It’s Almost 2020 – Are You Still Emailing Like It’s 1999?

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If email marketing were a human being, it would be a mature adult by now. It survived a wild infancy and tumultuous adolescence to emerge as a respected professional with valuable experience, a few life lessons and a very positive outlook on its future.

What does that future look like as we move into the 2020s? 

Email is poised to continue its gradual upward trajectory resulting from wiser use of the channel, better technology and a wider embrace of data to create emails that consistently aim to help consumers and to meet company objectives at the same time.

Okay, that was a mouthful. But there’s plenty of evidence to support it. Here are five email marketing trends in 2020 that support our optimistic view of email’s future.

  • Personalization will remain a major tactic to connect with customers.
  • Technology is getting smarter and easier to use, but it still needs to serve your objectives, not run the show.
  • Data management will become more important to comply with new laws.
  • Open and click rates are going down. This is not necessarily a bad thing.
  • Email will stay future-proof because it’s more adaptable to change. 
1. Personalization will remain a major tactic to connect with customers.

One reason why personalization will stay a hot trend for years is because we’re nowhere near close to realizing all the potential that personalization done right can offer marketers and customers alike.

When Sailthru surveyed marketers for their third annual Retail Personalization Index, they learned 86% of brands sent welcome messages. Okay, not bad. But then they also discovered that only 38% included personalized recommendations in their welcome emails.

Your welcome email can incentivize your customer (lovingly but firmly) to go back to your website and buy something, complete a profile, register for a conference or just ask for more information. Personalization can make that happen.

2. Technology will keep getting smarter and easier to use. But it must serve your objectives, not run the show.

Our landmark report, The Value of Personalization Optimization for Retailers, found that today’s advanced personalization tech platforms are easier to use and require less hands-on IT support to install and integrate with existing systems. 

This trend will continue as vendors work to make their systems as easy and fast to learn as possible. But you still need to be sure the technology you use is getting you the results you need.

Technology like real-time data platforms is the means to an end, not the end in itself. A map showing your nearest store location in your email campaign isn’t just a cool thing to do. It carries out a strategy to improve the customer experience and increase store sales.  

You wouldn’t add dynamic content that replaces an expired offer with up-to-date content just because you could. You do it so you can give customers who missed out on the original offer something else to consider, which can turn a disappointment into a potential sale.

3. Data management will become more important to comply with new laws.

Email regulation is evolving from channel-specific laws like CAN-SPAM to a wider focus on data and its acquisition, management, security, protection and privacy. 

U.S. marketers don’t yet have federal regulations covering these data issues, although CCPA – the California Consumer Privacy Act – will come close when it goes into effect on Jan. 1. That’s because the law applies to all California legal residents, even if they live outside the state.

CCPA doesn’t require marketers to get permission before sending commercial email, as do CASL (Canada’s Anti-Spam Law) and GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), which governs data use in the European Union. But email addresses are among the personal data the law does cover. 

If you and your data and legal teams haven’t reviewed your potential exposure on the law, now’s a good time to read up on it..

4. Open and click rates are dipping across the board. That doesn’t mean people are souring on email.

Opens and clicks went down slightly on both broadcast and triggered emails in the second quarter of 2019, according to an Epsilon benchmark study, while volume went up 4.3%. Those trends usually work in opposition to each other – when volume goes up, engagement goes down.

https://www.marketingcharts.com/digital/email-online-and-mobile-110902

But there’s more to this seeming trend of lower engagement than you can tell just by looking at headlines. Keep these three things in mind:

  • • The numbers cover a wide swath of industries and reflect mainly broadcast email. How are your numbers trending?
  • • The open rate is notoriously inaccurate as an engagement measure. Some opens don’t get measured at all. Other times, a well-written subject line can tell readers all they need to know without opening the email, especially with triggered or transactional messages.
  • • Open and click rates don’t usually measure the most important factor in your email success: Did your campaign do what you wanted it to, or did it miss the mark?  
5. Email will stay future-proof because it’s more adaptable to change. 

Better technology, a customer-first perspective and a tight integration with company goals and objectives are three factors that will keep email strong in 2020 and beyond. But is that what email prognosticators envisioned in 2015 for email?

Below are two winning predictions (more or less)  and one definite fail:

Win: Dynamic content, personalization and real-time content will be much more prevalent, along with the next generation of emails triggered by a wider and more diverse range of behaviors. 

Technologies like Liveclicker’s real-time personalization platform are helping more marketers see higher engagement and revenue with real-time content. But, judging by our inboxes, broadcast email is still going strong. 

Win: “Email readers will get better at helping recipients manage their email by factoring in contextual information and no longer simply displaying email by an arbitrary factor like recency.”  

Inbox providers like Gmail and Yahoo! Mail have been retooling their email clients to help their users navigate their inboxes. Some of Gmail’s experiments have stressed out marketers (hello, Tabs!), but new changes that push trusted senders into the spotlight will help wanted email stand out.

Fail: “Five years in the future, all email marketing will be automated.”

In a word, no. But we’re closer than we were 5 years ago, thanks to marketer-friendly platforms that let users build content and audiences easily and more easily integrate data to power triggered and transactional emails.

Get your shades! The future is bright

With 2020 just a few email campaigns away, we’re optimistic about email’s future. Not just because we’re bullish about the engagement and revenue possibilities that Liveclicker’s technology offers brands, either.

Marketers are getting smarter about how they use technology to achieve their goals and to make it easier than ever for their subscribers and customers to connect with them through email. Customers are getting smarter about how they use email, too. Marketers would do well to understand that and to account for those preferences in how they do email.

We believe 2020 will be another great year for email. Thanks for going on this journey with us!

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Mark is Email Experience Analyst for Liveclicker. He writes for and about brands developing real, meaningful relationships with customers through email, content, digital media and more. His love for marketing lies at the place where creative and analytics intersect, and he makes a mean vegetarian chili.

Mark Miller
Author

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