2010 Email Predictions: Good News for the Good Guys and More Mischief from the Bad Guys

Matt Blumberg
By Matt Blumberg
CEO & Chairman

As we embark on a new year and a new decade (and Return Path’s second decade in business), I’m back with my annual predictions for the email industry. My 2009 good news-bad news predictions were somewhat prescient but certainly not my best effort. So, after considerable thought and a fair amount of internal debate, here’s what I’ve got:

1) ISPs will focus more of their anti-spam efforts around picking out the good guys rather than blocking the bad guys. Why? There are just so many more bad guys – and we’ve reached a tipping point where it is faster and cheaper to cherry pick the good senders. Along with their internal tools, we’ll see more ISPs rely on 3rd party white lists like Return Path Certification for more accurate filtering.

2) ISPs will increasingly turn to “engagement” metrics but “engagement” won’t mean what marketers think it means. By engagement we’re not just talking about the opens, clicks and conversions that marketers rely on. Rather it’s a deeper dive on the complaint data that already strongly influences inbox placement. Marketers who focus on statistics rather than relevancy will struggle because each ISP will continue to develop its own methods for collecting and interpreting this information. You can read about this emerging set of metrics here and here and here.

Predictions #1 and #2 are great news for marketers who maintain superior reputations by respecting subscriber preferences, keeping their lists clean and sending relevant, interesting content.

3) Domain reputation has arrived but like most “silver bullet” solutions, it won’t live up to the hype. Why not? ISPs don’t see domain reputation as a silver bullet; for them, it is simply a shiny new bullet among the many they already use: more accurate in some cases, immaterial in others. Domain reputation systems won’t be universal, nor will they all operate identically, so marketers will still need to closely monitor their IP reputations. In the end, maintaining a solid reputation requires sending only wanted, expected, respectful mail whether it’s calculated by IPs or domains – and email marketers who do will live long and prosper.

4) Email usage will rise sharply as the essential notification mechanism for the still growing universe of social media. However, this will lead to even more inbox competition for marketing offers of all shapes and sizes to stand out in an increasingly crowded inbox. I hope marketers will seize this moment to build on the synergies between email and social media, and ensure that every message they send is worth opening.

5) Mobile marketing promotions and commerce will explode like search in the early 2000s and social media in recent years. Marketers will aggressively work to develop mobile versions of their websites and emails – and custom apps for interaction with their brands. They will struggle with strategic and technical issues as they race to provide their customers with the ideal mobile experience. Email marketers are at an advantage because consumers have been reading email on mobile devices for years.

6) The bad guys will follow consumers to mobile and wreak havoc with the channel. Look for viruses, .mobi “drive by websites” and more botnets that will exploit the vulnerabilities of popular phones. (An early attempt at an iPhone botnet was launched just a few weeks ago). Expect malware protection applications and the beginning of an arms race between good and evil for ownership of the mobile computing platform, and a few unwary mobile marketers to get caught in the crossfire.

7) New top-level domains approved by Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) will create even more opportunities for bad players to distribute phish emails , spoof websites and malware. ICANN recently approved the use of domains containing non-Latin characters. The bad guys will pay close attention and we expect those engaged in phishing and malware distribution to deploy counterfeit websites exploiting look-a-like domains for example: рДураl.com or paypal.com. Having trouble seeing the difference between these two? That’s exactly why I’m making this prediction.

8) There will be at least 39 more articles in the mainstream announcing the “death of email”. The famous Mark Twain quip that “the reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated” is a cliché in the email industry. The mainstream media does a lot of things very well but accurately reporting on the state of email is not one of them. Despite all data to the contrary, reporters still love to announce that email is dead, whether killed by spam in 1999 or displaced by social media in 2009. Will email be supplanted by telepathy in 2019?

Whatever your beliefs on the above predictions, I want to wish you and your family a healthy and happy 2010 from all of us at Return Path.

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