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State of email 2017: what we see (so far)

Email is having a resurgence. On the consumer side, thanks to very smart phones and generous data plans, email is as accessible as text messaging. It’s become part of the mobile lifestyle. Adestra’s 2017 Consumer Digital Usage & Behavior Study found that 84% of smartphone owners use their phones to send and receive personal email, and 34% use it for business email. One quarter of smartphone users check email as soon as they pick up their phones in the morning.

On the marketing side, our clients are sending more email. They’re taking advantage of features including automation, which allows them to send personalized emails triggered by behavior or events. Automation also allows them to mail at the right time—rather than when a staffer has time.

Acknowledging that email is not only here to stay, it’s growing, here are the trends I see as important this year:

Email as universal ID: As we’ve written, the move to mobile is making the cookie obsolete, while the use of an email address as an identity continues to gain traction. In just one—huge—example, Google recently rolled out the ability to send money to others using the Gmail app on Android phones. What do you need to pay someone? Only their email address, and it doesn’t have to be a Gmail address. That’s enough for the payment system to know exactly who someone is. Cookies are proxies for machines; an email is a proxy for a person.

Email security a critical work in progress: When done right, email is very secure. That said, the Yahoo hack shows that even an established company with massive resources is not immune to exploits. The onus is on ISPs and ESPs to maintain the security of their databases—and this becomes even more important as the email address grows in value as a personal identifier. Consumers need to guard this like any other ID; it’s one of an individual’s most important digital assets.

Even more martech complexity: Just a glance at Scott Brinker’s Marketing Technology Landscape Supergraphic is enough to boggle any marketer. There are now over 5,000 martech vendors to choose from. Brands know they need to take a multichannel approach, but they’re struggling to figure out how it all integrates. This complexity can lead to a loss of focus on the essentials. Marketers should get the basics of email and CRM in order before they undertake the huge organizational changes necessary to move to true multi-channel marketing. Incremental change is a better strategy than a complete marketing reboot.

Consolidation of email platforms: Many marketers respond to this increasing complexity by consolidating around the technology platform in which they have the most confidence. Companies that may use multiple email solutions, due to acquisitions, rogue units or different use cases, are ready to roll it all up into one best-of-breed solution. This will allow them to integrate email with other business systems and to take advantage of automation, segmenting and targeting capabilities.

Amazon still eating lunches: The big takeaway from the 2016 holiday shopping season is that Amazon is a superpower. It continues to manage its customer relationships very well. And the key to that is data: Amazon pulls site-search data into its CRM so that it knows what customers want, and it delivers what they want fast. Retailers can copy this playbook. The value of a customer email increases in proportion to the amount of data stored with it and to the ability to use that data to inform email marketing. Marketers should begin now to collect data on customer behavior from the website and purchases. They should email via a powerful platform that can combine that data with third-party data to get the right message to the right person at the right time.

Email becoming more interactive: Too many emails are basically like old-fashioned letters—a lot of text with some links. There’s no reason why email can’t include rich media and video. We are close to creating standards that will allow email to have similar functionality to apps. For example, you should be able to check flight prices from within an email in the same way you can within an app. As functionality improves and ISPs open themselves to the next generation of email, we’re finally going to leave the letter behind.

Are you ready to take advantage of the advances in email technology? Yes, this is a lot to think about, but the way forward is clear.

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