An Email Carol: Ghosts Of Predictions Past, Present And Future

by , Dec 31, 2013, 9:23 AM
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Casting myself reluctantly in the role of Emailnezer Scrooge, I will be visited by three ghosts that will hold me accountable for my past email marketing predictions and press me for an assessment of the present and for predictions of the future:

Ghost of Predictions Past In my mind, if your predictions are any good, you’ll be about right about two-thirds of the time. By that measure, my 2013 predictions were pretty good.

Pinterest and email integration did grow significantly, with some recent interesting examples coming from Lowe’s, Uniqlo and Saks Fifth Avenue. Free gift cards were the new free shipping this holiday season -- plus, there were lots of retailers running “buy an e-gift card, get a free e-gift card” campaigns. Special characters in subject lines became considerable more common, although still only around 3% of subject lines are using them, so the practice is hardly overused.

And triggered email programs are definitely giving a small group of companies a competitive advantage, as adoption is still fairly low for many of the more advanced triggered emails. For instance, when we abandoned shopping carts on Cyber Monday, only 21% of retailers responded with a triggered email. Considering the outsized ROI that triggered emails generate and the time it takes to set up and optimize them, the competitive advantage that these early-adopters have is likely to be fairly lasting as long as they continue to press forward.

My predictions that fell short were those regarding mobile-friendly emails and HTML5 video. While there was tremendous discussion about mobile optimization, action seemed blunted. For instance, on Black Friday, 32% of retailers sent mobile-friendly emails. Considering that the majority of emails are now opened on mobile devices according to Litmus, that adoption is not what I expected. Particularly disappointing is the low level of adoption of mobile-aware design techniques like using a single-column layout; large images, text and buttons; and finger-friendly spacing of buttons and links. That’s a low-tech approach that buys marketers time before eventually moving to responsive templates.

HTML5 video in email really failed to take off. Support among ISPs turned out to be spottier than I believed, but even more of a factor was that mobile really sucked all the oxygen out of the room -- and the Gmail Tabs distraction didn’t help, either. My hope is that now, with more marketers having a grip on mobile email strategy, they will pay more attention to HTML5 video and live content.

Ghost of Predictions Present Less of a prediction and more of a statement of our current reality: The email marketing industry is maturing, which is a very good thing. The time is right. While some see consolidation, to me the current action looks like integration. Rather than marketers having fewer choices, what’s happening is that email marketing is being integrated into digital marketing, digital marketing is being integrated in marketing, and marketing is being integrated into sales and operations.

In short, 2014 will be a year of email marketing integration. This is the year that email marketing de-silos, that digital marketing de-silos, that marketing de-silos. The CMO is ascendant.

Ghost of Predictions Future First, now that we have a little momentum down the runway, 2014 will be the year when the majority of marketers’ emails become mobile-friendly. More specifically, my prediction is that by the upcoming holiday season that 40% of promotional emails will be responsive and 30% mobile-aware, with the remaining 30% old school desktop-centric.

Second, in the wake of Gmail enabling images by default, another major email platform will follow suit and do the same in 2014. While defensive design techniques like the ones used in this Twitter email and Mothercare email will be needed for years to come, I see them as being unnecessary within five years. With malicious spam thoroughly under control and mobile bandwidth growing, the security and data-plan rationales for image-blocking are fading.

Third, while there are still lots of opportunities with cart abandonment emails and welcome email series, browse abandonment emails will be the new frontier in triggered messaging. Some data-crunching and creative messaging will allow more brands to convert browsers into buyers using these emails.

Fourth, frequency segmentation will become more common, starting with active and inactive subscribers getting markedly different amounts of email from brands. Too many brands still endlessly send inactive subscribers email despite not getting any response at all. In 2014, more brands will realize the deliverability and other benefits of reducing frequency to inactives -- and eventually removing them from their active lists all together.

And fifth, marketers will seize the opportunity to make their opt-out processes not only more friendly, but also more effective at convincing subscribers to stay or to opt over to another channel like social. Brands will change their unsubscribe pages, opt-out confirmation pages and preference centers to try to address the reasons that subscribers opt out: namely, too much and irrelevant emails and the desire to change their address. They will recognize that reducing list churn is the same as list growth, and embrace the idea that a lost subscriber is not a lost customer, and adjust the messaging on their opt-out pages accordingly.

And with that I say farewell to my three ghosts. I hope you awake on New Year’s morning with a newfound joy and love in your heart for email marketing.

1 comment on "An Email Carol: Ghosts Of Predictions Past, Present And Future".

  1. ryan anderson from The Clymb
    commented on: December 31, 2013 at 2:17 p.m.
    What a killer post Chad. The hot topics for The Clymb are right in line with your predictions. Happy Holidays!

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