Email remains an important channel for marketers in 2023, with automation and innovation in artificial intelligence enhancing the effectiveness of campaigns. According to the DMA’s Consumer Email Tracker, 32% of consumers say they find email brand messages useful – a rise from just 15% in 2021.
At the same time, however, new privacy measures and changing user preferences require careful consideration from marketers. The DMA also found that 37% of consumers now keep personal and marketing emails separate by using different inboxes, up from 23% in 2021.
So, what are the biggest trends currently impacting email marketing, and how can marketers drive success? I spoke to Brian McKenna, VP of CRM at DMi Partners; and Mike Fantis, VP and managing partner at DAC Group, to gain some expert insight.
AI may end up doing the legwork of content creation, allowing for finer segmentation
AI has been a valuable tool in email marketing for some time, with marketers using artificial intelligence and machine learning to elevate campaigns, specifically using the technology to improving segmentation and recommendations, optimise send times, test creative, and evaluate list saturation.
McKenna says that brand investments in AI have so far largely been surrounding access to these tools as well as “to continue to gain learnings to improve ongoing marketing automations and campaign deployments.”
In 2023, however, generative AI has come to the forefront, with tools like ChatGPT and Dall-E spurring on innovation. Many email providers are also launching their own generative AI tools. Take MailChimp, for example, which has recently introduced the Email Content Generator, to enable marketers to create email campaigns based on industry, marketing intent, and brand voice.
The excuse that a peer group is too small to target due to the effort required is no longer valid.
– Mike Fantis, DAC Group
The sheer number of end-to-end AI solutions for email being announced as well as in development means, according to DMi’s Brian McKenna that “AI will begin to be leveraged more fully, to go from idea to audience selection, to email building through to deployment.”
“Looking ahead, our biggest recommendation to our clients is to continue investing in data infrastructure and email templates to be able to capitalise on AI more significantly in future.”
DAC Group’s Mike Fantis agrees that AI’s capacity for greater personalisation at scale will be what drives further adoption from email marketers.
“Take segmentation,” he said. “Brands fear not having enough content to support multiple segments. This is where AI’s ability to generate content, or at least do the research leg work, at speed can genuinely help. The excuse that a peer group is too small to target due to the effort required is no longer valid…”
McKenna argues that “true personalisation” is “the most effective retention strategy that brands are using in 2023.”
“This means consistently delivering highly tailored messaging that is relevant to each individual subscriber, learning continuously to improve subsequent messaging, and seeking cues to adjust communication frequency and cadence,” he says. “This keeps the largest percentage of customers in the highly engaged segments and reduces ongoing churn. These strategies also leverage win-back and re-engagement triggered journeys to send different communications to lapsed customers/subscribers to bring them back into future communications.”
Privacy changes highlight the value of building trust and subscriber relationships
Apple’s release of iOS 15 back in September 2021 had a big impact on email measurement. With the introduction of Mail Privacy Protection, users can choose to hide information about email behaviour. Furthermore, Apple’s pre-loading of email data – regardless of whether a user actually opens an email – has made open rates unreliable.
“As a result,” says McKenna, “improving click rates has grown even more important.”
More recently, Apple has announced new privacy changes with iOS 17, involving the removal of URL tracking parameters from links accessed via Mail and Messages apps as well as Safari Private Browsing
“As a result [of iOS15], improving click rates has grown even more important.”
– Brian McKenna, DMi Partners
Interestingly, McKenna believes this will have less impact than previous changes in 2021, as not all ESPs rely on parameters.
“When diving into the specifics in beta, we have determined that none of our clients will be impacted by these upcoming changes and will not lose their ability to track clicks for their subscribers,” he said. “However, it is clear that Apple and other groups are continuing to expand their efforts surrounding privacy, so it will be an area where we will need to continue to monitor and adapt as needed.”
He also suggests that the focus on privacy should give email marketers food for thought, particularly when it comes to building trust.
“If anything, these changes continue to highlight the value of building a relationship with your subscribers and gaining their trust to continue to opt-in and engage with your messaging via email (and other channels). As privacy remains a focus there will always be significantly more ability to personalise the experience for your owned subscribers than site visitors that have not engaged with you via email.”
Mike Fantis agrees that privacy strategies haven’t hit marketers as much as perhaps predicted, “given that most marketers are not yet leveraging their existing data as effectively as they could.”
If marketers were charged per email sent, would their strategy be the same? I don’t think so.
– Mike Fantis, DAC Group
“The impact lies in a shift in focus and in the growing recognition of the importance of media mix modelling rather than channel specific reporting. It’s forcing marketers to look beyond a single channel and think more broadly about the user and their journey,” he said.
Looking ahead, Fantis suggests that the danger could be marketers moving away from personalisation rather than moving into it. “If marketers were charged per email sent, would their strategy be the same? I don’t think so. There’s currently no allocated media spend for email marketing, so if CMOs had to justify the success of email campaigns to CFOs, a more conscious effort would be put into targeted emails.”
Localisation is vital in a cost-of-living crisis
Fantis says that, while personalisation continues to be a trend for email marketing, “brands and marketers haven’t quite got to grips with what it means or how far to go with it.”
“A great place to start”, he suggests, “is the objective of adding value based on the user profile, their needs, previous purchases etc.”
When you consider a customer’s hardships and what’s happening locally, you’re much more likely to serve them the timely, thoughtful and effective content they need.
– Mike Fantis, DAC Group
At the same time, Fantis points out that wider factors – such as the cost-of-living crisis, mortgage rate increases, and other financial concerns – should also come into play, ultimately requiring brands to emphasise the value that they provide.
“This requires localisation as well as personalisation,” he says. “Measuring the impact that macro-factors are having on the local community will better enable marketers to personalise at a local level and achieve the best results from their efforts. When you consider a customer’s hardships and what’s happening locally, you’re much more likely to serve them the timely, thoughtful and effective content they need.”
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