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4 Predictions for the Future of Email Marketing

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Email is changing fast.

It’s an old technology – MIT’s Ray Tomlinson sent the first email in 1971 – that is experiencing an identity crisis.

Over the past few years, many services have cropped up that claim they will change email forever. The proliferation of mobile devices has made email easier and faster to access. Office workers everywhere swear email is the root of their their stress and low productivity. There are even blogs dedicated to helping people manage their email.

As the world’s reliance on technology has increased, so too has the noise. The result is shorter attention spans and, sometimes, disdain for email.

It wasn’t always this way and it won’t remain this way for long. Email began as an alternative to snail mail but has evolved into a supercharged hodgepodge of text messaging, social networking and bulk mail. It’s not pretty and it presents some interesting challenges for email marketers.

While our collective frustration with “email overload” has led some to declare email dead, there is hope. And the future is bright, assuming marketers continue the shift away from selling and towards personalized media creation.

At Vero, we spend a lot of time thinking about email’s place in our lives. This thinking guides the development of our software and ensures that our tool is making email better not just for our customers, but their customers too. Here are a few of our thoughts on the future of email, along with action items you can put to use today.

1. Data will reign supreme.

Think about how Amazon does email marketing. Now, compare that to how the average business does email marketing. There’s a huge divide.

Amazon’s culture of innovation is one reason the company is so successful. That attitude has led them to rely heavily on data to understand what makes their customers buy, buy again and buy some more. What’s interesting is that Amazon has access to many of the same tools as the rest of us. They have simply chosen a more aggressive approach to their marketing. Here’s Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos on a 2011 shareholder call:

If you invent frequently and are willing to fail, then you never get to that point where you really need to bet the whole company. [Amazon Web Services] also started about six or seven years ago. We are planting more seeds right now, and it is too early to talk about them, but we are going to continue to plant seeds. And I can guarantee you that everything we do will not work. And, I am never concerned about that…. We are stubborn on vision. We are flexible on details.

He also noted on the call that “ninety-plus percent of the innovation at Amazon is incremental.” The company is driven by data, testing and more data. They use this exact strategy on their email marketing as well.

This type of thinking is spreading as the tools marketers need become cheaper and more accessible. The result is more effective emails.

Action item:

Don’t wait to start collecting data on your customers. There are so many tools available to help you understand more about behavior and conversion. Besides Vero, which allows you track behavior and trigger emails, here are two of our favorite tools:

  • KISSmetrics: Person-based analytics platform that identifies site visitors and tracks them over time.
  • SumAll: Tool for compiling data from Google Analytics, social networks, ad networks and shopping cart platforms.

2. Personalization will take on a meaning.

personalized-email-800

This is what personalization means today but that’s changing fast.

All the data marketers are collecting theoretically allows them to send unique emails to every lead and customer. That is true personalization but few spend the time to make it happen. Event tracking tracking and triggered email technology is making it much easier to do this.

With enough data and the right software, you can customize emails in the same way an algorithm decides which search results to show you. Based on [this data], [this context], [these past results] and [these similar customers], you can send the perfect email. Now that is personalization.

In the future, personalization might be algorithmic email or mass customization. Whatever we call it, personalization will go much deeper than it does today.

Action item:

Start expanding your campaigns today. If you have campaigns for new leads, hot leads and new customers, start branching those out to encompass more of the data you already have. For example, a campaign for new customers could be segmented into simple categories to speed up the onboarding process:

  • new customers with more than $1 million in ARR
  • new customers with more than $10 million in ARR
  • new customers with more than $25 million in ARR

It’s basic personalization but these customers have unique needs and should be treated accordingly.

3. A/B testing will fade away.

When I first read Nir Eyal’s thoughts on why A/B testing will die out, I scoffed. After some reflection, however, I can see that his thinking is right on.

Today, companies are able to test messaging in real-time, trying dozens of variants to discover which ones create the desired behavior most efficiently. But so-called “A/B testing,” which is designed to find the best solution for the average user, is rapidly being replaced by far more sophisticated methods designed to optimize on an individual, per-user basis.

Finding the best solution for the average user means finding the optimal solution for almost no one. This is another reason that algorithmic email or mass customization will be the best form of personalization in just a few years.

I can’t explain this as eloquently as Nir, so here is another excerpt from his article Mass Persuasion, One User At A Time:

By singling out one persuasion strategy per person, companies are addressing customers in the way that best suits the user. In the age of increasing personalized data and a greater understanding of the tools of persuasion, companies will no longer need to communicate with customers as an amalgam of an “average user” that doesn’t actually exist. Instead, by marrying psychology and customer data, smart companies will give customers more of what they want: someone who speaks their language.

Action item:

Start planning new ways to test calls to action on your leads and customers. To get meaningful data on a user, you need to test different methods against the same user.

This is a good opportunity to explore what makes users. If you have, for example, a free trial of your product, you can use a series of very different calls to action to convert them. Start with the one you think is most powerful and if they don’t convert, try something else. When they finally convert, you will know what it is that made them take action.

  • Email #1: offer a discount on the product (the user values money)
  • Email #2: offer additional features (the user values powerful tools)
  • Email #3: provide testimonials and/or case studies (the user values security)

Keep track of which email converted the user. It will definitely come in handy in the future.

4. Email volume will decline.

There were 838 billion marketing emails sent in 2013. That’a huge number.

How many of them converted a lead into a customer? And how many were utterly ignored because they spoke to the “average” user and not actually the recipient?

There is a lot of noise in our lives. Email is just one of many things seeking our attention. In order for email to be effective at all, it has to be highly personalized and timely. Blasting emails out because “why not?” isn’t effective now and will be less so in the future.

While the data says that email volume will increase steadily over the next few years, we believe that users will actually see less email than ever. More email ends up in the spam folder than ever before and new tools like Gmail’s inbox tabs make it very easy to ignore annoying email. The result for users is less clutter and less noise. The challenge for marketers is getting seen.

In order for email marketing to remain effective, marketers will need to leverage data, personalization and testing to find out what works for every individual that ends up in their database. The result will be less marketing email but much higher quality.

Action item:

If you are sending bulk emails because you aren’t sure what converts or haven’t spent time collecting data about your users, it’s time to embrace a new approach to email. Here are a few ways to start small that will gradually help improve your conversion rates:

  • Segment customers by every possible data point. This includes purchase history, the source of the lead, past interaction with your email. You should also keep updated segments for ideal customers, new leads and lapsed customers. Keeping segments up-to-date, or using software that does it for you, is the first step to better email.
  • Focus on quality. Consider hiring a professional copywriter to write your emails. Compare conversion rates to your current rates to find out if it produces an ROI. Sending fewer, high quality emails is the fastest and easiest way to pay for help from a pro.
  • Follow the golden rule: “Treat others as you wish to be treated.” In email marketing words, don’t send an email that you wouldn’t be excited to see in your own inbox.

Do you have any predictions for the future of email? We’d love to hear them, just let us know in the comments.

Image via Robert S. Donovan


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