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Email is living the high life.

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 forthcoming Consumer Usage and Behavior Study (to be released soon) found that 84 percent of smartphone owners use their phones to send and receive personal email, and 34 percent 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 the universal ID

As we’ve written previously, 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 recent Yahoo hack shows that even an established company with massive resources is not immune to exploitations. 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. Email is certainly paving the way for a better consumer experience, but consumers who want to benefit from increased personalization also need to be vigilant about security, and how they use and store passwords associated with their email address.

Even more MarTech complexity

Just a glance at Scott Brinker’s Marketing Technology Landscape Supergraphic is enough to boggle any marketer. There are now 3,874 MarTech vendors to choose from. Brands know they need to take a multi-channel 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 make sure the basics of email and CRM are 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.

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*Click on image above to be able to zoom-in and see more than a colorful blur!

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, segmentation 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 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.