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5 significant ways the email marketing game has changed in the last 5 years

Email marketing is a fickle business.

Image credit: Universal Pictures


Changing subscriber tastes/behaviours, technological advancements, and government legislation all combine to keep this amazing business and the nimble pholks who make it tick evolving, shifting, and changing the way we do what we do almost by the day.

While many trends and changes have come and gone over the years, some have made a lasting impact on the way email marketing is done, how brands engage with their subscribers, and how emails and email campaigns are built.

Here are 5 of the biggest from the past 5 years…


1) Tabs

Image credit: Walt Disney Studios


When Gmail added “primary”, “social” and “promotions” tabs to its inboxes back in 2013, many suspected that it would spell the end for the email marketing game. As it turned out, those that did were half right.

Sure, the halcyon days of having every marketing email you sent appear in the same column as every subscriber’s work emails and notes from grandma died a slow death as one email client after another followed Gmail’s lead, and unscrupulous senders found their emails relegated to a promotions tab where they now languished unread for months (even years) at a time, but smart brands and email marketers quickly adapted to the new tabbed reality and never looked back.

The implementation of inbox tabs pushed brands to manage their relationships with subscribers more carefully and to put more thought into the design and content of the emails they were sending, lest they find their emails blackmarked and shuffled to the promotions tab on a regular basis. This change in approach became a key driver for the email marketing renaissance the industry is still in the midst of today, where relevance, targetting and positive subscriber relationships have become the order of the day.


2) Data/Targeting


Right person, right ad, right time. This has become the mantra of the digital marketing world, and as well it should be. While email marketers might’ve been a bit slower than others to pick up the data/targeting mantle, it has quickly become apparent that the targeting possibilities the email channel has to offer are massive and worth exploring.

With troves of subscriber data available for the analysing and a direct line into subscribers’ inboxes at their disposal, email marketers are better positioned than their digital advertising and social media counterparts to engage and interact with their audience directly. Great progress has already been made in delivering relevant offers, user experiences, and marketing messages to email list subscribers, and delivering custom-tailored marketing emails to each and every individual subscriber is becoming a more realistic possibility with every passing day.


3) Interactivity

Image credit: Marvel


While interactive emails are by no means a new concept, stunning progress has been made over the past few years in finding new, interesting, and engaging ways to let subscribers interact with marketing emails.

The push for more interactive content has led to an explosion in email content and design creativity that has seen games, quizzes, carousel menus, interactive images/videos, and myriad other interactive elements finding their way into the world’s regular email marketing design rotation. As emails have become more interactive, the ways subscribers engage with marketing emails has changed in new and exciting ways, and many brands have adopted interactivity into their email marketing strategies as a matter of course.


4) Automation


Why hire people to send out scheduled emails to a subscriber list when a machine can do the same job quicker and more efficiently? Such is the rationale behind the development and implementation of automated email marketing.

The ability to schedule and send marketing emails in bulk has been a boon for brands with large mailing lists and for those with high send frequencies. Email automation technology has enabled brands to more efficiently manage behaviour-triggered email processes like welcome, follow-up, and even birthday messages, and has helped streamline digital journeys to purchase at the same time.

While automation has indeed made many email marketing processes much more efficient and deliverable at scale, many brands have held back to a certain extent on going all in on email marketing automation, as it can have a tendency to lack a certain “human touch” essential to maintaining a healthy email marketing dialogue.


5) AI


The email marketing field has barely scratched the surface of the innovation offered by emerging (and existing) artificial intelligence technologies, but that doesn’t mean that AI hasn’t already had a significant impact on the field.

The ability to generate and optimise human sounding email marketing language through AI has already helped many brands reach dizzying new ROI heights, and this trend has shown no signs of slowing down any time soon. While most campaigns and the language used within has traditionally been based on the “gut feel” of the marketers developing and writing them, performance data has consistently shown that AI (when done right) can engage subscribers more effectively and efficiently than human marketers can.

While concerns about brand voice have held AI’s use in email marketing back in the past, upgraded technology which produces brand-compliant copy curated to the specific tastes of a brand’s audience is now a reality. With this final piece in place, the sky’s the limit for the impact we can expect AI technology to have on the email marketing industry moving forward.

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