Gazing Into My Crystal Inbox

Yesterday, I spoke at IAB UK’s “Future of Email” event in London. It was excellently organised with a great cross section of industry expert speakers, and it was rewarded with a fantastic turnout. My presentation examined major factors that currently impact email deliverability and responsiveness: sender reputation, the rise and rise of mobile, and the increasing importance of subscriber engagement.

With the theme being the future of email marketing, I also wanted the audience to think about what’s coming next – “over the horizon” developments that they should factor into their marketing strategies today. So I brainstormed some ideas with my Professional Services colleagues at Return Path, and we came up with the following:


  • Get Into The Fast Lane: Smart inboxes have been a reality for a while now, with priority positioning in the inbox being determined by levels of trust and engagement between senders and recipients. However, there is also a wide range of third-party tools that are becoming available to help subscribers with the organisation and categorisation of their emails. Applications such as ActiveInbox, MailPilot, SaneBox, AwayFind, OtherInbox, and ZeroMail are already established names in this area. Some categorise emails based on the industry sectors that are assigned to their sending domains, while others analyse content to provide an indication of the message type. Email marketers need to start understanding precisely how their messages are being categorised to be confident that they are being delivered to a folder where they will be seen, and engaged with.

  • Domain Based Reputation: Sender reputation metrics are traditionally calculated at IP address level. In reality, several major ISPs are already factoring sender domain into their algorithms as well. This means that email marketers need to start taking action to remedy poorly performing sectors of their email programs. Simply putting “good” volume into one pot of IP addresses and “bad” volume into another is no longer adequate, because reputation metrics will be calculated against all broadcast activity. It also means that Authentication becomes more important. Tools such as Sender Policy Framework (SPF) and Domain Keys Identified Mail (DKIM) provide certainty that emails originate from a legitimate and trusted source – a vital consideration for a healthy domain-based sender reputation.

  • Targeted Phishing is Replacing Spam: Ironically, spammers are recognising that many best-practice tactics that work for legitimate email marketers can be applied with great success to their own illegitimate activity too. So while the good news is that global spam volume is reducing, it’s being replaced by activity that is more carefully considered, with a higher rate of success, and far greater commercial impact as a consequence. Marketers need to protect themselves against this threat by using options such as Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance (DMARC), and Return Path’s Domain Assurance - anti-phishing solutions that secure customer communications and keep pretenders out of the inbox.
  • Web Sentiment: Opinion from the internet, especially social media applications like Facebook and Twitter, provides another important source of feedback about email programs. Expert tools can be used to gauge whether this sentiment is positive or negative, and which important keywords are trending against brands. Email marketers should pay attention to web sentiment anyway, and respond to it proactively. My own belief is that it’s only a matter of time before web sentiment factors into spam filtering decisions and sender reputation metrics as an important new data point.

  • “Big” Data: Online marketing is strongly led by customers, who now demand that their individual needs and interests are recognised in a suitably personalised manner before they will deign to respond. In attempting to identify the transactional, behavioural, and social stimuli that deliver greater responsiveness, marketers need to be able to pull together personal, transactional, campaign, web analytics and social data into a comprehensive single customer view. This can then be harnessed to deliver personalised customer journeys that respond dynamically to behavioural triggers, pre-defined events, and changes in circumstances.


The common thread that weaves all of these points together is a requirement for increasingly sophisticated analysis and insight capabilities. Generating positive subscriber engagement has always been important for email marketers. The fact that engagement now fundamentally influences deliverability makes it doubly important. Early adoption of these capabilities will reward email marketers by achieving competitive advantage in inboxes that are getting more crowded by the day.

This post originally appeared on IAB.