December 6, 2018

The Year in Email 2018


The Black Friday emails are deleted, marketers’ email lists are checked twice, we pretty much know which senders have been naughty or nice. Another year in email is coming to a close, and boy, what a ride. While most thought leaders are busy making predictions about 2019, we like to learn from the past to positively impact the future. So let’s jump in the Delorean and look back at all the major events 2018 brought to our industry.

Email Legislation, Security, and Privacy

Improving security and strengthening trust in the email channel were paramount this year. The GDPR, European privacy regulation dramatically changing how personal data is collected, stored, and used, finally became enforceable on May 25th, 2018, empowering consumers to take a more active role in protecting their data rights. Here in the US, June brought the passage of the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), which has several similarities to GDPR and aims to strengthen consumers’ right to manage the use of their personal data. The CCPA will take effect in January 2020. Not to be left out, South America introduced Brazil’s General Data Protection Legislation (GDPL) this year, and the legislation will take effect in February 2020.

“Global privacy trends are heading in the direction of stronger personal data rights for individuals” according to Matthew Vernhout, director of privacy and industry relations at 250ok. “It is time to get on board and utilize the privacy by design principles into all your projects. Not wait on localized legislation.”

The US Department of Homeland Security’s mandate for all federal entities using .gov domains to have a DMARC p=reject policy in place came due on October 16. After that date, 81.6% of government agencies were at the prescribed level of security, with even more (6.6%) having at least some DMARC policy in place. Mailbox providers also took the step to implement and update their DMARC records, with Apple advancing their DMARC policy to a quarantine status for domains icloud.com, mac.com, and me.com in July.

p-equals-reject-at-81-percent

This past year served as a magnifying glass consumers’ email data and privacy. The Wall Street Journal published an article in July detailing how hundreds of mailbox apps and companies (like Edison Software and Return Path) are cashing in on scraping email content and inbox behavior of millions of Gmail, Microsoft, and Yahoo users, and unveiling the behavior’s significant privacy violations. In October, Google responded by announcing plans to strengthen its Google API user data policy to help protect its users, creating uncertainty about email panel data and products relying on this questionable practice.

The Wall Street Journal published a follow-up in the wake of Google’s response, stating, “Google’s shift illustrates the trade-offs tech giants face as they try to maintain an ecosystem of apps offering potentially attractive services and to ensure ironclad data protections for users.”
On a related note, news broke that OATH (Yahoo, AOL, and Verizon mail) is scanning their users’ commercial emails for targeted advertising, a practice Google ended for Gmail in 2017 after backlash and class action lawsuits over the tactic.

There were a few headline-worthy data breaches disposing millions of email addresses, including MapMyFitness in March, the massive Facebook data breach exposing 30 million users full profiles in September, Marriott’s breach of more than 500 million guest accounts in late November, and a dramatic rise in business email compromise scams, or “BEC” attacks. In July 2018, the FBI released a report estimating “between December 2016 and May 2018, there was a 136% increase in identified global exposed losses” due to the BEC-style scams.

Industry Acquisitions, Consolidations, and Changes

The marketing technology industry saw a steady flow of mergers and acquisitions this past year, with more than $40 billion dollars exchanging hands. Major ESPs continued to strengthen their competitive position, including Adobe’s acquisition of Marketo for $4.75 billion, Cheetah Digital acquiring Stellar Loyalty, and Salesforce adding Rebel to their Marketing Cloud business. After a successful IPO in 2017, SendGrid was acquired by Twilio in October for $2 billion, adding email to Twilio’s communication capabilities. SendGrid’s Chief Executive Officer Sameer Dholakia said the two companies “have always shared a common goal—to create powerful communications experiences for businesses by enabling developers to easily embed communications into the software they are building.”

In June 2018, Emma and Delivra officially became part of Campaign Monitor, and in September, Trendline Interactive acquired Inbox Pros, an email deliverability and consulting firm.

Most recently, IBM spent $34 billion in its acquisition of Red Hat, with sights on becoming the world’s foremost hybrid cloud provider.

“The rate and price of acquisitions within our industry justify email’s significance,” says Brandon Dingae, vice president of partnerships at 250ok. “Mix in leading-edge innovation improving the end-user email experience, and I anticipate more acquisition activity in the email ecosystem as providers seek competitive advantages in an aggressive market.”

We also witnessed a few blacklist and anti-spam filter changes this past year. The SpamCannibal blacklist finally shut down in May after being inactive since last summer, and UK-based Tesco.net email service closed down on June 27.

Mailbox Provider News

For marketers and deliverability professionals alike, mailbox provider changes and announcements kept us on our toes. The most notable mailbox providers undergoing significant changes in 2018 were OATH (Yahoo, AOL, and Verizon mail) and Gmail.

In early January, as part of the migration of AOL and Yahoo mail, AOL began moving their mail domains’ MX records to point to OATH’s new combined servers, including Verizon.net and AOL.com. A month later, AOL DMARC records started coming through Yahoo reporting, and Verizon’s postmaster page began redirecting to AOL’s postmaster page, signaling the end of Verizon’s dedicated sender support page. As the migration continued under OATH, AOL also disabled their IP reputation check in late March, and moved away from accepting whitelist requests in May, saying, “Whitelisting is no longer offered or needed for mailing to AOL.” OATH began serving images in email via their own proxy servers in March, joined the BIMI pilot with Yahoo mail, and announced all OATH mail brands will be handled by OATH MTAs and should be treated uniformly in June.

In November, Yahoo introduced a new unsubscribe feature for their mobile mail app on iOS and Android allowing users to stop receiving emails without ever having to leave their Yahoo inbox.

“Mailbox providers are enhancing the inbox experience with their users top-of-mind,” said Alyssa Nahatis, director of deliverability Americas and global services. “New features and inbox functionality designed to improve efficiency and trust are helping to strengthen the relationship between brands and end users.”

For Google’s Gmail, 2018 was nothing short of an electrifying year. While Google celebrated its 20th anniversary on September 28, its flagship mail product Gmail marked its 14th year of existence on April 1.

In April, Gmail announced its biggest makeover to date. The redesign, dubbed simply “the new Gmail,” introduced users to features created to increase productivity and security right from your inbox. Gmail now includes innovative functionality like “offline mode,” hover-over actions, improved GSuite app sidebar, enhanced security notifications, “confidential mode,” and “nudging.” They also threw in features first introduced with the soon-to-be-defunct Inbox by Gmail, like AI-powered “smart replies,” and the ability to “snooze” emails and choose when they reappear in your inbox.

“Gmail has proven time and time again that they’re committed to keeping us on our toes,” said Kait Creamer, manager of digital marketing at MakeMusic. “Though big changes like unsubscribe prompts and the beloved promotions tab may sound like bad news when they’re first introduced, they force marketers to be nimble and serve subscribers better at every turn. That’s a good thing.”

While initially the new Gmail was available in a global phased rollout, it permanently replaced the legacy Gmail inbox interface on October 16.

In late November, Gmail introduced email annotations for the promotions tab, making it easy for brands to highlight key information like deals, expiration dates, and promo codes with images to bring promotional emails to life.

Microsoft’s Outlook.com and Office 365 mail platforms continued their server migration and consolidation during 2018. Early in the year, Microsoft updated their spam complaint trigger process to now include initiating a spam report if a user moves a message from the inbox to the junk folder, even when using the IMAP client. Most recently, Microsoft announced a new Outlook.com experience to help users more easily identify and interact with brands’ emails in their inbox. The Microsoft business profile experience, currently in beta, will offer customers the opportunity to become a verified business with Microsoft and receive a blue check mark icon from Outlook.com indicating as much.

Email’s Growth and Vitality

2018 was a special year for the email marketing community, as we marked the 40th anniversary of the first unsolicited marketing email (spam) sent by Gary Thuerk from Digital Equipment Corporation, generating a spike in revenue. While this event may not sound like a milestone worth celebrating, Gary (known as the father of spam) was onto something: Using email to promote a product or service. A few decades later, email marketing continues to shine with a median ROI of 122%, over 4 times higher than other marketing formats, including social media, direct mail, and paid search, according to a study by the DMA.

Email adoption continued to climb in 2018, with the number of email users worldwide eclipsing 3.8 billion, up more than 100 million users year-over-year, proving email is far from dead after all.

We also witnessed innovative features and functionality this past year, including Brand Indicators for Message Identification (BIMI), a visual indicator in email boasting both marketing and security benefits, Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) technology aiming to create more engaging and interactive experiences with email, and Google testing new visual promotion tab bundles to enrich the email experience.

“Oath’s trials with BIMI are progressing, security is being finalized, and I expect a significant acceleration of BIMI in 2019,” predicts Seth Blank, director of industry initiatives at ValiMail and current chair of the AuthIndicators Working Group developing BIMI. “As we turn the page from initial trials to meaningful adoption, 2019 is poised to be the year of BIMI.”

Looking Ahead…

2018 was another busy year in email, with changes happening with mailbox providers, email vendors, authentication, privacy, and legislation. Email continues to reinvent itself and adapt to the ever-changing marketing landscape and innovation in communication technology. Marketers are riding email’s vitality, coming up with fresh ways to leverage the power of email to connect with their subscribers in creative ways to drive revenue. If this past year was any sign of the potential future of email, I am ambitious about the opportunities for email in 2019!

Author: Anthony Chiulli

With more than a decade of email experience, Anthony embraces educating and advising email marketers on the latest trends and insights within the email industry as director of product marketing. Before joining 250ok, Anthony's prior roles included Marketing Practice Lead, Deliverability Services at Salesforce Marketing Cloud, and Senior Account Manager at Return Path.

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