With the coming of each new year, pundits and marketing insiders take to the airwaves (or the tweeters) to predict which new shiny objects we’ll obsess over. This happens at events and in many trade publications both online and off. Email is no different; making predictions about the future of a venerable marketing channel is part and parcel for every digital marketer with a vested stake in the success of email as both a category and a tool in their customer engagement quiver.

Earlier this year, we met many of our international senders in London and Amsterdam, and gathered their input on all the latest shiny objects and trends in the email space during SendGrid’s Send with Confidence tour. Our CMO, Scott Heimes, kicked off our presentations with a level set on SendGrid and how we have a maniacal focus on customer success (not unlike their maniacal focus on making email work for them).

Carly Brantz, our VP of Revenue Marketing and Jillian Wohlfarth, Director of Content Marketing, took our audience through email marketing 101: a surefire recipe for messaging success. Kurt Diver, our Manager of Delivery Consulting Services took apart the ISP landscape, changes in delivery, and how to avoid harmful actions that lower customer engagement.

We also had the opportunity to meet with customers, prospects, and startups of all stripes thanks to Barclays Techstars and our Community Development team that arranged some great “ask me anything” style chats with Scott, our CMO. This level of exposure for budding entrepreneurs is priceless on both sides of the fence: on the one hand, they get to hear about a company that has experienced massive growth over the course of 6 years (SendGrid), and we get to hear about tomorrow’s possible unicorns from newly minted CEOs, CTOs etc.

Scott kicking off our talk in Amsterdam:



Jillian and Carly in the “email kitchen:”



Kurt discussing the breakdown of the UK’s top ISPs:


The Future of Email: According to Email Nerds

I was responsible for presenting the “future of email marketing” portion of our tour (straight forward, no?) and discovered that what I consider to be straightforward needed validating. I started by asking my colleagues on the deliverability team: “From the perspective of the trenches, what do you see as the future?”

I took their thoughts, merged them with my own, then chased down some ideas about new technologies. And then decided I needed more data. I like to say I can read tea-leaves with the best of them, but in truth, the best tea leaves are those read by as many people as possible. So I created a one question survey and asked a few friends and peers in the email industry what they thought and they, in turn, asked a few of their friends. Here’s how the future looks from a crowd-sourced standpoint:

  • Marketing automation: The experts agree that marketing automation, and mind you this is a loose category, will continue to grow. Automation is the only way that email at scale happens. Think about something as basic as a welcome series—manually creating every touchpoint along a new customer’s journey is painfully time-consuming. You want to let email platforms do the work for you and that means that, as a category, automation is very much on the mind of email marketers who are thinking deeply about how to scale their limited resources.
  • Hyper-personalization: Hyper-personalization is already around us—our web browsing experience has long been personalized based on our browser history. When my mother tells me how a product follows her from page to page to page I assume that retargeting is a) working and b) everywhere. Personalization on the email front is more than just a first line salutation or a subject line that’s unique for every recipient, it’s about delivering messages in a personalized and timely manner: e.g. Len opens a lot of messages between 7:30 and 8:15 while on the train, so using my browsing history, past purchases, likes, product recommendations, and other criteria, senders should actually modify their content to me, and others, on a per user basis. First name personalization is table stakes, we did that 10 years ago—the new frontier is a segment of 1 that receives a completely unique email every single time.
  • Email security: Email security isn’t really new; it’s been around for a very long time. However, the importance of security is escalating in relation to the number and frequency of high-profile data breaches. Security experts like to say there are two kinds of companies: those that know they’ve been hacked, and those that don’t know it (yet). Securing email accomplishes two things: it decreases specific attack vectors such as phishing and spear phishing which in turn protects the brand and the consumer. Brands are charged with not only protecting their brand equity, but ensuring that their brand can’t be used as a means of compromising a customer’s personally identifiable information (PII). Email security starts with SPF, is enhanced signing DKIM, the loop is closed through DMARC, and the entire bundle is delivered using opportunistic TLS (but preferably enforced TLS).

Things like the growth of CRM systems are sub-trends. I think this is how we will achieve things like hyper-personalization which will also lead to smaller, leaner lists if we focus our efforts on the most engaged segments of our lists (which many of us have been preaching for a long time). The more engaged a user is, the more likely that an email will reach them in the inbox, which circumvents or manages the problem of tighter ISP filtering to ratchet down nefarious attacks and phishing.

The Future of Email: According to our Senders

As I mentioned, I like data, and more proof points. So, while on our Send With Confidence tour in Europe, I posed the same question to our audience: “What do you think the future of email marketing will be?” This is how they, people who use our platform to send email, and other curious individuals who attended our event answered the question:


And here’s our audience in London that answered the question about what they saw as the future of email marketing:



And in case you think I’m making this up, you can ask these good people who were kind enough to respond:

The two groups saw email in much the same light: hyper-personalization is key, it’s hard to do and you need big data to do it, and when you have the data, you will apply it using marketing automation to scale the demand.

So there you have it, a not too scientific but defendable set of data points about the future of marketing as seen by pundits, email geeks, marketers, and developers across a broad swath of companies. If you think differently please let us know on Twitter! And if you’re interested from more information from our big data team, download SendGrid’s Global Email Benchmark Report.

Len Shneyder is a 15+ year email and digital messaging veteran and the VP of Industry Relations at Twilio SendGrid. Len serves as an evangelist and proponent of best practices and he drives thought leadership and data-driven insights on industry trends based on the massive volume of email SendGrid delivers on behalf of their customers. Len is a longtime member of M3AAWG (the Messaging, Malware, Mobile Anti-Abuse Working Group) and served on its board in addition to Co-Chairing the Program Committee. He’s also part of the MAC (Member Advisory Committee) of the EEC (Email Experience Council) where he serves as the organization's MAC Chair. The EEC is a professional trade organization focused on promoting email marketing best practices. The EEC is owned by the ANA (Association of National Advertisers), a nearly 100-year-old organization where he also sits on the Ethics Committee. In addition, Len has worked closely with the ESPC (Email Sender & Provider Coalition) on issues surrounding data privacy and email deliverability.