E-mail is broken. And it’s broken in two major ways: Trust and infrastructure. First, the channel isn’t trustworthy. The legitimate senders of e-mail can’t trust the medium to deliver their mission-critical communications and the recipients of e-mail can’t trust that they’ll get what they want … and not what they don’t. The reasons are simple. E-mail’s inherent openness has left the medium highly vulnerable to the abuse in the form of spam and the egregious tactics of spoofing and phishing associated with it. To combat these threats, the ISPs have resorted to a variety of blacklists and filters that puts the delivery of legitimate e-mail at risk and undermines the trustworthiness of medium for both senders and recipients.
The solution comes down to knowing the identity of the senders of e-mail so the ISPs and other receivers of e-mail won’t have to rely on imperfect filtering techniques to sort out the good from the bad. That’s what makes the adoption of e-mail authentication so critically important. It’s an important step in restoring trust to e-mail and fixing the first thing that’s broken with the medium.
While authentication alone won’t solve the problem, its adoption will signal that the day of reckoning for spammers isn’t far off. Because once the senders of e-mail can be definitively identified, they’ll be held accountable for their practices. Senders will be assigned a ‘reputation score’ somewhat akin to a credit rating, and that rating will affect their cost of sending e-mail – directly through a bond, e-postage or other fee or indirectly through denied access or poor (junk box) placement. While intended to get rid of spam, these measures will also fundamentally alter how legitimate senders of e-mail use the medium too.
This brings us to the second way in which e-mail is broken: Infrastructure. E-mail is moving into a new era. It will be the era of e-mail accountability where different rules of engagement – authentication protocols, reputation ratings, mail class segregation, etc – will introduce even more complexities, and where regulatory requirements will mandate baseline behaviors and impose stiff penalties on those who violate them. It will be an era where sender best practices become required practices simply because customers and accountability standards demand it.
The ability of legitimate e-mail senders to support IP-based and soon signature-based authentication is merely the opening gambit. Senders will also need to support reputation ratings, smarter customer feedback and bounce management, dynamic content for relevant messaging, and the kind of intelligent, differentiated sending that the new classes of mail and domain access rules will demand. Moreover, senders will need to capture, interpret and act on data faster than ever before to meet rising consumer expectations and ensure regulatory compliance. These are all outbound infrastructure challenges that will require much more powerful, technologically advanced sending platforms designed for tight integration and optimized for e-mail delivery.
The vast majority of e-mail senders are not prepared to meet these challenges. The infrastructure most use – and on which all the benefits of the medium ride – is inadequate. It’s based on 25-year old technology and cobbled-together, disconnected solutions that can’t scale. It was never intended for the kind of usage – in terms of scope or scale – to which it’s being put today, let alone the complexities this new era will introduce. Most senders know their infrastructure is broken. Every day they see the symptoms. Making the decision to fix it is something legitimate senders can no longer defer.
Fixing what’s broken with e-mail – trust and infrastructure – will yield enormous dividends to everyone in the e-mail eco-system, but especially legitimate senders. Imagine the day when trust is restored to e-mail. Your customers’ mailboxes would no longer be clogged with spam, so your messages would actually get opened and read. Delivery of your e-mail would be based on your own reputation, not on your skill at evading spam filters. No more worries about someone spoofing your identity or phishing your customers and undermining a brand you’ve worked so hard to build. Imagine what all of this would mean in terms of your customer relationships and bottom line. These are the real promises of this new era of e-mail accountability. So adopt e-mail authentication now and support the reputation-based standards that will follow. E-mail needs them to survive as a viable medium. We all need them.
Now imagine the day when your e-mail infrastructure is fixed too. You’d no longer have to baby-sit your outbound mail or devote untold resources to do what should be routine. Performance wouldn’t be an issue and you’d have complete visibility in your mailing results at every step of the process. Imagine too that you could do with e-mail all that you want to do, and everything integrated seamlessly with your internal systems. And imagine too that your infrastructure was future-proof so you didn’t have worry about what this new era might demand, how digital messaging could morph next or where evolving business needs may take you. It doesn’t take too much imagination to envision what these things could mean for your business. And these promises are real too with the right e-mail infrastructure decisions. Those who decide well will be in a position to thrive in the new era … and unlock the true potential of e-mail.
Dave Lewis is the vice president of marketing and strategy for StrongMail Systems.