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It’s that time of year again, where pundits around the world give their predictions for 2014. So let’s look at the most boringly lucrative of online channels: email marketing.
In 2014, I predict that “Email is dead” will be the most popular headline in articles, blogs and tweets about email marketing, closely followed by 'email isn’t dead.'
For seven more predictions, read on…
1. 'Responsive email design' will become known as 'email design.'
In 2013, there were a lot of conversations like this:
CEO: “I have an iPhone, so therefore everyone else in the world has an iPhone. And so, our emails need to be responsive on my iPhone.”
COO: “I have an Android, so therefore everyone else in the world has an Android. And so, our emails have to look amazing on my Android.”
CFO: “I have an old Blackberry, so therefore everyone else in the world has an old Blackberry. And so, our emails have to be awesome on old Blackberrys.”
CMO: “I read on Econsultancy that we should be doing responsive design ASAP, or I’ll lose my job. Ms. Email Marketer, can you sort this out please, ASAP, and ensure that every single email looks great on every possible device, even ones that none of our customer base use, such as old Blackberrys and Lotus Notes?”
Email Marketer: “Bollocks.”
Email design agency: “Huh, so this is what it feels like to light a cigar with a £100 note. Who knew?”
Does that sound familiar? 2013 was undoubtedly the year that email marketers jumped aboard the responsive design train. And, indeed, some tests showed spikes in response rates (although, interestingly, the majority of positive results were promoted by those designing the responsive emails…)
My prediction for 2014 is that responsive design will no longer be about keeping up with the Jones’, or about driving mobile response rates. It will be about delivering a better user experience to your customers.
People will still be throwing money at responsive design, but will be doing it from the outset of a digital campaign and will be inherent to its delivery, instead of retro-fitting an old template with some responsive media queries.
2. Email marketers will send out loads more emails than in 2013
In 2013, more marketing emails were sent out than in 2012. And in 2012, more marketing emails were sent out than in 2011. And so on.
So I’m going to make a bold prediction.
In 2014, more marketing emails will be sent out than ever before.
Before Christmas, a debate was running about whether or not more emails is better or not. Since then, numerous pundits have made their points of view known, notably McKinsey.
McKinsey reckon that email is a significantly more powerful acquisition channel than social media… and interestingly, its efficacy is increasing versus that of organic search.
Why is this? It’s simple: to get sales via social, you have to be at the right place at the right time. To get sales via search, customers have to seek you out. To get sales via email, all you have to do is use your direct, opted-in route right into their inbox.
So what I’m not saying is spam the shit out of your lists. What I am saying is that smart marketers will be investing in the email channel and sending out more emails.
Hopefully all the extra emails will be useful and beautiful, although that remains to be seen.
3. Gmail = good at email
If you’re an email marketer, especially in the B2C sphere, then you’ll have heard all the pundits saying how Gmail’s tabs are going to kill email marketing.
Erm… that sucks.
So your open rates went down when tabs came out last summer. Because your *promotional* emails went into the *promotions* tab. Think about this: your *promotional* emails didn’t go into the *personal* tab. So you sent out an email to your list, politely asking them to move your *promotional* emails into their *personal* tab.
Because, clearly, when I’m reading emails from my mom, I really and truly want to know about the latest 50% off beard trims I can get in northwest London.
Email marketers are understandably upset by Gmail’s changes, because fewer people are going to open their emails. And so email marketers complain about Google, how they’re trying to take over the world and are mean.
The thing is, this is nothing new! Of course Google is trying to take over the world, that’s how they do. There’s no law against making money guys!
See, Google doesn’t have a durable revenue stream from email. There are a million and one ESPs out there who do, who are effectively making money from Google services (that is, Gmail) and giving nothing back to Larry and Sergey.
This makes Google sad, because, well, Google likes to make money from online advertising. So, they make email advertising a little bit more difficult than before, in the hopes that people will switch to organic search at higher levels. This may or may not happen, but it’s beside the point.
The main point is this: email marketers will adapt. They always have.
Remember when RSS was going to kill email? And when social media was going to kill it? And now it’s Google’s turn!
If nothing else, your from name and subject lines will be more important than ever. The promotions tab is effectively a date-sorted search listing of brands you’ve opted in to hear from. You can now efficiently glance at the promotions tab for anything that stands out.
So re-read my post from last summer on subject lines, and read it again. It’s never been more important than now.
4. More ESPs will be bought for lots of money
2013 saw a slate of acquisitions in the marketing technology space. SalesForce bought ExactTarget for $2.5bn, Oracle bought Eloquoa and Responsys, Adobe bought Neolane… and so on.
This consolidation will continue in 2014. This will drive the industry in one of two directions. Either it will inhibit change, or it will enfranchise a new wave of innovative startups.
This is what I reckon will happen: heavy investment in new business sales by newly acquired ESPs trying to prove their worth to shareholders will drive market prices down.
ESPs will try to “buy” marketshare, and spend huge amounts of money on branding and marketing, and cause a race to the bottom. During this rapid market consolidation, small-to-middle-sized firms will be pushed to the margins. It will become more difficult to win business, and become very difficult to retain business when up against these large, consolidated firms with seemingly endless bankrolls.
As a result, all ESPs, large and small, will need to become leaner to maintain profit margins. This will result in erosion of revenue-neutral services, and therefore a higher level of client transiency.
Some small-to-mid-sized ESPs will suffer badly. Conversely, some will flourish. Why? By using their ability to remain agile, and sector specialisation.
The thing about large pieces of software is that change can often take a long time. Small companies with nimble code bases will be able to deliver innovative features to market quicker and carve out lucrative niches of market share.
Further, expect to see a number of really exciting email marketing-related startups in 2014. I don’t mean necessarily pureplay email transmission… but companies that make the email marketing user experience better.
Already companies like LiveIntent, Litmus, MovableInk, KickDynamic and LiveClicker are doing this. In 2014, expect to hear more about them and other companies who will try to monetize perceived shortfalls in ESP technology.
5. Marketing automation will create lots of automated spam 50% of the time
The big trend in 2013 was of course marketing automation – ESPs are no longer email transmission engines, they’re “marketing automation suites.” Huzzah!
The thing is, a marketing automation programme is only as good as two things: 1) your data; and 2) your predictions.
Crap data will deliver crap automation. By now you’ve likely seen this unfortunate OfficeMax email – where a father was addressed as “Daughter died in car crash.” This is of course an extreme… but things like this happen all the time.
For example, back in about 2007, I signed up for a trade show that purported to be about data (I love me a bit of data.) And so, I assumed that they’d follow some sort of best practice regarding data cleansing.
To test this, I decided to have a bit of fun. In the online registration form where it asked for salutation, instead of the normal “Mr.” I went for something a bit more… shall we say… avant garde.
I assumed that it would check against some filter to ensure the salutation I entered was correct. Did it? Erm… not so much. And as a result, still to this day, I get an <unnamed> marketing industry eNewsletter addressed to “Poop Parry Malm.”
The point is, if your data is crap, your automation will be as well. The two examples above are extremes of course – but what if you send an email to someone offering bargains in the midlands when they’re actually in Alabama… well, you get the picture I’m sure.
Poor predictions will produce poor automation. When you get down to the core of what marketing automation is, it’s a simple concept that has been obfuscated by “expert” rhetoric. But, let’s ignore all the experts for a minute and call a spade a spade: a marketing automation programme is nothing more than a simple predictive model.
A predictive model is usually based upon a couple of things – past results, and future assumptions. There are a couple of issues with this.
First of all, past results: a predictive model broadly assumes that the future will be the same as the past, and ignores short-run variance.
For example – usually in London it will snow for a few days in February. But it won’t necessarily snow – in fact, it could be unseasonably warm.
If you had an automated campaign selling snowshovels in February then guess what – it’s not going to work out very well for you. Perhaps a banal example, but hopefully my point is illustrated.
And secondly – future assumptions. Most marketing automation programmes follow a simple logic like this:
When someone signs up to our website, we’ll send them a welcome email. And then a week after, because a week is a nominally round unit of time, we’ll send out another email. If someone clicks on link A, we’ll send them something else. And if they click on link B, something else.
And so on.
The problem with this is, in my experience, people rarely test these things out. And I mean, they don’t test 1) automated vs. manual; and 2) timings of email waves.
So, you’ve got a whole bunch of assumptions, and a multi-wave process set up with no real benchmarks other than thinking it probably works (and it better had when considering all the time and money you’ve spent on it…)
Don’t get me wrong, sometimes these programmes work fantastically. But sometimes, well, they’re like Sex Panther cologne: 50% of the time, they work all the time.
The challenge in 2014 for marketers will be to ensure they’re accurately measuring results of automated marketing programmes. Many marketers will develop many super complicated automated email series, and some of them will work beautifully. The rest will be, well, automated spam.
6. Custom audiences will make publishers and marketers a bunch of money
Think about this – what’s the one thing that your Facebook and Twitter accounts have in common? To log into them, you use your email address. And yet, up until now, targeting mechanisms for both Facebook and Twitter advertising were hit and miss, at best.
Enter Custom Audiences.
What is a Custom Audience? It’s a whole bunch of awesome, wrapped up in some gnarly, with a pinch of “whoah dude” thrown on top for good measure. It’s where you upload a list of email addresses to Facebook or Twitter and only target the related accounts with ads.
No more wasted demographic targeting. Think of the possibilities!
And, that’s not it Via a very cool company called LiveIntent, you can target your email list in third party email newsletters.
So imagine this – you have an email list, and only 20% of people open your emails. 80% of the list think that you suck and ignore your spam. Take that 80% and load them up into custom audiences across Facebook, Twitter and LiveIntent and all of that money you’ve invested in building your list isn’t lost.
Custom audiences are the future of email marketing, and in 2014, I hope you start using them. I'll be writing a lot more on Custom Audiences in 2014, so I'll leave it here for now...
7. Bonus rant: In 2014, email still won’t be sexy, and I’m ok with that.
If I had a nickel for every time an email marketer said something like, “Why don’t people invest enough time and resource in email?” then I’d have at least 50 cents.
Email is fundamentally not a sexy marketing channel. It’s not Whatsapp. It’s not Vine. It’s not Snapchat. It’s a 1980s communication mechanism which is ubiquitous and powerful.
So, in 2014, there will be at least 78,348 blogs with the title “Email’s dead? Think again!” And email marketers around the world will join forces like the Nerdy Avengers to let the world know that email matters.
But in reality, what I hope for is that in 2014, email marketers won’t be the Nerdy Avengers. Instead, I hope they’ll get 11 a side and become Responsive Millwall.
For those of you who, like me, prefer to follow real sports, let me give some context to the Millwall reference.
Millwall are a sarf-east London football club who are renowned for being disliked, and revelling in it. “No one likes us, we don’t care,” or so goes the refrain.
The point is, like Millwall supporters, email marketers have to embrace the hate, so to speak, and carry on doing what they do best – making money from the email channel. Too much time is spent proving the value of email instead of driving value from email.
There will always be a new app, a new social network, a new whatever which will be the latest death knell for email. No matter what, marketers will experiment with these new channels. Some will work, and some won’t.
So instead of spending time arguing why email still delivers amongst the highest ROI of any channel… why not just prove it?
As Karl Marx eloquently wrote:
Email marketers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains!
(Note: I may have not remembered the passage exactly as it was written...)
If you aren’t convinced yet, how about this as an added incentive: every time I read a blog or a tweet with the phrase “Email is dead,” I will murder a baby unicorn. If you love unicorns, and I know you do, then stop worrying about email being dead.
It’s not, and never will be, at least not in 2014.