From the way it's used to the way it’s done, email marketing is changing. For one thing, many firms are moving to the cloud. And they are achieving new levels of personalization in both marketing and triggered emails.
To catch up on all this, we spoke with Phillip Merrick, CEO of SparkPost, the provider of a cloud email delivery API. SparkPost serves many of the top ESPs and marketing automation providers, in addition to a wide range of consumer brands.
Here is Merrick's take on what firms are doing to drive email ROI and the tools they are using to get there.
Email Insider: What's new in email marketing?
Phillip Merrick: We increasingly see a move toward full personalization. With personalized batch and blast, you’re just using a template — you start with Dear Phillip, and stick a few other variables in the template and call that personalized. We’re seeing activity-based marketing where the customer takes a particular action and you send a triggered email in response to that.
Probably the best example in our base would be Pinterest. Every email they send out is unique, driven by the activity you undertake. If I look at boats, the email stream I’m getting is very deliberately looking to bring me back to sailing and boats — it’s entirely tailored to me.
EI: Where are you seeing these changes?
Merrick: We see a lot of traffic in triggered or engagement email, based on activity on a company’s website. For example, email plays a substantial role in onboarding and ongoing engagement with things like SaaS applications and mobile apps. Video game manufacturers are increasingly using email for driving engagement. People tend to believe that younger kids are averse to email, but my 13-year-old son, a pretty steady gamer, is relying on email to keep up with things.
In all these areas — apps, games, products with a digital dimension — email is the most reliable way of getting messages through. The other channels are ephemeral — even your text messages will come and go. In a multichannel strategy, you have to make sure email is always part of that strategy.
EI: Any other categories?
Merrick: I’m seeing newspaper sites start to look at the email channel, as the new front page for a new class of subscribers. Every morning, I get The New York Times and the Financial Times in emails. What started out as a morning briefing is effectively my newspaper: my front page. It’s a big evolution from just sending a daily digest.
EI: How are companies handling these changes?
Merrick: Email has been the province of the marketing team almost exclusively for many years. We see that changing, particularly in technical organizations where the product engineering, and growth teams are becoming more involved in notifications.
EI: What about technically?
Merrick: We’re increasingly seeing our on-premise customers move to the cloud, and that includes a number of ESPs who either have made the switch or started out that way in first place. Amazon AWS allows them to leap beyond a lot of the costs and distractions of running on-premise email software. We’ve seen a doubling of cloud email volume in last 12 moths, and we’ve had quite a few of our customers switch in recent times. It’s a big shift, and in some sense it’s behind the scenes.
Email Insider: What is SparkPost doing to help?
Merrick: We just announced that our full service is available in Europe as a fully EU-hosted service. So for European customers who don’t want data and processing to happen outside of Europe, this is a boon. And in the hopper is a full-featured A/B testing solution at the API level. We’re working with one or two major customers who actually asked for this. We’ll be announcing it in the near future.
EI: Anything else on the way?
Merrick: Yes. The hardest part for the major sender is managing the IP address space. Your ability to send mail is regulated by the reputation you build — or erode — on the IP address. You need a strategy to move the IP address into the cloud, or you have to leave that behind and develop a new reputation with a new ISP in the cloud. It’s a major stumbling block for a lot of people.
We have developed strategies for moving the IP address space into the cloud, and for companies to take their reputation with them. We’ll be making an announcement targeted primarily to service providers who care about this the most.