Better Data and Personalization Are the Future of Email Marketing


Most brands have some kind of email marketing platform as part of their overall marketing strategy. But in recent years, consumers have grown weary of one-size-fits-all, spamlike promotional messages, and marketers who still take this approach will need to update their tactics to stay in their customers' inboxes.

Business News Daily spoke with marketing experts to discover what trends are shaping the future of the industry. Here are five ways email marketing will evolve in the coming years.

Real-time campaigns

Big Data has touched nearly every facet of business in recent years, enabling brands to create highly personalized and effective campaigns by analyzing detailed consumer data. Email marketers already utilize Big Data to segment their audiences based on past purchases and Web browsing history. But Jason Warnock, vice president of market intelligence and deliverability at email marketing software Yesmail, said that real-time email triggers will become increasingly common in the coming years.

"Email marketers are increasingly recognizing the value of triggered campaigns and sending personalized brand messages based on a customer's behavior," Warnock told Business News Daily.

Since many consumers check their various newsfeeds consistently throughout the day, a real-time marketing email based on a relevant local event or news story is very likely to be read because the event is top-of-mind. For instance, Yesmail's new platform allows marketers to set "triggers" that will send an email if a local sports team wins a game, or if a player breaks a record.

"Data is becoming sophisticated enough to do this, so we can expect more personalization and automation in the future," Warnock said. [10 Email Marketing Solutions for Small Businesses]

Contextual behavior predictions

Big Data is also helping email marketing evolve by telling marketers not only what types of content their recipients are most likely to consume, but when and where they'll actually open the message.

"The real cutting edge of email in today's world is context and behavior," said Len Shneyder, director of industry relations at messaging software provider Message Systems. "Knowing when a person is most likely to open their email because you've tracked previous opens, segmented those opens and applied geographical location data will make a world of difference."

More data in the email channel means more specificity and a highly personalized experience, Shneyder said. As in other forms of marketing, the most highly tailored email marketing efforts will be the ones that see the most engagement.

"Users will be able to tell a marketer the exact kinds of messages they want — push [notifications] versus SMS versus email versus social," Shneyder said. "Marketers will respond and adapt to the fact that consumers are driving the conversation and relationship."

Moving "up the funnel"

The sales process is often described as a funnel. The closer a consumer is to making a purchase, the lower down the funnel they are said to be. Dela Quist, CEO of email marketing agency Alchemy Worx, said that marketers currently tend to view email marketing at the bottom of the funnel, with a focus on conversion and optimizing the conversion, but this won't be the case going forward.

"Over the next few years, more companies will need to consider how they can make email equally as effective at the top of the funnel as a powerful branding tool," Quist said. "If a consumer decides not to open [an email], that doesn't mean it hasn't left an impression. We'll see more marketers figuring out how to account for those types of actions that come from using email as a branding tool. If marketers can learn to optimize email for both the top and bottom of the funnel, we'll see even more powerful and impactful campaigns."

Because so much of email marketing is automated now, companies can stop worrying about the technical aspect and zero in on crafting messages with great content. Understanding what subscribers want and delivering it to them in a creative and personal way are the keys to connecting subscribers with your brand, Quist said.

More sophisticated reporting

Thoroughly analyzing reports from your email service provider (ESP) is the most effective way to determine what's working and what isn't. Your reports can tell you everything from how many emails were opened to what links in the message were clicked. But it's what you do with those reports that will really matter most in the coming years.

"Reporting is the new key to maintaining high delivery rates," said Seamas Egan, manager of revenue operations at email marketing service provider Campaigner. "The new MO at Internet service providers is interaction rate. This means that if you use a tier 1 ESP, your emails will eventually end up in junk if they have low open and click-through rates. Use reporting to proactively monitor those rates and adjust messaging frequency and content accordingly to ensure you maintain high interaction rates."

Reading the reports is only the first step; you'll need to take action and adjust your strategy based on the numbers. E.J. McGowan, general manager of Campaigner, reminded marketers that an email "campaign" no longer means sending just a single email.

"Campaigns should consist of multiple steps, with different email content based on the actions of the reader," McGowan said. "If they didn't open your original message, try sending a different subject line. If they didn't interact, then try changing up the offers and calls to action. Marketers need to utilize the data available to connect with their readers effectively."

Email as a gateway

Years ago, email was a unique marketing channel that essentially existed in a silo. However, as more and more communication channels have opened up, email has taken a backseat to the growing number of ways to reach consumers. Marketers now need to approach email as their consumers do — as part of an omnichannel marketing strategy.

"Email is no longer a silo but a gateway to social media," said Chris Penn, vice president of marketing technology at public relations firm Shift Communications. "It's an alternate sale on your website and the only reliable future-proof marketing channel against constant change in social media."

Although Penn predicts that email will lose some of its traction to mobile digital channels, he said that email will remain the gold standard for reliably reaching consumers.

"It's the one outbound digital communication method that is vendor-agnostic," Penn said. "Facebook, Twitter, etc. are all privately held entities, not open Internet protocols, and that ensures that email will remain relevant for some time to come."

Originally published on Business News Daily.