Tell us about your role and the team/technology you handle at Twilio SendGrid.
As VP of Industry Relations at Twilio SendGrid, I represent the company among various industry trade groups that range from the anti-abuse community, such as the Messaging, Malware, Mobile Anti-Abuse Working Group, to policy-focused organizations and Email Marketing forums. Email has been part of the fabric and underlying growth of the internet since the first email was sent in 1971. As a result of email’s pervasive nature, different communities have grown to address challenges that range from technical to legislative and everything in between.
Twilio SendGrid’s 80,000+ paying customers rely on our knowledge of the Email Marketing landscape to help guide, advise and empower them to establish meaningful dialogs with their customers. As one of the largest email senders on the planet, participation in these critical communities enables Twilio SendGrid to stay abreast of the rapid pace of innovation and the global changes in privacy law while educating marketers around the globe on best communication practices and technologies that help not only secure their brand but protect the overall health of the digital messaging ecosystem.
What percentage of your time do you spend with emails and how?
I’ve spent the last 15+ years working in email. I started my career working for an Email Service Provider that’s still around today. Since those early beginnings, my work has been focused on understanding the relationship between mailbox providers, Internet Service Providers and the millions of brands that send emails to recipients who’ve opted in to receive them. Spending time with email is too simple of a view of email itself. To understand email, you have to understand the role that data plays in informing brands of what to send to whom and when, of the technology that protects the brand and their recipients’ inboxes, and the methods by which email can be sent at scale. You could say that I spend 110% of my time swimming in these waters.
Tell us about the Google AMP announcement and how Twilio SendGrid’s customers can apply it.
The AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) project was started by Google as a way to improve the experience people have with the mobile web. AMP for Email is an extension of that technology that seeks to bring new experiences for Gmail users in their inbox. Gmail is one of the largest mailbox providers on the planet — the majority of the 50+ billion monthly emails that Twilio SendGrid processes on behalf of our customers are sent to recipients at Gmail.
Over the coming weeks, SendGrid Email API customers on the V3 platform will be able to send AMP enabled emails once they’ve undergone the process to verify their content with Gmail. Senders wishing to send AMP emails will require a positive Gmail sending reputation in addition to coding a third Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions (MIME) part, the AMP MIME part.
Recipients using Gmail via a browser or through the Gmail app on mobile devices will be treated to new experiences that seek to cut the friction from delivery to reading, to interacting, and ultimately, to conversion. For example, recipients can respond to calendar invites directly in an email and schedule appointments or events in addition to other more interactive use cases.
What roles do you envision for AI and Machine Learning in SendGrid AMP?
AI and Machine Learning are tools that help cutting-edge email marketers make sense of the treasure trove of data that’s created through the normal course of email deployment. The beauty of email is that there’s a myriad of signals that can be instrumented into both the message body and the transport of the message. That much data can’t readily be harnessed without AI and Machine Learning frameworks. At Twilio SendGrid, we use these technologies to help us in our compliance efforts to prevent abuse of our platform and other tools that customers rely on.
AMP for Email doesn’t directly rely on either AI or Machine Learning per say — AMP for Email, at its core, is more like advanced HTML that when read by Gmail is rendered with new capabilities such as dynamic accordions and in some use cases gives recipients the ability to take actions in their inbox like responding to calendar invites, scheduling and experiencing fresh content pulled in at the time of open vs. going stale and being static.
How do AI and Machine Learning solve the current challenges with Google AMP?
AI and Machine Learning will always have a place in the quiver of email marketers’ tools. Good segmentation is driven by these technologies, however, the first challenge with AMP for Email isn’t how to make sense of all the data, but whether your platform can deliver AMP-enabled emails. Most email platforms are built to handle two MIME parts: for instance Text and HTML. MIME is basically a way to inform the receiving mail or web server what kind of file they’re receiving and how to properly render or handle the data that’s being transmitted.
To send AMP, you have to handle a third MIME party that contains the AMP code. The Twilio SendGrid platform allows senders to define custom MIME parts, something very few platforms do, and as such, our senders can send that third MIME part that will be rendered by Gmail into a new experience in the inbox while other receiving domains that don’t support AMP for Email can default to the standard HTML experience.
If you close your eyes and envision what mobile devices and simple email clients were like in the late 90s and early 2000s, devices such as BlackBerrys were in every business person’s pocket. The earliest mobile phones capable of receiving and sending email did so through text-based messages. They did not render HTML, so it was crucial to have both a TXT and HTML portion so that a laptop or desktop, using a different email client such as Outlook (a wholly different experience), could be had with the message than what was possible on the earliest smartphones.
AMP for Email is the next evolution in a very long process that has taken email from strictly text-based messages to the earliest HTML messages circa 1993 when the first webmail clients were being coded and released, to today where the inbox can behave more like a micro mobile site than a static email.
What’s next for AMP for Email?
AMP for Email is just getting started! However, it would be remiss of me not to mention that, like any new technology, it does introduce new complexities for email designers and coders to solve. In addition to the complexities of coding AMP, there’s a learning curve for recipients in the inbox. AMP interactivity will be brand new, therefore, senders will have to educate their recipients on how to take advantage of these new experiences. Whether it’s through carefully crafted instructive subject lines or queues in the message body, some education to take full advantage of the message will have to happen depending on the sophistication.
We expect to see forward-thinking companies that have the human and financial resources to begin to test the various interactive elements of AMP to determine if a) its right for their audience b) how they can enhance and improve the experience their recipients have with messages constructed using AMP and c) how AMP can help their bottom line. This will be a process — early adopters like our customers Booking.com and Doodle have been part of the closed beta and have been experimenting with AMP for Email. Now, we wait to see what other companies will design and deploy emails using this innovative new technology. Uptake will take some time, however, we’re proud to be one of less than a handful of email platforms that can send AMP for our customers.
Thank you for answering all our questions!
Len Shneyder is a 15+ year email and digital messaging veteran and the VP of Industry Relations at 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.
Founded in 2009, after graduating from the TechStars program, SendGrid developed an industry-disrupting, cloud-based email service to solve the challenges of reliably delivering emails on behalf of growing companies. Like many great solutions, SendGrid was born from the frustration of three engineers whose application emails didn’t get delivered, so they built an app for email deliverability. Today, SendGrid is responsible for sending billions of emails for some of the best and brightest companies in the world