Embarke raises $1.25 million to make marketing email smarter and less intrusive

By Michael Carney , written on October 14, 2013

From The News Desk

Acquiring a list of email addresses is no longer enough to ensure your company can communicate directly with current and prospective customers. Between general email newsletter fatigue, and sophisticated filtering efforts from companies like Gmail, SaneBox, Boomerang, PhilterIt, and others, it’s harder than ever to get inbox visibility. This is good for consumer sanity, you could argue, but a nightmare for email marketers.

Embarke is a company working to reverse this trend through the use of behavioral analysis and advanced segmentation aimed at increasing email open rates and clickthrough performance. The two-year-old startup recently launched a distribution partnership and integration with SendGrid, the email service provider “responsible for 1% of the worlds non-spam email delivery.”

Today, San Diego-based Embarke announced a $1.25 million Seed round led by Social Leverage with participation from Promus Ventures, Anthem Ventures, Right Side Capital Management, and individual angeles.

Since introducing its first commercial product just four months ago, Embarke has built 5 million user behavioral profiles, through which it can offer client companies insight into what time of day an individual email recipient is most likely to open and engage with an email.

“Marketing email volume has increased by 20 percent in the last two years, and open rates are down by 20 percent,” says Embarke co-founder and CEO Al Bsharah says. “Something’s got to give.”

The company is working with the top two percent of SendGrid’s 130,000 clients and is optimizing the delivery of more than 500,000 emails daily, claiming average email open and click rate increases of five to 20 percent. This increased performance is not only beneficial for the obvious marketing effectiveness reasons, but also because it increases the sending company’s reputation among consumer email services like Gmail and Yahoo Mail, thus making it more likely that future emails will escape the spam and promotions filters. This is a virtuous cycle that any marketer is leery of ending up on the wrong side of.

Embarke is attractive to email marketers because it is entirely automated. After a 15 minute integration, the software simply sits between the sending company and their email service provider or marketing automation platform. Once an email is “sent” by the company, it is intercepted by Embarke and passed through its analytical engine. The email is then queued for sending at a later, more optimal time based on this recipient behavioral analysis. Beyond optimizing delivery time, Embark segments recipients according to their interest and engagement levels, allowing companies to market differently to various periods along the consumer lifecycle

According to Bsharah, Embarke gets more effective with each additional email sent and client company added. This is because the company is always gathering data, while also increasing the number and the accuracy of its consumer behavioral profiles. With this in mind, the company recently added former Microsoft Bing search relevance engineer and machine learning expert Steve Macbeth as an advisor.

While Embarke does not share its consumer behavioral data directly with its clients, each one benefits from the information within its rapidly expanding consumer database. For example, if a fashion etailer learns that Jane regularly opens and browses ecommerce newsletters during her lunch break, a travel retailer can similarly benefit from this knowledge because Embarke will automatically send their emails at noon on weekdays.

As the company wrote in a recent blog post: “It’s one thing to be able to track opens and clicks, but are those opens and clicks converting?  Are they signing up?  Are they turning into dollars, or actual customers?” Thus, Embarke offers its customers a conversion tracking feature that aims to answer these questions.

The SendGrid partnership is just the first of many distribution partnerships and integrations that Embarke hopes to introduce.

Of the go-to-market strategy, Bsharah says:

When a company decides to use an email service provider or marketing automation tool, requires a ton of effort to integrate, meaning that they really don’t want to change. We’ve decided to integrate with them, rather than replace them and think we can offer value to both the sending company and their current email platform provider of choice.
The strategy also reduces sales cycles, increases the average installation length, and reduces the company’s path to revenue exponentially, he adds.

The Embarke team has grown to seven people today, and is a Fall 2012 graduate of the “Microsoft Accelerator for Azure powered by TechStars” (kill me, please, naming gods) accelerator.

Embarke’s biggest competitor would likely be Sailthru. The five-year-old, New York-based company has raised $28 million to solve the same problem, but has taken a much different approach. Namely, rather than integrating with existing email systems like Embarke has done with SendGrid, Sailthru aims to replace them. It means that Sailthru and Embarke may target the same end customers, but will likely be appealing to them at very different times in their lifecycle.

When talking about marketing technology companies like Embarke, it seems prudent to ask, is this really good for consumers? The answer, in this case, would appear to be yes. The reason being, companies are going to send marketing emails regardless. Presumably, consumers signed up for these email lists because, at least on some level, they want to receive the resulting emails. But they want to receive them in a way that is manageable and non-intrusive. Waking up to several dozen newsletters sent between midnight and 5am is not this type of experience. Receiving the emails on your preferred schedule, without even having to communicate that to the sending company, is much more attractive.

Embark has a ways to go before it’s managing a material percentage of the trillions of emails sent each year. But as the company on-boards industry leaders in ecommerce and other verticals, hopefully its best practices will trickle down through the ranks. The volume of marketing email sent is unlikely to decrease any time soon. But hopefully for consumers, adoption of intelligent tools like Embarke will mean that this inbox deluge won’t feel as intrusive and unwelcome.

[Image via BMB]