Email marketing is constantly evolving, with social media, mobile and ISPs driving most of the change right now. Here are five predictions of how things will change in 2011:
1. The plain text part of your multipart email will become more important thanks to Facebook Messages, which displays the plain text part by default. There's a link to display the HTML part which it does very well -- but that link is easily overlooked, which means that it will likely see little use. Keep an eye on the percentage of your list that's @facebook.com addresses. Once it's more than a couple of percentage points, it's probably time to give some extra attention to the design and copywriting of your plain text part.
2. Email design will start to be more heavily influenced by iPhones, Android-powered smartphones and iPads. The distinction between emails and mobile emails is disappearing. That will have several effects on email design: (1) Email widths need to narrow. We recommend a width of around 600 pixels. (2) Font sizes need to increase so they're more legible on small screens. And (3) the space between links and the size of buttons need to increase to allow fat fingers to hit links accurately. That will also mean navigation bars with fewer links in them.
3. Share-with-your-network (SWYN) links will be used by a majority of marketers. SWYN links allow subscribers to share email content with their friends and family members on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks, increasing the reach of your messages. As of August, 26% of top online retailers used SWYN in their promotional emails, up from 12% in July 2009. By the end of 2011, the adoption of SWYN links should break the 50% mark.
4. Reactivation campaigns will become more important, thanks to ISPs giving weight to engagement metrics when determining whether to deliver to the inbox or junk folder or to block email. Most marketers still have no plan whatsoever in place to address inactives -- the subscribers on their list who haven't opened or clicked on email in a long time. In some cases, inactives make up 50% or more of a marketer's list, representing a significant threat to deliverability and a big distraction from focusing on active subscribers. Marketers must start by defining what "inactive" is for them, then progress to segmentation tactics to message inactives differently, and culminate with reactivation campaigns that give subscribers a chance to reaffirm their interest or be dropped from the list.
5. The email marketing industry will continue to be divided on permission. The tension between the old school opt-out email marketing industry aligned with direct mail and the new-school permission email marketing industry aligned with mobile and social will continue to grow. But from my perspective, all signs point to the new school winning out. From Gmail's Priority Inbox and Facebook Messages to ISPs' ongoing battle against unwanted email, it's becoming increasingly critical to be anticipated and wanted in consumers' inboxes-particularly if you want to be in the part of the inbox that consumers have designated for important, must-read emails. Staying out of the junk folder is yesterday's battle.