Email marketing has experienced great shifts in recent years, and is set to undergo dramatic changes before the end of the decade.
We explored the future of the channel in our recent Email Marketing in 2020 report, where we asked 20 experts to share their vision for how email will change over the next several years.
We recently hosted a webinar where Justine Jordan and I discussed the 8 most impactful trends from the report, which touches on everything from personalization and automation to inbox functionality and privacy.
Didn’t have a chance to make it to the webinar? Don’t worry—we recorded the whole thing!
Attendees of the live webinar had some great questions, we’ve answered here.
Can you define “Single View of the Customer”?
Chad: Having a single view of the customer allows your organization to see all interactions across all touchpoints. For instance, you’d be able to see all of a customer’s interactions with your emails, website, store, and call center all in one place. This kind of visibility allows more nuanced interactions, such as using store purchases to inform tailored product suggestions in your emails or suppressing marketing emails after a customer contacts the call center with a serious complaint in order to avoid an unsubscribe due to annoyance.
How do you balance the trends of interactivity and minimalism? Or put another way: How can emails of the future be both short, consumable emails and microsites?
Chad: While it sounds contradictory, an email can have simultaneously both incredibly rich functionality and very little. It’s accomplished through responsive design and use of multipart MIME.
So today, responsive design enables an email to adapt to the screen size that it’s viewed on and to the email client that it’s viewed on. In 2020, our concept of responsive will be much broader than the desktop > tablet > smartphone modes that we think of today. It will also include the microscreens of wearables and other Internet of Things (IoT) devices, plus devices that don’t have any screens and rely on audio and voice commands, which is one of my own predictions for email marketing in 2020.
Multipart MIME will also likely have a big role to play. Traditionally, multipart MIME emails have had two parts: an HTML part and a plain text part, which is displayed when the HTML part can’t be displayed. But the Apple Watch recognizes a new part: watch-html. Marketers can use the watch-html part to create a message that’s optimized for the small screen and very limited functionality of the Apple Watch. It’s possible that we’ll have devices that recognize, say, a voice-text part in the future that will allow marketers to optimize messaging for audio/voice devices.
Is there currently a way to track email opens from wearables? Is there any plans for Litmus to add “wearables” into Email Analytics?
Justine: Tracking an email open requires that a tiny invisible image is loaded within an email. Also known as a tracking pixel or web beacon, these images work great for tracking opens in HTML emails.
Wearables like Apple Watch, on the other hand, only support the display of plain-text emails. And because open tracking relies on an image, open tracking doesn’t work in plain-text emails, or emails opened on wearables such as Apple Watch. Due to this limitation, there are no plans to add wearables to Email Analytics—the number of opens would always show as “0.”
Email Marketing in 2020
Prepare for the future of email marketing with the insights of 20 leading experts, plus survey results from thousands of marketers and consumers.
Microsoft Outlook notoriously drags down email evolution. How do you see it affecting these predictions?
Chad: It’s true that Microsoft’s desktop email app has been a drag on email. However, that email client is steadily losing users to lower-cost webmail and mobile email clients. According to our most recent Email Client Market Share data, Outlook’s share of email opens has fallen from 8.2% in February 2015 to 6.7% in February 2016. And one of our predictions for 2016 is that Outlook’s share of opens will fall to 5% by the end of this year.
If its current rate of market share loss is maintained, Outlook will have less than 1% of email opens in the year 2020. At that point, it will very little effect on email marketing as a whole.
There have been constant talks about personalization, mapping the customer journey, etc. but the majority of ecommerce companies still do batch and blast and one-size-fits-all emails. Who actually is utilizing all of these technologies and being an exemplary email marketer?
Justine: Some of my favorite highly-personalized emails recently have come from Karma, Pinterest, and Redfin.
A few hours into my first experience using my brand-new Karma wifi hotspot, they sent me an email warning me that the battery was running low. What I love about this email is that it’s quietly brilliant—it’s not an overt sale. Karma united my needs (to charge my device) with its needs (getting me to use the hotspot) to be useful and enhance my experience.
Pinterest has gone on the record as a supporter of highly personalized emails, and I’m frequently on the receiving end of their approach. If you’ve ever met me in person, you’ll know that I’m huge fan of blazers, so it was no surprise that Pinterest caught on and offered up some of their latest choices to add to my collection.
Redfin, a nationwide web-based residential real estate brokerage, also sends highly-personalized emails based on my on-site search behavior. Not only do they email about new searches that match my past browsing behavior, but they also help me discover new areas similar to ones I’ve searched in before.
HubSpot has an additional 11 brands you may want to take a look at.
In light of recent issues surrounding artificial intelligence, will those types of examples deter this type of technology?
Chad: The story of Tay, Microsoft’s AI chatbot on Twitter, is a sad commentary on us as a society, especially how we act on Twitter. However, that AI was designed for casual human interactions, whereas most of the AIs that marketers will be involved with will be more task-oriented and have a lot less…um…personality.
I find it interesting that as millennials come into play, with their assumptions of less privacy, that the belief is that anti-spam laws will strengthen. Who drives this strengthening and in what ways?
Chad: While millennials and their casual attitude toward online privacy definitely work against strengthening anti-spam laws, there are a number of powerful factors that are pulling in the opposite direction.
First, anti-spam and privacy laws in the US are very weak and haven’t seen any serious updates in a decade. The lagging nature of the legislature means that we’re overdue for stronger laws. Second, data breaches have become so common in the US that they’re not front page news anymore. However, there are serious economic and social costs associated with them, so new laws are needed to encourage stronger security. And third, while the US is very lax about privacy, the rest of the world is not. Privacy laws are much stronger in other 1st world nations, and in an increasingly global economy, these laws are impacting US companies and increasing the pressure to strengthen US laws.
Typically we’ve measured email success by click-through and open rates. With the changes in email moving forward, how should we be measuring success?
Chad: Despite email marketing’s reputation for being an easy-to-track channel, email attribution is a mess at most brands, especially ones that operate in multiple channels. And trends like wearables and email interactivity will make it even messier. Marketers will need to embrace some new tools for measuring interactions and be more holistic, thinking way more about subscriber success and engagement than about campaign success.
Marketers will also need to be really clear about what their goals are for every campaign sent. Sometimes the goal of an email will be to drive online sales or in-store sales; other times, it might be to promote social sharing, as was the case last year with our award-winning Litmus Live “Save the Date” email, which underperformed in terms of other metrics.
Email attribution is getting tougher, but machine learning and attribution modeling will get much better. My personal view is that new technology will clear up some attribution paths, but others will still be very cloudy and require common sense and faith to navigate.
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