Email marketers feel Google, Yahoo DMARC policy change

As marketers face changes to email authentication and third-party cookie deprecation, contact centers are a treasure trove of first-party data to drive multichannel campaigns.

Marketers who send 5,000 or more emails at a time to Yahoo and Gmail addresses will be blocked if they don't adhere to authentication protocols, starting this month.

This comes on top of Google deprecating third-party cookies in Chrome this year, which it began with 1% of users last month. Google plans to phase out third-party cookies for the rest of Chrome's users -- who account for almost two-thirds of browser users worldwide -- in the second half of 2024.

It all adds up to a data squeeze on marketers. As privacy standards get tighter, they will have to find new sources of data to drive their campaigns, because AI and personalization software require more and more data to accurately pitch to individual customers.

Email channels get smarter

Google and Yahoo jointly announced the adoption of three well-known email authentication standards: Sender Policy Framework; DomainKeys Identified Mail; and Domain-Based Message Authentication, Reporting and Conformance (DMARC). They all work together to combat spoofing, an email impersonation tactic that bad actors use to gain access to enterprise networks -- or that unethical marketers use to hijack legitimate servers to send large amounts of spam.

Updating email policies will be straightforward for those who have privileges to edit email metadata -- or a Cloudflare account, which has a DMARC management tool. It becomes more complicated in large corporations where red tape can delay process updates or for marketers who use third-party bulk sending services.

Further complicating matters: When a company gets spoofed by a spammer, Google and Yahoo count the spoofed emails toward the cap of 5,000 emails allowed to be sent to their users at a time. If that wasn't enough, Google and Yahoo will require bulk emailers to provide working unsubscribe mechanisms for email recipients by June.

Constellation Research analyst Liz Miller said Yahoo and Google's antispam efforts are similar to the U.S. government's attempts to limit robocalls and telemarketing. But it's a lot harder with email.

Illustration of email spoofing where the sender's name is falsely changed.
Google and Yahoo are adopting three email authentication standards to combat spoofing.

"Bad actors out there who leverage email as part of their scams -- or marginally ethical businesses -- have really kind of figured out how to skirt a vast majority of the email authentication initiatives," Miller said. "What Google, Yahoo and other mail providers are trying to figure out is, '[How do] we think about protecting our users in the same way that [telephony] carriers do to protect their customers?'"

Yet email remains a dominant marketing channel. Startups such as Cohora, however, propose other methods of reaching customers by generating more first-party data, which a company can own. Cohora builds customer community sites, hosts reviews and in turn enables companies to have direct interaction with their customers.

"Email has withstood the test of time because it continues to drive results, especially when the consumer has a relationship with a brand," said Manu Mathew, CEO at Cohora.

"I think part of the reason Google and Yahoo have introduced these things is you get folks that are prospecting [on a mass scale], trying to get you to become a customer," he said. "And then there are brands who fail to build a relationship with you -- even though a relationship is five years old, you haven't talked to them in four years, and they [continue] to bombard you with emails."

Another component of email disconnect, Mathew said, is when an e-commerce platform serves as a communications middleman between the customer and the company they're buying from. For instance, Shopify manages many notifications for its nearly 5 million stores. Often, messages -- such as unsubscribe requests -- get lost or somehow remain unforwarded, which confuses the customer relationship.

Third-party cookies fade, slowly

Just as Google and Yahoo potentially choke off some of the email responses a company might get in its marketing campaigns, Google's third-party cookie deprecation plans continue. While Google made known its plans to end these cookies years ago, it ran into numerous delays as it developed alternative audience-grouping mechanisms for its ad platform customers as well as antitrust scrutiny by the European Union.

But now it's happening. Miller said the end of the third-party cookie opened the door to tech vendors and services that focus on first-party data, and some of their customers have responded and re-imagined their marketing ops to function without third-party cookies.

The emphasis on first-party data could lead many companies to look to their contact centers for quality first-party data. They have longitudinal records of customer relationships, after all, and their agents are the front line for maintaining them across communication channels.

Generative AI is going to make contact center data more relevant and reveal more insights than before, said Ping Wu, CEO of Cresta, who was part of the Google Contact Center AI launch team. He said he believes that generative AI's ability to synthesize information in the contact center record -- including phone, social media, web, email and mobile app interactions -- will yield for marketers the accurate, well-rounded customer profile that a single channel such as email or web ads can't.

"A contact center has always been a cost center," Wu said. "Right now, two things are changing: One, you have large language models that understand the conversation really, really well -- they can pass AP Biology, right? They can really understand conversation at the granular level that no previous technology could. Two, the third-party cookie is gone. That means adtech -- a lot of it, [at least] -- is not going to work."

Meanwhile, marketers -- many of whom still rely on third-party cookies to power online ad campaigns, having put off switching tech -- will get their first taste of what a post-cookie world might look like this week, Miller said. Will web ad campaigns become diluted, the results of spending be less successful and retargeting efforts fall flat?

"The grand experiment has begun," Miller said. "One percent of Google's global audience equals about the population of Texas. So, Texas has left the building. Let's see how [bad] everything is."

Don Fluckinger covers digital experience management, end-user computing, CPUs and assorted other topics for TechTarget Editorial. Got a tip? Email him.

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