The Reckoning: Assessing My 2013 Predictions/Unpredictions

When I published my 2013 unpredictions, I thought at least one of them was risky. Email trends and technology are developing faster than they used to, so a year isn’t a long time anymore. Sure enough, I almost missed. Still I gave myself high marks in this year’s reckoning. Here’s what I predicted/unpredicted for the past twelve months:

Prediction: Marketing and Security Will Join Forces to Fight Phishing

The reckoning: True, but progress is still slow. We’re seeing a real surge in cooperative efforts to stop outbound email abuse, DMARC adoption by retail brands is growing, and more senders are authenticating their mail – all signs that IT/security and marketing teams are reaching détente and working together to fight phishing. And they’re succeeding—to a point. Overall phishing attacks declined in 2013, but more devious versions, like spear phishing, are more common and more costly. The anti-phishing allegiance of marketing and security has a long way to go in 2014 to protect consumers and brands from fraud.

Unprediction: Most Email Won’t Be Read on Mobile Devices

The reckoning: Ridiculously close, but for the most part less than 50% of email was read on mobile devices in 2013. This unprediction won’t hold true for another year—maybe not even for another month. In fact during the holiday shopping season mobile devices accounted for almost 60% of opens on weekends when people were away from their desks; but that percentage dropped back down on workdays. Office email continues to prop up desktop opens, but webmail is in free fall. People who used to check mail on home computers now use tablets and smartphones, and they’re already making email a mobile channel. There’s an important nuance for marketers here, though: Tablets may be mobile devices but many don’t ever leave home. As you look for distinct behaviors associated with platforms, recognizing specific devices is critical.

Unprediction: Mobile Optimized Email Won’t See Widespread Adoption

The reckoning: By a safer margin than I hoped for, this one was true. Lots of senders are optimizing for mobile and the user experience is getting better fast, but brands that truly embraced “mobile first” email marketing practices in 2013 were far ahead of the pack. Now that we’re just about at the 50% tipping point for email opened on mobile devices, practices like responsive design should become more common, especially as screen sizes continue to proliferate and subscribers routinely open the same message on different platforms.

Prediction: Consumers Will Control the Inbox

The reckoning: This one was easy, especially because Return path has an insider view of this trend. Our OtherInbox subsidiary launched the world’s first app store for email this year in response to consumer demand for ways to customize the email experience. New apps are being added all the time by developers that have recently focused more and more of their efforts on email innovation. Meanwhile Gmail took a huge step beyond last year’s Priority Inbox, introducing tabs to give consumers even more control over which messages they see and which they ignore. The good news is that given the choice, they mostly continued to engage with commercial email despite a chorus of “end of the world” panic from email marketing’s doomsayers.

I’ve talked a lot about the inbox of the future in recent years, and after a long span in which email changed relatively slowly it’s exciting to see that future take shape. In 2014 I expect some of this innovation to start expanding beyond the email ecosystem, influencing other channels and contributing to strategic decisionmaking outside traditional direct marketing. I’ll talk more about this soon in my 2014 unpredictions, but I’d like to know your thoughts, too: What changes do you see on the horizon for email? Agree with my reckoning of 2013’s unpredictions? Let me know – leave a comment.