Anytime I read an article that refers to email as “old,” I can’t help but snicker inside. Email has changed dramatically since its “You’ve got mail” days -- and changes incrementally from year to year. Here are some of the changes I see in store for us this year:
1. Marketers will get serious about creating mobile-friendly emails. On Dec. 25 alone, 17.4 million new smartphones and tablets were activated, according to Flurry Analytics. The shift to mobile reading of emails is now unequivocally too big to ignore.
While I’ve seen a number of retailers like Crate & Barrel, Lowe’s, Urban Outfitters and Walgreens optimize their emails for mobile readers, many retailers have yet to make the necessary changes to their templates. Whether it’s simple mobile optimization techniques, trickier responsive designs or tech-enabled live content, 2013 is the year to take comprehensive action.
2. Triggered email programs will give sophisticated marketers a sustainable competitive edge. I wrote early last year about the haves and have-nots in the email marketing industry: how the more sophisticated marketers are significantly outperforming less sophisticated ones. I’m even more convinced of this technology divide now, and see triggered email programs as the key measure of separation.
While ESPs are making triggered programs progressively easier to set up, these programs do take time to establish and optimize, especially more advanced ones like browse-based emails. That means that marketers that have already invested significantly in triggered emails should enjoy a growing competitive edge over their less sophisticated competitors, who will find it an uphill battle to catch up. Under-invest in triggered emails at your peril.
3. Video in email will finally take off. HTML5 video will finally deliver on the video in email experience that marketers have long craved. Last August Avon, Bloomingdale’s and Brookstone all tried HTML5 video -- and just last week a Walgreens email used it. Consumers tend to be too busy for video content during the holiday season, but now that that’s behind us I expect to see many more brands experimenting with HTML5 video.
4. Special characters in subject lines are here to stay. With support finally solid for using special characters -- like hearts, stars, musical notes, etc. -- many retailers started using them in subject lines last year. It was definitely the biggest subject line trend of the year.
That said, a little more than 1% of retailers’ subject lines included at least one special character last year. For some perspective, animated gifs were used in more than 5% of retail emails -- and animated gifs involve much more planning and effort. We should see special characters in subject lines two to three times more often this year.
5. Pinterest and email integration to grow. The first uses of Pinterest content and calls-to-action appeared in retail emails in February. By the end of October nearly 60% of retailers had used a “pin it” button in their emails or promoted their Pinterest boards or a Pinterest-based contest.
The holiday season halted most Pinterest-email integration efforts, but in the new year I expect further adoption, more frequent promotion of Pinterest in emails, and more movement beyond simply adding a Pinterest icon that links to a brand’s pinboards. Sephora and Wayfair are models for how to blend Pinterest into email content.
6. Free gift cards will be the new free shipping. Free shipping is losing its oomph as an effective incentive. It has become expected, particularly during the holiday season. In response, retailers are establishing year-round free shipping offers, eliminating promo codes for free shipping, and increasingly dropping the minimum purchase requirement.
But retailers are clearly searching for the next “free shipping” offer, an offer that consumers value significantly more than it costs retailers to supply. That magic offer may be a free gift card or e-gift card. Profit margins and less than 100% redemption rates mean they cost retailers less than the face value to provide, plus they drive repeat business. My only concern here is that some retailers are undercutting the attractiveness of this promotion by promoting a “gift card” when they’re really only offering a coupon with an expiration date.
It should be another exciting year of changes in the email marketing industry. I wish you the best of luck in navigating those changes.