AvePoint lands $200M investment to expand market for Microsoft cloud governance tools

While Microsoft cloud services such as SharePoint, Microsoft Teams and Office 365 are used widely by large organizations, the products don’t come standard with an enterprise-grade control layer. That’s where AvePoint, a Microsoft independent software (ISV), comes in. Today, the company announced a $200 million Series C investment.

The round was led by TPG Sixth Street Partners with additional participation from prior investor Goldman Sachs and other unnamed investors. The round brings the total raised to $294 million, according to the company.

The company says that the equity investment has a couple of purposes. First of all it wants to provide some liquidity for long-time investors. Secondly, it wants capital for company expansion.

Specifically, it provides a set of governance and migration services for Microsoft SharePoint, Teams, Office 365, and other Microsoft SaaS products. The company has been around for 18 years, but transitioned about five years ago to protecting online services, chief marketing officer Dux Raymond Sy explained. Prior to that it concentrated on on-prem services like SharePoint backup.

Today, AvePoint takes care of few key management tasks. First of all, it provides a policy layer on top of Office 365, Microsoft Teams and SharePoint to give companies the ability to enforce usage rules across these products. For instance, it could define the types of files an employee can share in Teams.

In addition, the company provides backup for the three services and others like Microsoft Dynamics to aid in disaster recovery, and finally it has migration tools to move data from a related cloud service to a Microsoft cloud service.

For example, AvePoint could help move documents from Google Drive to Office 365 or Slack data to Microsoft Teams.

Sy says the company has been growing rapidly with four consecutive quarters of record growth, which he said works out to about 40% year over year growth. AvePoint currently has 1250 employees serving 16,000 customers. Overall, it is helping to protect 7 million Microsoft cloud service users around the world, but it has a long-term, rather ambitious goal of adding more than 40,000 new customers.

It hopes to expand its market further by adding new services to sell to existing customers, while expanding aggressively into the SMB market. It also wants to enhance relationships with channel partners to sell AvePoint on its behalf. It already has a number of channel partners including Ingram Micro, Synnex and TechData.

The new investment should help the company invest in the engineering, sales, customer service and partner relations that this level of expansion will no doubt require.

India’s Reliance Jio rolls out Wi-Fi calling feature

Two of the top three telecom operators in India are beginning to address one of the biggest challenges hundreds of millions of their subscribers face in the country each day: poor call quality and abrupt voice drops.

Reliance Jio, India’s second largest telecom operator, announced today that it now supports voice and video calling functionality over Wi-Fi network. The 4G-only network said it has started to roll out the feature to all of its subscribers in India and expects to reach all of its 360 million consumers by next week.

The rollout of calls over Wi-Fi functionality on Jio comes weeks after Airtel, India’s third largest telecom operator with over 260 million subscribers, began to support this feature in select places in the country. Neither of the operators are levying any additional fee for this feature and say that their subscribers can place phone calls over Wi-Fi across the networks.

Wi-Fi calling is a popular feature that enables users to latch onto their wireless internet connection to make phone calls. These calls tend to be of much better quality than those that rely on traditional telecom infrastructure. In the U.S., T-Mobile, Verizon (which owns TechCrunch), and AT&T began to offer this feature in late 2015 and early 2016.

In many markets such as India, calls over internet began to gain traction four to five years ago after services such as WhatsApp enabled such functionality. In the years since, telecom operators have also rolled out support for calls over LTE network.

Airtel currently supports Wi-Fi calling in select circles — such as Mumbai, Kolkata, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu — and requires its users to be a subscriber of Airtel broadband service. It also works only on a handful of smartphone models.

Reliance Jio, on the other hand, supports more than 150 smartphone models including several recent iPhone generations and a wide-range of mid-tier and high-end Android smartphones. A Reliance Jio spokesperson told TechCrunch that Jio’s Wi-Fi calling functionality works on any Wi-Fi network.

Akash Ambani, Director of Jio, said Reliance Jio consumers already use over 900 minutes of voice calling every month. “The launch of Jio Wi-Fi Calling will further enhance every Jio consumer’s voice-calling experience, which is already a benchmark for the industry with India’s-first all VoLTE network,” he said in a statement.

Vodafone, which at the last count (PDF) was ahead of Reliance Jio by a few million subscribers, is yet to offer this functionality. The announcement follows price hike by all the top three telecom networks in India.

ClassPass, finally a unicorn, raises $285 million in new funding

ClassPass has today announced the close of a $285 million Series E funding round led by L Catterton and Apax Digital, with participation from existing investor Temasek. This latest round brings ClassPass’s valuation to $1 billion.

We had heard this round was in the works and today it’s been confirmed.

ClassPass launched in 2013 to give users an easier way to work out. The company partners with boutique fitness studios, letting users search through that inventory and book a class all from their smartphone. Since launch, ClassPass has implemented several different business models, trying to find the right unit economics.

In 2017, the company announced it would be introducing a credit system via virtual currency. Combined with its data around the popularity of classes, this allowed ClassPass to introduce variable pricing. Instead of users paying a monthly fee for three, five or ten classes per month, users could use their virtual ClassPass currency to sign up for classes and pay based on the demand around those classes.

With the revenue model in place and working, ClassPass has focused on growth over this past year. International growth has been a top priority, with the company now operating in 28 countries, partnering with more than 30,000 partners, including boutique studios, gyms and wellness providers.

The second area of growth has been on the business front. ClassPass introduced a corporate program that allows organizations to subsidize the employees using the product. Lanman says this differs from other corporate programs that ask the employer to subsidize each individual employee whether they use the product or not.

Thus far, ClassPass has more than 1,000 employers using the platform, including Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, Google and Facebook.

Finally, ClassPass is expanding its offering with the introduction of wellness providers. Since the inception of the company, Kadakia has always envisioned ClassPass as a portal through which users can find and enjoy new experiences. The plan has always been to go beyond fitness, and wellness is the next link in the chain for ClassPass.

Kadakia said that most of the users who sign up for meditation on ClassPass (the company’s most popular wellness option) are trying it for the first time.

Here’s what she had to say in a prepared statement:

We are motivated by the impact we’ve had on members and partners, including 100 million hours of workouts that have already been booked. This investment is a significant milestone that will further our mission to help people stay active and spend their time meaningfully.

ClassPass has come a long way since 2013, iterating its business model several times. But CEO Fritz Lanman believes that ClassPass’s ability to adapt is one of its greatest strengths.

When it first launched, a ClassPass membership offered unlimited classes each month to users. Eventually, that was re-priced and a cap was introduced on the number of monthly classes users could take. This all led to the launch of virtual currency and variable pricing, which seems to be the piece that fits the puzzle.

“Change can be good,” said Lanman. “I’m not ashamed of the business model iterations we went through. It’s unclear if we would have even gotten to this credit system had we not had business models that worked at a smaller scale.”

He went on to say that some businesses won’t have a model that is perfect and will work forever, and that there are a lot of benefits to going through the process of business model iteration.

This brings ClassPass’s total funding to nearly $550 million. Future plans for the company include more geographic expansion and growing the corporate business.

What to expect in digital media in 2020

As we start 2020, the media and entertainment sectors are in flux. New technologies are enabling new types of content, streaming platforms in multiple content categories are spending billions in their fight for market share and the interplay between social platforms and media is a central topic of global political debate (to put it lightly).

As TechCrunch’s media columnist, I spoke to hundreds of entrepreneurs and executives in North America and Europe last year about the shifts underway across everything from vertically-oriented video series to physics engines in games to music royalty payments. Looking toward the year ahead, here are some of the high-level changes I expect we will see in media in 2020, broken into seven categories: film & TV, gaming, visual & audio effects, social media, music, podcasts and publishing.

Film and TV

In film and television, the battle to compete with Netflix continues with more robust competition than last year. In the U.S., Disney is off to a momentous start with 10 million Disney+ subscribers upon its launch in November and some predicting it will hit 25 million by March (including those on free trials or receiving it for free via Disney’s partnership with Verizon). Bundled with its two other streaming properties, Hulu and ESPN+, Disney+ puts Disney alongside Amazon and Netflix as the Big Three.

Consumers will only pay for so many subscriptions, often one, two, or all of the Big Three (since Amazon Prime Video is included with the broader Prime membership) then a smaller service that best aligns with their personal taste and favorite show of the moment.

AT&T’s HBOMax launches in May with a $14.99/month price tag and is unlikely to break into the echelon of the Big Three, but could be a formidable second tier competitor. Alongside it will be Apple TV+. With a $4.99/month subscription, Apple’s service only includes a small number of original productions, an HBO strategy as HBO gets bundled into a larger library. CBS All Access, Showtime, and NBCUniversal’s upcoming (in April) Peacock fall in this camp as well.

Across Europe, regional media conglomerates will find success in expanding local SVOD and AVOD competitors to Netflix that launched last year — or are set to launch in the next few weeks — like BritBox in the UK, Joyn in Germany and Salto in France. Netflix’s growth in coming from outside the U.S. now so its priority is buying more international shows that will compel new demographics to subscribe.

The most interesting new development in 2020 though will be the April launch of Quibi, the $4.99/month service offering premium shows shot for mobile-first viewing that has already secured $1 billion in funding commitments and $150 million in advertising revenue. Quibi shows will be bite-size in length (less than 15 minutes) and vertically-oriented. The company has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into commissioning established names to create dozens of them. Steven Spielberg and Guillermo del Toro each have Quibi programs and NBC and CBS are creating news shows. The terms it is offering are enticing.

Quibi, which plans to release 125 pieces of content (i.e. episodes) per week and spend $470 million on marketing this year, is an all-or-nothing bet with little room to iterate if it doesn’t get it right the first time; it needs hit shows that break into mainstream pop culture to survive. Billionaire founders Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman have set expectations sky-high for the launch; expect the press to slam it in April for failing to meet those expectations and for the platform to redeem itself as a few of its shows gain traction in the months that follow.

Meanwhile, live sports remains the last hope of broadcast TV networks as all other shows go to streaming. Consumers still value watching sports in real-time. Streaming services are coming for live sports too, however, and will make progress toward that goal in 2020. Three weeks ago, DAZN secured the rights to the 2021/22 season of Germany’s Champions League, beating out broadcaster Sky which has shown the matches for the last 20 years. Amazon and YouTube continue to explore bids for sports rights while Facebook and Twitter are stepping back from their efforts. YouTube’s “YouTube TV” and Disney’s “Hulu with Live TV” will cause more consumers to cancel cable TV subscriptions in 2020 and go streaming-only.

The winners in the film & TV sector right now are top production companies. The war for streaming video dominance driving several of the world’s wealthiest companies (and individuals) to pour tens of billions of dollars into content. Large corporations own the distribution platforms here; the only “startups” to enter with strength — DAZN and Quibi — have been launched by billionaires and started with billion-dollar spending commitments. The entrepreneurial opportunity is on the content creation side — with producers creating shows not with software developers creating platforms.

Gaming

The gaming market is predicted to grow nearly 9% year-over-year from $152 billion globally in 2019 to $165 billion in 2020, according to research firm Newzoo, with more than two billion people playing games each year. Gaming is now widespread across all demographic groups. Casual mobile games are responsible for the largest portion of this (and 45% of industry revenue) but PC gaming continues to grow (+4% last year) and console gaming was the fastest growing category last year (+13%).

The big things to watch in gaming this year: cross-platform play, greater focus on social interaction in virtual worlds and the expansion of cloud gaming subscriptions.

Fortnite enticed consumers with the benefits of a cross-platform game that allows players to move between PC, mobile and console and it is setting expectations that other games do the same. Last October we saw the Call of Duty franchise come to mobile and reach a record 100 million downloads in its first week. This trend will continue and it will spread the free-to-play business model that is the norm in mobile games to many PC and console franchises in the process.

Gaming is moving to the social forefront. Many people are turning to massively multiplayer online games (MMOs) like Fortnite and PUBG to socialize, with gameplay as a secondary interest. Games are virtual worlds where players socialize, build things, and own assets much like in the real world. That results in an increasingly fluid interplay between socializing in games and in physical life, much as socializing in the virtual realms of social apps like Instagram or Twitter is now viewed as part of “real world” life.

Expect VCs to bet big on the thesis that “games are the new social networks” in 2020. Large investment firms that a year ago wrote off the category of gaming as “content bets” not fit for VC are now actively hunting for deals.

On this point, there are several startups (like Klang Games, Darewise Entertainment, Singularity 6 and Clockwork Labs) that raised millions in VC funding to create open world games that will launch (in beta at least) in 2020. These are virtual worlds where all players exist in the same instance of the world rather than being capped at 100 or so players per instance. Their visions center of digital realms where people will contribute to in-game economies, create friendships and ultimately earn income just like their “real-world” lives. Think next-gen Second Life. Expect them to take time to seed their worlds with early adopters in 2020 before any of them gain mainstream traction in 2021.

Few are as excited about social interaction in games as Facebook, it seems. Eager to own critical turf in the next paradigm shift of social media, Facebook will accelerate its gaming push this year. In late 2019, it acquired Madrid-based PlayGiga — which was working on cloud gaming and 5G technology — and the studio behind the hit VR game Beat Saber. It also secured exclusive rights to the VR versions of popular games like Ubisoft’s “Assassin’s Creed” and “Splinter Cell” for Oculus. Horizon, its virtual world for social interaction within VR, is expected to launch this year as well.

Facebook is betting on AR/VR as the paradigm shift in consumer computing that will replace mobile; it is pouring billions into its efforts to own the hardware and infrastructure pieces which are several years of R&D away from primetime. In the meantime, the consumer shift to social interaction in virtual worlds is occurring in established formats — mobile, PC, and console — so it will work to build the bridge for consumers from that to the future.

Lastly, cloud gaming was one of last year’s biggest headlines with the launch of Google Stadia and you should expect it to be again this year. By moving games to cloud hosting, consumers can play the highest quality games from lower quality devices, greatly expanding the market of potential players. By bundling many such games into a subscription offering, Google and others hope to entice consumers to try many more games.

As TechCrunch’s Lucas Matney argued, however, cloud gaming is likely a feature for existing subscription gaming platforms — namely Playstation Now and Xbox Game Pass — more so than the basis for a new platform to differentiate. The minor latency inherent in playing a cloud-hosted game makes it unattractive to hardcore gamers (who would rather download the game). Next to Sony and Microsoft’s offerings, Stadia’s limited game selection fails to stand out. The competition will only heat up this year with the entry of Amazon. Google needs to launch the Stadia integration with YouTube and the Share State feature that it promoted in its Stadia announcement to really drive consumer interest.

Visual and audio effects

Midnite raises $2.5M for its esports betting platform

Midnite, the London-based esports betting startup from the same team behind daily fantasy football app Dribble, has raised just over $2.5 million in funding. The “strategic” investment is led by gaming-focussed venture firm Makers Fund.

Previous investors in Midnite include London VC firm Venrex Investment Management, as well as unnamed “founders and executives” from leading gaming companies including Betfair and GVC. The new round brings the total raised by the 2016 founded company to around $4.5 million.

“The esports market is seeing rapid year-on-year growth and we believe that betting represents the single biggest opportunity in this space,” Midnite co-fonder Nick Wright tells TechCrunch. “Wagering on esports is expected to exceed $12bn by the end of 2020, making betting already one of the fastest growing verticals within esports”.

However, despite the size of opportunity, Wright says that for most big sports betting sites, esports is “just another tab” in their legacy sports betting offering, but that esports fans are not simply just another type of sports fan. “They are an entirely new customer category and deserve a platform tailored to them,” he says. “This is why Midnite exists”.

With that in mind, Wright pitches Midnite as an “entertainment platform” that provides an immersive experience for esports fans. He says fans get the thrill of watching, analysing, and betting on their favorite teams and players as they face off in tournaments around the world.

“What makes esports differ from other sports is the constant action and its highly dynamic nature,” says the Midnite co-founder. “This is conducive to a variety of live betting opportunities that you can seldom find in real sports. Users can bet on your standard match winners and losers, but they can also bet on unique selections such as next kill or next objective achieved while matches are in-play”.

Noteworthy, although operating in an invite-only beta, the startup has already acquired a betting license in the U.K., which Wright points out is the biggest betting market in the world.

He says this makes Midnite the only dedicated esports betting platform that accepts customers in the U.K, and that the company is focused on operating globally in jurisdictions that can legally accept customers. “[We] are acquiring additional licenses to do so,” he adds.

“In the past, betting on esports has been carried out by unregulated operators, which meant that the unregulated market was several times bigger than the regulated market. Many operators offering esports betting would not be licensed, were not taking responsible gambling seriously or even performing age verification checks. This meant customers want to bet on esports were often placing themselves at risk.

“We are creating a safe and responsible environment for these fans. Customer safety is our top priority and we are taking it very seriously. We are doing everything by the book to ensure our community is safeguarded and are compliant with all the regulations in markets where we are operational”.

Impossible adds ‘ground pork’ and ‘sausages’ to its lineup of plant-based foods

Impossible Foods made huge waves in the food industry when it came up with a way of isolating and using “heme” molecules from plants to mimic the blood found in animal meat (also comprised of heme), bringing a new depth of flavor to its vegetarian burger.

This week at CES, the company is presenting the next act in its mission to get the average consumer to switch to more sustainable, plant-based proteins: it unveiled its version of pork — specifically ground pork, which will be sold as a basic building block for cooking as well as in sausage form. It’s a critical step, given that pork is the most-eaten animal product in the world.

Impossible has set up shop in CES’s outdoor area, situated near a line of food trucks, and it will be cooking food for whoever wants to come by. (I tasted a selection of items made from the new product — a steamed bun, a meatball, some noodles and a lettuce wrap — and the resemblance is uncanny, and not bad at all.) And after today, the new product will be making its way first to selected Burger King restaurants in the US before appearing elsewhere.

It may sound a little far-fetched to see a food startup exhibiting and launching new products at a consumer electronics show, attended by 200,000 visitors who will likely by outnumbered by the number of TVs, computers, phones, and other electronic devices on display. Indeed, Impossible is the only food exhibitor this year.

But if you ask Pat Brown, the CEO and founder of Impossible Foods (pictured right, at the sunny CES stand in the cold wearing a hat), the company is in precisely the right place.

“To me it’s very natural to be at CES,” he said in an interview this week at the show. “The food system is the most important technology on earth. It is absolutely a technology, and an incredibly important one, even if it doesn’t get recognised as such. The use of animals as a food technology is the most destructive on earth. And when Impossible was founded, it was to address that issue. We recognised it as a technology problem.”

That is also how Impossible has positioned itself as a startup. Its emergence (it was founded 2011) dovetailed with an interesting shift in the world of tech. The number of startups were booming, fuelled by VC money and a boom in smartphones and broadband. At the same time, we were starting to see a new kind of startup emerging built on technology but disrupting a wide range of areas not traditionally associated with technology. Technology VCs, looking for more opportunities (and needing to invest increasingly larger funds), were opening themselves up to consider more of the latter opportunities.

Impossible has seized the moment. It has raised around $777 million to date from a list of investors more commonly associated with tech companies — they include Khosla, Temasek, Horizons Ventures, GV, and a host of celebrities — and Impossible is now estimated to be valued at around $4 billion. Brown told me it is currently more than doubling revenues annually.  

With his roots in academia, the idea of Brown (who has also done groundbreaking work in HIV research) founding and running a business is perhaps as left-field a development as a food company making the leap from commodity or packaged good business to tech. Before Impossible, Brown said that he had “zero interest” in becoming an entrepreneur: the bug that has bitten so many others at Stanford (where he was working prior to founding Impossible) had not bitten him.

“I had an awesome job where I followed my curiosity, working on problems that I found interesting and important with great colleagues,” he said.

That changed when he began to realise the scale of the problem resulting from the meat industry, which has led to a well-catalogued list of health, economic and environmental impacts (including increased greenhouse gas emissions and the removal of natural ecosystems to make way for farming land. “It is the most important and consequential issue for the future of the world, and so the solution has to be market-based,” he said. “The only way we can replace themes that are this destructive is by coming up with a better technology and competing.”

Pork is a necessary step in that strategy to compete. America, it seems, is all about beef and chicken when it comes to eating animals. But pigs and pork take the cake when you consider meat consumption globally, accounting for 38% of all meat production, with 47 pigs killed on average every second of every day. Asia, and specifically China, figure strongly in that demand. Consumption of pork in China has increased 140% since 1990, Impossible notes.

Pigs’ collective footprint in the world is also huge: there are 1.44 billion of them, and their collective biomass totals 175 kg, twice as much as the biomass of all wild terrestrial vertebrates, Impossible says.

Whether Impossible’s version of pork will be enough or just an incremental step is another question. Ground meat is not the same as creating structured proteins that mimic the whole-cuts that are common (probably more common) when it comes to how pork is typically cooked (ditto for chicken and beef and other meats).

That might likely require more capital and time to develop.

For now, Impossible is focused on building out its business on its own steam: it’s not entertaining any thoughts of selling up, or even of licensing out its IP for isolating and using soy leghemoglobin — the essential “blood” that sets its veggie proteins apart from other things on the market. (I think of licensing out that IP, as the equivalent of how a tech company might white label or create APIs for third parties to integrate its cool stuff into their services.)

That means there will be inevitable questions down the line about how Impossible will capitalise to meet demand for its products. Brown said that for now there are no plans for IPOs or to raise more externally, but pointed out that it would have no problem doing either.

Indeed, the company has built up an impressive bench of executives and other talent to meet those future scenarios. Earlier this year, Impossible hired Dennis Woodside — the former Dropbox, Google and Motorola star– as its first president. And its CFO, David Lee, joined from Zynga back in 2015, with a stint also in the mass-market food industry, having been at Del Monte prior to that.

Lee told me that the company has essentially been running itself as a public company internally in preparation for a time when it might follow in the footsteps of its biggest competitor, Beyond Meat, and go public.

“From a tech standpoint I’m absolutely confident that we can outperform what we get from animals in affordability, nutrition and deliciousness,” said Brown. “This entire industry is most destructive by far and has major responsibility in terms of climate and biodiversity, but it going to be history and we are going to replace it.”

CES 2020 coverage - TechCrunch

Huami and Studio take on Peloton with the Amazfit HomeStudio treadmill

Chinese wearable company Huami and fitness startup Studio are teaming up to build a connected treadmill, which they unveiled today as part of Huami’s keynote as CES.

The most notable feature of the Amazfit HomeStudio is its lack of a traditional treadmill front. Instead, you control the device using your smartphone, while content is delivered to a separate, vertically-oriented 43-inch HD screen that the companies are calling the Glass.

The Glass kind of looks like a giant phone, and it also includes a camera that can analyze your movements with computer vision (if you’re worried about privacy, there’s a slide piece that covers the camera).

As for the treadmill itself, it’s 20 inches wide and 53 inches long, with a slat belt surface for a softer running feel.

Huami may be an unfamiliar name to most U.S. readers, but the company says it shipped 18.1 million wearable devices in 2017, and it went public on the New York Stock Exchange in 2018. Studio, meanwhile, has created more than 1,000 online fitness classes with a focus on treadmill running.

Studio founder and CEO Jason L. Baptiste (who previously founded mobile publishing company Onswipe) told me that with his vision of making running more fun and accessible to non-runners, he’s always seen creating a treadmill as part of Studio’s roadmap, allowing the startup to offer a fitness experience that’s truly “immersive and personal.”

Amazfit HomeStudio

And while Peloton sells a connected treadmill with a 32-inch screen, Baptiste said most treadmill makers are “manufacturing companies or devices something without great software or content or community.” He added, “We wanted to get the content and software right before we ever thought about doing anything with hardware.”

So the Amazfit HomeStudio combines Studio’s content with Huami’s hardware expertise, and it integrates with Huami devices and other wearables to track heart rate. And while a treadmill is obviously best for running, the Glass can also offers classes in sculpt, yoga and stretching.

Huami and Studio are not announcing pricing or timing, but Baptiste said the treadmill will be “an incredible value compared to competing products on the market.” (Pricing for the Peloton Tread starts at $4,295.) He also acknowledged that the real moneymaker will be the content subscription, which will cost $34.99 per month.

“At the end of 2019, Huami defined a new mission: Connect Health with Technology. STUDIO’s passion for fitness has proven to be a perfect match,” said Huami Chairman and CEO Wang Huang in a statement. “We want to bring the latest in fitness to our users, through products and services they can count on. That’s what Huami Amazfit is bringing to the new decade – cutting-edge innovation in health technology.”

CES 2020 coverage - TechCrunch

New Technologies That Will Change How Subscribers Read Your Emails

I don’t have to tell you that marketing technology is always changing, you experience that every day. As an email marketer you live and breathe browsing behaviors, purchasing decisions, and re-targeting decisions based on new sets of data. Your email program has probably evolved over the years adapting to shifts trends. Consumers now use an array of devices used to check email and to maximize your reach you’ve worked to integrate all your marketing data to deliver the perfect content, at the perfect time to your subscribers.

Recently there have been some changes that will not only impact the content that can be sent subscribers, but also how those subscribers interact with your messages. Two topics that signal this shift is the growing adoption of AMP for email at the mailbox provider level and text-to-voice software like the new “Play My Email” function for Outlook. Both are markers of what is possible with email creatives and how email fits into a subscriber’s everyday life.

AMP Scripting for Email

AMP or an Accelerated Mobile Page was developed to combat slow-loading mobile web pages and was not originally for email. The weight of all the assets and resources that go into a single web page can be too much to render quickly. AMP allows content to load faster, be more engaging, and easier for the end user to consume content. Now enter AMP for email, carrying the same mantle as it’s AMP for web predecessor. It is tempting to dive into the nitty-gritty of AMP for email, instead let’s take a high-level overview of this new technology and how it can make a subscriber seamlessly move through the sales funnel of interest, decision, and action. To illustrate this a little better, I will use a fictional travel company as an example.

Envision you get an email from this travel company that has a call out for a destination you have been wanting to visit. After seeing a highly desirable resort at an affordable price, you click on the call to action and are taken to the travel company’s site. You look at pictures, view local activities, peruse the accommodations, and then decide that this option is not for you and you want to review others. You then go back to your email, scroll through, click a different link, and start the evaluation process all over again. This constant back and forth between email and browser could create fatigue. You may stop browsing and potentially begin looking for a new way to book your vacation.

This whole process is creating friction between two stages of the sales funnel, interest and decision. If a subscriber must take unnecessary time to explore all their options before making a decision, they can just as easily choose to make no decision at all. This leaves both the subscriber and sender somewhat dissatisfied with the email experience. With AMP for email though, all that investigation can be done in the subscriber’s inbox with a few simple clicks. They can view photos of the resorts and discover other information in an efficient fashion right from their inbox. AMP for email also has form submission elements that can cut out part of the purchase or action stage of the sales funnel. In the earlier example, if you decided to book that vacation you can select the dates, room accommodations, and other options right from the email and essentially use the travel website as the credit card processor. This example of AMP for email blends almost all stages of the sales funnel into a faster and more engaging interaction, rather than using the email as a launching point for a subscriber to interact with the brand.

Text-to-Voice Email

Microsoft recently announced a function known as “Play My Email” and this is in line with other text-to-voice features that have been appearing recently. Devices like Amazon’s Alexa and the Google Nest are gaining popularity in many households and it a matter of time before they’ll be reading a subscriber’s email aloud as a normal part of their day.

What does this mean for email marketers though? Subscribers will be even more distracted while checking their mail than before. Surveys have shown that most people check their email using an additional piece of technology. Now subscribers can have and email read to them while they are cooking dinner, folding laundry, or any other task that may be near to these text-to-voice devices. With these additional distractions, it is now more important that the content of an email is of high value to the subscriber. The content sent to subscribers will need to be specific to their immediate needs and wants for them to find the email in their inbox later and take further action. Using other technologies like dynamic content not only achieves the goal of having the content be of high value to the subscriber, but also can streamline the email development process by not having to create new email creative for each subscriber segment.

This also means that it will take longer for subscribers to consume the information in an email if it is read to them rather than skimming through an email visually. Usually if a sender can have a subscriber spend more than 8 seconds looking at an opened message that means they have successfully grabbed the subscriber’s attention. With the text-to-voice devices, much of that time may be spent having the friendly from and subject line read out loud to the subscriber. If the main content is buried down in the email past pre-header, navigation, or other content, the subscriber can just as easily skip that message and move on to the next item in their inbox. There have been great innovations that revolve around the visual aesthetics of email and how it can catch subscriber attention, but now is the time to focus on the optimization of the written content in your emails. It is important to ensure your written content is conversational, relevant, and informative from the first word or instance of alt text to have the voice-to-text software that is reading the email convey the value you are presenting to the subscriber.

The progression of all technology has one main goal, to make any task no matter how big or small more effortless for all people. Advancements like AMP for email and text-to-voice software options are appearing to make one of the most used channels of communication streamlined and more accessible to all email users. One nugget of email marketing wisdom that I like to keep top of mind is all senders are being compared to the best sender in their subscriber’s inbox, whether they are direct competitors or not. Being ready for these changes in customer experience and information consumption will help ensure your brand is what all others get compared to, not the other way around.

Towards LGPD and Beyond – You’ve Gotta Have a Plan!

As the GDPR deadline of May 25th, 2018 approached, one of the biggest mistakes many European senders made was to leave everything to the last moment. By that stage, many email subscribers were completely overwhelmed by inbox overload, and their simplest response was “ignore everything!” As a result, lists were decimated – research from Yieldify showed one-third of marketers lost over 30 percent of their email lists, with Travel (37 percent), IT/Telecoms (32 percent) and Finance (28 percent) being the most impacted. We also saw individual programs that lost over 90 percent of their lists!

In the first two posts of this series we considered the legal bases for email marketing, and the importance of having robust deliverability to ensure your subscribers receive their LGPD emails. In this post, we’ll talk about strategies for making sure those messages get a response!

1. Start Early

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) introduced its new sign-up form a full year before the GDPR deadline. Note how their approach is explicit, granular, and requires positive action to opt-in.

By the time GDPR became law, a large part of RSPB’s list was already organically compliant, meaning far less last-minute re-permissioning. They also saw much higher engagement levels from new subscribers, with open rates increasing by 1.15X and click rates by 1.9X!

2. Spread the Load

We’ve already explained the importance of avoiding sudden changes in volume. Mailbox Providers (MBPs) don’t like this behavior, because it indicates potential spam activity, or even that a program may have been compromised. In the UK one sender who tried to mail their entire base 1 day before the May 25th deadline saw over 80 percent of their emails sent to junk folders as a result.

Tesco understood this importance and took a more pragmatic approach, mailing approximately three percent of its database each day across a four-week period. In this way, volume impact was blended into Tesco’s daily activity. It also meant more conservative connection and throughput settings could be applied, which is good practice when mailing to less engaged audiences.

3. Don’t Rely on Just One Shot!

Successful re-engagement/win-back programs take a multi-email approach. If you only fire a single shot, you’re more likely to miss, as our previous research shows! Waitrose recognized this, and they ran a structured program of communications over the weeks leading up to GDPR, maximizing their opportunity to secure re-permission.

The first two emails focused on creating awareness of the new legislation, then explaining the benefits of remaining a member of the program (offers and discounts, recipe ideas, events, and tastings, etc.)

As the May 25th deadline grew closer, Waitrose increased the urgency of the language that used to persuade subscribers to continue with their program membership:

4. Maximize Your Marketing Real Estate

You don’t want to send LGPD messages to your email audience every day (although some UK and European senders did just this, generating serious program fatigue in the process!). But there are other ways of reinforcing the message while remaining reasonably subtle!

Clarks made use of the emails’ pre-header text, which read “We’ve updated our privacy policy and need to confirm you want to keep hearing from us.” This was a smart approach because most email clients now show 70-80 characters of pre-header text, meaning a good chance of the message being seen even without opening the emails.

Selfridges took a more visual approach, and for a 30-day period included the grey “Don’t lose touch” box in the top third of every marketing email they sent. As a result, they achieved exceptional subscriber retention rates, although engagement rates suffered because less promotional content was immediately visible to openers during this time.

5. Think Multichannel

Remember email doesn’t operate in a vacuum! It is part of a complex multi-channel ecosystem and your retention efforts should recognize this. Make sure you provide LGPD reminders when your customers login to their accounts. Also make them part of your postal, social and push messaging strategies if you use these channels.

If your marketing program operates above the line, also consider broader approaches to your LGPD messaging. We saw this memorable example from Manchester United football club, with re-permissioning messages shown on the digital advertising boards at Old Trafford stadium!

Another important element is Point of Sale (POS). Direct Marketing Association (DMA) research shows around 40 percent of new program sign-ups now take place in-store (almost 60 percent in the 18-34 segment). The Yieldify research also showed the single most effective tactic for post-GDPR list rebuilding was encouraging account registration and opt-in at checkout.

Senders with a physical presence should therefore think carefully about how they provide in-store LGPD education, providing advertising in the POS area, and equipping checkout staff with scripts and training to assist with these conversations.

Also, be aware LGPD will probably have impact on the way e-receipts are issued. In the UK, guidance was clear that: 1) e-receipts can not contain any marketing content (the consent to receive the e-receipt is not consent to receive marketing); and 2) customers must be provided with an opt-out from receiving email marketing at POS (meaning POS staff must be trained to ensure this happens. Read my DMA blog for more on this topic.

In summary, key points from this post are: start your LGPD preparations as soon as possible; spread out your broadcast schedule; don’t rely on a “one shot only” approach; and cover as many of your multi-channel bases as possible to communicate your LGPD messaging to your customers.

In the next—and final—installment of this series, we’ll provide guidance around effective use of language and creative to maximize the impact of your emails during the inbox overload period we are expecting as next August approaches.

 

What is List Verification and Why is it Important?

With so many strategies to implement in the market these days – marketing automation, personalization, mobile experience — it can be tough to truly understand them all. If the importance of validating contact data has fallen into that mix for you, look no further. As the trailblazers of list verification, we are here to be your experts on this area of marketing and database management.   

We’ve answered a few questions below that we hear most frequently around list verification. 

1. What is list verification and why is it important? 

Even the best admins and marketing teams struggle with invalid contact information. Stale email addresses, misspelled mailing addresses, and fake phone numbers impact critical efforts across the company. These prevent you from reaching your customers and prospects and have direct impact on customer experience, your ability to hit sales numbers, and ultimately the bottom line.  

List verification directly solves these challenges, ensuring you’re collecting and utilizing valid contact information across the business.  

Our list verification solution helps you validate data in three different ways. 

  • Verify addresses live, at the source of input. If the email entered is not real, there is an immediate prompt for correction. 
  • Drag and drop existing lists into the web application and receive a breakdown of the validity of each email address.  
  • Verify email addresses directly within Salesforce and get warned when one is invalid, keeping your CRM data clean. 

Whether you implement just one or, ideally, each of the three options above, you’re on your way to maximizing the customer experience, protecting the email experience, and increasing ROI. 

2. What are invalid emails and why does it matter if I send to them? 

Simply put, an invalid email address is an email that does not exist.  

Stale or invalid email addresses negatively impact your sending reputation, raising a red flag to blacklists and mailbox providers as spammy behavior. In turn, this jeopardizes your connection with valid email subscribers.  

There are three ways we determine an invalid email address: 

  • Invalid Format 

The email address format is incorrect. For example, james0uwerwe#com is not in the correct email format of inbox@domain.com 

  • Invalid Email Domain 

The email address is associated with a domain that doesn’t exist. For example, briteeeeverify.com is not a real domain capable of sending and receiving email, so inbox@briteeeeverify.com is an invalid email. 

  • Invalid Email Account 

The email account does not exist at the given domain. This can be due to a typo upon collection, entering of a fake address, or it was once valid, but churned over time as mailboxes naturally shut down.  

3. Is there a way to verify phone numbers and mailing addresses? 

Yes! With our real-time API, you can not only verify email addresses, but also ensure both phone and mailing address contact fields are complete and accurate at the point of capture. The API can verify mailing addresses in the US and phone numbers in the US and Canada. This includes determining if a phone number is a cell, landline, or VOIP as well as its location: residential, business, or small office. 

4. How does the security around list verification work? 

One of your most valuable assets is the personal data of your customers and subscribers. To help keep that data secure, we limit how long we retain your verified lists in our system for download. After your records expire, you can still access your detailed results for each verified list, keeping your aggregated data close at hand for analytics, but personally identifiable information is removed for the safety of your subscribers. 

Additionally, we are proud to operate in the most privacy conscious, industry tolerant, PII sensitive, way possible. We practice the GDPR principles of data minimization and pseudonymization. We only store enough information to deliver our solutions. All data is encrypted in transit, and any personal data we receive is also hashed and encrypted at rest as well.

5. Why do I need a subscription instead of a one-time run? 

This is kind of like asking, “Why do I need to clean out the refrigerator? I did so 6 months ago”. Just like with your aging produce that has been sitting in the vegetable drawer, contact data goes stale. Some of this you may need to toss out while adding fresh items back in. By verifying your list only one-time, you’re harming your efforts in a couple ways: 

  • Point-of-collection captures are left out
    Capturing accurate data real-time from point of collection ensures your data is clean from the start. By only allowing accurate contact data into your CRM, you’ll reduce maintenance costs and gain better customer insights to leverage for crafting relevant, meaningful, and timely experiences and services.
     
  • Lists are constantly growing and evolving
    Ideally your subscriber list will constantly be growing in an organic way. As this takes place, new data is infiltrating your database. At the same time, already-captured data is aging and possibly becoming invalid. It’s crucial to stay on top of these changes with constant verifications.

6. I already use a marketing automation tool. How is this different? 

In its simplest form, the main job of a marketing automation tool is to send your email. However, there are typically not steps taken within this solution prior to a send to verify the addresses you’re sending to are valid. By integrating list verification with your ESP, you’re able to ensure you’re sending to real email addresses before you hit send. 

7. How do I justify the cost? 

A fake email is not just a lost opportunity. 25% of all email addresses collected are invalid, making it a financial liability. Sending to valid addresses increases engagement rates, improves reputation with mailbox providers, and drives more conversions. Want to see how it could impact your program specifically? Hop into this ROI calculator to run your numbers and see the potential impact.  

Whew, that was a lot! Hopefully that helps clarify any questions you may have had around list verification and its value to your email program. When implemented, list verification streamlines your subscriber list, improving your reputation and impacting conversions and ROI. It’s a must-have for any serious email marketer.  

Ready to verify your data? Click here to learn more about BriteVerify, the industry’s longest-standing and most complete email and contact verification solution. 

Have a question we didn’t cover? Contact us and we’d be happy to help.