Every year I predict trends in the space -- some things that may happen, some that we want to happen and a bit of wishful thinking. In the email marketing space, we haven’t had a lot of innovative change in the last 10 to 15 years. Some may think this is because email is a stodgy channel that is destined to fade away, and others believe it’s become such a staple of the marketing business and consumer communications that it does not need major innovation to sustain itself. As such, my wish list for 2012 is predicated on three central themes:
- Data visualization. We have evolved from list management to managing segments, to micro segments to managing audiences. My greatest wish is to evolve data visualization so novices can make smart decisions without extensive modeling. Let’s evolve from Excel to Flash, let’s evolve so that we can easily pull and slice and dice segments based on data from all sources in a visual representation. The dashboarding tools are there, the data is there, the integration paths are much smoother than they were 10 years ago.
Why doesn’t every campaign management tool have better data visualization? Because it’s HARD to do well. I do believe the emergence of cloud-based analytics and software evolution will get us there in the next two years. I envision a tool with which I can workflow and dashboard and apply visual segments all in one, not with three different elements.
- Richer experiences. While the email industry has evolved more like the catalog business in some veins, rich media has been our biggest miss. I can recall back in 1998, delivering video email with a commerce applet embedded, so you could virtually transact while watching a video. For all the right and wrong reasons, we’ve not been able to bring this experience back. But I do believe it will happen. While the last few years have centered on social and mobile, I believe that video and richer experiences are soon to have an impact on the email industry. There are some companies that are playing with this, some of the ISPs opening it up. With all the social assets and goals of commerce and viral, video has to emerge in our space.
- ISPs that matter. The email industry’s greatest stumbling blocks all stem from the lack of innovation at the ISPs. We are dependent on their ability to deliver richer, more manageable email products to the consumer. We are limited by our conduit. AOL has struggled, Yahoo has struggled, MSN has struggled and even the love child of Google has failed. Each offer their own social integration of the email experience, but I still struggle with their ad monetization model that interrupts the experience.
The industry will only grow and evolve as these ISPs evolve. 10 years ago, brands actually were thinking about creating their own ISPs so they could control the email experience for their consumers, but they quickly realized that would be expense, not revenue. The ISPs are in the same boat, many struggling to monetize this part of their business. I don’t think they will fully create the value until they integrate their ad model with email so the entire portal experience is one “relevant” experience. This could mean a brand could own the inbox for the ad experience -- all supporting ads would display when email is opened, rich media would be triggered from email. The opportunities are boundless here for the marketer and the ISPs. Many marketers would pay triple the CPM for a complete ad experience that integrated email and display.
The space is moving slowly, growing modestly, and I feel we are innovating with guidelines. Bending lasers, flying cars, is it so far off? "It's easy to come up with new ideas; the hard part is letting go of what worked for you two years ago, but will soon be out of date." — Roger von Oech