Top 10 Email Marketing Trends of 2012

September 21, 2012
By Michael Neubarth

As we hit the home stretch in 2012, it is a good time take stock of the state of email marketing as reflected in this year’s key trends. As AWeber noted, “If you’re marketing with email, the industry is shifting.”

The following top 10 trends show how email marketing is evolving and where leading marketers are focusing their efforts:

1) Social + Email —The integration of email and social media topped most experts’ lists, as marketers worked to find the most effective ways to meld the two channels. Marqui.com describes the future of email marketing as multi-channel (the intersection of web, mobile, social, email), while Linda Bustos sees highly behavioral targeting and personalized messages combined with social, local, and mobile (SoLoMo) as “the holy grail of email marketing.”

2) Mobile + Email — As more and more users access their email and the Internet on smartphones, the expansion of email marketing to encompass mobile devices has become a must-do for marketers. As experts note, mobile email marketing is a different animal than desktop email and requires mastering new methods of formatting, reaching users, and delivering content.  

3) Hygiene & Deliverability — With sender reputation the key to deliverability, experts from every quarter are cautioning marketers to be more vigilant as ISPs and email providers institute more stringent measures for identifying and intercepting spam. The penalty for offenders is loss of reputation, blocking, and blacklisting, all of which mean loss of revenues. As Silverpop relates in its most recent benchmark survey, what separates the top-tier marketers from the pack is dedication to email list hygiene.

4) Relevance — Relevance involves delivering messages that are welcomed by recipients because of engaging content, as well as sending messages that avoid being labeled as spam and intercepted by ISPs, which can lead to being blocked and blacklisted. For the former, a Marketing Sherpa survey found that when asked about their top email marketing priorities for 2012, “delivering highly relevant content” ranked first among large and mid-sized companies (70% and 62% respectively), and second among small businesses (71%), surpassed only by “growing and retaining subscribers.” 

Relevance also has become important because of the new ways top email services like Gmail, Hotmail, and Yahoo are prioritizing and displaying emails. As Christina Belmont relates, these content-quality tools have changed the game as the email services now expect marketers “to offer highly relevant content and only relevant content.”

5) Content — Delivering high-quality content has become imperative and has caused brands to become publishers and content marketers. Adam Blitzer, co-founder of Pardot, believes content should be the primary area on which marketers focus their time and energy. 

With the rise of social media, user-generated content has been added to the mix. As Lucy Hudon relates, more and more customers look at the feedback given by other customers before making a decision, and email campaigns that push reviews and user-generated content will generate higher click-through rates and ROI.

6) Personalization — Studies show that personalized and timely messages yield higher conversions. In “Personalization 2.0” marketers are striving to raise the bar by delivering more engaging content based on more sophisticated tracking, profiling, and segmentation of prospects—which involves accumulating demographic information such as age, location, occupation, habits, interests, preferences, and more.

7) Triggered Email—The importance of triggered email was reflected in Epsilon and the Email Experience Council adding triggered email coverage as a category in their benchmark studies. The studies show that triggered email achieves significantly higher open rates and click rates. Meanwhile, the art of triggered email is advancing as marketers employ more sophisticated and immediate triggering mechanisms, including responses to social media activities.

8) Live Data—As Asa Shatkin relates, live data or dynamic content is “one of the hottest trends in email marketing.” As an example, Asa describes how an online retailer running a time-sensitive sale can make a countdown for the sale live in the email as well as the quantity of the stock that is available. Dynamic data like customer account records, adjustable maps, and other interactive apps can be embedded in emails to engage users.

9) Video —Just as incorporating video on websites has become widespread, the practice is working its way into email, with videos playing automatically when an email is opened, including links to YouTube videos. At Marketing Sherpa’s Email Summit 2012, attendees cited “in-line video” as one of the four key trends having the biggest impact on email marketing of 2013.

10) Analytics – Tracking prospects to glean profiling information has become important for personalizing and triggering emails, as has monitoring email open rates and other characteristics to gauge the effectiveness of campaigns and make adjustments. As FireMail Marketing relates, email analytics is catching up to web analytics, enabling marketers to tell what emails users receive, “which emails they open, which links they click, what time they read their emails, whether they read them on their phone or computer, what pages on your website they view, and even what products they ultimately buy.”