How the Next Generation of Consumer Email is Becoming a Reality

Marcel Becker from Verizon and Seth Blank from Valimail provided an entertaining closing session for the CSA Summit 2019. As Marcel Becker commented, these are exciting times in the email market. Things are accelerating. The email industry is working together to create highly personalized experiences for their shared customers. The industry is reshaping itself right before our eyes, with a range of recent acquisitions. Becker sees this as confirmation that new and exciting things are happening or about to happen in the industry.




How is email doing in 2019?

Email is simply not dying, according to Becker. Personal communications might follow the path of least resistance, such as through social media. But for businesses, email is 40 times more likely to acquire or convert than Facebook and Twitter combined. With social media, a message disappears when more new messages enter your feed. With email, the message is still there. You can go back and look at it again later, in your own time.

72% of consumers prefer email for communication and information from their favorite brands, in comparison to all other communications channels. 83% of GenZ users will continue to use email to stay informed and get information and coupons. 46% of brands are currently intending to increase their email marketing budgets. Email offers a phenomenal 4200% ROI: For every dollar you spend, you make $42 back. These were just a few statistics to warm up with, before turning the focus to what’s coming up in the next generation of consumer email.

What was email expected to do in 2018?

Becker then went on to recap predictions made during the CSA Summit 2018. Firstly, Marcel Becker himself had forecast that the email experience would increasingly happen outside of the email canvas – e.g. in cards, or through personal assistants and voice assistants. Then Christian Hanke had foretold micro or mini experiences – emails especially tailored and engineered for one individual person. Thede Loder had introduced BIMI, and all had agreed that this was important for brands to reach consumers and create a better email experience.

And Becker had talked previously and again in this presentation about the importance of partnerships – how the different segments of the industry should work together, because it is for the benefit of everyone’s mutual customers. The one thing that keeps all of this together is the data – there is a need to pool available data between companies, because everyone has different data, and we’re not doing enough with the data we have.

Reality check

What happened? – they were right. 
Becker pointed out that what the industry is doing is creating a rich and secure environment for consumers. They need to feel safe and have a great experience, so that they will spend money as a result. But they will only do that if the right foundation is in place.

DMARC and protecting customers

Seth Blank then took up the baton, to talk about the topic of DMARC. He started with a hypothetical situation: Imagine I’m using your order navigation system and your purchase flow, but my payment system. It is possible to defraud customers of their money in a really rich experience that looks and feels like the authentic brand. To build the personalization of the future, it is vital to make sure this doesn’t happen. DMARC is essential to achieve this. DMARC is attribution – to know that mail from a particular sender actually comes from that sender, and not from an impersonator.

The key message from Blank is that authentication should be done for the organizational domain, across the entire company. If authentication is done on a subdomain, fraudsters can use any other unauthenticated subdomain to defraud a company’s customers. He calls for the industry as a whole to lift its game, to ensure that personalized experiences in the future can occur without fraud. As a brief illustration of what this means, Blank used messenger apps as an example. This is a very different experience than email, in particular because you know definitively who the two or more parties in the chat are. Email doesn’t work like that.

Marcel Becker came in at this point to say that the difference is that these apps are more for personal communication. Email is being used for something else, and what needs to happen next is that the brand-to-consumer use case needs to be solved. There is a need to develop this kind of trust – what we see in messenger apps – in email. Blank went on to say that consumers want to interact with their brands by email. Consumers need confidence that the email is really from the brand it purports to be from. With DMARC at the center of the communication, consumers can have this confidence.

There is some hesitancy – especially in Germany – to implement DMARC. It is seen as difficult, and not all mail providers evaluate it. In contrast, Seth Blank explained that 100% of receivers in the US, Australia, Japan, and China, and most in Europe, validate DMARC and send reports, and the gap is closing. DMARC is already incredibly widely deployed and available, with 75% of mailboxes globally supporting it. Last year, 5-10% of mail came with a DMARC record attached.

Today, receivers in the US are registering 70% of incoming mail with a valid DMARC record. However, this is mainly large volume senders. If, instead of calculating on the basis of message volume, the number of senders in the “from” domain is counted, then the picture is very different: Only 6% of senders in the world are actually using DMARC at quarantine or reject. Therefore, Seth Blank says there is a lot further to go.

Blank went on to say that DMARC adoption needs to grow in order for the personalization of the future to become a reality. A brand’s campaigns will only be as powerful as they can be when they are truly under the control of the brand, and not in a field of others pretending to be that brand. Blank believes it is important to show leadership here. At the moment, DMARC is a CSA recommendation – he wants it to be a requirement.

BIMI

He then moved on to the topic of BIMI, or Brand Images for Message Identification. He started by saying that if you get authentication wrong, your message will be displayed with fish hooks or questions marks, or warning banners. If you do everything right, your message might be displayed with initials, or the mailbox provider might attempt to guess at your logo, might get it right, but might get the colors wrong, or use an outdated logo from their library, etc.. Even though you, as a brand, have already done everything right, you get no control over how your message will be displayed. BIMI is about giving control to the sender to choose the correct image to appear in the email client.

Becker then mentioned the consumer benefits of BIMI. Verizon asked their users about preferences, and their users prefer emails with an avatar of the recipient, or a logo when the email comes from a brand. 80-90% of all email consists of messages from brands to consumers. Having a visual representation of the sender appearing in the email client has resulted in a 10% increase in the open rate.

The BIMI pilot phase is currently running. So far over 100 brands have signed up, and for around 25-30% of the brands that have signed up, Verizon did not already have a logo in their database. 60-70% of the logos that they replaced with BIMI logos are now higher quality and more up-to-date than those in the database. BIMI really helped to improve the experience.

According to Seth Blank, BIMI also makes DMARC approachable because you can directly see the impact of proper domain authentication. Some say DMARC is hard – but this gives you a reason to get through it. Everyone wins. Receivers want authentication, users want a better experience in their inbox, and brands want the right logo to display.

Other email initiatives

AMP is another initiative that is helping with dynamic content, to create a rich, secure experience. More information about this will be forthcoming later in the year.

Schema.org – in the past, bots were used to identify and categorize what the machine was trying to tell the user. Schema enables machines to talk to each other, to make sense of an email, extract the information, and make it actionable. The email can then be presented to user when it is needed, sorted by relevance, and combined with locational features. There are lots of startups coming up with new ideas making use of it. 

What’s coming next?

Brands want more interaction, in order to make more money. One pain point is the increasing loss of access to data, to classic methods for measuring engagement and tracking, when you move outside of the email canvas. Becker warned ESPs and brands that their data is wrong. Becker predicts that a 10% open rate for a campaign is probably more like 5% or less.

Becker announced the launch of a new product from Verizon, “View Time Optimization”, which brings together BIMI, AMP, SCHEMA, and data (true engagement data), putting all the puzzle pieces together in a meaningful tool, with the promise of an increase of ROI to 8000%. The pilot of View Time Optimization resulted in a 5-times increase in open rates, and has exceeded expectations.

He finished by saying that great email experiences can only be achieved through partnerships.