Leigh Whitnall

Why 2014 will be a great year for email marketing

2014 is well underway and it promises to be a great one for email marketing. Last year was tricky, there was a lot to get to grips with and many were predicting the end of email marketing… again. But in fact this year email marketing will emerge like a butterfly from a chrysalis, as something even more spectacular. Here’s why:

1. Inbox placement

The inbox became an even more exclusive place in 2013. For those of us who have spent previous years carefully optimising our emails with enticing subject lines, perfectly balanced html to image ratios and more rigorous data cleansing, the new Gmail tabbed inbox and real-time spamming in Windows Live came as a bit of a kick in the guts. Many could be forgiven for thinking that we were witnessing the end of email as an effective marketing tool when in fact we were simply present at the time that email marketing got really interesting.

Email clients have put up a velvet rope and two burly bouncers at the entrance but they haven’t closed the door altogether. Email programmes that drive engagement are still going to work simply because recipients will move them into their primary inbox or seek them out amongst their other marketing emails and they definitely won’t spam them.

Because of this, engagement is more important than ever and what drives engagement? Emails we love producing that’s what! Funny, exciting, compelling, relevant, interesting, thought-provoking content generates the interaction we seek. Of course, most of our emails will need to sell too, and they will do this brilliantly with a product that is relevant to the recipient. If we can’t do this then there’s not much point in sending the email in the first place. The customer gets something they’ll want to receive and, as email marketers, we create something that we can be really proud of.

2. Email Marketing: Mobile

It feels like people have been predicting ‘the year of the mobile’ every year since the mid 1980’s but 2013 was definitely the year mobile email really took off… finally. We saw market statistics that showed mobile email opens overtake desktop, something we were already seeing with many of our own clients.

By the end of 2012 around 10-12% of emails were built using media queries to make them device specific. As 2013 progressed they became increasingly common fixtures in our inboxes and this year we expect all our clients to move away from fixed width formats.

This creates a number of creative challenges that need to be overcome. Responsive design necessitates a structured format and traditional techniques we know work well, like creating a diagonal flow down the email and using unusual shapes to draw attention are much more difficult to implement. However, applying these techniques to this new medium is actually really enjoyable to the point of being addictive, like Sudoku and the rewards are exciting. For example, early adopters are already boasting of much improved click through rates… who doesn’t enjoy telling clients that?

3. Email marketing: HTML 5

It’s been possible to create emails using HTML 5 for a while and the increased functionality that this offers us has sat there, taunting email marketers because the majority of email clients wouldn’t support it. We’ve amused ourselves over the past few years with animated gifs of varying complexity to keep things interesting but the aforementioned rise in mobile open-rates and improved support amongst webmail providers has made HTML 5 emails a tantalising probability this year.

This will present an array of opportunities to include even more movement and even audio in our emails. Live video can be streamed directly from the web, step by step animations including visual reveals can be included, and openers can be treated to ambient sounds to enhance their experience.

Clearly this has the opportunity to be extravagantly overused and, over time, will be I’m sure. But this year as we dip our toe into HTML 5 there’s real opportunity to create some stand out emails that will be fun to create too.

4. Email Marketing: Big Data

Big data, along with content marketing was the phrase I heard or read most often last year. However, whilst the premise of content marketing is easy to grasp and implement, big data is mind bogglingly complex. Not only that but the cost implications of re-engineering data collection systems to log every interaction with every brand touch point, assimilating it and then directing relevant information into personalised marketing communications has been too much to contemplate.

There was a great statement from Dan Ariely doing the rounds about big data last year comparing it to teenage sex – “everyone talks about it, nobody really knows how to do it, everyone thinks everyone else is doing it, so everyone claims they are doing it”. The truth is, whilst most companies know that they need to harness the huge and disparate volumes of customer and prospect data they collect, the time and expense have been prohibitive.

2013 will be the year that this changes. I’m confident about this for two reasons:

First, from a marketing perspective, it’s clear that this rich vein of data cannot go un-mined indefinitely. The vast amount of information being collected is not standing still, big data will soon become huge data then colossal data and it’s only going to get harder to get up to speed. Those who get ahead of the game will reap the richest rewards and that will drive companies to seek out a solution.

Secondly, new European legislation regarding data collection is currently in the process of being developed. Whilst these rules won’t be implemented this year, it’s highly likely that companies will look to review their data systems to stay ahead of the curve and avoid the potential of an ICO fine in the future. And while they’re being forced to make these changes, we’ll see the added functionality exploited for marketing purposes too.

Of course the new rules on data collection will cause a whole new set of challenges for email marketers. But I’ll save that for another time.

If you’d like to discuss any of these topics in more detail, just give Red C a call. Contact Steve White on 0161 872 1361 or email swhite@redcmarketing.com.