adding complexity to your emails has side effects with high volume senders. From building uniques personalizations (like weather, next-best recommendations, etc) to adding in too many images, your email can be hindered both with delivery windows and even actually rendering of the content within the email itself.

As customers begin to demand more and more personalization and relevance in their emails, high volume senders face all of these issues (and even more that may happen down the road). With tighter restrictions on customer data as well (seen with the recent passage of GDPR), high volume senders have plenty of issues to consider.

The best practice is to forecast out your needs and keep a strong eye on your backend and front end metrics constantly. Build out a great team and give them the technology needed to handle and overcome these struggles.

Knowing these issues exist is part of the battle. Attend our upcoming webinar featuring LendingTree’s Senior Director of CRM, Chris Kachel, in a conversation with Sparkpost and Blueshift, as we discuss how LendingTree overcame these issues and how you can set a plan to avoid these pitfalls.

~ Shannon

Shannon Johlic is the Director of Marketing at Blueshift, delivering regional, national, and global marketing programs with measurable impact, spurring action from targeted audiences by leveraging over a decade of experience in demand generation.

 

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Celebrating International Women’s Day 2019 https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/celebrating-international-womens-day-2019/ Fri, 08 Mar 2019 14:00:46 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=43547 International Women's Day 2019SparkPost's CEO, Rich Harris, interprets the theme for International Women's Day 2019, “A Balanced World is a Better World," in his own words.

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I’m very happy we are celebrating International Women’s Day (IWD) and highlighting the achievements of the women of SparkPost. The theme of IWD is “A Balanced World is a Better World.” This theme can be interpreted in different ways, and I would like to share what this means for me.

I have been in the technology industry since 1997 (yes, I’m old). My experience for the first 20 years of my tech career was completely dominated by men. At the time I don’t think I was aware of how male-dominated my world was. I assumed it was the norm that for virtually every company with which I was involved, the entire board of directors and the full management team was male. I really didn’t have any perspective of whether or not this was a problem, or fine, or even worth thinking about.

It was not until I joined AddThis in 2013 that I woke up to what I was missing. I remember when I first started with AddThis I met the then Head of HR, Bhavna Dave. She asked me how I think about HR and culture and how it fits into strategy. My first thought was, “good question because I haven’t spent much time thinking about HR as part of our strategy.” Bhavna went on to help us turn culture and HR into a true competitive advantage for AddThis. We were able to recruit incredible people, develop a high performing team, have fun and reach success beyond all of our expectations.

Bhavna introduced me to my executive coach, Caroline Miller. When I started coaching with Caroline my goal was simple, I wanted to become a more inspirational leader. Caroline transformed the way I communicate with people and groups. She turned my thinking upside down about how to motivate people and introduced me to the power of understanding character strengths, gratitude, and mindfulness. Caroline has helped me focus on what matters, develop more meaningful relationships, and work to be my best self.

Bhavna also helped us recruit Claire Alexander to be Head of Marketing. I recall a 1:1 meeting with Claire a few months after she started. She sat down in my office and began the meeting by saying, “Rich, I don’t think you are doing your job, and here is why…” At first, I was somewhat shocked, but I quickly realized that Claire was giving me feedback to help me and the company be successful. She was so passionate about her ideas she had to let them out in the most direct way possible. I truly came to appreciate Claire’s courageous and direct style, and she absolutely helped me become a better leader.

Caroline, Claire, and Bhavna added new perspectives and ideas and helped me think about things in a totally new way. They are just 3 examples of many women at AddThis who had a tremendous positive impact on the company. I see the same thing here at SparkPost. In my short tenure, I have already experienced the value of different views and perspectives from many women, including Julie Acri, Amie Durr, Kathryn Schutz, Laura Rose, Tracy Sestili, Michelle Cunningham, and many others. We are fortunate to have these woman as part of our team and we will be more successful as a result of their powerful ideas and contributions.

Here is how these women have contributed to SparkPost in their own words:

~ Rich

 

 

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3 Free Email Security Standards That Can Help You Preserve Brand Trust https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/3-free-email-security-standards-that-can-help-you-preserve-brand-trust/ Wed, 06 Mar 2019 14:00:57 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=43528 email security standardsLearn about three email security standards that can help stop bad actors from impersonating your company and alerting you to such efforts.

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The financial costs of data breaches from phishing, spear phishing, and spoofing attacks on employees’ email accounts are eye-popping:

However, those numbers don’t address the damage done to brand trust, particularly in the financial services industry, when consumers receive a malicious email purportedly from a company they’ve done business with, or might do business with. If someone clicks a link in an email and a bad actor wreaks havoc on their life, the experience can leave them wary of that business, even though the company didn’t send the message.

There’s a high likelihood that someone who receives an email that looks like it came from your company will be fooled: According to a survey conducted by Intel Security, 97% of respondents worldwide couldn’t correctly identify a phishing email. And bad actors are getting more sophisticated at creating emails that, at first glance, seem legitimate.

In addition, email isn’t going away any time soon. The Financial Brand found that 70% of all consumers (and 72.1% of older Millennials) think email will still be around in a decade, more than any communication channel they were asked about, including cable TV and Facebook. There will be many future opportunities for consumers to be fooled by malicious emails.

The Damage That Bad Guys Can Do to Your Brand

You’ve likely put in the hard work to secure your company against direct attacks through training, code reviews, third-party penetration testing, infrastructure security, and more. You’re ready to deal with direct attacks on your business, but there are plenty of bad guys who aren’t interested in that: they’d rather impersonate your company and trick consumers into giving up personal information.

For example, they may send a phishing email like this one:

It probably won’t come as a surprise that the return email address in the header has been spoofed since it’s relatively easy to send an email from one address but make it look like it was sent from a different one. In addition, the account unlock link, as well as the customer service email address link, go to a malicious website that looks like Really Big Bank’s website, another trick that’s not hard to pull off. These days, many bad actors are using HTTPS in their links to make them appear more trustworthy.

If the recipient clicks one of those links and ends up having their bank account emptied, they’ll be unhappy with whoever scammed them, but there’s a good chance they’ll also direct some frustration toward Really Big Bank for allowing the impersonation to happen in the first place. If they’re a Really Big Bank customer, they might rethink their choice to have an account there, and if they’re not a customer, they’ll probably be wary of that brand in the future.

However, there are three email security standards that are free to use and relatively easy to implement. They can help stop bad actors from impersonating your company and tricking consumers into allowing their accounts to be compromised. Now more than ever, consumers will take their business elsewhere if they think a financial institution is so lax about security that it can’t be bothered to safeguard its email.

3 Steps to More Secure Email Sending

These may seem like small steps, but they can add up to a big impact on trust by helping stop bad actors from impersonating your company and alerting you to such efforts.

Step 1: Implement SPF (Sender Policy Framework)

SPF is an email authentication standard that helps protect senders and recipients from spam, spoofing, and phishing. It defines a way to validate that an email was sent from an authorized mail server and was designed to supplement the SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) protocol that’s used to send email because SMTP doesn’t include any authentication mechanisms.

SPF also piggybacks on the well-established Domain Name System (DNS) that maps a web server name, such as really-bigbank.com, to an IP (Internet Protocol) address usable by a computer. It works like this:

  • A domain administrator publishes a policy, called an SPF record, that defines which mail servers are authorized to send email from that domain. The SPF record is listed in the domain’s overall DNS records.
  • When an inbound mail server receives an email, it looks up the rules for the Return-Path domain in the DNS records. The server then compares the IP address of the email sender with the authorized mail servers defined by the SPF record.
  • The SPF record lists rules used by the receiving email server to decide whether to accept, reject, or otherwise flag the message.

An SPF record isn’t difficult to create: it’s simply a specially-formatted version of a DNS record created as a standard TXT file. It looks something like this:

really-bigbank.com    TXT “v=spf1 
include:really-biggerbank.com ~all”

Reading left to right, this record says:

  • Any email that claims to be from really-bigbank.com should be validated with SPF, per the “v=spf1” prefix.
  • It also specifies that the SPF records for really-biggerbank.com should also be included when validating email from really-bigbank.com. This is typically done to indicate that other domains are authorized to send email on behalf of the primary domain, such as when an organization sends messages from a subsidiary and/or splits its transactional and marketing emails between different domains. Multiple domains can be listed.
  • The “~all” command tells the incoming mail server that any other servers sending email on behalf of really-bigbank.com should have their messages flagged as questionable.

SPF records can be more complicated than this example, but the basic mechanism remains the same. You can learn more about the specifics of implementing one in an explainer we created.

Implementing SPF helps keep bad actors from sending emails that look like they’re coming from your business, but you should add DKIM and DMARC for a complete email authentication solution.

Step 2: Create a DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail) Signature

DKIM is a technical standard that uses public key cryptography to verify that an email was sent from an authorized mail server. It adds a digital signature to the headers of an email message, allowing the incoming mail server to validate it against a public cryptographic key in the sending organization’s DNS records.

This is important because while SPF defines the mail servers that can send messages on behalf of your domain, it doesn’t offer a mechanism to verify whether the message headers or body have been altered or forged while in transit.

DKIM works like this:

  • A domain administrator publishes a cryptographic public key in the domain’s overall DNS records.
  • An outbound email server generates and attaches a unique DKIM signature header to each message it sends. The header includes two cryptographic hashes – one of the specified headers and one of the message body (or part of it) – as well as information about how the signature was generated.
  • When an inbound mail server receives an email, it looks up the sender’s DKIM key in DNS and uses it to decrypt the signature and compare it against a freshly computed version. If the two match, the message can be assumed to be authentic and unaltered in transit.

A DKIM signature is a little more complicated to create than an SPF record, but it adds another layer of security that helps keep bad actors from impersonating your business. It looks like this:

DKIM-Signature: v=1; a=rsa-sha256; c=relaxed/relaxed;
d=really-bigbank.com; s=sendemail;
h=from:content-transfer-encoding:subject:message-id:dat
e:to:mime-version;
bh=ZkwViLQ8B7I9vFIen3+/FXErUuKv33PmCuZAwpem
Gco=;
b=kF31DkXsbP5bMGzOwivNE4fmMKX5W2/Yq0YqXD4
Og1fPT6ViqB35uLxLGGhHv2lqXBWwFhODPVPauUXxR
YEpMsuisdU5TgYmbwSJYYrFLFj5ZWTZ7VGgg6/nI1ho
PWbzDaL9qh

Here’s how to read those tags:

  • “v=1” should always be there, since it indicates the signature specification version
  • “a=” is the algorithm used to generate the signature; it should be “rhsa-sha256” unless there’s a reason to use something else
  • “c=” is an optional tag that defines what kinds of minor modifications may be present in the email, such as extra white space, after it was sent, which can happen with some kinds of mail servers; this helps keep the receiving mail server from rejecting a legitimate email
  • “d=” is the sending domain; that tag is used with “s=,” which is the selector record name used to locate the public key in DNS
  • “h=” is a list of headers used by the signing algorithm to create the hash in the “b=” tag
  • “bh=” is the message body hash

You can learn more about the specifics of implementing DKIM in an explainer we created.

Implementing SPF and DKIM help keep bad actors from sending emails that look like they’re coming from your business, but you should keep reading to learn how to add DMARC for a complete email authentication solution.

Step 3: Add DMARC to the Foundation Created by SPF and DKIM

DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance) is a technical standard that allows a company to publish a policy that defines its email authentication practices and provides instructions to inbound mail servers for enforcing them. It wraps around the SPF and DKIM authentication standards to enable a complete email sending solution.

This is important because neither SPF or DKIM alert you to malicious messages that managed to bypass both safeguards. That’s where DMARC comes into play.

Like SPF and DKIM, DMARC supplements SMTP and piggybacks on DNS. It works like this:

  • A domain administrator creates a policy defining its organization’s email authentication practices and how receiving email servers should handle messages that violate it. The policy is included in the company’s DNS overall DNS records.
  • When an inbound mail server receives a message, it uses DNS to look up the DMARC policy for the domain contained in the “From” header. The server evaluates the message for three key factors:
    • Was the message’s DKIM signature validated?
    • Did the message come from IP addresses allowed by the sending domain’s SPF record?
    • Do the message headers show proper domain alignment? (For SPF, the message’s From domain and Return-Path domain must match. For DKIM, the message’s From domain and its DKIM “d=” domain must match.)
  • After answering the questions in the previous step, the inbound mail server uses the sending domain’s DMARC policy to decide whether to accept, reject, or otherwise flag the message.
  • After making the decision in the previous step, the inbound mail server reports the outcome to the sending domain owner.

Like an SPF record, a DMARC record is a specially-formatted version of a standard DNS TXT file. It looks like this:

_dmarc.really-bigbank.com. IN TXT "v=DMARC1\; p=none\; rua=mailto:dmarc-aggregate@
 really-bigbank.com\; ruf=mailto:dmarc-afrf@ really-bigbank.com\; pct=100"

Reading left to right, it says:

  • “v=DMARC1” is the DMARC version
  • “p=” is the policy that should be applied when a message fails the DMARC check:
    • “none” means you want no action to be taken, which can be useful when you first implement DMARC and want to spend some time receiving and analyzing reports
    • “quarantine” means to quarantine the email, which typically means that it ends up in the recipient’s junk mail folder
    • “reject” means the email should be rejected
  • “rua=” is the address where aggregate reports should be sent; these daily reports include information about message sources, domains used to send messages, sending IP addresses, and the number of messages sent on a specific date
  • “ruf=” is the address where forensic reports should be sent; this report includes a copy of an email that failed DMARC validation as well as any SPF and DKIM failures, minus any personally identifiable information
  • “pct=” is the percentage of messages that the policy should be applied to

Aggregate reports are XML documents designed to be machine-readable, so accumulated data can be easily analyzed over time. Forensic reports use a special format called AFRF and are useful for troubleshooting a domain’s authentication issues as well as identifying malicious domains and websites.

When you first implement DMARC, it can be useful to apply no policy to all messages for at least the first few days. You can use the aggregate reports to monitor the situation. Over time, you can start quarantining failed emails, first at a low percentage (5% or 10%) and then ramping that up over time.

After you spend some time quarantining 100% of emails that fail DMARC, you can switch to the reject policy and start at a low percentage again. Increase that percentage over time until you reach 100%. Use forensic reports in addition to aggregate ones to decide how quickly you should reach 100%.

The State of DMARC Implementation

Recent research shows that just half of Fortune 500 companies have deployed DMARC policies, and a whopping 99% of domains worldwide are unprotected by it. While it’s possible to use SPF and DKIM without adding on DMARC, those standards don’t help you take action against bad actors, since inbound mail servers don’t give you reports without a DMARC policy in place.

If your company hasn’t implemented SPF, DKIM, and DMARC yet, you should do so as soon as possible to not only protect your employees but also preserve brand trust among consumers.

~ Casey

The post 3 Free Email Security Standards That Can Help You Preserve Brand Trust appeared first on SparkPost.

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Building an Email Archiving System: Storing the Email Body – Part 2 https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/building-an-email-archiving-system-storing-the-email-body-part-2-of-4/ Mon, 04 Mar 2019 14:00:02 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=43505 email bodyOur Senior Messaging Engineer describes the process he went through to store the email body onto S3 and ancillary data into a MySQL table.

The post Building an Email Archiving System: Storing the Email Body – Part 2 appeared first on SparkPost.

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* This blog is addressing the process(s) in green

In this blog, I will describe the process I went through to store the body of the email onto S3 (Amazon’s Simple Store Service) and ancillary data into a MySQL table for easy cross-referencing. Ultimately, this is the starting point for the code base that will include an application that will allow for easy searching of archived emails, and then displaying those emails along with the event (log) data. The code for this project can be found in the following GitHub repository: https://github.com/jeff-goldstein/PHPArchivePlatform.

While I will leverage S3 and MySQL in this project, by no means are these the only technologies that can be used to build an archiving platform, but given their ubiquity, I thought they were a good choice for this project. In a full-scale high volume system I would use a higher performance database than MySQL, but for this sample project, MySQL is perfect.

I have detailed below, the steps I took in this first phase of the project:

  1. Creating the duplicate email for archiving
  2. Use SparkPost’s Archiving and Inbound Relay features to send a copy of the original email back to SparkPost for processing into a JSON structure, then sent to a webhook collector (application)
  3. Dismantle the JSON structure to obtain the components necessary
  4. Send the body of the email to S3 for storage
  5. Log an entry into MySQL for each email for cross-referencing

Creating a Duplicate of the Email

In SparkPost the best way to archive an email is to create an identical copy of the email specifically designed for archival purposes. This is done by using SparkPost’s Archive feature. SparkPost’s Archive feature gives the sender the ability to send a duplicate of the email to one or more email address.  This duplicate uses the same tracking and open links as the original. The SparkPost documentation defines the Archive feature in the following way:

Recipients in the archive list will receive an exact replica of the message that was sent to the RCPT TO address. In particular, any encoded links intended for the RCPT TO recipient will be identical in the archive messages

The only difference between this archive copy and the original RCPT TO email is that some of the headers will be different since the target address for the archiving email is different, but the body of the email will be an exact replica!

If you want a deeper explanation, here is a link to the SparkPost documentation on creating duplicate (or archive) copies of an email. Sample X-MSYS-API headers for this project are shown later in this blog.

There is one caveat to this approach; while all of the event information in the original email is tied together by both a transmission_id and a message_id, there is no information in the inbound relay event (the mechanism for obtaining and disseminating the archive email) for the duplicate email that ties back to one of those two id’s and thus the information for the original email. This means we need to place data in the email body and the header of the original email as a way to tie together all of the SparkPost data from the original and archive email.

In order to create the code that is placed into the email body, I used the following process in the email creation application.

  1. Somewhere in the email body, I placed the following input entry:
    <input name="ArchiveCode" type="hidden" value="<<UID>>">
  2. Then I created a unique code and replaced the <<UID>> field:
    $uid = md5(uniqid(rand(), true));
    $emailBody = str_replace(“<<UID>>,$uid,$emailBody);

    Here is an example output:
    <input name="ArchiveCode" type="hidden" value="00006365263145">
  3. Next, I made sure I added the $UID to the meta_data block of the X-MSYS-API header. This step makes sure that the UID is embedded into each event output for the original email:

X-MSYS-API:{  
   "campaign_id":"<my_campaign>",
   "metadata":{  
      "UID":"<UID>"
   },
   "archive":[  
      {  
         "email":"archive@geekwithapersonality.com"
      }
   ],
   "options":{  
      "open_tracking":false,
      "click_tracking":false,
      "transactional":false,
      "ip_pool":"<my_ip_pool>"
   }
}

Now we have a way to tie all of the data from the original email to the email body of the archive.

Obtaining the Archive version

In order to obtain a copy of an email for archive, you need to take the following steps:

  1. Create a subdomain that you will send all archive (duplicate) email(s) to
  2. Set the appropriate DNS records to have all emails sent to that subdomain to SparkPost
  3. Create an inbound domain in SparkPost
  4. Create an inbound webhook in SparkPost
  5. Create an application (collector) to receive the SparkPost webhook data stream

The following two links can be used to help guide you through this process:

  1. SparkPost technical doc: Enabling Inbound Email Relaying & Relay Webhooks
  2. Also, the blog I wrote last year, Archiving Emails: A How-To Guide for Tracking Sent Mail will walk you through the creation of the inbound relay within SparkPost

* Note: as of Oct 2018, the Archive feature only works when sending emails using an SMTP connection to SparkPost, the RESTful API does not support this feature.  That probably isn’t an issue because most emails that need this level of audit control tend to be personalized emails that are fully built out by a backend application before email delivery is needed.

Obtaining the duplicate email in a JSON structure

In the first phase of this project, all I’m storing is the rfc822 email format in S3 and some high-level description fields into a SQL table for searching.  Since SparkPost will send the email data in a JSON structure to my archiving platform via webhook data streams, I built an application (often referred to as a collector) that accepts the Relay_Webhook data stream.

Each package from the SparkPost Relay_Webhook will contain the information of one duplicate email at a time, so breaking the JSON structure down into the targeted components for this project is rather straightforward.  In my PHP code, getting the rfc822 formatted email was as easy as the following few lines of code:

if ($verb == "POST") {
    $body = file_get_contents("php://input");
    $fields = json_decode($body, true);
    $rfc822body = 
$fields['0']['msys']['relay_message']['content']['email_rfc822'];
    $htmlbody = 
$fields['0']['msys']['relay_message']['content'][html']
    $headers = 
$fields['0']['msys']['relay_message']['content']['headers'];}

Some of the information that I want to store into my SQL table resides in an array of header fields.  So I wrote a small function that accepted the header array and looped through the array in order to obtain the data I was interested in storing:

function get_important_headers($headers, &$original_to, &$headerDate, &$subject, &$from)
{
   foreach ($headers as $key => $value) {
       foreach ($value as $key_sub => $value_sub) {
           if ($key_sub == 'To') $original_to = $value_sub;
           if ($key_sub == 'Date') $headerDate = $value_sub;
           if ($key_sub == 'Subject') $subject = $value_sub;
           if ($key_sub == 'From') $from = $value_sub;
       }
   }
}

Now that I have the data, I am ready to store the body into S3.

Storing the duplicate email in S3

I’m sorry to disappoint you but I’m not going to give a step by step tutorial on creating an S3 bucket for storing the email nor am I going to describe how to create the necessary access key you will need in your application for uploading content to your bucket; there are better tutorials on this subject than I could ever write.  Here a couple of articles that may help:

https://docs.aws.amazon.com/quickstarts/latest/s3backup/step-1-create-bucket.html
https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/security/wheres-my-secret-access-key/

What I will do is to point out some of the settings that I chose that pertain to a project like this.

  1. Access Control.  You not only need to set the security for the bucket, but you need to set the permissions for the items themselves.  In my project, I use a very open policy of public-read because the sample data is not personal and I wanted easy access to the data.  You will probably want a much stricter set of ACL policies. Here is a nice article on ACL settings:
 https://docs.aws.amazon.com/AmazonS3/latest/dev/acl-overview.html
  2. Archiving the Archive. In S3 there is something called Lifecycle Management.  This allows you to move data from one type of S3 storage class to another.  The different storage classes represent the amount of access you need to the stored data with lower costs associated with the storage you access the least. A good write up of the different classes and transitioning through them can be found in an AWS guide called, Transitioning Objects. In my case, I chose to create a lifecycle that moved each object from Standard to Glacier after one year. Glacier access is much cheaper than the standard S3 archive and will save me money in storage costs.

Once I have the S3 bucket created and my settings in place, S3 is ready for me to upload the rfc822 compliant email that I obtained from the SparkPost Relay Webhook data stream. But before uploading the rfc822 email payload to S3 I need to create a unique filename that I will use to store that email.

For the unique filename, I’m going to search the email body for the hidden id that the sending application placed into the email and use that id as the name of the file. There are more elegant ways to pull the connectorId from the html body, but for simplicity and clarity I’m going to use the following code:

       $start = strpos($htmlbody, $inputField);  
       $start = strpos($htmlbody, "value=", $start) + 7;
       $end = strpos($htmlbody, ">", $start) - 1;
       $length = $end - $start;
       $UID = substr($html, $start, $length);

* we are assuming that $inputField holds the value “ArchiveCode” and was found in my config.php file.

With the UID, we can then make the filename that will be used in S3:

$fileName = $ArchiveDirectory . '/' . $UID . '.eml';

Now I’m able to open up my connection to S3 and upload the file. If you look at the s3.php file in the GitHub repository you will see that it takes very little code to upload the file.

My last step is to log this entry into the MYSQL table.

Storing the Meta Data in MySQL

We grabbed all of the data necessary in a previous step, so the step of storage is easy.  In this first phase I chose to build a table with the following fields:

  • An automated field entry for date/time
  • The target email address (RCPT_TO)
  • The timestamp from the email DATE header
  • The SUBJECT Header
  • The FROM email address header
  • The directory used in the S3 bucket
  • The S3 filename for the archived email

The function named, MySQLLog within the upload.php application file goes through the necessary steps to open the link to MySQL, inject the new row, test the results and close the link. I do add one other step for good measure and that is to log this data into a text file. Should I do a lot more logging for errors? Yes. But I do want to keep this code lite in order to allow it to run extremely fast. At times this code will be called hundreds of times per minute and needs to be as efficient as possible. In future updates, I will add ancillary code that will process failures and email those failures to an admin for monitoring.

Wrapping it up

So in a few fairly easy steps, we were able to walk through the first phase of building a robust email archiving system that holds the email duplicate in S3 and cross-referencing data in a MySQL table.  This will give us a foundation for the rest of the project that will be tackled in several future posts.

In future revisions of this project I would expect to:

  1. Store all log events of the original email
  2. Send storage errors to an admin when a failure to upload or log happens
  3. Minimize the collector complexity.
  4. Add a UI for viewing all data
  5. Support the ability to resend the email

In the meantime, I hope this project has been interesting and helpful to you; happy sending.

~ Jeff

The post Building an Email Archiving System: Storing the Email Body – Part 2 appeared first on SparkPost.

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Email Strategies Worth Investing In https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/email-strategies-worth-investing/ Fri, 01 Mar 2019 14:00:51 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=43483 Email Strategies Worth InvestingOur new ebook, Email Strategies Worth Investing In, showcases examples of successful financial services emails from real financial services companies.

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Years ago the financial services industry relied more heavily on face-to-face interactions between customers and financial professionals like tellers and advisors. Nowadays, with the rise of technology, there is much less need for customers to enter a physical branch of a bank to have their requests addressed. Rather, customers rely on in-app and mobile OS notifications, SMS messages, and emails to keep track of deposits, withdrawals, payments sent and received, and more. Due to the sensitive nature of banking and personal finance, email is the backbone of communication between banks and customers as email messages are easier to save and refer back to than messaging through other communication channels. In fact, a 2018 study found email to be the top channel used by financial services companies to communicate with customers and prospects. More than that, a 2017 study indicated that the financial services industry leads all other verticals in email open rates (35.7%). With all of this in mind, how can financial services businesses effectively leverage email, a communication channel that is no doubt integral to the financial services industry?

Our new ebook, Email Strategies Worth Investing In, is designed to answer this question by showcasing examples of successful financial services emails from real financial institutions, banks, and fintech companies. We created this guide to help you craft a holistic email strategy that covers the entire customer lifestyle. The guide explores the most important use cases for sending email to your customers and guidelines on how to incorporate them into your strategy.

In this guide you will learn about:

  • The different types of financial services emails
  • Email best practices for financial services customer communications
  • How to build a relationship with your customers based on security and trust
  • Tons of examples of great triggered, transactional, and promotional financial services emails

Whether you’re a seasoned financial services email marketer or just learning the ropes, this guide will provide clear action items and steps you can take to improve your business’ email program. Download Email Strategies Worth Investing In now to dive into financial services email guidelines you can bank on.

~ Erica

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Email Marketing for Fiserv: How to be Compliant Without Breaking the Bank https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/email-marketing-fiserv-compliant-without-breaking-bank/ Wed, 27 Feb 2019 14:00:21 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=43461 FiservDiscover how to design a Fiserv email campaign that is compliant with recent regulations and directives without exceeding your budget.

The post Email Marketing for Fiserv: How to be Compliant Without Breaking the Bank appeared first on SparkPost.

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Financial services is without a doubt one of the world’s most regulated industries. It always has been. This traditional, thriving and ever-evolving sector is accustomed to complying with directives and regulations in almost every aspect of its operations, and customer-facing communication is no exception.

In email marketing, regulatory compliance is a requirement, and that applies to both B2B and retail banking. But, this doesn’t mean that the FCA is giving organizations a run for their money. The purpose is to protect markets, businesses and clients alike by establishing transparent rules of conduct. The Markets in Financial Instruments Directive is a case in point. The latest update to MiFID was introduced at the beginning of 2018 with the aim of improving transparency and trade reporting in European financial markets, but also to further protect businesses and consumers. MiFID II provides a framework for promotional and customer engagement activities run by Financial Services organizations including traditional banks and FinTechs and requires a specific approach when it comes to the context and tone of communications.

When designing an email campaign for the financial services industry, keep these guidelines in mind:

  • Marketing material and correspondence sent to existing or potential customers must comply with MiFID II. That includes promotions and disclosure of fees.
  • MiFID II demands language that is “fair, clear and not misleading.” This of course is good practice for marketing communications generally but has now become compulsory for financial services organizations in Europe.
  •  Marketing material should provide specific details about the anticipated performance of financial instruments and investments.
  •  Warnings about risk must be prominent and clearly displayed in the same font type/size used for marketing content.
  • Marketing assets must be retained for at least five years.

Compliance can be expensive – the cost to the financial services industry as a whole is estimated to be over $2B – but it doesn’t have to “break the bank.”  The market is evolving rapidly and with the strict regulations now in place, following best practices and leveraging email platform analytics will help banks and FinTechs to operate within the regulatory guidelines without having to invest in onerous compliance resources or compromising the outcome of their marketing campaigns.

~ Greg

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Gmail’s Promotions Tab: Friend or Foe? https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/gmails-promotions-tab-friend-foe/ Mon, 25 Feb 2019 14:00:44 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=43404 Gmail's Promotions tabDiscover how Gmail's Promotions tab makes life easier for their users and can potentially help increase open rates on your marketing messages.

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One of the most common requests I get from our customers is to help them get their marketing messages into Gmail’s Primary tab rather than Gmail’s Promotions tab.

Gmail introduced “tabs” and “new inbox” in May 2013.  The new inbox routes incoming mail into categories which appear as different tabs: Primary, Social, Promotions, Updates, and Forums. This way you can simply choose which categories you want and organize your inbox in a way that lets you see what’s new at a glance.

This new inbox created a sudden panic amongst marketers as they feared that the routing of marketing emails to the Promotions tab would decrease the chances of their messages being seen and accordingly would cause a drop in open rates and revenue.

Some companies started getting creative and deployed scripts, while others encouraged their subscribers to create plugins to overwrite the tabs. Unsurprisingly, these “solutions” didn’t work for long.

There were two points marketers were missing:

1.  The Promotions tab is not the same as the Spam folder

All of the tabs from Primary to Updates are all considered to be “inbox”. The Spam folder, on the other hand, is a completely different story. If your messages are routed to the Spam folder, it means a high amount of people have marked your emails as such.

2. The Promotions tab is part of the inbox 

The Promotions tab is just a different category of messages in the inbox. It basically routes marketing messages to a unique tab so the end user can review marketing emails all in one place.

Now, almost 6 years after Gmail’s introduction of tabs to the email world, marketers have noticed that having marketing messages routed to the Promotions tab can potentially increase open rates. Given that most of us receive a very high number of emails per day, from our friends, e-commerce sites, social networking sites, and banking sites, it has become more and more challenging to prioritize which messages we need to focus on first. There is a higher chance of people reporting spam on marketing emails if they end up in the Primary tab.

The reality is that there is no golden rule to get marketing messages into the Primary tab! So, please don’t fight the tabs. They are designed to make life easy for Gmail users and increase the chance that marketing emails are read. If you’re interested in learning more about deliverability best practices check out our eBook: The New Rules of Email Deliverability.

~ Kate

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3 Key Ways Financial Services Emails Have Changed https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/3-key-ways-financial-services-emails-changed/ Fri, 22 Feb 2019 14:00:44 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=43380 financial services emailsRead about three important trends in financial services emails that institutions should pay attention to as they continue to engage consumers via email.

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Email may be the oldest direct-to-consumers digital channel still around, but it’s not going away any time soon. In fact, The Financial Brand found that 70% of all consumers (and 72.1% of older Millennials) think email will still be around in a decade, more than any communication channel they were asked about, including cable TV and social media.

Given email’s continued longevity, we’re highlighting three important trends in financial services emails that institutions should pay attention to as they continue to engage consumers through their inboxes.

Protecting users’ data privacy: then and now

Consumers have become increasingly vigilant about ensuring that all businesses protect their data, particularly in the financial services vertical. A Harris Poll survey conducted in seven countries found that 75% of adults will not buy a product from a company – no matter how great its products are – if they don’t trust that company to protect their data.

The European Union has long been strict about how companies handle its citizens’ private data. The Data Protection Directive (DPD) adopted in 1995 outlined seven principles that regulated the collection and processing of personal data, including names, addresses, government-issued ID numbers, credit card numbers, and bank statements. It affected all companies that handled data within the EU, including businesses physically located outside the EU that conduct transactions within its borders.

However, enforcement of the directive was difficult and expensive, due to the differing privacy laws in the EU member states, which led to the development of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The GDPR went into effect in May 2018 across the EU, ensuring that companies would no longer have to take different laws into account. Like the DPD, companies must comply with it when handling EU citizens’ data, even if those businesses are headquartered outside the EU.

Data privacy rights under today’s GDPR

The GDPR offers EU citizens several rights, including:

  • An explicit consent requirement for the collection of personal data
  • A 72-hour deadline for breach notifications
  • The ability to request a copy of personal data and know how it’s processed
  • A data erasure option (“right to be forgotten”)
  • Control over moving data from one company to another

In addition, the GDPR requires companies to include data privacy in the foundation of all systems designs and to appoint Data Protection Officers who have specific duties.

The GDPR doesn’t affect sending email, as long as the company has the consent of EU citizens. There’s no specific data retention requirement, including email storage, but the “right to be forgotten” may be superseded if the company needs to retain user data to comply with a legal obligation, such as financial regulations. There are other exceptions too.

Email as a vector for cyber attacks: then and now

Cybercrime in the financial services community is sharply rising. According to IntSights Cyber Intelligence, the average number of cyber attacks per US bank was 520 during the first half of 2018, more than double the 207 recorded in the first half of 2017. Many of those assaults happen through increasingly sophisticated phishing, spear phishing, and spoofing efforts that trick email recipients into clicking malicious links.

Part of the reason for email being a popular vehicle for cyber attacks is its use of SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol), which was developed in 1982 and has no authentication mechanisms. In the early 2000s, two standards were developed that layered authentication controls onto SMTP:

  • SPF (Sender Policy Framework): This standard defines a way to validate that an email was sent from an authorized email server.
  • DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail): This authentication method adds a digital signature to an email header. An inbound mail server validates it against a public cryptographic key in the sending organization’s public DNS records.

Wrapping SPF and DKIM into today’s DMARC security protocol

While SPF and DKIM are useful for reducing malicious email, neither of them allow domain owners to specify how unauthorized emails should be handled by inbound mail servers. DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance) does that by allowing companies to publish policies that define their email authentication practices and provide instructions for enforcing them.

With DMARC in place, an inbound mail server uses that policy to determine whether to accept, reject, or quarantine a message. Email senders can use DMARC to receive aggregate reports that show how many emails were rejected and quarantined, as well as forensic reports that help administrators troubleshoot authentication issues and identify malicious domains and websites.

SPF, DKIM, and DMARC are free to implement and aren’t difficult to use. While the five largest banks in the U.S. have deployed DMARC, only 11 of the top 50 banks in the U.S., and 9 of the 50 largest banks in Europe, are using it, according to the Global Cyber Alliance.

Email design: then and now

In 2011, mobile device users accounted for just 8% of email opens, according to Litmus. Back then, designers had a larger canvas to work with because they could assume that most people were opening emails on their computers.

However, Litmus saw email opens on mobile devices leap to 46% in June 2018, and the company believes that percentage could actually be 67% when accounting for the fact that Gmail counts email opens the same whether they happen in a web browser or in a mobile app. Litmus made the adjustment because Google says 75% of Gmail users access email on mobile devices.

3 characteristics of modern financial services emails

Given how many people open email on mobile devices today, it’s imperative that financial services companies adopt a “mobile first” mindset. There are three key ways they can do that:

  • Make emails mobile responsive: Like the way responsive websites automatically adapt to the user’s device, responsive emails adjust their layouts on mobile so recipients can read them without zooming in and scrolling around.
  • Use the highest resolution images possible: Many people own mobile devices with high-definition displays, so senders should ensure logos and photos don’t look pixelated when they open emails.
  • Take advantage of preheader text: Also known as preview text, this is a short snippet that appears below the subject line. It’s valuable for prompting people to open emails – if the preheader text isn’t specified, the mobile email client will default to something like, “Click here to view this email online with images.”

Get started

Financial services companies should consider those three trends when creating emails and sending them to consumers, so they help protect users’ privacy, fend off the bad guys, and keep engagement rates high.

~ Casey

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On-Premises and Cloud: Putting the Pieces Together https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/webinar-on-premises-and-cloud-putting-pieces-together/ Wed, 20 Feb 2019 14:00:01 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=43368 on-premisesIn our upcoming webinar, hear directly from our team of on-premises experts about how to confidently use both on-prem and cloud email solutions.

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If you have an on-premises email solution today, you know how much work it is to maintain the database, spin up new servers, worry about bandwidth and capacity, and have recommendations ready for when your ISP goes down or power goes out.

Beyond the database portion and building up your own environment, the email metrics are nothing to write home about. There is no way to see open or click metrics and no way to really check to see if a campaign did well or look at historical performance of campaigns over time. And the truth is, many folks turn to outside consultants to help bridge the knowledge gap and the ongoing maintenance, which can be costly over time.

While moving your email infrastructure to the cloud may sound like a daunting hassle, what if I told you it’s really not all that hard. In fact, there are many options that you have at your fingertips today as an on-premises user that can get you real-time analytics and the email expertise at your fingertips, without having to hire a consultant or a dba.

In our upcoming webinar, “On-Premises and Cloud: Putting the Pieces Together,” you’ll have an opportunity to hear directly from our team of on-premises experts about how to confidently use both on-prem and cloud solutions as well as what it really means to migrate completely to the cloud. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find out it’s not as painful as you think.

Register to hear our experts speak about:

  • The pros and cons of deploying Momentum or PowerMTA in cloud services
  • How to downsize physical data centers and cut costs·
  • SparkPost’s cloud offering and how it works
  • SparkPost’s new features including BYOIP and SparkPost Signals for on-prem
  • How you can leverage PowerMTA or Momentum with SparkPost
  • Implementation of hybrid on-prem/cloud solutions
  • BONUS: Upcoming networking events with our partners for our on-prem customers

Hope to see you there!

~ Tracy

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5 Valentine’s Day Cards for the Email Geeks in your Life https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/5-valentines-day-cards-email-geeks-life/ Thu, 14 Feb 2019 14:00:49 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=43312 Valentine's DayWe’ve put together 5 Valentine's Day cards with tasteful copy and graphic design so all you have to do is just download and send to your email geek.

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Today is the day to make a grand gesture and let that special email geek in your life know how you really feel about them. Unfortunately, sometimes it can be hard to find the right words to let someone know exactly just how great you think they are. Luckily for you, we’ve put together 5 Valentine’s Day cards with extremely thoughtful copy and tasteful graphic design so all you have to do is just download and send to your email geek. These cards will have your valentine saying, “You shouldn’t have, no…really, you shouldn’t have.”

We are SO excited to provide you with these cards so you can focus less on thinking of something unique and meaningful to say to your special someone and more time on your one true love: email.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

-Erica

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How to Create a Seamless Omni-Channel Marketing Program with MessageBird and SparkPost https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/how-to-create-a-seamless-omni-channel-marketing-program-with-messagebird-and-sparkpost/ Wed, 13 Feb 2019 14:00:35 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=43304 Learn how our partnership with MessageBird provides enterprises with a solid path to enhance customer experience by employing the best technology available.

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Here’s a fact: 15 years ago, the average consumer typically used two touch-points when buying an item and only 7% regularly used more than four. Today though, consumers use an average of almost six touch-points, with nearly 50% regularly using more than four. And they expect the same rich experience during all interactions with a brand.

Delivering that experience is not as easy as it sounds. Many companies are off message with their customer service; while consumers are well aware of a brand’s shortcomings. In fact, a Zendesk study showed that 87% believe that brands need to work harder to create a seamless customer experience. And while email remains the king of ROI, businesses across the globe are looking for ways to unify and enhance company-customer interactions and ensure a high level of service for consumers.

They need look no further. Yesterday, we announced a strategic partnership agreement with MessageBird to extend the communications channels available to businesses. MessageBird is the cloud communications platform that has been connecting companies to their customers on billions of devices since 2011. As part of the agreement, SparkPost will extend the MessageBird cloud communications platform to our customers, while MessageBird further extends its omnichannel capabilities by making SparkPost email available via its popular Programmable Conversations API.

This agreement provides enterprises with a solid path to enhance customer experience by employing the best technology available; both MessageBird and SparkPost are leaders in their respective markets, with proven experience at helping businesses reach their business objectives.

Through our partnership with MessageBird, we can offer businesses seamless access to an even broader range of communications solutions to enhance customer engagement. Our customers can now leverage the highly scalable MessageBird platform to send messages with unrivaled speed and reliability anywhere in the world. Conversely, MessageBird adds the ability to send email via its popular Programmable Conversations API, which unifies customer interactions across multiple channels into a single conversation thread. The partnership with SparkPost provides businesses with a complete omnichannel experience that includes the highest email deliverability possible by the world’s most popular email solution.

Why should companies consider this? Here’s three good reasons:

  • Customer retention: Companies with strong omnichannel engagement strategies retain 89% of their customers (Invesp).
  • Increased customer value: Omnichannel customers have a 30% higher lifetime value than those who shop using only one channel (IDC).
  • Increased revenue: People are willing to pay up to 15% more for a great consumer experience (PwC).

To find out more, visit www.messagebird.com/en/email

-Silvana

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Dating Apps and Triggered Email: It’s a Match! https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/dating-apps-triggered-email-match/ Mon, 11 Feb 2019 14:00:33 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=43283 dating appsCheck out how dating apps like Tinder, Hinge, and Coffee Meets Bagel use app-generated email to simplify and streamline their users’ love lives.

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Somewhere along the way Cupid stopped shooting arrows and started sending emails. It’s hard to say exactly when this shift happened but I’d guess it was sometime around 1995 when Match.com was first launched. For nearly a quarter of a century, people have turned to the internet to find love through websites and since 2009 through dating apps. While most users interact with brands like Tinder, Hinge, and Coffee Meets Bagel through their mobile apps, the user experience these dating apps provide would not be complete without their unique triggered email programs, respectively.

Check out how Tinder, Hinge, and Coffee Meets Bagel employ app-generated email to simplify and streamline their users’ love lives:

It’s a Match!

Tinder, which amongst other things is known for creating “double opt-in” technology in which two users must both mutually like each other (or “swipe right”) for the app to deem the interaction a “match”. Scoring a Tinder match can feel super exciting, particularly when you’re very interested in the person who swiped right on you. Maybe it was her totally original shot in front of an angel wings mural or the impressive fish he’s holding in every photo, but something caught your attention. But, what happens when you’re too busy to check Tinder or have your push notifications turned off? Do you completely miss out on these match opportunities?

Lucky for singles everywhere, Tinder sends out triggered email messages when users are matched. These minimalistic branded emails allow users to easily engage with the app as when the email is viewed on a mobile device the “Find Out Who” CTA button in the email opens up the Tinder app directly to the page that displays a user’s matches. More than that, when clicked on, the “turn on push notifications” hyperlink leads directly to the settings page of Tinder’s app. These app-generated emails lead users directly back to the app itself, creating a seamless full-circle customer experience.

We Think You Two Should Meet!

Hinge which originally launched in 2012, made use of the same “double opt-in” initially popularized by Tinder. However, in 2017 they relaunched with a new UI that completely disrupted Tinder’s (and nearly every other dating app’s) “Swipe Right – Swipe Left” paradigm. Hinge’s new design requires users to read others’ profiles and like a specific part of a profile rather than swiping quickly and making snap judgments about other users. In addition to the new design, Hinge also recommends users to one another based on their algorithm and user data. Just in the same way Hinge’s design requires users to spend more time looking at each profile, Hinge also spends time “hand-selecting” recommendations for a more curated experience. Accordingly, when one of these recommendations is created Hinge sends an app-generated email notification:

Hinge’s transactional emails not only highlight their unique recommendation feature but also cleverly invite users to engage with the app even though they don’t necessarily have a new match. Similar to the button in Tinder’s transactional Match emails, the light green “View” CTA button in Hinge’s email when viewed on a mobile device leads directly to the user’s profile the app has recommended. Almost instantaneously, users are able to look at a curated potential match, and even if the recommendation isn’t spot-on Hinge has brought users back on to their app where they can continue scouting for potential matches that are more to their liking.

Check your Bagels!

Coffee Meets Bagel creates a curated experience by offering a finite amount of potential matches (which they call Bagels) for users to consider once a day. Each day at noon, Coffee Meets Bagel sends out a push notification paired with a triggered email to remind users to check their Bagels. Because Bagels “expire” after 24 hours it’s imperative that users check their batch of Bagels everyday in order to see the most amount of profiles and conversely, have their profile shown to people they’re interested in.Each of Coffee Meets Bagel’s app-generated email’s subject lines contain the daily push notification. The body of each email, however, is identical and reminds users about the necessary urgency of checking their Bagels each day. Following the same convention as Tinder and Hinge, the “Check Now” button opens up Coffee Meets Bagel’s app so users can check out their batch of piping hot Bagels. The gamified nature of the app and corresponding frequency of their app-generated emails encourages users to build a daily ritual around checking the app– something I might add that can be hard to do discreetly at work…😏

While Tinder, Hinge, and Coffee Meets Bagel are certainly not the only dating apps out there communicating with customers via triggered emails, their three different spins on the technology show the importance of app-generated email within the dating space. When it comes to a new match, a promising recommendation, or a potentially great first date, scouting singles deserve encouraging and timely notifications. We may be biased, but the key to finding love may just be checking your email!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Erica

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Looking Closer at 4 of the Most Innovative Fintech Companies https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/looking-closer-4-innovative-fintech-companies/ Fri, 08 Feb 2019 14:00:17 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=43256 fintech companiesCheck out these four examples of fintech companies that have made their apps and websites pleasurable to use while adhering to the law.

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It’s not hard to find examples of financial services companies that struggle with updating the decades-old ways they do business for the modern world. Regulations hamper them to some degree, forcing them to, for example, make onboarding more tedious than signing up for a social network.

However, there are fintech companies out there that have figured out how to make their apps and websites pleasurable to use while adhering to the law. Here are four aspects of a fintech app or website that you should pay attention to during the development phase, along with examples of companies that do those things well.

Onboarding: Setting users up for success

Many financial services companies struggle to bolt modern sensibilities onto user interfaces that were first built during the early days of the web. As a result, their sign-up and onboarding flows can be difficult to navigate, with legacy UI elements competing with newer technologies.

Acorns, however, has figured out how to make onboarding enjoyable, or at least as enjoyable as an app that encourages people to save money can be. The company took an old idea – tossing spare change in a jar – and modernized it by rounding up users’ credit and debit card purchases to the nearest dollar and investing the spare change for them.

Acorns users also benefit when they make purchases from companies like Nike and Airbnb, and they can simply transfer money into their accounts on a one-time basis or according to a schedule. The service offers a “set it and forget it” way of saving money.

When users install and launch the Acorns app, they’re greeted with a clean onboarding process that employs just five screens to explain what the service does. Engaging animations and brief, straight-to-the-point text make a subject that could feel like drudgery into something light and enjoyable.

However, the rubber meets the road in any app when the time comes to sign up for the service. In the financial space, companies must figure out how to abide by regulations while keeping new users from getting bogged down in lots of legalese and clicking or tapping.

On the other hand, a breezy sign-up process cannot only possibly expose a company to legal liability but can also worry new users that the service isn’t as secure as it should be. If someone just has to enter an email address and a password to get started, does that mean the company will be on the ball when it comes to protecting their account?

Acorns does a good job of walking that line by making it as easy as possible to create an account while abiding by legal requirements with the link to the program agreement. Indicators show that the user has entered a valid email address and created a sufficient password, so there’s no “Oops, you need to go back and fix something” message when tapping Create Account.

Before the user links their bank account, Acorns takes a moment to insert a visual reminder of the benefit they offer, which helps reassure people who may have glossed over the earlier explanatory screens. And when the time comes to enter personal information, including a Social Security number, Acorns gets straight to the point and notes that this is a requirement for opening an investment account. Note that they’ve built in a handy auto-complete function for the Contact Information screen.

The final part of the onboarding process involves choosing an investment portfolio based on answers to a few questions about income and assets. (Acorns asks for income and asset ranges, rather than specific amounts.) Then it produces a handy screen that breaks down the user’s portfolio in a pie chart and leaves them with some words of wisdom from Warren Buffet.

Using the app: Ensuring users come back for more

Of course, getting a new user signed up is just half the battle (or less). They need a reason to stay engaged with an app or website, constantly finding new things to do or, at a minimum, needing to regularly check on their accounts.

The investing app Robinhood has racked up over 5 million users, many of them members of the millennial generation, by offering commission-free stock trading as well as commission-free cryptocurrency transactions in some states. Robinhood also makes buying and selling stocks as simple as a few taps and a swipe up to confirm – that last action helps keep users from accidentally making trades.

Confetti even showers the screen after the user buys stock. We’ll go out on a limb and assume that investing apps from decades-old companies don’t do that.

Robinhood brings the same slick UI to the rest of the app. The home screen displays the user’s total money in stocks, cryptocurrencies, and cash, with the percentage increase or decrease that day and a graph that can be viewed on various timelines. The user can press and hold on the graph to see their portfolio’s value on that date. More detailed portfolio information is found in the user’s Account screen.

Each stock and cryptocurrency offered in Robinhood has a scrollable screen with plenty of handy information, including news articles culled from the Internet and historical earnings data going back four quarters. The cryptocurrencies also have comment threads that add a social factor to an area of investing still in its infancy.

Account management: Eliminating the pain points

It’s crucial to keep users engaged, especially as new ones approach the time when you find them more susceptible to churning for various reasons. However, account management plays a role in minimizing churn too: difficulties with that area of your app or website could be a contributing factor in their decision to abandon it.

Wefunder, founded in 2011, describes itself as “Kickstarter for investing.” It allows anyone to invest as little as $100 in a start-up that interests them, with the understanding that start-ups can be very volatile and many of them fail.

Surprisingly, they don’t have a mobile app, but perhaps that’s because investing in start-ups is something best done with a cup of coffee while reading articles and financial data on a laptop or desktop. Small screens tend to lend themselves to quick browsing and high drop-off rates, which isn’t optimal when someone is trying to decide whether to invest some of their hard-earned money in a nascent business.

After someone creates their Wefunder account and answers some questions to create a profile that lets them interact with other investors, as well as start-ups, they use the Settings area of the website to manage their account. It’s set up in a simple, easy-to-use manner, with a handy red Deactivate Your Account button in the Account menu. That may not seem like much, but given how hard some companies make it to disengage from them, it’s nice to know that Wefunder doesn’t want to use obfuscation to buoy account metrics.

The rest of the Settings sub-menus are also pretty simple, although the Notifications area is a bit lengthy, with several options for getting emails about new fundraisers, companies the user is following, and social interactions, among other activities. However, it’s not too unwieldy to use on a desktop or laptop computer.

The rest of the settings cover things that are relevant to Wefunder users, such as Investor Limits, which has sliders for net worth and annual income. As the user adjusts the sliders, information dynamically changes in the “How much am I allowed to invest?” section below. Under each allowed investment amount, it says “Why?” – the user can hover over that to see a pop-up that explains more details.

It’s a well-done way of giving the user a big picture view of their investment limits since Wefunder has to abide by quite a few regulations.

At a certain level of income, a pre-checked box appears, with text that begins “I am an accredited investor” next to it. Accredited investors can invest an unlimited amount in Regulation D and Regulation A+ start-ups, so that’s an important distinction that Wefunder has to highlight “for boring SEC regulation reasons,” as they say.

Security: Keeping away the bad guys

Even after you’ve gotten users hooked on your service and turn them into steady customers, you have to keep an eye on security. Poor security can easily ruin months and even years of painstaking work.

PayPal rose to prominence alongside eBay, which later acquired the company and then spun it off as a separate entity, so it had a large head start on newer companies in the payments space. Its 20-year history has also given it plenty of time to bake security into its website and mobile app.

While other services like Venmo, which is now part of PayPal, have arisen in the “friends and family” segment of the digital money transfer space, PayPal still makes social financial transactions easy and secure through its mobile app. It offers an option to use a fingerprint to log in, with that requirement renewing if the app is open for longer than a few minutes, and it doesn’t store anything more than the last four digits of credit card, debit card, and bank account numbers.

PayPal employs industry-standard security and requires merchants that accept it as a payment method to do the same. It also has a bounty program that offers a financial reward to anyone who discovers and submits a valid vulnerability in its system. Many companies, including those outside the financial services space, do the same thing – it’s a good way to ensure that a company’s internal teams haven’t missed anything.

In PayPal’s mobile app, the Help section of its settings menu offers a handy way for mobile users to get assistance when they run into problems while on the go, rather than having to dig through the website. Each topic contains several useful articles that cover everything from the basics to how to identify phishing emails.

Using deep linking to drive user engagement in your app

When designing your website and mobile app, you’ll want to consider ways to drive users to specific areas of your service through notifications sent by email, desktop and mobile OS alerts, text messages, and other channels. While deep linking them to a specific place on your website is fairly straightforward, the same technique is a little trickier in an app.

You’ll want to use a URI (Uniform Resource Identifier) to link a specific location within your app, but that standard differs for each mobile platform, including the two most popular ones, Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android. To ensure none of your users encounter problems if their device’s OS doesn’t know where to redirect a link, you’ll want to use one of two types of advanced deep links: deferred or contextual.

How a deferred deep link works

When you create a deferred deep link, you can direct users who don’t have your app installed to a website link or to the appropriate app store to download it. The link is called deferred because, if the user installs the app and then opens it, they’re immediately sent to the desired content, as if the app was on their device when they first tapped the link.

How a contextual deep link works

A contextual deep link works the same as a deferred deep link, but it adds tracking data to your users’ activities, which is helpful for measuring the effectiveness of your marketing efforts. That information can include:

  • Who users are, where they were referred from, and who referred them
  • Whether they used a promo code
  • Which parts of your app they visited

A contextual deep link also allows you to personalize the user experience. For example, if the user followed a friend’s recommendation into your app, you can create a message for them that acknowledges the referral.

How to set up different kinds of deep links

Your app needs to be set up so that it can deal with incoming links and seamlessly send users to the right places so that the underlying redirects are invisible to them. iOS and Android currently support deep links that use the same HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) convention used by traditional web page URLs. iOS started that support with version 9.2, calling them Universal Links, and Android began with version 6.0, where they’re known as Android App Links.

When creating a deferred deep link, it’s best to implement it as a URL starting with HTTP and specify a fallback that uses a URI, in case a user has an earlier version of iOS or Android that doesn’t support HTTP links. Such a setup is also useful in case the user is directed to your app from another app that can only handle URIs.

-Casey

The post Looking Closer at 4 of the Most Innovative Fintech Companies appeared first on SparkPost.

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Align Your Marketing and Transactional Emails for a Great CX https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/align-marketing-transactional-emails-great-cx/ Wed, 06 Feb 2019 14:00:31 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=43243 transactional emailsDiscover how to ensure that your business' transactional and marketing email messages are aligned to deliver a great customer experience.

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Fintech and financial services, B2B SaaS platforms, e-commerce, and other industries have very diverse product requirements. Yet, product teams who succeed in driving adoption and growth for solutions in their particular markets also have something in common: a focus on delivering a great customer experience (CX).

That’s not news to you if you’re a product manager building an app or service. You already know how important CX is to the success of your product. And, like many successful product teams, you might already understand how important email notifications are to user engagement and retention.

But there is one aspect of product emails that sometimes gets short shrift in this equation: ensuring that all of a user’s email touchpoints deliver a great experience. And that means making sure transactional and marketing email messages are aligned to deliver a great CX.

Transactional Receipts, Password Resets, Product Announcements, and Legal Notices, Oh My!

Should be easy, right? After all, most companies are chock full of motivated teams building great products who want to do right by their customers. But the reality is that too many businesses are structured in a way that silos responsibility for different communications and makes it hard to deliver on the promise of a consistent customer experience.

And that’s reflected in how emails are designed, sent, and delivered. Some messages might be sent using a marketing-centric tool, while others are hard-coded into the app or a back-end system. Just consider two examples I recently received in my inbox:

To be sure, there are some practical reasons (including a very real concern for security!) why the bank chose this approach. But as a user, it’s jarring and interrupts my customer experience in a pretty significant way. Compare it with these examples:

Ahh, that feels like a much better experience! And just as importantly, they make it easy for the user to engage and accomplish the actions that deliver value for them and the institution alike.

Important Transactional and Marketing Email Differences

To be sure, marketing and transactional emails do have some important differences that must be respected. First, quick definitions:

  • “Transactional emails” are sent to a person as a result of a specific action taken by the user. Think receipts, password resets, and other messages necessary to the basic operation of a product and business.
  • Marketing and other so-called “commercial emails” are promotional messages sent to a user in order to drive awareness, encourage engagement, or make a sale.

Among other things, they’re regulated differently in most markets. The U.S. “CAN-SPAM” law, Canada’s CASL regulation, and similar rules in the E.U. and elsewhere define whether an email is considered a necessary part of doing business; these transactional messages get certain exemptions from rules that govern opt-in/opt-out requirements and the like.

Those legal distinctions matter, of course, but they should not be an excuse to treat transactional messages as ugly ducklings. On the contrary, because transactional emails such as receipts, password resets, privacy and other legal notices are such common—and in fact, unavoidable—parts of the customer experience, it’s even more critical that they be designed from the perspective of a holistic, unified customer experience and not shunted off, inflexibly hard-coded into back-end systems.

Recipes for Success: Build a Great CX with Email

Aligning marketing and transactional emails is an important aspect of delivering a great experience for your customers, but it’s also just one part of the puzzle. Fortunately, SparkPost’s email pros have developed helpful guides that give teams a solid foundation using email to grow and support great products.

  • If you’re building a SaaS product, “The Product Manager’s Guide to Email” shows how email delivers an outsized impact on user engagement. The guide explains how to use notifications, alerts, transactional emails, and more to build a great app.
  • Meanwhile, “Email 101 for Financial Services” delivers a crash course for product teams in banking, insurance, and similar industries. It gives teams what they need to know to improve the ROI of email operations with recommendations specific to their market’s key concerns.
  • Finally, SparkPost’s “Transactional Email Benchmark Report” provides data-driven benchmarks that define the state of transactional email today, along with recommendations that will improve the effectiveness of your own messages.

Is your team approaching email from a CX perspective? I’d love to hear your experiences aligning marketing and transactional messages.

Brent

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Building an Email Archiving System: The Challenges and of Course the Solution – Part 1 https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/building-email-archiving-system-challenges-course-solution/ Mon, 04 Feb 2019 14:00:09 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=43216 email archiving systemOur Senior Messaging Engineer describes the process he went through in order to store the email body onto S3 and all relevant log data in MySQL.

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About a year ago I wrote a blog on how to retrieve copies of emails for archival and viewing but I did not broach the actual storing of the email or related data, and recently I wrote a blog on storing all of the event data (i.e. when the email was sent, opens, clicks bounces, unsubscribes, etc) on an email for the purpose of auditing, but chose not to create any supporting code.

With the increase of email usage in regulatory environments, I have decided it is time to start a new project that pulls all of this together with code samples on how to store the email body and all of its associated data. Over the next year, I will continue to build on this project with the aim to create a working storage and viewing application for archived emails and all log information produced by SparkPost. SparkPost does not have a system that archives the email body but it does make building an archival platform fairly easy.

In this blog series, I will describe the process I went through in order to store the email body onto S3 (Amazon’s Simple Store Service) and all relevant log data in MySQL for easy cross-referencing.  Ultimately, this is the starting point for building an application that will allow for easy searching of archived emails, then displaying those emails along with the event (log) data. The code for this project can be found in the following GitHub repository: https://github.com/jeff-goldstein/PHPArchivePlatform

This first entry of the blog series is going to describe the challenge and lay out an architecture for the solution. The rest of the blogs will detail out portions of the solution along with code samples.

The first step in my process was to figure out how I was going to obtain a copy of the email sent to the original recipient. In order to obtain a copy of the email body, you need to either:

  1. Capture the email body before sending the email
  2. Get the email server to store a copy
  3. Have the email server create a copy for you to store

If the email server is adding items like link tracking or open tracking, you can’t use #1 because it won’t reflect the open/click tracking changes.

That means that either the server has to store the email or somehow offer a copy of that email to you for storage. Since SparkPost does not have a storage mechanism for email bodies but does have a way to create a copy of the email, we will have SparkPost send us a duplicate of the email for us to store in S3.

This is done by using SparkPost’s Archive feature. SparkPost’s Archive feature gives the sender the ability to tell SparkPost to send a duplicate of the email to one or more email addresses and use the same tracking and open links as the original. SparkPost documentation defines their Archive feature in the following manner:

Recipients in the archive list will receive an exact replica of the message that was sent to the RCPT TO address. In particular, any encoded links intended for the RCPT TO recipient will be identical in the archive messages

The only differences from the RCPT TO email are that some of the headers will be different since the target address for the archiving email is different, but the body of the email will be an exact replica!

If you want a deeper explanation here is a link to the SparkPost documentation on creating duplicate (or archive) copies of an email.

As a side note, SparkPost actually allows you to send emails to cc, bcc, and archive email addresses. For this solution, we are focused on the archive addresses.

* Notice * Archived emails can ONLY be created when injecting emails into SparkPost via SMTP!

Now that we know how to obtain a copy of the original email, we need to look at the log data that is produced and some of the subtle nuances within that data. SparkPost tracks everything that happens on its servers and offers that information up to you in the form of message-events. Those events are stored on SparkPost for 10 days and can be pulled from the server via a RESTful API called message-events, or you can have SparkPost push those events to any number of collecting applications that you wish.  The push mechanism is done through webhooks and is done in real time.

Currently, there are 14 different events that may happen to an email.  Here is a list of the current events:

Bounce

Click Delay

Delivery

Generation Failure

Generation Rejection

Initial Open

Injection Link Unsubscribe

List Unsubscribe

Open

Out of Band

Policy Rejection Spam Complaint

* Follow this link for an up to date reference guide for a description of each event along with the data that is shared for each event.

Each event has numerous fields that match the event type.  Some fields like the

transmission_id
 are found in every event, but other fields may be more event-specific; for example, only open and click events have geotag information.

One very important message event entry to this project is the

transmission_id
.  All of the message event entries for the original email, archived email and any cc and bcc addresses will share the same
transmission_id
.

There is also a common entry called the

message_id
 that will have the same id for each entry of the original email and the archived email. Any cc or bcc addresses will have their own id for the
message_id
 entry.

So far this sounds great and frankly fairly easy, but now is the challenging part. Remember, in order to get the archive email, we have SparkPost send a duplicate of the original email to another email address which corresponds to some inbox that you have access to. But in order to automate this solution and store the email body, I’m going to use another feature of SparkPost’s called Inbound Email Relaying. What that does, is take all emails sent to a specific domain and process them. By processing them, it rips the email apart and creates a JSON structure which is then delivered to an application via a webhook. See Appendix A for a sample JSON.

If you look real carefully, you will notice that the JSON structure from the

inbound relay
 is missing a very important field; the
transmission_id
. While all of the outbound emails have the
transmission_id
  with the same entry which binds all of the data from the original email, archive, cc, and bcc addresses; SparkPost has no way to know that the email captured by the inbound process is connected to any of the outbound emails. The inbound process simply knows that an email was sent to a specific domain and to parse the email. That’s it. It will treat any email sent to that domain the same way, be it a reply from a customer or the archive email send from SparkPost.

So the trick is; how do you glue the outbound data to the inbound process that just grabbed the archived version of the email? What I decided to do is to hide a unique id in the body of the email. How this is done is up to you, but I simply created an input field with the hidden tag turned on.

<input name="ArchiveCode" type="hidden" value="<<UID>>">

I also added that field into the metadata block of the X-MSYS-API header which is passed to SparkPost during injection. This hidden UID will end up being the glue to the whole process, and is a main component of the project and will be discussed in depth in the following blog posts.

Now that we have the UID that will glue this project together and understand why it’s necessary, I can start to build the vision of the overall project and corresponding blog posts.

  1. Capturing and storing the archive email along with a database entry for searching/indexing
  2. Capture all message event data
  3. Create an application to view the email and all corresponding data

Here is a simple diagram of the project:

The first drop of code will cover the archive process and storing the email onto S3, while the second code drop will cover storing all of the log data from message-events into MySQL. You can expect the first two code drops and blog entries sometime in early 2019.  If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to pass them along.

Happy Sending.

– Jeff

Appendix A:

[{
"msys": {
  "relay_message": {
    "rcpt_to": "archive@geekwithapersonality.com",
    "friendly_from": "bumpy@mail.geekwithapersonality.com",
    "customer_id": "122",
    "content": {
      "subject": "test Tue, 04 Dec 2018 17:28:12 -0800",
      "html": <html_body>,
      "headers": [{
        "Return-Path": "<msprvs1=17877Mi_gE5A3=bounces-122@sparkpostmail.com>"
      }, {
        "Authentication-Results": "b.mta1vsmtp.cc.prd.sparkpost…."
      }, {
        "Received": "from [10.92.21.198] ([10.92.21.198:26352] helo=mta…."
      }, {
        "DKIM-Signature": "v=1; a=rsa-sha256; c=relaxed\/relaxed; d=mail.geekwitha; …."
      }, {
        "X-MSFBL": "iGlF1akiy0VZT34sRlvFVNKusa4lkwzCcN…."
      }, {
        "Authentication-Results": "a.mta1vsmtp.cc.prd.sparkpost smtp.user=<hidden>; …."
      }, {
        "Received": "from [73.189.53.88] ([73.189.53.88:59789] helo=jeff-...."
      }, {
        "Date": "Tue, 04 Dec 2018 17:28:12 -0800"
      }, {
        "To": "jeff.goldstein@sparkpost.com"
      }, {
        "From": "bumpy@mail.geekwithapersonality.com"
      }, {
        "Subject": "test Tue, 04 Dec 2018 17:28:12 -0800"
      }, {
        "Message-Id": "<20181204172812.046850@jeff-gs-macbook-pro.local>"
      }, {
        "X-Mailer": "swaks v20170101.0 jetmore.org\/john\/code\/swaks\/"
      }, {
        "MIME-Version": "1.0"
      }, {
        "Content-Type": "text\/html"
      }, {
        "Cc": "austein@hotmail.com"
      }, {
        "List-Unsubscribe": "<mailto:unsubscribe@unsub.spmta.com?subject=unsubscribe:..."
      }, {
        "List-Id": "<spc-122-0>"
      }],
      "email_rfc822": <rfc822 compliant email>,
      "email_rfc822_is_base64": false,
      "to": ["jeff.goldstein@sparkpost.com"],
      "cc": ["austein@hotmail.com"]
    },
    "msg_from": "msprvs1=17877Mi_gE5A3=bounces-122@sparkpostmail.com",
    "webhook_id": "66600222946105557",
    "protocol": "smtp"
  }
}
}]

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S/MIME Part 4: Collecting Recipient Public Keys the Easy Way – with SparkPost Inbound Relay Webhooks https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/s-mime-collecting-recipient-public-keys/ Fri, 01 Feb 2019 14:00:10 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=43199 recipient public keysIn part 4 of his series, Senior Messaging Engineer, Steve Tuck explains how to collect recipient public keys with SparkPost Inbound Relay webhooks.

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In part 1, we had a quick tour of S/MIME, looking at signing and encryption of our message streams across a range of mail clients. Part 2 took us through a simple command-line tool to sign and encrypt emails, then send them through SparkPost. Part 3 showed how to inject secure mail streams into on-premises platforms such as Port25 PowerMTA and Momentum.

In this series, we’ve seen how including an S/MIME signature is fairly straightforward. Sending S/MIME encrypted mail is more complex because you need to obtain recipient public keys. It’s one thing when you’re using a mail client for humans such as Thunderbird – but how can that work with app-generated email streams?

But wait – there is another way into Mordor to get those keys. Your service can invite your customers (via email, of course) to send you back a signed mail to a known customer-service address. Using the magical powers of SparkPost Inbound Relay webhooks, we’ll extract and store that public key for you to use.

We can summarise this in a simple use-case:

  • As a recipient of messages, I provide your service with my personal email signature via email, so that in future, emails can be sent to me in S/MIME encrypted form.

From this, let’s derive some more detailed requirements:

  • We need an always-on, reliable inbound email service to receive those signed emails.
  • There should be no special requirements on the mail format, other than it should carry an S/MIME signature.
  • Because anyone can try to send a mail to this service, it should be designed defensively, for example, to reject “spoof” messages from bad actors. There will need to be several layers of checking.
  • If everything checks out OK, the service will store the certificate in a file, using the well-known plain-text Privacy-Enhanced Mail (PEM) format.

There are some non-functional requirements:

  • Machine-to-machine webhook services can be hard to see just from responses to what’s happening inside. The service should provide extensive human-readable application-level logs. In particular, the certificate parsing and checking should be logged.
  • We add test cases for the app internals, using the nice Pytest framework, and run those tests automatically on check-in using Travis CI integration with GitHub.

OK – let’s get started!

1. Solution overview

Here’s what the overall solution will look like.

2. Installing, configuring and starting the web app

We’ll start with this part, so we have it fully tested before plumbing the inbound relay webhooks.

The web app is included in the same GitHub project as parts 1 – 3, so if you’ve followed those parts, you already have it. Here are the new bits:

  • Program readSMIMEsig.py – read an email and parse out intermediate and user certificates.
  • Program webapp.py – simple Flask-compatible web application for use with SparkPost Inbound Relay Webhooks.
  • webapp.ini – configuration file for the above. A config file enables the same values to be passed in easily to both command-line and web applications.

You need to ensure your host has the correct TCP port number open to inbound requests from the outside world so that SparkPost can POST messages to your app. If you’re hosted on AWS EC2, for example, you’ll need to configure the Security Group of your instance.

Instructions for configuring and starting the web app are given here – it’s quite easy. To check your app is running and accessible from the outside world, you can send (blank) requests from another host using curl, for example:

curl -X POST https://app.trymsys.net:8855/

You should see a response such as:

{"message":"Unknown Content-Type in request headers"}

This is a good thing – your app is running!

In webapp.log on your host, you’ll see output similar to this:

2019-01-15 00:11:07,575,root,INFO,Request from 38.96.5.10,scheme=https,path=/
2019-01-15 00:11:07,575,root,INFO,| len(headers)=3,len(body)=None
2019-01-15 00:11:07,575,root,INFO,| Unknown Content-Type: None

To help you play with real data in your app straight away, you can import this specific Postman request from the project repo. This simulates what your SparkPost account will be doing, i.e. it sends an https POST containing an email with a specific, valid certificate (belonging to a test account of mine) to your app.

You just need to change the target address in the request (in the gray box above) to match your installation. If you changed the token value in webapp.ini, adjust the header value in Postman to match.

If your app is working, you will see a “200 OK” response back in Postman. Your host webapp.log file will contain output like this:

2019-01-15 00:11:48,554,root,INFO,Request from 38.96.5.10,scheme=https,path=/
2019-01-15 00:11:48,554,root,INFO,| len(headers)=10,len(body)=14778
2019-01-15 00:11:48,555,root,INFO,| msg_from=bob.lumreeker@gmail.com,rcpt_to=secureme@inbound.thetucks.com,len(email_rfc822)=9223
2019-01-15 00:11:48,599,root,INFO,| from=bob.lumreeker@gmail.com,DKIM passed
2019-01-15 00:11:48,600,root,INFO,| content-type=multipart/signed; protocol="application/pkcs7-signature"; micalg=sha-256; boundary="------------ms010908020707040304020406",content-description=None
2019-01-15 00:11:48,600,root,INFO,| content-type=text/plain; charset=utf-8; format=flowed,content-description=None
2019-01-15 00:11:48,600,root,INFO,| content-type=application/pkcs7-signature; name="smime.p7s",content-description=S/MIME Cryptographic Signature
2019-01-15 00:11:48,600,root,INFO,| filename=smime.p7s,bytes=3998
2019-01-15 00:11:48,601,root,INFO,| Certificate: subject email_address=['bob.lumreeker@gmail.com'],not_valid_before=2018-10-03 00:00:00,not_valid_after=2019-10-03 23:59:59,hash_algorithm=sha256,key_size=2048 bytes, issuer={'countryName': 'GB', 'stateOrProvinceName': 'Greater Manchester', 'localityName': 'Salford', 'organizationName': 'COMODO CA Limited', 'commonName': 'COMODO RSA Client Authentication and Secure Email CA'}
2019-01-15 00:11:48,602,root,INFO,| Certificate: subject email_address=[],not_valid_before=2013-01-10 00:00:00,not_valid_after=2028-01-09 23:59:59,hash_algorithm=sha384,key_size=2048 bytes, issuer={'countryName': 'GB', 'stateOrProvinceName': 'Greater Manchester', 'localityName': 'Salford', 'organizationName': 'COMODO CA Limited', 'commonName': 'COMODO RSA Certification Authority'}
2019-01-15 00:11:48,616,root,INFO,| written file ./bob.lumreeker@gmail.com.crt,bytes=1870,ok=True

For a quick sanity check, look for the last line – if it says “written file”, then you’re good. The rest of this is showing the DKIM check and certificate validation process.

3. SparkPost inbound relay webhooks setup

Firstly, we select a domain to use as our inbound message address –  here, it will be inbound.thetucks.com. Set your domain up following this guide. Here are the steps I used in detail:

3.1 Add MX Records

You’ll need access to your specific Internet Service Provider account. When done, you can check them with dig – here’s the command for my domain.

dig +short MX inbound.thetucks.com

You should see:

10 rx3.sparkpostmail.com.
10 rx1.sparkpostmail.com.
10 rx2.sparkpostmail.com.

3.2 Create an Inbound Domain

Use the SparkPost Postman API collection, selecting the Inbound Domains / Create .. call. The body of the POST request contains your domain, for example:

{
   "domain": "inbound.thetucks.com"
}

3.3 Create a Relay Webhook

Create an inbound relay webhook using the relevant Postman call. The message body in my case contains:

{
	"name": "Certificate Collection Webhook",
	"target": "https://app.trymsys.net:8855/",
	"auth_token": "t0p s3cr3t t0k3n",
	"match": {
	          "protocol": "SMTP",
	          "domain": "inbound.thetucks.com"
	      }
}

As mentioned before, I recommend setting an auth_token to your own secret value, as set in the webapp.ini file on your host.

Your “target” value needs to match your host address and TCP port where you’ll be hosting the web app.

Your “domain” value needs to match your MX records set up in step 1.

That’s it! The plumbing is done. You should now be able to send certificates to your inbound address, they will be processed and show up on your web application host – in this case, a file named

bob.lumreeker@gmail.com.crt
.

Now you can send encrypted emails to Bob, using the tools described in parts 2 & 3 of this series.

You can examine the contents of a certificate using:

openssl x509 -inform PEM -in bob.lumreeker\@gmail.com.crt -text -noout

4. Internals: DKIM checking, certificate validation

The app checks received emails have valid DKIM and checks that the certificates themselves are valid, as described here. There are implementation notes in there too, and ideas for further work.

Summing up…

We’ve seen how recipient public keys can be gathered easily using an email to an inbound relay webhooks address. Once done, those recipients can receive their messages in S/MIME encrypted form.

That’s it for now! Happy sending.

-Steve

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Life at SparkPost: Our Mentor Program https://www.sparkpost.com/blog/sparkpost-mentor-program/ Wed, 30 Jan 2019 14:00:55 +0000 https://www.sparkpost.com/?p=43167 mentor programLearn about our Mentor Program where employees can choose to be paired up to work towards professional or personal development goals.

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You may be interested to learn that January is National Mentoring Month.  For the third year in a row, SparkPost is in the midst of running our annual Mentor Program.  Employees may choose to participate as a mentor or mentee and are paired up to work towards professional or personal development goals.  Everyone from tenured employees, “repeat offenders” (those who participated in prior years now acting in a different role), to new hires and VPs are on the list of participants.

If you’ve never had one, then you may not know the benefits of working with a mentor are pretty much endless. During our kickoff meeting last October, I shared just a few of the perks that working with a mentor deliver:

  • Helps provide professional development
  • Demonstrates recognition of his or her knowledge, skills and abilities
  • Helps advance his or her career more quickly
  • Increases confidence
  • Helps remote employees feel more in touch socially and professionally
  • Provides the fulfillment and satisfaction of helping others
  • Gives “payback” for the support received from others in the past
  • Increases employee morale
  • Supports an innovative work environment

Since taking over managing the program two years ago, I realized that it “takes a village” not only to raise children but to help one another in the working world as well. As we build relationships with one another in the workplace, you may find yourself connecting with people whose values and opinions matter to you. You may bounce ideas off of them and talk about future plans of transitioning to other roles within, or perhaps out of, your company. This more informal type of mentoring can be impactful for sure. But think of what you could do with that person if you actually set goals and made a promise to work towards bettering yourself.

Without our spectacular employees who are willing to give time outside of their busy schedules to be a mentor and support a fellow SparkPoster, the program wouldn’t exist. In that same vein, I applaud our mentees; those folks who can look inside themselves and recognize a desire to improve and are willing to ask for help. There is a wonderful sense of collaboration that comes out of interacting with coworkers on a vulnerable and sometimes intimate level.  It really is a true testament to the types of folks who decide to come join our company.

If you are interested in working towards something bigger, something more, then I say go out and find a mentor.  For a quick read and some insight into how to get started on your journey, I recommend picking up a copy of One Minute Mentoring by Kenneth Blanchard and Claire Diaz Ortiz.  And if you’re in the market for a new opportunity and want to come work for a great company with awesome people, consider browsing our Open Positions.

Happy Mentoring!

-Christina

The post