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The email marketing strategy playbook for 2021

Here’s something you already know: an effective email marketing strategy was extremely important in 2020.

Here’s something you might not know: in 2021, an effective email marketing strategy will be even more crucial than it is right now.

Here’s why…


An opportunity arises…

Consumer purchase activity has begun to shift en masse to digital channels. While this development was widely anticipated, its acceleration during the COVID-19 crisis has caught even the most optimistic prognosticators off guard.

eMarketer reports that the COVID-19 crisis has accelerated the global shift to online shopping by almost two years, with US ecommerce sales reaching $794.50 billion this year, up 32.4% year-over-year from 2019.

With 86% of consumers reporting that they “expect” companies to communicate with them via email, the importance of developing an email marketing strategy to capitalize on this opportunity should not be underestimated.

We reached out to some of the brightest thinkers in the email marketing business. Here are their thoughts about what an effective email marketing strategy should look like in 2021…


Maximizing email marketing strategy performance in 2021: What the experts are saying…

“Email got some extra attention in 2020 due to COVID-19: brands turned their eyes to their databases and started to maximize their email efforts with the objective of increasing engagement and ecommerce revenues. For 2021 the trend should stay the same: with more and more brands trying to get subscribers’ attention, 2021 would be a year to be attentive to what’s going on on a daily basis and deliver content that is not tone-deaf and that really resonates with our new reality.”

Caren Carrasco, Senior Partner, Benjamin David Group


“Don’t forget what we’ve learned this year about brand-consumer relationships and lose sight of your empathy post-pandemic. It’s easy to fall into old habits, but empathy has forced so many to create powerful 1:1 relationships and be more specific and purposeful in their marketing. This new approach can only increase in benefit as well as deepening loyalty to your brand.”

Samantha Iodice, Founder, The Sauce Experience


“We’ve experienced a lot of change in 2020 – but one thing that hasn’t changed is the importance of email marketing. We’ve seen email send volumes rise as more and more consumers are purchasing online, and email is an important channel to push content out and pull people back to ecommerce and other websites. We’ll see this continue into 2021 and even as vaccines allow us to emerge from the pandemic lockdowns of 2020, the online habits created during these months will continue into the new year.”

Jeanne Jennings, Founder, Email Optimization Shop


The key ingredients for a brilliant email strategy in 2021

Fact: email marketing “best practices” are changing. As brands accelerate their digital transformations to keep pace with changing consumer preferences/behaviors, the inbox is becoming a more crowded place. The strategies that engaged consumers in previous years will show diminishing returns.

The solution to these diminishing returns (like so many marketing solutions these days) can be found in the data.

“Use any and all data available and use it to the best of your ability; make sure your messaging is relevant, unique, timely, and adds value.”

Jen Kirchhofer, Digital Marketing Director, The Brown Dog Brand 

Here’s how this email marketing truth should inform email marketing best practices in 2021…


  1. Segment!

Segmenting your audience should continue to be a priority in 2021. However, it’s important to understand that while segmenting your audience can boost email marketing performance up to a point, going too far down the segmenting rabbit hole produces diminishing returns. Segment, but don’t oversegment.

Best Practice: Segmenting by region/climate for a clothing retailer

Not Best Practice: Segmenting by people named Doug whose street addresses start with the number 3 in Toronto


2. Personalize!

Personalizing your email marketing messages can be a great way to increase audience engagement. But, as it is with segmenting, there is a point in every brand’s email personalization strategy where the effort required to personalize becomes more trouble than it’s actually worth, and can actually turn off subscribers. Be personal, but don’t be creepy.

Best practice: “Hi Jane, here are some daily deals from your favorite grocery shop!”

Not best practice: “Hi Jane, our data indicates that you might be running low on tampons!”


3. Optimize!

Optimizing your email marketing messages to reflect insights gleaned from campaign performance data can give you a crucial leg-up on the competition. Take a dive into what performs well for your brand, and optimize the next campaign you send accordingly. Even a marginal uptick in performance can translate to a significant bottom-line impact over time.

Best practice: Using similar language to that used in the high performing campaign you sent last month.

Not best practice: Using similar language to the poorly performing campaign you sent last month.


4. Track!

Optimizing based on past performance data is a great way to begin your brand’s journey toward email marketing optimization. But never forget: audience tastes and preferences can change on a dime. What worked last week could fall completely flat the next. Tracking the performance of every campaign you send can help you keep your brand’s email marketing ahead of the curve.

Best practice: Keeping a close eye on campaign performance and adjusting subsequent campaigns accordingly.

Not best practice: Ignoring campaign performance data and doing what “feels right” to you.


5. Optimize again!

There’s no point tracking your email marketing campaign performance unless you’re going to do something about it. Email marketing optimization should be an ongoing, rigorous practice in 2021. It represents your brand’s best chance to stand out in the increasingly crowded inbox and engage consumers. Luckily for you and your email marketing strategy, AI can help with that!

Best practice: Paying attention to emerging trends in audience behavior when engaging (or not) with your emails.

Not best practice: Taking a “set it and forget it” approach to email marketing optimization.

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