It’s basically Christmas already, so it’s time to look back at 2015 and mull over what’s occurred in digital marketing.

Email remains one of the most important channels in terms of driving traffic and sales, so I’ve asked several experts for their opinions on the most significant email marketing trends from this year.

The words of wisdom come from both agency and client-side marketers. Now, on with the trends...

Triggers & automation

Steve Denner, COO at Adestra

Though email automation isn’t something new, 2015 saw an increase in adoption and success with using the technology. 

The 2015 Econsultancy/Adestra Email Marketing Census showed that the proportion of organisations assessing their automation campaigns as ‘very successful’ nearly doubled from the previous year. 

This could be due to marketers adopting a wider range of email triggers and seeing the return on streamlining some of their processes.  

How successful would you say you have been in implementing automated email marketing programmes?

Hannah Price, email marketing manager at Missguided

Automated/behavioural triggered campaigns have become standard this year. 

A few years ago, brands using automation were at the forefront of email & CRM strategy, but throughout 2015 we've seen this become the norm, to the extent that if you are not doing this you are lagging behind.

Similarly, personalisation has continued to move forwards and we can expect this to flourish in 2016 (e.g. integrated use of dynamic content across comms).

Guy Hanson, senior director of professional services at Return Path

2015 was definitely the year that the use of triggered emails started to go mainstream. 

This is a clear by-product of the recent spate of merger/acquisition activity between CRM and ESP vendors.

It’s also great for revenue – we saw research this year that showed triggered emails currently generate around 30%+ of email program attributable revenue, although they only account for 3.5%+ of program volume.

Parry Malm, CEO at Phrasee and Econsultancy contributor

I guess the ‘marketing automation’ meme was probably the bearded, double-skinny-no-whip-artisan-latte-drinking, skinny-jeans-wearing hipster of the email world in 2015, and it was included in about 24,737 blog posts over the year. 

Hey, don’t get me wrong – I get how it’s super cool to set up a drip campaign to auto-email people. But, these “set it and forget it” campaigns are the slow-cooker of the email kitchen. 

Sure, it makes a pretty good stew, which is awesome. But sometimes you want a steak. And if you slow-cook a steak it becomes tough and inedible. 

The point? Automation is great, but it’s also not everything, unless you’re the type of person who likes to eat the same meal every night. 

I also think that meandering metaphors have been a huge trend in 2015, and long may they continue.

Personalisation

Kath Pay, CEO of Holistic Email Marketing and tutor of Econsultancy's Email Marketing Training Course

Some of the most important email trends in 2015 were personalisation and automation, and understanding that email is one of the easiest and most effective channels to personalise. 

By automating based upon a consumer's action/inaction and providing personalised content, you can deliver a 1:1 marketing message that is unique to that particular consumer.

Hashtags as subject lines

Guy Hanson, senior director of professional services at Return Path

From our own data we’ve seen a sharp rise in the use of this technique. 

This is no longer just a fad – subscribers use the hashtag to search for the promotion in social media instead. 

This has profound implications for email measurement, as a substantial percentage of responses are being generated outside of opens/clicks as a result.

Move to mobile first design

Hannah Price, email manager at Missguided

Over the last 12-24 months there has been a rise in the volume of customers using their phones to purchase, as such email design must be suitable across devices and should be optimised for mobile.  

Not only does the design need to be mobile friendly so does the content.

The fact that customers are using their phones means the time brands have to capture their attention and drive interaction with a CTA is less than previously.

So content has to work hard and work quickly to engage the reader.

(You can read more about Missguided’s switch to responsive email marketing here.)

Steve Denner, COO at Adestra

The proportion of emails opened on mobile devices increased in 2015 and with it the adoption of some form of mobile-friendly email design, whether responsive or just mobile-first. 

Our own data has shown an increase from 44% to 54% (as of the end of November) mobile opens as part of total number of opens, breaking that majority barrier.

Subscriber trust

Guy Hanson, senior director of professional services at Return Path

Email marketers are demonstrating increased understanding of the importance of building subscriber trust. 

We’ve seen recent DMA research to confirm this - people are more likely to provide personal data if they trust the brand, if there is a strong promise of no third-party sharing, and subscribers are provided with choice. 

This is really important because subscribers are more likely to provide a primary rather than a secondary email address if that trust exists. 

Our own research shows that five out of six email reads are generated by primary email address owners.

Monetisation of service emails

Joanne Yarnall, CRM manager at Missguided

Monetisation of service emails has begun. 

While there is a fine line of what is and isn’t appropriate within an outbound service communication, some brands are starting to use this channel smartly, e.g. order confirmation emails.

Cross-selling example from a House of Fraser email

Better behaved retailers during Black Friday

Guy Hanson, senior director of professional services at Return Path

I analysed the broadcasting behaviour of 15 major UK retailers during Black Friday week.

Contrary to popular perception, only three of them sent more email volume than during any other average week during the quarter. 

Interestingly, the three higher-volume senders also saw the most filtering and the lowest read rates. 

Generally speaking, the others saw better than average performance.

(For more on this topic, read: 10+ huge shopping stats from Thanksgiving & Black Friday 2015.)

Evolution of data capture

Joanne Yarnall, CRM manager at Missguided

There has been a notable change in the mechanisms and techniques which companies are using to drive customer sign up i.e. use of pop up boxes.  

This has enabled companies to continue to attract new sign ups and grow their marketing databases.

External influences

Guy Hanson, senior director of professional services at Return Path

This was possibly the year where we have started to see a more pronounced impact of external factors on the performance of email program owners. Weather and economic factors are good examples. 

We’ve also seen research to prove that as many as one out of every five spam complaints happen as a result of negative brand experiences (bad in-store experience, bad press, etc.). 

David Moth

Published 8 December, 2015 by David Moth

David Moth is Editor and Head of Social at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn

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