Email marketing

How Email Marketing Has Changed


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I celebrated the 10-year anniversary of the first edition of my book, Email Marketing Ruleslast month by releasing an updated and greatly expanded fourth edition.

Here are a few stats:

That prompts the question: Has email marketing become 50% more difficult? Or, heaven forbid, 200% more difficult?

The answer to that second question, thankfully, is a resounding one no. However, the answer to the first question is absolutely yes.

Although a big contributor to the growth of Email Marketing Rules from edition to edition has simply been that I’ve learned more about email marketing and I wanted to widen the scope of the best-practices and strategies I covered, it’s also true that email marketing has become more complex over the past decade.

In fact, I kick off the fourth edition with a preface that lists all of the changes that have occurred since the first edition was published:

  • CASL, GDPR, and CCPA have all gone into effect
  • Email can be read on smart watches or be read aloud by voice assistants
  • Tabbed inboxes have been introduced by Google, Microsoft, and others
  • Marketers have gained the ability to create interactive emails using CSS and AMP for email
  • Rich preview content can be created using schema
  • Emails can be designed using modular architecture
  • Dark mode is an option in most inboxes
  • Privacy features have been launched by Apple and others
  • Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine-learning have gained roles in selecting audiences, determining email content, picking send times, writing copy, and more.
  • Orchestration of email with other channels has become much easier and increasingly vital to delivering great customer experiences
  • Cross-channel customer data can be centralized in customer data platforms (CDPs) and other systems

That’s a lot of change! And, frankly, most of that has transpired since the third edition was published in 2017. More importantly, many of those changes are still evolving—which is to say, we’re still adapting to them.

The Urge to Resist Change

Change is hard. And it’s natural not to want to change. In fact, I’ve unintentionally written several of my MarketingProfs columns about that very hesitation:

The underlying message of all of those articles is…

Changes Have Already Happened

Subscriber and inbox provider behaviors and expectations have already changed, and they will continue to evolve. The question that remains is how well brands will adapt to those changes.

Adapt poorly, and those changes will have a negative impact on both your email marketing’s performance and customer satisfaction. That’s the kind of change no company wants.

But let’s be honest: Even if you adapt well, you’re still probably going to lag consumer expectations. That’s the nature of things. We’re always chasing our audience. But that doesn’t mean we have to be reactive.

Changes That Are Coming: Email Marketing’s Future

When I think about the future of email marketing, I think about how we’re still so far from achieving the marketing paradigm of sending the right message to the right person at the right time (via the right channel).

Looking back on the 11 changes I shared previously from the preface of my book’s latest edition, it’s the last three that will help us achieve that paradigm over the many years ahead:

  1. AI and machine-learning will help us scale our personalization, segmentation, and automation efforts as we’ve never been able to before.
  2. Omnichannel orchestration will help us not only better coordinate campaigns across all of our channels but also use the right channels and incorporate data from all of our customers’ brand interactions.
  3. CDPs will help us centralize and clean all of our customer information so we can understand customers as whole people and use that data to fuel our AI, machine-learning, omnichannel, and other efforts.

It’s an exciting time to be an email marketer. We have amazing opportunities ahead of us to better serve our subscribers and improve our performance.

Will it be easy? No. However, it will be the kind of difficult that’s rewarding intellectually and creatively and that’s exciting to be a part of. It will also be the kind of challenge that turns lots of email marketers into directors of marketing and chief marketing officers.

Let’s all embrace the continuing evolution of email marketing.

More Resources on How Email Marketing Has Changed

More Meaningful Metrics: Four Tips for Marketers Post-Apple iOS 15 Privacy Updates

Eight Alternatives to Open-Triggered Email Sequences in the Age of Mail Privacy Protection

The Pandemic’s Impact on Marketers’ Email Strategies

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