It’s hard to believe we are nearing the end of yet another exciting year in email, and 2019 proved to be one of the most momentous and active years to date. Over the past year, the number of new technologies, mergers and acquisitions, mailbox provider (MBP) announcements, news, and highlights is evidence of the versatility and power of the email channel. So before we celebrate and ring in the new year, let’s take a look back at 2019’s most important moments in email.
In 2018, the marketing technology industry saw a steady flow of mergers and acquisitions, with more than $40 billion exchanging hands. The bullish market and rate of acquisitions continued well into 2019.
Notable email service providers (ESPs) continued to seek competitive market advantages through strategic mergers and acquisitions, including Upland Software acquiring Adestra for $56 million just after the publication of our 2018 year in review, Campaign Monitor acquiring both LiveClicker and Sailthru in January, Twilio finalizing the acquisition of SendGrid, valued at $3 billion in February in an all-stock deal, and most recently, MailGun acquiring MailJet in October to expand its end-to-end email platform.
This April alone, we witnessed a flurry of activity with Publicis announcing a $4.4 billion deal to acquire data marketing company Epsilon, IBM selling its Watson Marketing commerce solution to private equity firm Centerbridge Partners, and Ansira acquiring email marketing and eCRM platform BrightWave. Two major deliverability and analytic platforms were purchased, with Return Path sold to private equity backed Validity and eDataSource sold to SparkPost, and anti-phishing company Valimail announced a $45 million Series C investment round this summer.
“As email continues to be the hub of digital marketing and the centerpiece of the all-important customer journey, industry consolidation makes sense,” says Simms Jenkins, CEO of BrightWave, an Ansira company. “The buyers clearly value email’s critical impact, and sellers want to scale up faster to support clients’ increasing needs. It’s as exciting of a time as ever for the email marketing industry, and I expect mergers and acquisitions to continue to play a prominent role over the next few years in reshaping the field.”
There were also a few notable mergers in the email industry, including Output Services Group uniting two of its email marketing firms, WhatCounts and Windsor Circle, under one brand, EmailStrategie merging with Dolist in France, and Newlsetter2go combining with Sendinblue in Germany.
2019 was a memorable year for changes and announcements from mailbox providers, with an extensive list of new features, redesigns, and updates coming from some of the biggest MBPs on the planet.
At the onset of 2019, Comcast switched from using Cloudmark to Vade Secure for their front-end filtering, and OATH officially rebranded as Verizon Media Group.
Google’s Gmail, which enjoyed an electrifying 2018, celebrated their 15th anniversary in 2019. Starting off this year, Google released the newly redesigned Gmail for its mobile app and began enforcing its updated user data policy in January, which spelled the end to traditional email panel data collection practices and access to email panel data for eDataSource and Return Path at the end of March. In February, Gmail implemented an open-source machine learning framework, TensorFlow, resulting in the blocking of around 100 million additional spam messages every day, and they also added more options to the right-click context menu in Gmail on desktop. Gmail unveiled image blocking options to provide users more control over email tracking and, most recently, rolled out dark theme support for Gmail’s mobile app on Android and iOS devices.
This year we also saw Google finally close the door on their innovative email app Inbox by Gmail on April 2. Inbox by Gmail served as a testing ground for many features now available in the newly redesigned Gmail.
Gmail was not the only major mailbox provider to make headlines this year. Verizon Media, owner of Yahoo and AOL mail, had a productive year, announcing support for one-click unsubscribe in February, AMP support in Yahoo mail and releasing a new Postmaster Page (beta) in March, completing the merger of AOL and Yahoo mail infrastructures under Verizon Media in April, and launching an all-new Yahoo mail app this fall.
“On average, 95% of email sent is brands talking to consumers rather than personal communication,” says Marcel Becker, director of product management at Verizon Media. “Improving the way brands connect with consumers is the driving force in our continued focus on creating better user experiences in email.”
Rounding out MBP highlights, Cox announced in August they would no longer support the creation of new email accounts, and Apple announced the introduction of mail categories to Apple Mail to help users better manage their inbox, and a new Sign in with Apple feature to compete with Facebook and Google.
On the heels of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) going into effect in May 2018, the pace of data privacy and email security developments has not slowed down. We witnessed the first major GDPR fine against Google for $57 million in January, and the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) announcing its intent to penalize British Airways with a $230 million fine and hotel giant Marriott with a $123 million fine this summer.
Here in the US, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), a bill proposed in 2018 with many similarities to that of its GDPR counterpart set to go into effect on January 1, 2020, caused many other states to draft consumer privacy bills this year, including Nevada, New York, and Washington DC. Meanwhile, the Federal Trade Commission voted in February to retain the current rules implementing the CAN-SPAM law, which regulates commercial email in the US.
“The importance of data protection and privacy is becoming increasingly recognized as individuals around the world grow more aware of their rights, and businesses become more aware of the risks that can arise from non-compliance,” says James Castro-Edwards, partner at Wedlake Bell LLP. “Email businesses’ compliance specialists face a complex, global patchwork of data protection and privacy law.”
A new email protocol, Authenticated Received Chain (ARC), was published by the internet engineers task force in July after the specification was announced in 2015. ARC is designed to preserve the email authentication results from SMTP hops when an email is routed from the originating server to the recipient mailbox, and prevent authentication from breaking. Soon after the specification was published, Microsoft enabled ARC for all Office 365-hosted mailboxes in October to improve anti-spoofing detection. Other vendors who support ARC include Google’s Gmail and G Suite, Fastmail, and Proofpoint.
“ARC is an answer to the well-known problem with mailing lists and DMARC,” says Kurt Andersen, senior staff reliability engineer at Linkedin and primary author of the ARC working group. “With more than a dozen independent implementations in both open source libraries as well as private implementations, we look forward to being able to extend DMARC-like protection to an even broader base of recipients, as receivers implement ARC validation and sealing.”
Email marketing’s unique characteristic as an unowned marketing channel with high ROI has led not only to its versatility and staying power but also to a steady flow of new features and innovation broadening the email experience.
One of the hottest email topics this year is Brand Indicators for Message Identification, or BIMI, a new industry standard allowing senders a simple way to display their brand and recipients to see logos associated with brands sending authenticated email. This fall, JPMorgan Chase and CNN were issued the first two validation certificates for BIMI, and Google announced support for BIMI in 2020, joining Verizon Media.
“BIMI provides a powerful incentive for brands to bring their domains to DMARC enforcement,” said Seth Blank, the chair of the BIMI working group and director of industry initiatives at Valimail. “Mailbox providers have plenty of ‘sticks’ to encourage brands to come into compliance, but BIMI is the first ‘carrot’ to reward brands for doing the right thing. It creates alignment between companies’ marketing and IT security teams, which should help propel adoption of authentication. The first brands to adopt BIMI will have a huge leg up, and over time, the standard will help make DMARC enforcement practically ubiquitous.”
Another exciting development this year was Accelerated Mobile Pages, or AMP for email. AMP for email is designed to give developers a new way to create more interactive and actionable experiences and Gmail officially announced support for AMP in March of this year, joining Outlook.com and Mail.ru. It became generally available to all Gmail domains on July 2, and was made available on Android and iOS this November.With the increased adoption and mailbox provider support of AMP for email, ESPs are taking note and many have announced support for creating dynamic AMP-powered emails this year, including Braze, MessageGears, BlueShift, SparkPost, AWeber, Klaviyo, Clang, Mailgun, Twilio SendGrid, Iterable, Cheetah Digital, Amazon SES, and Amazon Pinpoint, to name a few.
Two major mailbox providers released new features designed to improve accessibility of email, including Yahoo’s priority to optimize the user experience of their new mail app, and Microsoft’s Cortana is now able to read email messages aloud.
“Accessibility grew to be a major consideration for email design in 2019. Building on simple code changes to improve support for screen readers, smart marketers are now embracing wider challenges, for example, considering people with autism, epilepsy, color blindness, and anxiety in our approach for content,” said Elliot Ross, CEO of Taxi for Email. “Whilst screen readers are a technical code challenge, these considerations are wider reaching, ensuring copywriting, visual design and strategy work for everyone.”
Lastly, I would be remiss not to stand on top of the 250ok soapbox and highlight a groundbreaking feature we announced in October; our very own Google Postmaster Tools (GPT) integration, an industry-first initiative allowing marketers to aggregate and pass all their Gmail deliverability signals into a single easy-to-use view.
If I have learned anything in working in the email industry for more than a decade, it’s that there is never a dull moment and email is thriving. 2019 was another memorable year in email, with innovative developments in new features and technology, numerous mergers and acquisitions, mailbox provider improvements, and an increased focus on data privacy and security. This is further evidence of the strength of the email ecosystem and state of our industry as a whole. I forecast 2020 will be another exciting year in email and I’m optimistic about the new opportunities for email in the new decade!
Update: This article was included in the super-popular annual Future of Email Marketing & Automation overview, 2020 edition. Give it a look to get even more predictions from other industry experts; the perfect year-end reading for trend-seeking marketers.