Email marketing is rapidly evolving — can your strategy and platform keep up?

Two years ago, email marketing was arguably falling in the ranks of many marketers’ omnichannel strategies thanks to a recent flood of new, engaging channels. But when the COVID-19 pandemic forced consumers inside and online, organizations reevaluated their email marketing tactics. Large retailers whose in-store traffic dropped dramatically in 2020 were particularly interested in utilizing email to keep customers engaged with their brands. As a result of their efforts, email inbox volume grew by 94% from Q3 2020 through Q3 2021.

The shift to digital shopping also pushed many businesses to optimize their email channel for day-to-day customer engagement and adopt new best practices. For example, before March 2020, it was standard practice for many retailers to send email blasts to everyone on their subscriber list with little or no segmentation and personalization. Since then, there’s been a big shift, and many retailers are now prioritizing hyper-personalized and segmented messages. Rather than send a mass email to everyone on a list featuring men’s, women’s, and children’s products, a retailer is more likely to segment by the kinds of products each customer has bought and searched for so that customers only get relevant messages.

These changes have resulted in increased return on investment (ROI) for email marketing in general, but they’ve also required changes in strategy and technology so that marketers can keep up with evolving trends.

Email marketing strategy must adapt as data volume, access, and uses are evolving

The shift to more individualized messaging requires a new focus on subscriber data — either pulling more information from existing data or collecting new data to create personalized, curated emails. Retailers are increasingly analyzing customers’ purchase histories to send offers that align with their preferences, such as new collections or upsells within the same product line. With customers spending so much time online, visuals can be as effective and sometimes even more compelling than copy. Some brands are also developing more image-based content for their audiences, similar to fashion editorial features that focus on creating a mood with content (rather than only sales messaging). Finding the right balance and type type of editorial and sales content requires a data-driven email marketing strategy to ensure the brand’s interests and the customer’s needs are aligned.

Fortunately, there’s going to be even more data for marketers to work with in the years ahead. Research firm Radicati forecasts that email users, volume, and revenue will all increase year-over-year through 2025. Of course, email marketing also depends on customers opting into a company’s list, something that may be more challenging as more brands compete for consumers’ attention online. One key to acquiring new subscribers is to make joining the list as easy as possible through one-click acquisition points like pop-ups, footer opt-ins, and checkout opt-in boxes on the company’s website.

Fortunately, there’s going to be even more data for marketers to work with in the years ahead. Research firm Radicati forecasts that email users, volume, and revenue will all increase year-over-year through 2025.

We’re seeing more acquisition point options on external channels, too. For example, many social media platforms now have tools that retailers and brands can use to integrate email acquisition points directly with their platforms. By layering subscriber opt-in points across multiple channels, companies can reach potential subscribers in multiple channels while growing their email programs.

While email marketing has grown, thanks in large part to social media platforms, one of the most significant email key performance indicators (KPIs) has recently become less reliable — open rates. As a result, email marketers have begun shifting away from open rates and focusing more on KPIs such as click-through, click-to-open, and conversion rates to inform their email marketing strategies.

Managing the new email marketing ecosystem with the right platform

Many of the recent changes in email marketing have become easier to manage with a platform that can handle data integrations, segmentation, and personalization in a scalable way. For example, can you connect your email service provider with your ecommerce store to send timely, customized messages such as order confirmations, upsell offers, and product recommendations — all from the same platform? Is there a limit to how many data sources you can integrate and unify as your business grows? Does the platform make it easy for your subscribers to see and control how their data is used?

Your email platform should also allow you to leverage your integrated data to build customer journeys and trigger messaging directly within your email service provider. Ideally, you’ll be able to highly segment not just standalone campaigns but also automated messages at each stage of the customer’s email journey. That requires the ability to select audience messaging criteria within one tool for optimal consistency and efficiency.

A company that takes a fresh look at its existing platform may find that it can support more data connections and deliver the kind of customization needed — but just hasn’t started using those features yet. On the other hand, that company may realize that its current email platform’s external data integration options aren’t as seamless as they would like or that the platform doesn’t offer the ability to build a 360-degree view of the customer for one-to-one journeys. Moving to a new email platform is a major initiative that requires months of evaluation, implementation planning, and work. It’s ideal to choose a provider that can handle massive amounts of customer data in a single, clean tool for one-to-one personalized messaging and evolve along with customer expectations.

Once you have your new platform up and running, it’s critical to maintain clean data. This ensures that you’re using your platform to message the people who are most likely to open and engage with those emails. A best practice is to regularly cleanse your list to remove anyone who hasn’t engaged with your emails during the previous 18 to 24 months. Removing disengaged subscribers gives you a more relevant dataset that you can use to create more accurate segments and customer journeys, generate more useful KPIs, and see better ROI on your email marketing efforts.

Email marketing has made dramatic gains since early 2020, and the trend is set to continue for the next several years. Companies that carefully assess and upgrade their ability to leverage customer data, their KPIs, and their email marketing technology will be in the best position to connect with customers in ways that deliver a more engaging experience, build trust, and drive revenue.

Desiree Botica is an experienced and knowledgeable email marketing leader at Capgemini Americas. She has a demonstrated track record of helping clients navigate the complex world of email marketing, utilizing email strategy, creation, deployment and execution, journey strategy and implementation, and team development.