Not many people know that email is older than the internet. The very first email was sent by its inventor—in 1971. The internet did not do it until 12 years later. Almost half a century on, snooping around for the latest email marketing trends has become a discipline in its own right. In the coming years, however, the way we traditionally look at email—especially email marketing—will change.
Emails have become more subscriber-centric in the last few years, and 2021 is looking at how even more personalization can penetrate a more stringent “junk” filter. This means that the email marketing of the future is putting more focus on a two-pronged approach. The first is to create higher quality emails to send their message, and second, a way to make emails more interactive, personal, and more like the Web than its predecessors.
Email marketing remains one of the top ways to reach out to people when marketing your products. It has an outstanding ROI of 38:1, but some studies even show that it could be high as 44:1 (Campaign Monitor). This means that for every dollar you spend on email, you get up to $44 in return because of conversion. In contrast, a TV ad has an ROI of only 1.3:1.
That doesn’t mean email marketing is without its share of problems and challenges. This will even be more apparent in 2021 and beyond, as changing norms in the digital marketplace and growing distrust in social media are making marketers more nervous than ever. Plus, even without this backdrop, a majority of marketing experts are beset by existing woes, such as lack of data and integration (Litmus).
Biggest Challenges Facing Email Marketers
Adapting to the latest email marketing trends means acknowledging the role of new technologies and their effect on society at large. A study by Econsultancy summarizes what marketers believe are the keys to scaling email marketing to a new, always-online generation. In the next few paragraphs, we explain what these keys mean and how you can take advantage of them in 2021 and beyond.
1. Offline Going Digital
At a time when many people need to distance themselves socially because of pandemic restrictions, most consumers are staying behind closed doors. Even when they are going out, they limit their trips to the outside world for necessary errands only. This behavior poses a challenge to businesses that are primarily offline, such as cafes.
However, email marketing poses a solution. Through this digital avenue, brick-and-mortar stores can entice customers to visit them. This is a chance for them to keep up the engagement with existing patrons and other consumers that have an interest in them. They can also employ email marketing to assure customers that they have policies in place to make them feel safe while shopping or dining.
One example of a business that reaches out to customers via email to make them feel safe on their premises is a multinational cafe chain. The layout and design, while simple, highlight the Coronavirus-related policies they have in place (Really Good Emails, 2020).
Additionally, email can be the road to keep customers coming back. At an age when 75% of buyers are changing brands (ZDNet, 2021), retaining them has become critical. Businesses can send out targeted campaigns that let them stay in the consciousness of buyers and encourage them to visit again.
- 75% of customers switched brands during the pandemic.
- Offline-focused businesses can employ email to keep up engagement.
- Email marketing is crucial to retaining customers.
- Through targeted email, shops can stay on top of the minds of consumers.
2. Artificial Intelligence
Every minute, the amount of data is growing more than people—especially marketers—know what to do with. Like most marketing specialists, data is the lifeblood of any marketing industry, but making sense of it is becoming much more difficult by the day.
Salesforce estimated that the number of data sources had increased by 50% from 2017 to 2019, making it outright impossible to explore relevant customer data without some help. What’s worse, over half of marketers admit to not having a complete view of all the data available to them. And with 293 billion emails sent daily in 2019—and rose 4.7% over the next year—the need to manage data is even more critical.
AI software, however, can do much more than human marketers can. It can sift through millions of data points to predict trends, forecast subscriber actions, and identify correlations—even suggest what you need to do to retain or engage customers. Some brands even employ AI to automate everyday tasks or create compelling content. Google even uses a machine learning platform called TensorFlow to block 100 million spam emails, the equivalent of one spam email per 10 users (Google).
Expect more industries to adopt AI in 2021 for exactly these reasons. Though the industry will not change overnight, adoption will increase steadily. And in an age when a pandemic still makes people wary of social interaction, email is a channel that businesses can utilize to draw in customers. In that aspect, artificial intelligence can play a big role in pushing more automated content and smart recommendations to consumers.
- 293 billion emails were sent daily in 2019.
- Only 56% of companies have less than five external data sources. (BARC)
- AI can make sense of data much better and faster than humans can, which will make them more likely to be adopted by the industry in the coming years.
While we’re on the subject of automation, the use of AI will also inevitably lead to more personalization. We have actually been seeing the first seeds of this in the past few years. An example is an automatic email triggered by the customer’s action, such as visiting a website or abandoning a shopping cart on an ecommerce platform.
These are rudimentary, however. True automation is on the horizon, which will make full use of automation to personalize the email experience for each user. In concert with AI, marketers can personalize emails using the data they get, such as the user’s browsing history or browsing behavior. After all, 33% of people unsubscribe to emails (Adobe), no matter how great they are, if the company offers them products that they don’t like or have no history with.
HubSpot Marketing is an example of how personalization has evolved with smart rules in the last few years. You can now design and customize the message beyond clicks and segmentations and base it on multi-tiered rules—such as device, time, content consumed, purchase history, and demographics—mixed and matched down to the individual.
Three-quarters of surveyed marketers believe that subscriber-centricity is the future of email marketing (ActiveTrail). We’re moving away from mass emails and tailoring each email to cater to a specific person. You can’t do that alone, however, so you need a tool to make the process easier.
- 1 in 4 marketers believes that personalization is key to capturing more leads in emails.
- 33% of customers unsubscribe from emails because the company offers products that they are not interested in.
- Software solutions can be a big help in personalizing emails based on marketing data like browsing habits or purchase history.
Static email content is dead—long live interactivity! Allowing users to interact with your email increases engagement, which makes them more likely to buy whatever you’re selling. A study by the Litmus Group noted that interactivity is a top design trend for two years running—because it gives users the ability to interact with your brand without leaving their inbox (or opening up another webpage).
There are a lot of ways to introduce interactivity to your emails. Games are great, but interactivity can be anything that allows users to click the email and influence it in some way. Image carousels, menus, or clickable items can all be considered interactive. You can even use AR to put your email on steroids—for example, Apple supports an SDK called ARKit (Apple), which allows developers to make interactive objects or apps, which you can embed on emails.
Some, however, are more simple and straightforward. Attaching a form for feedback or review is also interactive, and can give you an insight into how your emails are received (and perceived).
Interactive content started evolving in 2019 and took off much more after that. And the numbers agree. Studies show that interactive emails increase click-to-open rates by 73% (Martech Advisor). Boost that even more—by 300%—when you add videos to your email.
Another says that interactive emails improve conversions twice as much as static ones (Upland). No matter the figures, it’s safe to say that consumers want to be entertained.
- Interactive emails increase click-to-open rates by 73%, and videos by up to 300%.
- They also improve conversions 2x better than static emails.
- Improving clickability and adding games, forms, and moving images to your email go a long way toward scratching the “entertainment itch” for users.
5. Shift to Mobile
Mobile optimization isn’t just crucial for website design, but email too. As of 2019, 41.9% of emails were opened on mobile devices, after all. This is double the open rate on desktop and still higher than webmail open rate. Distressingly enough, only 20% of email marketing campaigns use mobile responsive design in the same year, but all that changed in 2020.
The average order value (AOV)—the average purchases made from a device—of mobiles has historically lagged behind desktops. This means that while people consumed information on mobile, they used a desktop to complete the purchase. However, data from Yes Lifecycle Marketing shows that this has changed. In 2018, for example, mobile AOV achieved parity with desktop AOV (Data Axle), and mobile will likely overtake it in a few years.
To account for the coming shift to mobile, marketers must use all the responsive design tricks they know. Email marketing design trends favor less clutter; a neater presentation is in vogue. Also, because of the limited screen space on phones, better, a more straightforward copy is needed, which brings us to the next point.
- 41.9% of all emails are opened on smartphones.
- The average order value of mobile has gained parity with the desktop’s in 2018 and overtook it thereafter.
- Responsive email design is much more important in 2021 and beyond because of this.
Most Popular Email Marketing Software
- HubSpot Marketing. A comprehensive marketing system that brings all marketing activities together. HubSpot Marketing helps send static and dynamic HTML messages that instigate the response you want.
- SendinBlue Email. An intuitive marketing solution that empowers businesses to create email campaigns with powerful email features. SendinBlue Email makes it easy to send SMS messages and transactional emails, thus enabling businesses to build budding relationships with ease.
- Marketo. An easy-to-use marketing platform built to help marketers streamline their marketing processes. Marketo automates marketing-related tasks, taking work off the your plate while boosting efficiency.
- ActiveCampaign. An all-in-one marketing platform that enables businesses to create engaging email marketing campaigns. ActiveCampaign leverages innovative marketing technology to help marketers run productive campaigns without hassle.
- ActiveTrail. A powerful marketing solution that enables businesses to create email and SMS marketing campaigns. ActiveTrail even provides an A/B testing module for marketers that want to optimize their email marketing.
6. Less Copy Is Better Copy
The future of email marketing is in the quality of the copy. This is because people have shorter attention spans and better antennae for detecting insincerity online. A well-written, concise copy is a great way to catch an email reader’s attention just as effectively as interactive emails will. Plus, concise copy is easier to scan and can impart a message in less time.
An easy way to write copy that sells is to tell a story. Storytelling is one of the linchpins of great web design in 2021 and beyond, and it follows that what works for the web also works great for emails. A pioneering study found that 79% of people want brands to tell a story (The Drum).
Another route to take is to make a connection with the reader by writing in conversational tones. The idea is to forge a meaningful relationship with the recipient of the email. This “humanizes” the interaction and engages the reader. Still, take care that the personality you’re writing as is consistent with your brand persona. We’ve compiled a few bits of branding advice regarding making a connection with your reader in this post.
- A shift to mobile will also need better, concise writing.
- One good way to do so is to use brand storytelling, which 79% of people want.
- Another is to inject personality and humor in email content, but make sure that the personality is consistent with your brand persona.
7. Social Media Design
It’s already 2021 and if you’re not using multichannel (or omnichannel) marketing, you’re missing out on potential conversions. As we have pointed out in our multichannel marketing article, it allows you to reach out to several channels at once. Still, it’s increasingly more important to have the same design or visual language across the channels you’re utilizing.
Social media is one of the most successful examples of connecting with consumers. As an email marketer, you can take what works in social media design and apply it to your email campaigns. For example, you can use interactive emails (see the section above) to allow the user to do certain or your desired actions without leaving the email, just like social media feeds do.
Email campaigns should note social media design beats and incorporate them into their emails. Using visuals, keeping actions as minimal as possible, and personalizing the email are all great ways to start. Actions that you want the subscriber to do should be above the fold, and your imagery and design should be consistent with your social media presence and website.
- Multichannel and omnichannel marketing can be a great help to your email marketing campaigns.
- You can take social media design and incorporate it into your emails, use visuals, and personalize the email.
- Make sure, however, that your design language is consistent with your brand imagery, website, and social media presence.
Only 8% of consumers trust brands to keep their personal information safe, according to a study by NTT Data. This is why transparency and better use of customer data are among the most important trends to watch out for in 2021 and beyond.
When the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into effect on May 25, 2018 (HBR), it changed the email marketing landscape. The law required that businesses should have the user’s active consent before they can use their data. This is why you’ve seen websites or services with opt-in privacy checkbox, whether they’re for—cookies or something else.
Most marketers hailed this as a step in the right direction. Specifically, adding a layer of consent is beneficial because it means you already know that the audience you’re emailing is engaged. After all, why would they allow you to use their data if they didn’t want you to offer them something in return?
- 92% of consumers don’t trust businesses to keep their personal information safe
- The General Data Protection Regulation was passed in May 2018 to set guidelines on the ethical and safe handling of customer data.
- Active consent on data analysis is beneficial to marketers, as they would already know which of their audience is engaged.
Customer-Centricity Is the Name of the Game
Overall, email marketing in 2021 should be all about creating a cohesive, customer-centric experience even against the backdrop of a glut of data. Brands are finally realizing that they can leverage AI, new technologies, and new design modes to keep emails fresh and personalized. The content of the emails itself should also be exciting, interactive, and direct to the point, all while respecting the sanctity of the user’s data.
Managing emails should also be one of the very first things you should look at when you want to capitalize on email trends. Our list of email management software may help you in this regard.