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A New Email Decade: Webinar Recording + Q&A

Email marketing is notorious for changing frequently—and changing fast. With so many things to keep up with, how do you know what affects your program the most? In this webinar, we took a look at the changes on the email marketing horizon and share our predictions on where email is heading in 2020 and beyond.

Didn’t have a chance to watch the webinar live? Don’t worry. You can access the full recording and slides at any time and read the Q&A below.


Q&A

A big thank you to everyone who chimed in during the webinar with a question! Here’s a recap of our answers to the most popular questions, along with our take on some of the questions we didn’t get to during the live webinar. Have any additional questions? Please leave them in the comments.

Is there still a place for purely text-only emails?

Jason Rodriguez: Absolutely! Text-only emails are still a wonderful option for both transactional emails and more personalized outreach to subscribers. Additionally, text-only emails are, by their nature, incredibly accessible for people using assistive technology like screen readers. And, as more people rely on voice assistants like Alexa and Siri, text-only emails are a useful tool for getting your campaign read out loud, as they provide actual copy for voice assistants to read, unlike HTML emails that rely on images for most of their content.

How can a company effectively use animation and GIFs and still have accessible email?

Jason: Just like any other type of image, animated GIFs and PNGs can be made more accessible by including alternative text, which describes the image for people using screen reader software. Even with alternative text, though, you should keep critical messaging as real text in the HTML of your email so that it’s displayed even when images are disabled and read out loud to people using assistive technology.

In the case of CSS animations, they are inherently accessible since you’re just layering the animation on top of HTML elements like text and accessible images with alternative text. It’s a progressive enhancement on top of what is (hopefully) an already accessible experience.

How many email users in the next decade will start using audio devices to have their emails read to them?

Jason: It’s hard to say for sure. As was made evident in my own testing, voice assistants still have a long way to go before they’re really useful for reading and managing email campaigns. Still, we can expect more and more subscribers to use voice assistants, especially as their capabilities grow. According to one recent study, one in four American adults has access to a voice assistant-enabled device. And, if Amazon’s 2019 holiday sales stats are any indication, that number is growing rapidly. They claimed “tens of millions of Amazon devices” were sold, enabling more people than ever to start using voice assistants to interact with their emails.

Any thoughts on the emergence of Dark Mode and its impact on email design and testing?

Whitney Rudeseal Peet: There’s no denying Dark Mode is taking over the inbox (and the rest of your apps). Its overall impact on design and testing is still a bit murky, and will be for some time, I’m afraid. Email clients are still trying to figure out exactly how they should best implement Dark Mode, and clients like Gmail are open to feedback from users.

Our own research shows that different email clients have fundamentally different approaches to Dark Mode rendering. Some don’t impact HTML rendering at all, others make significant changes to your designs.

Where we do see a trend emerging is the use of dark themes in email design. That way, you don’t have to worry about Dark Mode completely flipping your email’s color scheme, and the dark themes look good for both Light and Dark Mode users. Really Good Emails has a great collection of dark themed emails that you can check out for some inspiration.

Is the email WYSIWYG builder here to stay, or do you think it will get phased out in the decade to come?

Heather Moran: It’s here to stay, and then some. Email is going to continue to proliferate, and I think the demand for solidly-coded emails is going to be outstripped by the ability to source the talent to produce them. Note that I didn’t say the talent wouldn’t be there, just that many businesses face constraints in being able to source such a person, be it because they are a small business or lack the budget, technical know-how, or time to recruit such a skillset even on an ad hoc project basis. These groups will increasingly look to WYSIWYG tools for email development.

I also see the rising use of WYSIWYG tools at companies with email capabilities, for internal communications to employees, especially. Again, this speaks to the recognition of the effectiveness of email and the growing desire by different groups to leverage it.

Any tips on maintaining compliance while also maintaining large email lists?

Heather: The size of a list shouldn’t impact the ability to maintain compliance: good plumbing is good plumbing. It sounds like there may be an opportunity to address the email address collection and opt-out infrastructure—which I’d assume from the question may be manually maintained, perhaps even using spreadsheets? There’s a quick way to stop this, and that’s to take the potential fines for a violation and multiply it by the size of your subscriber base. Present that as the risk level for processes that are not automated as a part of the business case for funding investment in tools that manage email subscribe and preference functions.

Which ESPs are supporting AMP for sending email? What do I do if I want to experiment with AMP, but my ESP doesn’t support it yet?

Jason: There are still only a few ESPs that support sending AMP-based emails. Google actually maintains a list of ESPs that support AMP, including some tools and resources to help you develop AMP emails. If your current ESP doesn’t support AMP emails, there are two things you should do now to prep:

  1. Start a conversation with your ESP to encourage them to support AMP in their platform. The more customers that request a feature, the more likely it is they’ll add it. 
  2. Use Google’s AMP Playground and AMP for Email documentation to get familiar with AMP and learn how it works. There are a ton of built-in examples straight from the AMP team which are great to use as a foundation for your own AMP emails.

Which tools do you suggest for streamlining the email workflow of a small, family owned business with a small (or one-person) marketing team?

Heather: Sometimes the hardest part of getting email projects done (especially as a marketing team of one) comes down to this: lack of mutual agreement. Sometimes referred to as a SLA or Service Level Agreement, you don’t have to be a big company to make use of this concept. It’s really just a plan that outlines the responsibilities, activities, and timelines for getting something out the door. Write out each step in your process, who is responsible for doing it, and what turnaround times you need. Take that to your stakeholders and talk about it from the standpoint of you wanting to make sure they are successful. Once you have buy-in—likely after some give and take—you’ll find your workflow much easier to get through.

I’d also recommend taking advantage of the tools available with platforms that you may be already using, including Litmus which allows you to share emails with stakeholders for feedback, and create tasks so nothing falls through the cracks.

Are we still going to be emailing in 10 years or will email be extinct in 2030?

Jason: Definitely. Email will likely change from what it is today as platforms evolve, emails become more sophisticated, and subscribers expect more from their inbox, but email is still one of the single most valuable marketing channels. The key to staying relevant (pun intended) over the next decade is focusing on what value you can provide customers, not just the value they can provide you.

Whitney: There won’t be an extinction—but there will definitely be an evolution, like Jason said.

How can we streamline our approvals and reviews if we require many legal reviews of our emails due to the privacy of our consumers?

Heather: The approach to streamlining workflows involving Legal and/or Compliance is very similar to that of any other workflow—but aligning on these areas is key:

  1. How emails will be submitted for review and turnaround time
  2. What is in scope for feedback, by whom
  3. Format in which feedback will be given
  4. Notation of required vs. recommended changes

It’s important to get agreement with your Legal and Compliance partners on the above items as a starting point. Just agreeing on each party’s preferred method of submitting a request and their turnaround times can be hugely helpful. In terms of scope, be sure and have a talk about what each reviewer group is reading for, and ask that they notate any comments with what is required vs. recommended to allow for more autonomy in decision-making when it comes back to you for revision.

Look for opportunity to use collaboration tools like Litmus Proof to remove the need to consolidate feedback across a variety of channels and give all reviewers the benefit of seeing each other’s remarks, especially when you are dealing with multiple regulatory groups. See if you can come up a level and, rather than getting stuck in the mire, consider conducting a strategy session where you meet with stakeholder groups to help you solve the challenge. Is it possible that a certain type of emails always goes to a designated person on a Legal or Compliance team? Are there some emails that only require initial template review? These are the types of bigger-picture questions you can brainstorm when you sit down for a strategy session. Leverage their brain power, too!

The Future of Email in 2020 and Beyond

Curious how email strategy, design, privacy, teams, and email marketing technology will change in the years to come? Together with fellow industry experts, we’re taking a dive into what the next decade will bring for email marketers.

Download the ebook →