1. Email addresses are the new gold. While data breaches at online marketing firms aren't new, the data breach at Epsilon rocked the email world because of the size and severity of the problem. Big brands from financial and retail giants potentially had their database of email addresses and subscriber names compromised by hackers. While having an email address and name may not sound like much, it can pave the way for fraudsters to execute highly targeted phishing campaigns, called spear phishing, to gain access to consumers' personal and financial accounts.
2. Spam continued its downward trend. Spam volumes started to dramatically decline in 2010 and have remained low for most of 2011 as a result of the takedown of the Rustock and SpamIt botnets. It's too soon to tell if this will last, but my bet is that spammers are building on a bigger and better botnet to flood our inboxes with spam.
3. Phishing attacks continued to rise. Where spammers were slacking off, phishers were picking up the slack. One reason for the change in volume is the decline in revenue from spam and the higher ROI realized from spear phishing campaigns. Phishers, like many brand marketers already know, have adopted segmentation and targeting to increase response rates and ROI, even if used for evil.
4. Inbox innovation continued to explode in 2011. The fact that developers are spending so much time creating inbox apps is a testament that email is even more relevant and essential in our daily lives. We've seen apps centered on helping people manage their inboxes (Emailga.me), dynamic messages (Moveable Ink) and interactive emails (PowerInbox).
5. Canada passed its first anti-spam law. While the law covers a lot of common ground with the U.S. CAN-SPAM, like requiring an unsubscribe link, it differs in that it requires affirmative consent to email a permission. This means opt-out permission is illegal, such as email address harvesting and purchasing lists., and that many marketers may need to change their acquisition practices if they have Canadian subscribers.
6. Webmail is almost old enough to drive. What was originally a play on the words HTML email, Hotmail (or HoTMaiL), turned 15 years old. One of the world's first free webmail providers changed the email world forever, allowing anyone with an internet connection to check their email from anywhere in the world, and also keep their email address regardless of their ISP. Imagine having a 50% churn rate on your list if users had to switch email addresses every time they changed ISPs if free webmail services didn't exist.
7. Webmail providers get a facelift. Before turning the ancient age of 15, Hotmail launched a major overhaul of its interface and functionality. In 2010 we received word that Yahoo and AOL were revamping the inbox, as well as seeing Facebook enter the space. This year, we saw Yahoo take the beta stamp of its inbox revamp coded Project Minty, and AOL's Project Phoenix opened up to more beta users. Both integrate other communications streams, like voice, social and mobile, into the inbox.
8. Deliverability still continued to challenge marketers. 2011 saw almost no change compared to previous years in the amount of email reaching the inbox, with 19% of email being blocked or sent to the spam folder. I don't expect this number to change much in coming years as spam filtering engines get more sophisticated.
9. Email on the third screen sees huge gains. We saw an 81% growth rate on mobile devices for accessing email, and a 15% increase in iPad viewership. As more and more people use tablets and smart phones to access email, this is a wake-up call to marketers that a mobile strategy is needed now.
10. Email got more interactive: While Microsoft Active Views officially launched at the end of 2010, we saw the first experiments with its interactive email in 2011 with LinkedIn, Orbitz, Netflix and others. Not to be outdone, Yahoo and Gmail also announced developer support for email apps in 2010, and developers began embracing these platforms as we saw everything from email stationery, project management in email, and inbox management apps. Expect to see an even bigger explosion of inbox apps in 2012.