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What We've Learned from the Last Decade of Email Marketing

January 29, 2020
By Phil Davis

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A lot can change in a year, but 10 years? That’s where we really learn what we’re made of in the world of marketing. I’ve been in the MarTech and AdTech space for 18 years now, and since we all know it’s helpful to learn from one another, I’d like to share 5 ways I’ve seen the space change in the last decade. And, at the end of my little retrospective trip down memory lane, I have 5 thoughts on where we’re headed in 2020. Let’s get started! 

The 5 Major Changes of the Decade (2010 - 2019)

 

Apps Became a Major Part of Our Lives

Now, before you ask us “why not talk about the smartphone?” … Let us explain. The iPhone debuted in 2007, but it wasn’t until mid-decade that the mobile device took hold of our lives. This is why the first step in the journey is the explosion of apps. Suddenly, apps allowed everyone to perform basic tasks right from their mobile phones; unlocking your car and managing your health could be done all from one device with the simple tap of a screen. 

Everything was centralized via apps - commerce, entertainment, food, hotels, and more! We could settle the check, open our front doors, and turn out the lights when we went to bed thanks to apps. Eventually, apps migrated to other devices like the Fitbit, the Apple watch, and televisions, and this is what led to the second major change of the decade.

We Became Fully Connected Humans

Thanks to the popularity of apps for their ease of use and streamlining of virtually everything in our lives, devices needed to catch up by adapting to app use. Smart homes, smart phones, smart TVs, and more – devices became app-centric, and we loved it. Now, there’s little reason to fear a loss of control if we’re not home to turn down the heater or turn on the light before we walk through the front door. Especially since as a society we are more mobile now than ever before.

We’re not only mobile in the physical sense of the word, but also in our digital lifestyles. We seldom stay in one channel. It’s now normal to bounce between in-store interactions and online or in-app activities. In fact, we even go so far as to bounce between media channels, like Facebook, Instagram, and Google (of course). And this wasn’t an accident or something we decided to do on our own; ISPs played a huge role in creating a fully connected universe. 

Originally, ISPs simply delivered internet and provided you with email; Think of your first Comcast or AOL address, that’s what this was. Now, ISPs deliver full-service, on-the-go access to everything we could possibly use across multiple devices. One of the main proponents of this was Google; Gmail really provided full mobility, allowing us to connect, play, and explore wherever we were with more apps and services across channels. But with every great advancement comes a few hurdles, and that’s what happened next.

The Consumer Journey Became More Complicated

Now, complicated doesn’t have a negative connotation here, it simply means the journey wasn’t as cut-and-dry or linear as it had been in the past! The customer journey became omni-channel as the world integrated more on-demand services. Where did this begin? With content.

You’ve heard the saying “content is king,” and it’s true. Consumers wanted content wherever we were. This meant content both in and out of our homes, starting with TV. Television shows, streaming channels, and videos were brought to our devices through apps, and once this was successful, the need for omni-channel integration expanded beyond content. Next on the list was delivery – (almost) instant gratification with Amazon Prime shipping and other items became integral parts of our lives. And the next iteration on the horizon is an extension of both content and delivery with the emergence of smart homes.

Imagine, a refrigerator that alerts you when you’re running out of yogurt or a shelf in your home that suggests it’s time to stock up on toiletries. This idea of devices letting us know what we need before we even realize it not only shifted the paradigm in the last decade but will continue to do so as it gains demand! Now, what did this do for marketers in the mix?

Marketers Started Investing in Multi-Channel Experiences

Just as customers became omni-channel consumers of content, delivery services, and smart assistance from AI, marketers had to follow suit in order to ensure their messages were received on at least one consumer-preferred channel. Responsive design, mobile-first content, retargeting ads, marketers had to not only have a general idea of how each worked but be able to determine which would get their message to the right people in the right place at the right time without compromising budget and sheer work hours.

What was most difficult here was that each service was typically performed in a vacuum, adding to the ever-growing list of marketing tools marketers had to learn. Luckily, the next shift worked in both the marketer and the consumers’ favors.

Email Service Providers (ESPs) Became Full Service Platforms

Rather than navigating multiple tool platforms, marketers caught a break as ESPs shifted their services to integrate email, social media, advertising, and web tools. This allowed everything to be centralized in one place for marketers just as data, control, and information are now centralized for the consumer. 

While 2010 - 2019 proved revolutionary for the ways we connect as a society and made things a little trickier for marketers along the way, but I think 2020 will be a year marketers can thrive by drawing on these 5 changes.

5 Predictions for 2020

 

Data Will Be All In One Place

As we’ve seen over the past few years, I think we’ll continue to centralize data both as consumers and as marketers. Consumers will centralize data through the connections between apps and devices while marketers will continue centralizing data in comprehensive marketing platforms. This way, with everything all in one place, it’s easier to understand the entire consumer, not just specific aspects. This will only continue and more information will find its way into single platforms for marketers – at least we’ll catch a break there!

AI Will Be Used to Meet a Variety of Needs

We are just breaking the surface with the capabilities of AI in marketing. Based on the excitement AI currently generates and the possibilities it holds, I think AI use will continue to grow and eventually help marketers anticipate customer needs, optimize marketing campaigns, improve inventory management, and more!

Think of the AI you use in your daily life. My phone, for example, lets me know what the traffic will be like at 7:30am when I’m in my car ready to hit the road to work. I receive a notification because it has learned I am in the car at that time almost every day and the traffic report is a key part of my morning. While I know this is a form of AI, I think more consumers will continue using AI without even knowing it.

Consider the potential for air conditioners or heating devices to optimize based on temperatures in homes in order to save money on the bill without sacrificing comfort, and all because it has learned what temperature range is a common setting but also has some capability to monitor budget. AI’s breadth and depth will grow exponentially, and we might not even realize it.

Marketers Will Have to Create Cross-Channel Campaigns With Voice In Mind

The trend of cross-channel campaigns isn’t going anywhere, but the addition of voice will provide a new challenge for marketers. If a customer is in their car on their morning commute, how can we help them read their emails with voice activation and help the voice assistant read the email accurately? Well, that’s more of a question for the engineers, but for marketers the question will become how can we create emails that are optimized for voice assistant reading? We have to think of our messaging in new ways, and ESP marketing platforms will have to follow suit with tools to help ensure this need is met. It’s an entirely different palette we get to define, and something we should really invest our time in.

Apps Will Continue to Drive Customer Loyalty

Loyalty will always be important; loyal customers are the best customers, after all. So think of your favorite apps – how do they keep you coming back for more? What rewards do they offer for your loyal patronage? Is it the rewards or the brand affinity you feel when you interact with the app? Is it both? 

Regardless of your answer, the bottom line is that loyalty programs always win out. It boils down to three reasons: customer service, rewards, and brand affinity. A combination of the three is the secret to generating excellent app and brand loyalty. And apps are taking the experiences brand loyalists receive to the next level with different (arguably more impressive) rewards, new capabilities specific to loyalty members, beta experiences, and more. The points you gain today from using the app could be used to do something great in the future, and the apps want to make sure you’re aware of this. 

Click-to-Brick Services Will Grow

With the trend toward self checkouts and online shopping without ever speaking to an employee, it might feel like we’re headed towards a totally digital shopping experience. Trust me, I don’t think we’ll ever live in a world where we won’t have face-to-face experiences. That said, I do think there will be the opposite effect, to some degree, with an increase in click-to-brick stores. 

What are these? Think of Warby Parker or Bonobos – both began as digital shops, but now we are seeing physical Warby Parker and Bonobos stores arrive in cities. They might seem different from traditional physical shops on the surface, but I’d say they’re more similar to small businesses where the owners and employees know you and what you’re looking for. By centralizing their data and implementing a better login experience, AI can help customers feel like they’re taking part in the “local shop” experience. 

When I was young, we went to a shop in town where the owner knew my family well and helped my mother get just the right school clothes for all 5 of us kids. He knew what sizes we needed, how long they’d last, and the price range my mother was looking for. Today, I have similar experiences in Bonobos, except instead of a shop owner who memorized my mother’s purchase history over 10+ years, there is an employee with my purchase history in the palm of their hands via my Bonobos profile. These experiences where we log into stores will only grow, especially as we continue seeking personalized shopping experiences without the personal shopper price tag. 

Final Thoughts for 2020 and Beyond

As we become a more digital society with data housed in one place though interconnected between apps, it will be critical that the data profiles be complete and clean. This is where services like Email Intelligence and Identity Matching can be useful for marketers.

Email Intelligence helps create complete customer profiles with key demographic and behavioral data to add to customer records in your database. And if your database is looking a little slim, you can use Identity Matching to make a great first impression with your marketing before someone even makes a purchase. Overall, as we’ve seen our lives become more connected, we can only improve as marketers if we have the comprehensive, validated information we need.

Looking to jumpstart your email marketing with clean, comprehensive contact records? Start your free InstantData trial today and test it for yourself!

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