Below are nine drivers of change and trends you must anticipate and prepare for if you want to remain competitive -- and to keep email a valuable and viable channel.
1. The "customer journey." It's the big marketing buzzword this year, but for good reason. Knowing your customer journey drives many decisions: e.g., is email or another channel best for responding to customer behavior?
To get that 360-degree view, you must map the journey in collaboration with all of the departments in your company that your customer will encounter.
2. Omnichannel environment. Mapping the customer journey can show you when your customers are most likely to move from one channel to another, leaving data trails that you can collect and share with your social, mobile, offline and other teams.
You need systems and processes to collect and analyze this data, but you also must build relationships with these other teams to share data and help everyone create more valuable and timely messaging.
3. Real-time marketing. It's not just another buzzword. Today's customers expect you to communicate, respond and deliver value in real or near real time. It won't happen if you still batch and transmit data manually every 24 hours or longer.
You need APIs and integrations that make all your systems -- ecommerce, CRM, call center/customer service, etc. -- talk to each other, transmitting data as close to real time as possible.
4. Marketing automation. Broadcast email campaigns will always have a role in email marketing, but automated marketing programs can break through inbox clutter by talking to your customers as individuals, based on their behavior and stage in the customer journey.
5. IT: Not the enemy. Marketing has become deeply technology-driven, involving IT in almost every project in some form. On your own team, you'll need left-brain employees with the technology and analytic skills to visualize and develop these data-driven programs.
6. Tracking behavior. Marketers will focus on their customers' behavior at the most important touch points.Having the right technology and tracking systems in place to capture customer behavior and bring it together in real or near-real time will be critical.
7. Going mobile. Email readership on mobile devices has passed 50% for most brands, and mobile browsing has exploded, with mobile traffic surpassing desktop traffic on Thanksgiving 2014.
Taking friction out of the buying experience is key to mobile success. Are you prepared to add one-click payment systems, a mobile website, or streamlined account registration -- or to use deep links within your email that open the relevant content within your mobile app?
8. Content is key. Content marketing is more than another buzz phrase but has become a critical means for breaking through the clutter and keeping email subscribers engaged with your brand.
Most brands actually have plenty of content to leverage but lack the mindset and processes to identify, capture and incorporate it from across the organization into email marketing programs.
9. Email gets off the island. Your department name says "email," but you're in a position to become the hub of your company's marketing communications efforts.
Use your vast data storehouse and your team's unique skill set and customer-focused mindset to own channels beyond email, such as SMS and mobile app push notifications.
What do you see as your biggest challenges to meeting this email-marketing evolution? Let me know in the comments.
Until next time, take it up a notch!