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The Trends Shaping the State of Email in 2021: Webinar Recap + Q&A


2020 has been the catalyst for massive changes in the email marketing world. But what do the trends of 2020 mean for marketers moving forward? And how have those trends changed in response to a global pandemic, social and economic upheaval, and email’s changing role in people’s lives?

We invited Helen Lillard and Cristal Foster, two of our friends from Oracle, to talk through just that in our Trends Shaping the State of Email in 2021 webinar.

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


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 you seen changes in optimal send time as a result of COVID-19 and do you think those changes will carry into next year?

Cristal: We’ve seen a trend with more clients using “Send Time Optimization” which uses artificial intelligence that analyzes past send and engagement behavior. This information is used to determine the best send day and time per individual. We do see more clients using this form of AI carrying over into next year.

Jason: This is one of those questions that necessarily has to be answered with, “It depends.” Each audience is unique, so blanket statements about ideal send times don’t help anyone. Your best bet is to look at your own audience and see when they’re opening, then use that information to tailor your sends accordingly. Like Cristal mentioned, something like automated send time optimization tools can be helpful here, too. Most ESPs offer similar features, so take advantage of them if they’re in budget.

How do you make sure you don’t end up with things like “Dear $*#&@*$” or “Hello, asdf” when using personalization?

Cristal: A good data cleansing strategy. As we all know, the majority of bad data is due to user generated/populated data. There are some few steps that you can take:

  1. Identify and know your data sources (junk data in, junk data out). The key here is to identify those sources that are bringing in the bad data such as CRM, form submissions, third-party sources, etc.
  2. Analyze field-level data integrity for fields that you want to use for personalization. For example, if you plan to use First Name, review the field and clean up as much as you can even if it means deleting the junk data. And, use default values such as “Valued Customer”.
  3. Automate systematically the cleansing process. Marketing Automation Platforms, such as Oracle Eloqua, has tools in place to help you automate the data cleansing process.

What are some other examples of “life event” emails beyond just birthdays and anniversaries?

Cristal: This will vary largely by industry. In the B2B space and going beyond life events, we’ve seen programs built around software trials and warranty or certification expirations with 90-,60-,30-day countdowns.

Jason: Beyond just life event emails, I’m a huge fan of sending milestone emails based on user data. Think of Spotify’s year in review emails or weekly updates from Fitbit or Grammarly. They feel like major events but are based on engagement rather than anniversaries, which seems more significant. No one has control over when they were born, but they do have control over how they interact with your brand. They’re likely more invested in that than some arbitrary anniversary, so use that to your advantage.

What’s the right balance between personalization and privacy? Where are people drawing the line between information that’s OK to use and information that should remain private?

Cristal: Please note that this is not legal advice and it is best to consult with your Legal Department on your organization’s approach to privacy and legal compliance.

The main takeaway here is understanding that personalization and privacy are two separate things. Privacy relates to how data is collected, stored, and accessed by other systems that your organization uses and that you use the collected data for its intended purpose. This is where your organization’s privacy statement comes into play. It outlines what’s collected, how it’s collected, and how it will be used. Secondly, personalization is using information that your customer or prospect has given you permission to use. For example, a customer enters their First Name, Last Name, Company Name, Email Address, and Business Phone into a form field to access your content. You have an auto-response email setup to deliver the content via email with their First Name personalized. That is usually an expectation that your customer will have that an email will contain their First Name (especially if they requested a particular piece of content). Personalization also goes beyond field merges. You can personalize experiences based on behavior. Another example, let’s say you visit a technology site because you are interested in widgets and you place widget 1 in your shopping cart but you do not check out and leave the website completely. A few moments or even a day later, you receive an email reminding you that widget 1 is in your shopping cart. So, both personalization experiences are within the context of “doing business”.

Information that should remain private, is information that’s protected by law. Again, please consult with your Legal team but they will fall within the realm of Personally Identifiable Information (PII) or Protected Health Information (PHI).

How do you boost team morale with everyone working from home?

Cristal: In short: stay connected. Stay connected as a team by having virtual activities. Additionally, it goes a long way when the executives of your organization carve out time to stay connected with everyone as well.

Jason: We’ve seen success with doing things together as a team that have literally nothing to do with our actual work. We’ve had video game tournaments, pumpkin carving contests, recipe exchanges, and other events that bring us together, but get us all talking about things other than our daily duties. It helps us connect and learn more about each other, while relieving stress related to work. There’s enough stress in the world as-is, so making a point to remove some of it at work in a fun way could go a long way towards keeping morale high.