Riding The Tiger: The Problems Facing Email Marketers, And How They're Coping

Email marketers have hit by problems ranging from COVID-19 to growing privacy concerns. And they’re reacting accordingly, judging by the 2021 State of Email Report from Litmus.

Of the brands polled, 41.5% now find email marketing as very critical to their success, up from 39.8% last year, 32.2% in 2019 and 32.8% in 2018. 

Moreover, the respondents rank email as their most effective channel, with 79% putting it into their top three. Email is followed by paid search/adds, organic search, social media and events.  

But 84% have changed their email strategy in response to COVID-19, 22% significantly. 

For one thing, they’re spending more on email: 37% of brands are increasing their budgets and only 1.3% reducing them this year—almost the opposite from the start of the pandemic. 

Specifically, 29.7% will hike their email marketing budgets by up to 15%, and 7% by 15% or more. Another 43.1% will hold steady, and only 0.8% will decrease their spending by 15% or more and 0.5% by 0-15%.



Spending on personnel will not be as robust—in fact, 2.4% will decrease it by up to 15%, and 46.9% will remain flat. But 32.1% will budget more, 9.2% by 15% or more.  

And spending on email agencies and ESPs will be mostly flat

Brands are also navigating issues like privacy. Of 204 votes, 

63% feel Apple’s MPP will have the greatest impact on their email program, and 37% say the loss of third-party cookies. Here’s how they expect MPP will affect their email marketing—for now, anyway:

  • Change how emails are measured—43%
  • Not making any changes—24%
  • Run more A/B testing—19%
  • Change automation flows—16%
  • Message audiences about MPP or privacy in general—10%
  • Change data and privacy practices—9%
  • Change email acquisition practices—6%
  • Other—4% 

This year, only 15% have implemented BIMI (Brand Indicators for Message Itentification0, the tool that allows brands to display their logos in DMARC-authenticated emails. 

But 21% plan to, and Litmus expects the numbers to go up dramatically now that Gmail is supporting BIMI. 

To put all this in context, the firms surveyed send these types of emails:  

  • Newsletter—81%
  • Welcome—79% 
  • Product—75%
  • Sales or promotions—72%
  • Event—71%
  • Onboarding or post-purchase—62%
  • Customer winback—45%
  • Blog—43%
  • Subscriber re-engagement—41% 
  • Cart or browse abandonment—35% 
  • Birthday, anniversary, or other milestones—31%
  • Rating, review, or net promoter score (NPS0—29%

The top personalization factors they use are:

  • Name, company name or other profile data—80% in 2021, up from 72% in 2020 
  • Customer segment (e.g., prospect or customer)—64% in 2021, 42% in 2020 
  • Past mail interactions—42% in 2021, 29% in 2020 
  • Location or geolocation—40% in 2021, 30% in 2020
  • Past purchases or donations—34% in 2021, 38% in 2020
  • Expressed preferences and interests—33% in 2021, 32% in 2020
  • Past interactions with products or services—33% in 2021, 49% in 2020
  • Past website interactions—26% in 2021, 30% in 2020 
  • Member or reward status or points—23% in 2021, N/A in 2020 
  • Gender, race or other demographics—16% in 2021, 11% in 2020 

Of the marketers polled, 31% create one version of an email. A majority—49.3% create two to three, 8.6% four to six, 3.5% seven to nine, and 3.9% 10+ versions.  

On the downside, 44% of email senders rarely conduct A/B or multivariate testing of emails, and 11% never.  Only 4% always do so, 15% often, 23% sometimes 

Are they using automation. Yes—79% do. The main uses are:

  • Triggered emails—82%
  • Drip or nurture campaigns—67%
  • Segmentation—56%
  • A/B testing—45%
  • Reporting—32%
  • Email content—27% 
  • List verification and hygiene—25% 
  • Contact management—19%
  • Email development—12%
  • QA testing—7%

Here are the emails, journeys and sequences that are now automated:

  • Welcome—83% 
  • Onboarding or post-purchase—68%
  • Subscriber re-engagement—40%
  • Cart or browse abandonment—38% 
  • Customer reactivation or winback—35% 
  • Birthday, anniversary, or other milestones—34%
  • Rating, review or net promoter score (NPS)—28%
  • Replenishment or subscription service reminder—23%
  • Back in stock or waitlist—10%
  • Finally, here are the ways email marketers use machine learning and AI: 
  • Send time optimization/personalization—70%
  • Segmentation and subscriber targeting—55%
  • Individualized product recommendations, content suggestions, etc.—47%
  • Writing or suggesting personalized subject lines, calls-to-action, or other copy—32%

Litmus surveyed almost 400 marketing professionals, nearly half in leadership positions and 49% on the way there. 

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