4 Ways to Prepare for the Future of the Inbox

In case you haven’t noticed, the inbox is changing. Once, the inbox was…a box: a digital version of a mailbox and a mostly static place to send and receive messages. That’s so 2010. The inbox of 2014 has morphed into a portal: a dynamic hub of information that reflects the lives of its users; from social update activity to purchase receipts to travel itineraries to news to marketing messages and more. The inbox has also never looked better (thank you Gmail), been more interactive or more organized.  As a result, there’s never been more subscriber-level data in the inbox that can be leveraged to inform broader marketing decisions.  What an exciting time to be an email marketer!

And yet, there’s a dark cloud to every silver lining. There’s so much data available that marketers are often unsure of how to use it, gain insightful analysis from it and act on it. A recent study by IBM showed that 82% of responding CMOs said they felt underprepared for big data. It’s big, and it’s only getting bigger. The internet of things is poised to unleash the power of email in ways that once sounded more like science-fiction than reality. In the near future, everything from our appliances to our gaming consoles to our homes could be communicating with us via email.

So with all of this change disrupting the way many have traditionally thought about the email channel, it’s easy to lose sight of what you need to focus on to both optimize what you’re doing today and strategically plan for continued optimization tomorrow. Here’s my shortlist:

  1. Organized inboxes are here to stay. Instead of spending time trying to get subscribers to move your messaging to a different tab (for example, from the promotions tab to the primary tab in Gmail’s tabbed inbox), focus on the value you’re providing with each email campaign. A recent Return Path study showed that “move me” campaigns had a .1% impact on read rates and engagement, and the rollout of the tabbed inbox actually increased campaign performance for the most engaged users. Inbox organization is no longer the exception – it’s the rule. Numerous companies provide apps and tools that allow consumers to tune out the digital noise and gain control of what they consume and how they consume it, including apps like Unsubscriber, Organizer, Mailstrom, Unroll.me and Inbox Pause. Email marketers need to work harder than ever before to stand out and be relevant, and there’s never been more data available to do so.
  2. Mobile really means multi-device. Think beyond responsive design for email to how you can ensure that a consumer who starts a transaction on their smartphone can continue it on their desktop and complete it on their tablet. Consider that your customers’ primary interaction with your brand may be through a smartphone app, like Uber. How does that impact the customer relationship and brand experience, and what adjustments are you making to your email program to enhance that?
  3. Security risks are everyone’s problem. Gone are the days when only financial services and payment companies needed to worry about data breaches and phishing and spoofing attacks. From the Heartbleed Bug, to Target’s data breach during the 2013 holiday shopping season, to the recent eBay cyber attack that compromised its password database, malicious activity is on the rise. One of the most effective ways of gaining access to private and secure information is through phishing and spoofing emails to unsuspecting consumers. According to Symantec, 16 million phishing messages arrive in subscribers’ inboxes every day. Even more concerning, 50% are opened and 10% are clicked on. A recent white paper by Cyveillance estimated the average cash cost per compromised customer is $1,800. While that’s significant, the short- and long-term brand damage can be many multiples of that. Now is the time to implement a DMARC policy, use tools that enable you to track and take down malicious activity, proactively communicate your data and privacy standards to your customers and educate them about how to spot phishing and spoofing messages. Attackers are getting increasingly better at tricking subscribers and are even following best practices to increase the likelihood that their messages will look like legitimate, permission-based email.
  4. Consider your inbox share of wallet. This is an increasingly interesting metric to pay attention to for tracking engagement and lifetime value in the context of other brands your customers and prospects are interacting with. Standing out in the inbox of today (and tomorrow) means gaining share of mind and share of wallet from your competition. You’ll need access to data that can show you how much of your email list overlaps with your competitors’ lists and how your campaigns to those same subscriber segments perform versus theirs. For example, less overlap and low engagement indicates a need to increase market share and your value proposition. It’s also interesting to think about overlap in the context of marketing investments made in other channels. For example, if a significant portion of your list overlaps with social media brands like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, you’ll want to explore advertising on those sites.