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Half a Century of Innovation: Looking Back on 50 Years of Email

Half a Century of Innovation: Looking Back on 50 Years of Email
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As the busy holiday shopping season approaches, the world is once again reminded of the integral role that email plays in our daily lives. Marketers have spent Q4 building and launching sophisticated, personalized email campaigns that satisfy consumers’ gift-giving needs while communicating inventory concerns brought on by supply chain disruptions. With all of the complex data and technology at the hands of savvy marketing teams, it’s hard to imagine that 2021 is the 50th anniversary of the channel. 

From his desktop computer in 1971 and while working on an early version of what would become the internet, Ray Tomlinson sent the first email from one individual to another. To do so, the MIT graduate added the @ sign, cementing a cultural legacy for electronic communications and its most recognizable symbol, still thriving five decades later.

Email has revolutionized the way the world communicates. Of course, revolutions rarely happen overnight and what we’ve come to know as email–the personalized, data-driven, visual medium brands around the world use to communicate with consumers–wasn’t built in a day. Nothing valuable ever is. Yet every new iteration improved on its earlier forms, from Erik Schmidt’s development of BerkNet as part of his 1978 master’s thesis to Shiva Ayyadurai’s idea to coin the term Email in 1979. Schmidt would later join Google and oversee the development of Gmail while Ayyadurai would go on to copyright the phrase he’s now known for.

50 Years of Innovation

The history of email is rife with technological innovations that gradually changed it from a simple, text-heavy communication method to what it is today. Whether it’s America Online popularizing the “You’ve Got Mail” sound or the first email to use personalization to build customer relationships, email has never stayed stagnant. Neither can marketers. 


Today, more than four billion people around the world have an email account, and more than 300 billion emails are sent every day. That’s made the landscape much more difficult for brands relying on the channel that sees $36 of return for every $1 of investment.

Consumers are now much more discerning. Whereas once the sound of a new email garnered a pavlovian feeling of excitement, Movable Ink and Lewis research found that 56% of people are overwhelmed by the amount of communications they receive from brands. Brands can no longer batch-and-blast simple text-based messages like they did in the old days. To catch the eye of the busy and astute consumer, marketers are utilizing sophisticated data from across their tech stack, transforming those raw numbers into stunning, visual emails that convert the mere customer into a loyalist or the weary shopper into an excited buyer.

Movable Ink Looks Forward to the Next 50 Years

Since Vivek Sharma and Michael Nutt started Movable Ink in 2011, we’ve seen evolutions in data personalization that we could only imagine ten years ago. Now, brands utilize customer data from across their martech stack to build out emails that are personalized at every touchpoint, emails that matter to people, emails that build revenue and drive business objectives.

Movable Ink continues to push the bounds of email innovation, challenging ourselves to scale technological heights that the early email pioneers could never imagine. How can we create seamless omnichannel experiences that customers can rely on for up-to-date information from the brands they trust? How will email personalization mature as privacy needs increase? What will the next communications platform look like and how will it change the way we view 1:1 marketing?

Happy anniversary, email. We can’t wait to build what comes next.

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