“While social media is constantly improving, there haven’t been any meaningful improvements to email in a very long time. That’s a major challenge for email going forward.”
My head nearly exploded when I read those words, which I’ve paraphrased to protect the highly respected social media expert who uttered them. Being drunk on the social media Kool-Aid had clearly stricken him blind to email’s evolution over the past several years. For anyone else who hasn’t been paying attention, here are just a few of the highlights:
“Spam” & the inbox. Eighty-five percent of all email is malicious spam, down only slightly from a decade ago. The difference is that consumers don’t see much of it anymore. The Internet service providers (ISPs) have become so good at eliminating spam that consumers have completely redefined the term, so that “spam” now refers to unwanted or irrelevant email from known brands, even if the emails were requested.
As a consequence, consumers have demanded tools to help them manage the rest of the email they get. Gmail introduced Priority Inbox. Hotmail introduced Sweep and Scheduled Cleanup. And most ISPs have added engagement metrics to their spam-filtering algorithms to further ensure that their users are only getting emails that they interact with.
The overall effect of these changes is that the relevance bar is much higher than it used to be, and that marketers have to actively purge inactive subscribers to maintain their sender reputations. No other channel faces such a high bar for content or list hygiene.
Targeting & automation. In response to the need for more relevant content, email service providers’ tools have become increasingly sophisticated, allowing marketers to much more easily do segmentation, add personalized content to emails, and set up triggered messaging that launches in response to consumer actions like abandoning a shopping cart or browsing a product category. While all of these were possible many years ago, they required help from IT and lots of hands-on attention. Now complex chains of cross-channel interactions can be scripted and triggered automatically.
As evidenced by the ridiculous ROI that these programs routinely generate, consumers are clearly enjoying the increased relevance of these emails.
Mobile & accessibility. By the end of the year, roughly half of all email will be read on a smartphone or tablet. The number of platforms that can read email seems to grow just about every month. Just like mobile apps are changing the in-store experience, the ability for email marketers to reach consumers when they’re away from their laptops will have a serious impact on consumer behavior. Already email marketing has been a big contributor to Thanksgiving Day becoming a major shopping day, thanks to consumers reading emails and shopping while sitting on Grandma’s couch after feasting. Mobile coupons are further strengthening the ties between email and stores.
The future of email marketing is equally poised for big changes, as I recently wrote in ”Leap Ahead: Email Marketing in 2016.” More integration of social media and other channels into email inboxes, new HTML5 capabilities, responsive email designs and much more are already visible on the horizon.
I can’t say that I’ve ever heard an email marketer complain about a lack of change in the industry. Quite the opposite. The tides of change force email marketers to swim hard or get left behind.