In the spirit of the extremely early Black Friday offers I’ve received over the last few weeks, I am happy to offer my way-too-early take on the email market trends to monitor in 2018.
1. Increased importance of Gmail, subscriber-level filtering, and (hopefully) the morphing of “deliverability” into “send optimization.” We continue to see the growth of Gmail mailboxes in subscriber lists. In markets like Germany, where local mailbox providers once provided the majority of mailboxes, Gmail is increasingly the top mailbox provider for many of our clients.
Because of the way that Gmail filters commercial email, global and subscriber-level measures of engagement with mail coming from a given source are increasingly important factors in determining inbox placement. This engagement-based filtering means that any marketer that wants to optimize opens, clicks, and conversions needs to pay attention to the following in much more detail than today:
Whom you are sending mail to: Is the subscriber active with your email? Are they more active with your email than other senders? Are they likely to have economic value (open or click)?
How you are sending mail: What is the cadence or frequency to send to each subscriber? What is the order in which you send mail? At what time should you send mail to each subscriber?
Experience over the last year shows that to find the optimal result, this decision cannot be left to a rule of thumb (e.g., you’re not going to mail to anyone that hasn’t opened or clicked in the last 90 days), but instead needs to be based on more robust analytics. This is what I’m calling “send optimization.”
2. Continued disintegration of the traditional email marketing value chain. The traditional email service provider package typically consists of a full customer data platform, email authoring features, campaign management system, email deployment service, and analytics service bundled into a single item.
The largest marketers rarely use the entire value chain. In most cases, large marketers keep their own customer database of record and only export the required data to the ESP as required.
Email creative has usually been built and tested outside the ESP system for these larger marketers.
I am seeing additional trends that indicate a faster dissolution of the traditional value chain.
The rise of the customer data platform: A new category of cross-channel platform for storing and “activating” data tied to individual customers is gaining interest among marketers. These third-party solutions are used instead of marketing cloud or ESP customer database,
Marketers linking directly to cloud-based mail deployment services for campaign-based mail: Many marketers are starting to use API-driven mail delivery services — like Sendgrid, Sparkpost, Dyn, Mailgun, and others — for campaign-based mail. They are using their own customer databases and campaign management systems in conjunction with these services.
New email marketing services building on top of cloud-based deployment services: Many of the new, shiny startups in our space that send email have chosen not to build their own mail sending infrastructure, but instead, send through these cloud-based deployment services.
3. Cheap money drives growth of startups and more private equity activity. Capital continues to be historically easy to come by, for building new email startups or acquiring existing companies. Over the last few years, we’ve seen a lot of innovation in email marketing sparked partially by startups that have been funded by venture capital.
At the same time, we’ve seen a large number of recent private equity deals where existing companies have been acquired. In some cases, those private equity firms see opportunity in the marketplace and are investing for growth.
A continuation of this trend likely means more competition and more choices for email marketers in the future.
4. AI and machine learning become more embedded in email marketing—but only the parts that are easy to integrate into current work and data flows. The capabilities of AI and machine learning are far ahead of most marketing teams’ ability to use them. To date, the applications that are easiest to integrate are the ones that are getting used more frequently. These applications include subject-line optimization, product-offer optimization based on dynamic imaging, and send-time optimization.
I expect to see the penetration of these kinds of offers to continue to increase over the course of 2018. Other more sophisticated applications will have to wait for mass acceptance.
What about you? What trends do you expect to see start or continue in 2018?
This post originally appeared in Media Post.
George Bilbrey is the founder of the industry’s first deliverability service provider, Assurance Systems, which merged with Return Path in 2003. He is a recognized expert on the subjects of email reputation and deliverability and is active in many industry organizations, including the Messaging Anti-Abuse Working Group (MAAWG) and the Online Trust Alliance (OTA). In his role as president of Return Path George is the driving force behind the ongoing innovation of our products and services. Prior to Return Path, George served as Director of Product Management at Worldprints.com and as a partner in the telecommunications group at Mercer Management Consulting. He holds a B.A. in economics from Duke University, and an MBA from the Kenan-Flagler School of Business, University of North Carolina.
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