If 2020 has taught us anything, it's that you never know what's coming around the bend. That can't stop us from trying, though.
With 2021 just underway, what trends and emerging methods might become part of your email marketing campaign efforts this year and even the next?
To answer that question, we dove deep and curated a list of six predictions that we think embody the future of email marketing.
After all, even with an uncertain world around us, email isn't going anywhere. The Radicati Group says that by the time this year ends, the world will have 4.1 billion email users. That's a lot of potential customers to convert!
The predictions ahead, even if they don't come true, could be valuable in shaping your email strategy, so they're worth knowing and internalizing. Let’' get started.
1. Plain text emails
When polishing off your crystal ball, the future of email marketing in 2021 hardly seems like it would be a step backward rather than forward, right? So why are recommending plain text emails? For some very good reasons!
Plain text emails have been outperforming HTML emails in some areas for years. In 2017, Marketo estimated that your click-through rate could be 17% greater if you send a plain text email as opposed to one with HTML elements. Why?
Although they're less visually attention-grabbing, plain text emails stand out. These days, when anyone emails you, you expect the email to contain HTML elements. Whether it's images, GIFs, or even emojis in the subject line, there's always something.
Plain text emails strip away all those bells and whistles. Think of these emails as a cracked-open peanut: The appealing shell is gone, but now it's easier to get to what's inside. There are no images or GIFs or CTA buttons to obstruct your message. That could be why plain text emails have the click-through rate they do when compared to HTML emails. These emails are also not what people expect because they're so unassuming.
The biggest benefit by far of plain text emails is their deliverability. HTML emails could contain wonky tags or broken links; plain text emails have none of that. With no visual elements to get blocked, your plain text email has a greater chance of reaching your lead or customer's inbox.
If you're reluctant to give up your HTML emails, no one's asking you to. There's room in your email marketing campaign for both plain text and HTML emails.
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Some especially savvy marketers use Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions, or Multipart MIME. This sends out each email two ways: in plain text and in HTML format. If your users cannot view an HTML email for any reason, they'll see the plain text version. That's much better than being greeted with an email full of broken elements!
Multipart MIME could be one of your best email marketing techniques of the year.
2. Behavioral audience segmentation
Segmenting your audience isn't very innovative, even with the bar being set so low after 2020. We get that. But what about behavioral audience segmentation?
You've tried segmenting by demographics and even psychographics. Why not put the -graphics away for a bit and segment your contacts by behavior instead? You might like the email optimization that follows!
You have freedom in how you divide your audience when using behavioral segmentation. Here are the four ways you can go about it.
We'll start with one of the easier ones: a customer's purchase behavior.
Customers enter your sales funnel at all different stages. Most of your customers will be brand-new, but others might be midway through the purchasing journey or even reaching the end to hopefully start again.
That's one way to segment by purchase behavior. You can also segment according to the incentives a customer most likes, their pain points, how many purchases they've made, or how much money they've spent.
The next time you interact with this customer, you'll know whether they prefer phone or email chat, which products or services they're most interested in, and how many interactions it takes to convince them to buy.
When a customer buys one of your products or services, what do they hope to get out of it? Upon gleaning this information, you can segment your audience behaviorally by benefits sought.
With everything we buy, we do so for a reason. If you purchase a shirt, you expect it to be comfortable, stylish, and maybe keep you warm. When you pick up tiramisu from the grocery store, you anticipate it will taste delicious.
What is it that your customers want out of your products or services? Comfort? Value? If you divide them by the benefits they seek, you'll know.
This means of behaviorally segmenting your audience also helps you become more knowledgeable about your customer base. You'll know what it is about your products that makes them stand out, which products your customers like most, and how much use your products get.
Timing and occasion
We're all driven by occasions. For instance, in the morning, you start your day with a cup of coffee. You never skip purchasing flowers for your mom on Mother's Day either.
Using that latter example, let's say you're a florist. If you know you'll have an influx of customers on Mother's Day, you can guess how much business you'll get based on past customer purchases' occasion or timing.
Your loyal customers are the backbone of your business, so it helps to identify them. You can then target them with promotional emails that are more likely to hit their mark based on their past purchasing behavior.
Besides the potential for greater sales that tapping into this segment brings you, your most loyal customers can help you grow your business in other ways. If you want feedback like reviews or testimonials, you can count on these customers. You may also be able to rely on them if you begin a referral program.
3. Mobile presence
You probably looked at this next prediction and thought, "Of course mobile presence would be something to improve in 2021." Indeed, it would be, but when we say "mobile presence," we mean more than just being mobile-optimized, but also how easy it is to read and engage with your mobile communications.
What is your readability like?
We've made this article more readable for you by breaking up paragraphs into manageable chunks. If you decided to skim (which we're sure you won't), it'd be a lot easier and faster to read this article.
That's one way of many that you can improve your mobile readability for the year ahead. Here are some more tips:
Use a bit of SEO, inserting keywords into paragraphs. Your most relevant keyword should go in the first paragraph. From there, use one other keyword per paragraph to avoid getting dinged by Google for keyword stuffing.
Skip the jargon. If your customer has to Google the definitions of half the words in your copy, they'll look elsewhere for the content or product.
Besides the length of your paragraphs, check that the content is clear. Avoid inserting fluff or otherwise obscuring your main points.
Choose a background color that won't give the reader a headache. Black text on a white background is fine, for example, but white text on a black background is not.
Select a legible font, which means nothing flowery or too cursive. If the font doesn't change between capitalized and uncapitalized letters, that's also a problem.
Watch your font size. Anything over size 16 is likely too big and could affect how your copy appears on mobile.
Ease of use is another big factor in your mobile presence for 2021. Here are some pointers for a more navigable online experience:
Don't use very small buttons. On mobile, the buttons may be so small that they're unusable. Also avoid very big buttons that dominate the page.
Ensure quick loading of your emails and mobile site.
Pass on the fancy menus and navigation. Keep everything simple and to the point so customers and leads can get where they want to go. Your website is not a maze!
4. Customer experience
User experience, or UX, became a chief concern for marketers and salespeople in 2020. In 2021, it's time to expand that to the customer experience, or CX.
What is the customer experience? It's a long-term prioritization of customer satisfaction, from the moment they enter your funnel to the point they leave. All along, your goal is to improve the customer's view and perception of your brand.
Can you really promote CX through email marketing? Most definitely!
We're starting off this year with less face time than ever (but maybe more FaceTime). It's your job to create the same sort of experience a customer would have when visiting you in person, but translating it to the digital sphere.
In a 2020 article, Salesforce said that a large group of everyday consumers, 78%, wished for the ongoing pandemic to "catalyze business improvement." In other words, they want more interactions online, and constancy as well.
Another stat from that Salesforce article is that 54% of consumers feel a disconnect between marketing, service, and sales teams. Now that more people than ever are working from home, you must check in with your staff on the sales and service teams more often to coordinate your marketing efforts. For example, if one of them sent a welcome email, you move right on to the follow-up. Retreading hurts CX.
What else is CX all about? It comes down to three main principles: personalization, customer centrism, and helpfulness.
Email personalization has been a trend for years now. Customers expect to see their name in the subject line, or at least in the first sentence. They want email content that feels like it was written just for them. If you've let your email personalization lapse because other business objectives took up more of your time, 2021 is the year to be at the helm once again.
Customer centrism is an ongoing strategy that your staff has to dedicate themselves to every day. It doesn't always involve a huge effort. The previous example of ensuring that you're not retreading the steps of your sales team also helps show customers that your company notices and cares.
Helpfulness also adds up, of course, in that the small efforts you make pay dividends later. When a customer or lead emails you, especially with a question or comment, don't wait days to get back to them. Before wrapping up an email exchange, ask if there's anything else you can do for the customer.
5. Multichannel marketing
Although this article is about email marketing trends, we know that email is far from the only form of marketing out there. Just as you shouldn't limit yourself to either HTML or plain text emails, there's no reason to base any marketing campaign solely on email. Multichannel marketing encompasses many platforms or channels for more comprehensive campaigns in 2021.
Here are some areas of marketing to integrate:
- Mobile marketing
- Mail-order catalogs
- Direct mail
- Website marketing
- Online advertisements
- Social media marketing
- Retail marketing
OK, so maybe 2021 isn't the year for brick-and-mortar store marketing with COVID-19, but the other avenues still stand.
Our last email marketing prediction for this year is the further growth of automation, especially email automation.
Automation is like the best-kept secret in the marketing game. Through customer relationship management (CRM) software and other tools, you can create workflows that do more everyday tasks for you.
Timing is everything in email marketing, but pesky things like work-life balance and time zones make it impossible for you to be around all the time. When you use timed triggers in your email automation workflow that determine when a next step occurs, it's like you're sitting there at your computer overseeing everything, but you're on the couch binge-watching Netflix, and the customer is none the wiser.
Even when you're on the clock, automation saves you so much time. Now you and your team can brainstorm that next stellar email marketing campaign or spend more time studying analytics to better reach your customers.
The best part is that you can automate so much of your email marketing campaign. These are some of the functions you can automate:
- Audience segmentation
- Email personalization
- Interactive email design
- Email content optimization
- Email frequency
- Campaign analysis
- Welcome series emails and follow-ups
- Website activity emails such as abandoned cart messages
- Transactional emails
Getting more done and having extra time? It doesn't have to be just a resolution in 2021; it can be a reality.
If your 2020 email audit revealed some glaring holes in your email marketing campaign, the sooner you fix those issues, the better. These email marketing predictions for 2021 have shown the areas to spend more time on so you can better connect with your audience and drive more sales. Best of luck!