Some things only change a little, like deliverability, rendering and spam issues. But the marketing world and email's role in it have begun to shift over the last 12 months, and the repercussions from those changes will be felt as trends for the next 12.
Email marketers who recognize and act on the changes that have taken place in the ways their customers choose to communicate with them and with each other will be in the best position to adapt their email programs and stay relevant.
The trends that I see for email in 2011 are outgrowths of these changes - some happening suddenly, some coming to fruition after a decade of incremental shifts in behavior and expectations.
4 'Uber-Trends' That Will Drive Changes in Email Marketing
1. Social Media/Network Adoption: Facebook is approaching 600 million users and Twitter 150 million. Social commerce is about to explode. Social is simply a game changer.
2. Mobile: Smartphones are expected to outsell PCs for the first time in 2011. Forrester Research is predicting tablet sales in the U.S. will overtake netbook sales by 2012, and desktop sales by 2015. Mobile is a platform, not a channel.
3. Social Inbox: Facebook, AOL and other ISPs and email clients are finally moving toward a multichannel inbox. Email's battle for consumer mindshare begins moving to the inbox itself.
4. Location/Local marketing: Check-ins via Facebook Places, Foursquare, Gowalla, et al, combined with local-offer services like Groupon, are the "new coupons." "Local" is the next big thing.
8 Resulting Implications for Email
1. Consumers become more channel-choosy. As more digital communication channels and platforms spring up alongside email, consumers will increasingly prefer different channels for different types of messages.
I might prefer SMS for flight delay notifications, email for upgrade and mileage status and my Facebook feed for airline promotions. The preference center becomes ever more important.
2. Email's role in the marketing mix becomes clearer. Because of the above channel evolution, many companies may forgo their use of email as a Swiss Army knife, and prefer to focus their email efforts on a few roles and message types.
This new clarity will allow some marketers to better communicate email's benefits to management, to measure and evaluate success, and to focus content creation on more meaningful messages.
3. Email marketers become better at communicating email's value to the organization. While the number of marketing channels seemingly grow by the month, marketing budgets rarely follow suit. As a result, email marketing's piece of the marketing budget pie will likely stay the same or shrink at most companies. With better clarity and budget pressure, email marketers increase their efforts to measure and communicate the value their email programs deliver to customers and achieving corporate goals.
4. More companies may follow the Ben & Jerry's UK example and de-emphasize email, perhaps to their detriment. The reallocation of resources away from email and into social, mobile or location marketing at some companies might be a data-driven decision based on clear consumer preferences or internal resource allocations. Or, it could be a management decision based on misperceptions of email's role and contribution to company goals.
Regardless of the reason, those companies that do de-emphasize email may no longer reach key segments of their customer base and are losing email's proven effectiveness at nurturing
and converting prospects and customers
5. Social and mobile become important sources of opt-ins for email programs. As email's role changes, savvy marketers will see that social and mobile attract a new group of engaged customers and will seek to add these followers, friends and influencers in those channels to the email channel where conversion and nurturing of relationships may be more likely to occur.
6. Retention and engagement become a huge focus. Most email marketers now cite list churn as their single biggest challenge and will increasingly focus on reengaging the one-third to one-half of their database that has likely gone inactive. However, with most reactivation programs only having very modest success, marketers will turn to focusing on minimizing list churn and inactivity in the early stages of the email relationship. Welcome, "early-warning" tracks and triggered messaging programs become key initiatives.
7. Email marketing increasingly becomes a "dynamic content platform." With many Web sites incorporating product review, recommendation and personalization technologies, email marketers will increasingly incorporate this content into their email messages. Using APIs, email content is dynamically pulled from these various technologies and content platforms, delivering more personalized and relevant messages to each recipient.
8. Significant increase in the use of marketing automation features. The broadcast or "batch and blast" email is far from dead. But for all of the aforementioned reasons, marketers must increasingly rely on technology to deliver more relevant messages at the right time, but with fewer resources. I expect to see a large increase in use of tools like triggered messaging, and nurturing of programs driven by engagement scores and multiple message tracks.
Those are my expectations for the email world in 2011. I'm sure I missed some -- or perhaps you disagree with my view of the coming year. Please share your visions in the comments section.
Until next time, take it up a notch.