Email Marketing is Antiquated? Think Again!

…And again! A few years back I wrote a blog post about the future or email and the exciting new technologies out there that were on the horizon for email marketing. Remember Google Wave? It was the “email killer”. It would revolutionize email and communications. At the end of April 2012, the servers were turned off. Remember Google Buzz? It was a social networking platform integrated into Gmail. December 2011 became its last hoorah. Despite some of these setbacks, I believe email IS slowly creeping forward in technology advancement. Maybe even at the perfect pace.

The fact is that email marketing is still ranking second behind SEO in ROI (Return on Investment) for digital marketing tactics… NOT Social Media. NOT Direct Mail

This strong ROI can be attributed to the sustainability of the medium because it allows for all generations to participate and not feel “awkward.”  This can be contrasted by the awkwardness is shown by those people new to Twitter and Facebook (for reference, just pay attention to posts from new users of these services).  Since email is used by all generations of people and is the predominant form of electronic written communication, it doesn’t appear to be going away any time soon.

Perhaps it’s difficult to remember how much email has evolved over the years.  Back in 1993, we had UNIX based email systems, and very simple POP clients that made for fairly basic email layouts of mostly text.  As time went on, we incorporated graphics to the point of emails becoming 100% images. Then came the day of image blocking and email marketers everywhere were forced to look for other methods to maintain or improve open and click rates while images were hidden. For the past few years, most marketers have settled into their own mixture of text and images within their emails.

But change is once again imminent and we are on the cusp of moving forward into the future with the following innovations in email.

Embedding Video in Your Email Inbox

The latest tech talk among email marketers is something that has been only dreams until now; video in email. Some report 20% lifts in metrics using it.  However, email marketing is still bound to the rules of the ISP’s and email clients. True video is not supported in the majority of email systems.  When I say “video” in email marketing terms, it refers to three technologies:

  1. TheVideo Cap, or still image. One frame is placed in an email as a call-to-action for a video on the subject. It looks like it might play in your email, but really just a link to a landing page with the video.
  2. TheVideo GIF. This is much like the animated gifs of old, but with higher frame rates and better color pallets. This is widely supported across most platforms (minus Outlook 2007).  Think of it as a “preview” of the video you really want to see. It can also be used as just an eye catching graphic in the email.  Unfortunately, these Video gifs have no sound.
  3. Embedded Video. Gmail does it with YouTube, and HTML5 is making great strides in allowing adoption of embedded video. Apple Mail, Outlook 2011 on a Mac, and iPhones. Embedded videos have sound, giving the user the true video experience right in their Inbox.  The only negative is that embedded video has yet to become widely adopted across platforms.

Browsing without leaving your inbox

Can you imagine surfing the Sears website for lawn tools without having to click a link, wait for your browser to open up and then wait for the page to load?  Of course you can; this is how links are currently handled within email messages. In the past, Gmail had started offering up limited use of its “Enhanced Email” service, which is a technology that embeds a module that can serve up real-time information and products within the email.  A similar technology, an offer carousel, would offer multiple opportunities to deliver content within a small coveted area within the email.

Gmail does offer the option of incorporating Google Forms within its emails that allows for more interactions without leaving the inbox. However, it is unique to Gmail and other email clients would just see a link to the form.

All of this does opens doors for many marketing options, and also leads me into the next big technology arising, Real-time content optimization.

Real-time Content Optimization

The current process of delivering the most optimized content (outside of dynamic content) is through testing; send out a small sample, and see how the audience reacts.

Next, send out a larger blast based on the findings of the smaller send. This system works, and it is used to gain the best results by the most seasoned email marketers.

But, what if you could send to your entire database, and have the emails change copy, images, and subject line during the launch based on what is happening during the send? Technology is out there that sends test emails out periodically throughout the launch, and optimizes the rest of the emails based on actions taken.  This process could automatically optimize an email in real-time instead of taking days to send, test, modify, re-send an optimized email. Many ESPs are already incorporating this technology, along with many 3rd party vendors.

Change is coming to email marketing

The future is moving towards ultra-personalized emails. Emails that are not just pushing a static message, but ones that revolve around your interactions across the web.

Change is coming to inboxes that are more reactive to your place and time, and change email priority like a search engine.

Digital channel barriers are coming down. One day email won’t be in a silo. It will be integrated with other digital channels where marketers and end users find advantageous.

As you can see, there is a lot of change taking place in the world of email marketing. There are many other technologies on the horizon being driven by marketing automation, ESPs, and email clients that are also helping to advance email inboxes into the future, and integrate with other digital channels.

In the end, it is still up to the ISP’s and email clients to adopt these technologies.

Email is NOT dying, but instead morphing into and advanced marketing tool. Until then, we as marketers must keep pushing the limits and be open to adopting new technologies that will make email as successful as it ever has been.