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Email Marketing Best Practices and Predictions for 2021

Marisa Sanfilippo
Marisa Sanfilippo
at Fortune Web Marketing

Follow these email marketing best practices and prepare for these predictions to optimize your email marketing campaigns in 2021.

In the new year, your marketing strategy may need an update. Some of the tactics you relied on in 2020 may no longer be relevant, so you need to adapt your strategy. Email marketing remains one of the most effective marketing channels and should be a centerpiece of any brand's larger marketing strategy in 2021.

COVID-19 has made an impact on email marketing, which proved to be a helpful channel for reaching audiences. Campaign Monitor reported that email open rates rose in the early days of the pandemic because people wanted to know what was going on. In 2021, email will likely continue to be one of the top marketing channels. [See business.com's Best of the Best 2020 pick for email marketing, Constant Contact]

Importance of a strong email marketing strategy in 2021

Studies have shown that email is one of the top forms of marketing:

  • In 2019, there were 3.9 billion email users worldwide, and that number is expected to grow to 4.3 billion by 2023, according to research from Statista.

  • Traffic from email campaigns has an average conversion rate of 4.29%, which is higher than the averages for traffic from search, direct and social media, according to WordStream.

  • For every dollar you spend on email marketing, you can expect an average return of $42, according to research from Litmus. That's a higher return than you can expect from any other form of marketing – digital or otherwise.

An effective email marketing strategy can help you accomplish the following goals:

  • Optimize your email marketing return on investment
  • Properly incorporate email marketing into your overall marketing mix
  • Visualize your email marketing on a large scale and see where each campaign fits with your overall business goals

COVID-19 hit businesses hard; many had to close their doors for good. Many of the surviving businesses saw reductions in their workforces and revenue. While you may need to cut corners in certain areas of your business to save money, don't compromise on your email marketing strategy.

Benefits of an email marketing strategy

Having an email marketing strategy in 2021 can help you meet your business goals for the new year. Here are three major benefits of developing an email marketing strategy:

Building stronger relationships with your customers and prospects

Building relationships to earn loyal customers can help keep your business afloat during the pandemic. One way to do this is to send emails to see how your customers are doing, how you can help them or how everything went with their order.

This email example that Stellar Villa, a wall art company, sent is an excellent example of how to build relationships with customers:

One reason this email is effective is that it shows that the company cares enough about its customers to make sure they received their order and that they are satisfied, said Patrick Connelly, co-founder of Stellar Villa. Second, the email asks customers a question and prompts them to reply to the email.

"This starts a conversation in which you not only further engage with your customer, but you create a memorable, positive experience for them," Connelly said. "Also, in the rare event there is an issue with a customer's order, they can let you know, which will give you the opportunity to fix it right away. This prevents negative experiences."

Connelly added that because the email is not promotional and contains mostly text, it does not get caught in spam or promo folders.

The subject line reads, "Re: Your Order from Stellar Villa," putting the brand front and center. In the email itself, the company also inserts the customer's first name, when available, at the start of the email, to personalize it.

Reaching your prospects and customers

Your prospects may not be in the office to receive your business-to-business company's direct-mail piece, on the roads to see your billboard ads or reading the newspaper to look at your print ads. They are, however, looking at their mobile devices wherever they go. As a result, your audience can access your email marketing content from anywhere, anytime.

Crafting emails that get results

Email marketing should fit within your larger marketing strategy. Speak in your brand's voice, and stay on track. But also find a way to take advantage of the personalization options that email provides. When you can reach someone's inbox, you have direct contact with them. By tracking metrics such as open rate, click-through rate and conversions, you can determine how engaged your audience is with your campaign. By identifying the demographics, wants and needs of your target audience, you can refine your email marketing content to relate better to your ideal customer. How can you gauge the success of your efforts? Improved engagement rates suggest your content is hitting the mark.

To develop content that resonates with your ideal customers, consider creating buyer personas to represent the people who purchase your goods and services. How old are they? What is their employment status? What are their problems, concerns and goals? Adjust your buyer personas as you get real-world feedback from your customers, and use your buyer personas to refine your marketing strategy.

Email marketing best practices

These email marketing best practices are long-standing strategies. If you have not been following them, make 2021 the year to start. For information on what's predicted to gain popularity in the email marketing space in 2021, scroll down.

Follow the CAN-SPAM Act.

If you violate the regulations in the CAN-SPAM Act, you take the risk that your domain will be banned, which would mean you would no longer be able to send emails from your domain. The Federal Trade Commission compiled a CAN-SPAM Act compliance guide, which includes the following rules for businesses:

  • Don't use false or misleading header information.
  • Don't use deceptive subject lines.
  • Tell recipients where you're located.
  • Tell recipients how to opt out of receiving future emails from you.
  • Honor opt-out requests promptly.
  • Monitor what others (such as a company you hire to do your marketing) are doing on your behalf.

Cater your emails to your audience.

To get better results from your marketing, you need to understand your audience. Use the tips from our Instagram marketing article to craft buyer personas. Buyer personas will help you identify and understand your target audiences so you can craft emails that speak to them. For example, if your business provides dog training services and one of your target audiences is new-puppy owners who never had a dog before, your email marketing content may ask these questions:

  • Does your puppy bark at other dogs?
  • Does he refuse to come when called?
  • Do you feel overwhelmed and like you don't know what you are doing?
  • Is your puppy having bathroom accidents in the house?

Then, you might include the following:

  • A few tips on how to fix these problems (to help build trust and show your expertise)
  • A testimonial from a client
  • A clear call to action that shows that you understand their pain and that you can help
  • Cute puppy pictures

This type of email marketing best practice is called "segmentation," which involves separating various groups of email subscribers into smaller lists broken down by buyer personas. Sending different emails to targeted groups is more time-consuming than sending out one email to everyone on your contact list, but putting in this extra work can yield higher open rates, better click-through rates and, ultimately, more sales.

Optimize your emails for mobile devices.

About 68% of email campaigns are being opened on mobile devices, according to research from Campaign Monitor, which is why it's so important to optimize emails for mobile devices. People view emails differently on smartphones than they do on desktop computers, often scrolling quickly and sometimes paying less attention to them than they would if they were looking at a computer screen.

Follow these best practices for optimizing your emails for mobile devices:

  • Put your best content at the beginning of your subject line so that it does not get missed (potentially getting cut off by an email client).
  • Keep your subject lines under 30 characters.
  • Add pre-header text to help readers get a better idea of what the email is about and entice them to open it.
  • Use at least 12-point font size so that readers don't have to zoom in to read your content on their small screens.
  • Use big images, but don't rely on them, as they may not load properly on all mobile devices.
  • Put your calls to action at the top (before readers have to scroll) so they don't get missed.

Test your emails on various screen types.

Emails often look different on desktop screens than they do on mobile devices. Some email clients offer the option to preview desktop, mobile and inbox versions of your email. With this feature, you won't have to jump from device to device to preview your emails, but it does not hurt to do so.

Keep your list updated.

This is one of the oldest email marketing best practices, and yet many marketers do not follow it. Here are some of the risks you take by not keeping your email marketing lists up-to-date:

  • Getting high bounce rates (and thus having content not reach your audience)
  • Being flagged as a spammer by your email software, which means you may get banned from sending future emails from your domain
  • Sending subscribers content that they are no longer interested in

Take the following actions to keep your list updated:

  • Keep a record of your latest lists of unsubscribers.
  • Avoid using old email lists for new campaigns. Instead, send the new campaigns to people who have subscribed within the past several months. For example, if you received a list of conference attendees two years ago, don't send them an email campaign now.
  • Continually run campaigns to get new email subscribers.
  • Remove subscribers who have not engaged with your emails in the past year.

Analyze the results, and adjust the campaigns accordingly.

After you send your emails, your work is not done. As a good rule of thumb, wait about a week (to give subscribers a chance to open your emails), and then analyze performance to learn what worked well and where you can make improvements. Depending on your email marketing strategy, your reporting key performance indicators may include the following:

  • Click-through rate
  • Open rate
  • Bounce rate
  • Unsubscribe rate
  • Spam reports
  • Shares
  • Conversions

Market only to subscribers who opt in.

There are email marketing tools that allow you to reach people who did not sign up to receive your emails, but most experts advise against using this approach. Emailing people who did not opt in to your marketing campaign could be detrimental to your overall marketing efforts. Sending emails to purchased lists rarely works and mostly wastes time and money while annoying people who don't have any interest in your products or services. Further, this type of email marketing could run afoul of privacy laws, such as the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA).

Instead, take the time to build your email list and market to the people who have shown interest in your products and services.

Consider timeliness.

Integrating timely email marketing into your strategy can help boost engagement and sales. For example, during the holiday season, you might want to launch an email marketing campaign detailing the discounts and promotions you are running. In 2020, many companies leveraged email marketing to describe changes in policies related to the COVID-19 pandemic, while others emphasized their commitment to social justice during a summer of demonstrations.

Always keep in mind that your contacts are moving through the world in real time and are affected by current events. Whenever possible, create that link between your brand and what your audience is experiencing in their personal lives.

Email marketing predictions for 2021

If you were to open your inbox now, you might see many of the same types of emails. That may change later in 2021, however, as marketers take advantage of new trends, strategies and technology. Here are some email marketing trends to watch for in 2021:

Automated email sequences

As the name suggests, an automated email sequence is a sequence of emails that are deployed via triggers set forth by email marketers. For example, when prospects opt in to your e-commerce clothing business's email list, you can create emails that go out automatically. Here are three potential sequences for that scenario:

  • Send a welcome email with a promo code for free shipping on their first order within minutes after they sign up for your list.

  • Email them a style guide on how they can mix and match some of your clothes one week after they sign up and have not made a purchase.

  • Entice them with a 48-hour promo code that's valid only for new customers who didn't make a purchase within two weeks of subscribing.

Without email automation, sending emails at the right times to the right people can be a time-consuming task with little room for error. However, tools such as HubSpot and Sendinblue can help to streamline the automated email process.

Increased investment in email marketing

You need the right team to get email marketing done right. Make 2021 the year you invest in qualified talent and the right tools to take your campaigns to the next level. If you don't think you have the budget, consider cutting expenses in other areas, as email marketing is critical to keeping your audience engaged and building brand loyalty.

Animated emails

Make your emails pop with animations. You don't need a big budget to do this; you can use a free design tool, like Canva, to incorporate an interactive element into your email campaigns. Although you can't rely on imagery to get your full message across because images may be blocked or may not load properly on mobile devices, you can mix animations with standard text.

Image Credit: Rawpixel / Getty Images
Marisa Sanfilippo
Marisa Sanfilippo
business.com Contributing Writer
Marisa is an award-winning marketing professional and contributing writer. She has worked with businesses large and small to help them drive revenue through integrated marketing campaigns and enjoys sharing her expertise with our audience.