Article first published in 2015, updated February 2020

Digital marketing completely transformed how marketing teams not only worked on their promotions, but how they viewed their audience members. With a bigger reach came greater responsibilities, and, over the last few years, it’s become clearer that technology is going to make an impact in the industry.

In fact, over the past decade, digital advertising has become a booming industry, and it’s only continuing to grow.

Worldwide digital advertising revenue forecast

Source: Statista

Digital marketing has continued to transform as technology has continued to update. Digital advertising has now taken on a new meaning, and digital marketing has since taken its place.

Digital marketing is a marketing tactic that houses several different options, including:

Digital advertising
Social media
Email marketing and more

Share of marketing tactics small business owners plan to use in 2019

Source: Statista

Of all the digital marketing tactics that’ve emerged over the last few decades, email marketing has remained one of the top preferred marketing methods for marketing teams, despite recent interest in the possibilities that social media marketing can provide.

How email marketing has changed

Email has evolved several times since its initial conception in the 1970s. What started as a simple way to send messages between office co-workers has since become one of the top methods for marketers to reach their customer base.

However, in recent years, we’ve noticed that email marketing has, once again, changed and moved away from being a simple advertising method. Now your customers expect more from you than promotional content. They expect you to decrease promotional content and increase your informational content. If you don’t, then you risk losing valuable members of your email list. Marketing thought leaders have been talking about email marketing for some time now, and we must lean in and listen to what they have to say.

Why we’re listening to thought leaders

Thought leadership is a type of content marketing where we can tap into the experiences of those who are considered authoritative leaders in our industry. Not only are they able to make predictions for the industry based on their personal insider information, but thought leaders can use their experience, combine it with what’s worked (and what hasn’t), and make valuable predictions that can catapult us into the future. Even better, many of these predictions can remain relevant for many years to come, like the ones we’ve been presented with in years past.

Back in 2015, ten leading experts looked into their crystal balls to see what the future held for email marketing and made some bold predictions.

Don’t be fooled; the predictions made in 2015 are still very relevant today. Don’t believe us? Then check them out for yourself.

Prediction 1

A second coming of age for email marketing

Chad White – Litmus

Email marketing was ignored, under-resourced, and declared uncool (and even dead) during the rise of social media.

It has always been the workhorse behind ecommerce, but now email marketing has become a driving force behind content.

Email marketing has also become central to mobile strategies. Reading email has been the #1 activity on smartphones for a long time, and the growing adoption of responsive email design is boosting smartphone conversion rates to make the most of this opportunity.

Reading emails on smartphones remains the #1 activity and responsive design will help skyrocket conversion rates

Example of email on smartphone

The email industry is experiencing a wave of integration, where ESPs are being melded into customer relationship management and enterprise resource planning suites.

Email marketing isn’t just the number 1 digital marketing channel; it’s also companies’ top source of data for analytics. So it’s not only a powerful channel on its own, but the data generated from email marketing helps power other marketing efforts by providing actionable data insights.

Together, these advancements have elevated email marketing’s stature and gotten it very close to achieving the 1-to-1 marketing paradigm, as brands are increasingly empowered to facilitate customer journeys and maximize lifetime value. But it’s not just that it’s getting well-deserved attention again, and email marketing is actually cool again.

The cumulative effect of all of these developments is that email marketing will experience a second coming of age during 2020.

Email marketing is still booming as we move into 2020.

Prediction 2

Gmail will fix its biggest flaw.

Alex Williams – Trendline Interactive

My prediction is that Gmail will add style support to their webmail clients and media query support to their mobile apps. This will allow email designers, marketers, and ESPs to finally provide a great experience to Gmail users on desktop and mobile.

The reason this is even an issue is because 80% of Gmail users access their accounts via mobile and desktop email clients, but the remaining 20% open emails in the webmail, which offers little to no support for CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), which can result in broken emails in Gmail.

Gmail will add style support.

Email with and without style support

The email community has been very vocal at various online and public forums where Google product managers were present, and their answers were, “It’s on the roadmap,” or, “We hear you.” We can tell by their testing of a “mobile-friendly” button in their apps that they feel the experience is subpar.

I predict 2016 is the year Gmail finally adopts some increased standards and support across their family of email clients, setting off celebrations around the globe. Then we all can go back to just complaining about Outlook.

Gmail will fix its biggest flaw.

Prediction 3

Hyper-targeted emails will become the norm.

Daniel Codella – ZURB

People are looking for unique and personalized experiences every time they interact with their favorite brands. As your user base grows, this becomes extremely difficult. Managing thousands or even millions of email conversations is simply too difficult for teams, even big ones, to manage.

Fortunately, email automation allows you to craft and send personal, yet automated messages to your customers based on their behavior. This ensures your message is relevant, timely, and engaging.

In 2016, I think we’ll continue to see email automation tools become even more useful, offering email marketers more ways to creatively use them. We can expect to see more integration with apps and products, allowing marketers to send emails based on not only in-app behavior, but other interactions.

We’ll also see an ever-expanding list of triggers, allowing us to send targeted messages based on all sorts of details, completely customized to the individual user, and giving greater context to our messages.

Trigger-based campaigns enable targeting like never before.

 Email campaign example

The goal of all of this is not to bombard people with more emails. The goal is to send them the right message at the right time, the most valuable content right when they need and want it.

It’s an exciting time to be an email marketer!

The goal is to send the right message at the right time.

Prediction 4

Email templates will finally offer limitless control.

Elliot Ross – Action Rocket

I’m expecting 2016 to be the big year for modular template design. For those that don’t know what modular template design is, you can think of it like Lego building blocks that you can pull in, rearrange, and use, depending on the type of email and content you are sending. The goal is to be able to quickly and easily edit designs without having to start from scratch, allowing you to improve quality and consistency.

With email automation becoming more easily accessible to big and small companies, marketers need an editable alternative where they can have versions of the same template, instead of each one being different, heavy, and complex.

Modular templates are convenient because you are able to continue to segment quickly and cost-effectively, saving time using WYSIWYG editors, only editing content manually or dynamically to suit each segment and purpose. This means personalized, relevant, and timely emails for each subscriber.

One template will provide infinite design options.

 Drag-and-drop email editor

Using an editor also means that you can fix whichever modules you like for every send, such as headers and footers, allowing you to build a nearly infinite number of emails.

All the time spent designing and testing individual templates will be a thing of the past because modular template design will rule in 2016.

Email templates will finally offer limitless control.

Prediction 5

Get ready for insane personalization.

Philip Storey – Enchant

2016 will be the year that email marketers start to take automation seriously. Until now, most have dabbled with low-scale automation across the most lucrative customer touchpoints and experiences—examples include cart abandonment emails and welcome messages.

Many marketers have found success through these simple automated campaigns, but there is so much more potential. Email marketers will know when they are heading in the right direction, as more of their time will be spent on automation, versus scheduled campaigns and email broadcasts.

Marketers will deliver insanely personal experiences.

 Email personalization example

What does this mean for consumers? Consumers demand a personalized and relevant experience across all channels—automation is, by far, the most effective way to deliver this through email marketing.

Marketers will deliver insanely personal experiences with automation.

Prediction 6

The era of coding HTML emails is dead.

Kraig Swensrud – Campaign Monitor

Email marketing is the most powerful channel in a marketer’s toolkit. Over the past few decades, we’ve seen several fundamental shifts in email marketing—from text-only emails to multimedia content, from desktop to predominantly mobile. This year, we’ll see another major revolution for email marketing. 2016 is the year coding emails becomes a thing of the past, and email design becomes drop-dead simple. Powerful drag-and-drop technology will unleash the email designer in everyone and enable marketers around the world to create professional email marketing campaigns that deliver results.

We’ve ushered in a whole new era of email design. Modern emails have edge-to-edge designs, filling up the screen, no matter what size, device, or inbox. Modern emails have big, bold hero banners with engaging, interactive content and clear calls to action. Modern emails are relevant, serving up personalized content to each user when, where, and how they want it.

Anyone can now create beautiful, professional email campaigns.

Variety of email examples

With the rise of email marketing technology, anyone can now create beautiful, professional email campaigns with drag-and-drop technology. Gone are the days of needing to know HTML code or Photoshop to design a professional-looking email. No one will start from scratch. Mobile-responsive templates, designed for business use cases, will enable anyone to spin up email marketing campaigns in a matter of minutes and drive their business forward.

The era of coding HTML emails is over.

Prediction 7

Interactive emails will elevate brand experiences.

Justin Khoo – FreshInbox

True user interactivity within email and powerful animations beyond animated GIFs, sometimes called kinetic email, allows marketers to create eye-catching and engaging campaigns that stand out in a recipient’s inbox.

Having its beginnings with simple experiments (such as image rollovers and falling snow animations), kinetic emails are beginning to feature increasingly ambitious interactive designs. Well-known brands such as Pret, Lego, Nest, and B&Q in the UK are realizing the potential for kinetic to elevate their brand experience in customers’ inboxes.

Interactive emails will elevate brand experiences.

 Interactive email example

Not only will more readers be able to view advanced kinetic content in email, but the capabilities kinetic offers will become more relevant.

Kinetic email offers companies new ways to express their brand identity and engage with customers. It’s only a matter of time before this new medium becomes mainstream.

Interactive emails will elevate brand experiences.

Prediction 8

Animation will drive epic email engagement.

Jaymin Bhuptani – Email Monks

In 2016, there’s one thing I predict: the power of animation and interactivity in emails.

Interactive, CSS3 animations in emails will revitalize emails and provide them a fresh, new life. Animation and interactivity provide more opportunity for engagement, but can also improve open and click-through rates.

Interactive emails provide meaningful interaction right in the inbox. With animation, emails receive a new shape and structure, creating a great psychological impact leading to enhanced interaction.

Animation will increase interaction and engagement with emails.

Animated email example

Earlier on, not many email clients supported attractive animations, but that’s not the case anymore. Although email clients haven’t advanced as much as web browsers, I see them supporting many more aspects of animation in the coming year.

Overall, email as a channel has so much to see. I’m quite optimistic about the advancement of interactive emails in 2016.

Animation will drive epic email engagement.

Prediction 9

Email campaigns will predict the content you want.

Kath Pay – Holistic Email Marketing

One of the things that marketers are constantly struggling with is optimizing their campaigns, with the objective of being able to deliver emails that are valuable to the consumer.

For the past couple of years, automation and personalization have featured heavily on the email marketer’s agenda to implement, and now machine learning simply takes both of these one step further, with the end result being 1:1 emails that have been optimized for each individual based upon their actions and interactions with websites and emails.

Machine learning will result in 1:1 optimized emails.

Machine learning will take personalized content to a new level.

Machine learning is when algorithms are applied to data and these insights are used to make predictions or decisions of what content to serve based upon the insights gained from the data, as opposed to following an explicit set of instructions designated by the marketer.

Although machine learning has been around for a while and has been used extensively within ecommerce sites like Amazon.com, it’s really only just beginning to take off in email marketing when being applied to data mining.

Essentially, machine learning allows email marketers to not only deliver 1:1 emails to individuals—emails that are personalized to that specific individual with ease—but also to be continually learning and improving the results. The more data that is available, the more accurate, personalized, and valuable the results are.

Machine learning allows our programs to evolve and improve over time, without it being too labor-intensive. So be prepared to see more machine learning technology available in 2016 and start planning to avail yourselves of it.

Machine learning will drive email marketing ROI through the roof.

Prediction 10

Marketers will triumph when automation and email unite.

Jordie van Rijn – Email Vendor Selection

In 2016, we’ll see the fields of email marketing and marketing automation come together. Marketers will move from sending simple newsletters to segmented and personalized emails campaigns.

We’ll see that more marketers will adopt behavior-triggered email and lead nurturing/scoring. Research by the DMA showed that triggered and behavioral driven marketing drive more revenue than in previous years, with a reduction in batch and blast email marketing.

Automation and email are coming together for the do-it-yourself marketer.

 Email automation example

Forty-nine percent of marketers are currently using some form of marketing automation. But marketers with the dream of complete marketing automation of everything over all channels and touchpoints are bound to be rudely awoken. There, we have both Need and Reality as the force, toning down inflated expectations and “Cloudy Dreams of Big Data.”

Coming back to earth, email and automation will be coming together for a pick and mix. But don’t be sad—the marketer is the winner here, getting more possibilities to do more advanced campaigns easily.

Marketers will triumph when automation and email unite.

Wrap up

Ten of the top minds in the email marketing industry looked into their crystal balls and made some bold predictions about what marketers could expect in 2016. From email automation, Gmail fixing its biggest flaw, and email being smarter, more personal, more flexible, and engaging than ever. 2016 was bound to be a history-making year for email marketing, and it was!

What’s amazing is that many of these predictions for 2016 are still so relevant as we move into 2020. For instance:

Email marketing is still generating the highest return on investment for marketing teams – Currently sitting at an ROI of $38 for every $1 spent.
Email automation is an absolute must in today’s marketing strategy – It’ll not only help you streamline your day-to-day workflow, but it’ll also ensure that your readers are getting the right information at the right time.
Machine learning is becoming more vital in getting your subscribers the right information at the right time – It also helps to create those hyper-targeted emails that your readers want that deliver only the most relevant information possible.
Gone are the days of having to understand complicated coding – With most email marketing software, you can now great stunning HTML emails that can be viewed across multiple devices and screen sizes.
Interactive emails do result in more reader involvement – Whether it’s a cleverly placed poll or animation/videos embedded into your email campaigns, your readers are spending more time on each message because you’re making it more about them and less about your promotions.

Have you been putting off your email marketing overhaul? Well, 2020 is proving to be a promising year for email marketing, so upgrade your strategy today by teaming up with Campaign Monitor! Schedule your live demo today to see what we can do for you.

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