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For the last three years, I’ve made predictions about various aspects of online marketing (see here for 2015 and 2014.) They’re mostly right, except for most of them.

This year, instead of soothsaying, let’s focus on things I wish would happen... but likely won’t.

So here’s some predictions for email marketing that won’t come true in 2016.

1. Automated campaigns won’t annoy any consumers, at all, ever. For reals.

Automation! Whoo! Who doesn’t love a “set it n’ forget it” campaign”?

Especially because consumers are too dumb to realise that it’s all a machine, and they for sure feel oh-so-special when they get seven emails over a 14-day period welcoming them to a company’s database.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Automation can be a good thing, in very specific (and limited) use cases.

But the vast majority of “marketing automation” campaigns, while feigning personalisation and familiarity, are nothing more than automated spam.

And trust me on this: more and more consumers realise this.

Try asking someone who isn’t in the marketing world. Does the conversation go like this?

You know, I was so chuffed to sign up to BRAND X’s email newsletter, and then a really nice, useful series of emails over the next month.
They really felt like they were meant for me, and me alone, and I’m pretty sure they were sent by an individual with me in mind, not a machine that noticed it was 2pm on the third day after I signed up.
What a nice bunch of people BRAND X must be! I’m going to give them a bunch of money now.

So here’s the thing. Automation makes marketers lives easier – and that’s not a bad thing. Trust me, I’m in the game, and I know how busy the game is.

Anything you can do to reduce workload and make your processes more efficient is a good thing.

But – does it deliver results?

Sometimes, for sure. Sometimes, nope. And most of the time, it’s not measured correctly, so you’ve got no idea if it’s working or not.

Normally, an email marketer would measure response to their automated campaigns by tracking things like opens, clicks and conversions.

That’s great, but what about the overall effect on your brand? (See point two below)

Consumers aren’t idiots. You know how I know? I’m a consumer, and so are you. And, while I may be an idiot, I don’t think you are.

Relying on automation assumes that the world around you is static. But it isn’t.

The average consumer has received so many automated campaigns now that they’re becoming immune to them. This is a dirty secret that no one wants to admit.

So in 2016, consumers will feel annoyed, taken for granted, and immune to your automated campaigns. But, few marketers will adjust what they do. The ones who do will reap the rewards.

2. Last-click email attribution will die the slow, horrible death it deserves.

When’s the last time you opened an email, clicked on it, then bought something there and then? Rarely, I’m sure.

Maybe once in a blue moon, but is that a normal purchase process for the vast majority of humans on the planet? Nope.

And yet: email marketers still measure success of individual campaigns on conversions.

This is foolhardy, and here’s why.

Imagine you’re Coca-Cola. You provide sweet, sweet nectar in nearly every country across the world. You’re probably the world’s largest advertiser and invest in every channel possible, both online and offline.

If you measured success of your marketing campaigns like an email marketer (that is, last-click), then guess what?

You’d invest in nothing except point-of-purchase. Because, that’s the point at which someone actually “converted,” so to speak.

Forget the polar bears at Christmas, or sponsoring the Olympics, or whatever else. It’s all about last-click.

So you take your near-infinite marketing budget and build amazing, breathtaking point-of-purchase advertising experiences.

And guess what?

Your sales plummet.

To bring the allegory back to email, let’s say you’re getting good ROI from it this month. So you send out more, switching budget from another line into email.

And you make a bit more money. But then, over time, as your list becomes anesthetised, as it decays, as it becomes less and less responsive, guess what? Your sales then plummet.

And then you switch out of email (it’s dead, don’t forget) and plough your money into something else. And the same thing happens. And so on.

See, this is the perpetually vacillating nature of last-click proponents. Always chasing the dragon, but never catching it.

The problem is, there’s not really a better way to directly measure marketing response than last click.

Sure, there’s some multi-attribution models out there, but even they have downsides (and assume you can track consumers across all channels, all devices, and all locations.)

So, let’s face it, there’s no perfect way to track marketing response.

But surely we are smart enough to realise the limitations of last-click?

If someone opens your email but doesn’t buy there and then, does that make it a failed marketing attempt?

The correct answer, in my opinion, is no. Conversions are fantastic, but they’re very rare events. It’s the amplified effect of all your marketing activities, when aggregated, that matter.

Do I have the perfect answer to the problem? Nope. Is there a perfect answer? Nope.

But any answer that is different from “Last-click is my hero” is better than using last-click.

Alas, I fear that in 2016, last-click will reign supreme, and marketers will throw away sustained growth in favour of a few random people who happened to buy from an email on a rainy day in February.

And marketers will make bad decisions as a result.

3. More companies will get their lists nicked, and will vigilantly prevent it in the future.

Every week there’s a new company whose data gets compromised. It’s a bit of a scandal at the time, then is quickly forgotten.

And then it happens again.

And again.

And again.

Surely this isn’t good, right?

Here’s the thing. Brands get their data nicked all the time. They only announce it sometimes. And then everyone gets mad at said brand, and then we all go about our business.

So why don’t brands protect their data better?

You know, I wrote about this in my predictions from 2015, and it’s the same story. So hey, I’m going to save myself seven minutes from re-writing it. See this post from last year.

Yeah, it’s lazy to re-use a prediction, but the thing is, it’s still a problem that no one seems to be taking seriously.

So, this prediction won’t come true – well, half of it won’t.

More companies will get their lists nicked, but they’ll by and large not do much to prevent it. Because, well, there’s more exciting stuff to do. Like deliverability. Haha, yeah right.

Deliverability is the most boring thing ever. Ever. EVER.

And, in my 2017 predictions, I'll be writing the exact same thing. Because, and here's the sad truth, data security just isn't that important to many companies.

Even the largest fines don't outweigh the software, security & procedural costs involved with protection.

So, in closing, DELIVERABILITY IS COOL AMIRITE? 

4. The old guard’s ways of thinking will be replaced by actual innovation. 

OK, here's the controversial portion of this blog post:

Email marketing tends to be run by groupthink, and this is a bad thing.

See, if you were to go to an email conference in 2008, or 2012, or 2016, you’d probably be hearing the same people say the same things.

Things like, “You should do a welcome series.” Or “Segment your lists.” Or boldfaced lies like “Deliverability is super interesting.”

Cool, thanks for the tips. Those are new ones on 2002 me. But it’s 2016.

Email marketing is no longer a nascent channel. It’s the old guard of online marketing. So are the ideas that prevail. And this is a huge problem. It's groupthink.

What is groupthink? It’s when a school of (new, innovative, challenging) thought is beaten down by a self-appointed fraternity of “thought-leaders” who perpetuate conformity and the status quo, primarily using social pressure and public shaming.

Groupthink is the natural enemy of email innovation.

These days, most brands follow very similar email practices. And the “experts” and the “gurus” and the “prophets” are still spewing the exact same stuff.

In fact, lots of them are using the same Powerpoint slides (who still uses Powerpoint, anyways?) that they were boring us with two, or five, or 10 years ago.

And if anyone comes to the table with a different idea, they’re either ignored, or are shooed off the stage, effectively muting any form of dissent that would cause any disruption to the old guard.

"Get off my damn lawn you damn kids," they effuse, mired in a quagmire of self-hating sloth, blind ignorance, and sheer terror.

What does this mean to you?

The majority of the email advice you read online is nothing new. In fact, it’s an online marketing channel for which commonly accepted “best practice” is regurgitated 1970s direct mail strategies.

Now, this is not inherently bad, that’s not what I’m saying, some of the advice is indeed good. Mostly if you're still working on the "Fisher Price My First Email" phase.

But it's not innovative... and thus we keep doing the same thing over and over, and somehow expect to stand out from the clutter. Which makes no sense whatsoever.

Because, I mean, who are we to challenge widely accepted ideas? Because, "experts" and "gurus" and "ninjas" say you shouldn’t.

Maybe a welcome series is a bad idea for your brand. Maybe you’re over-segmenting. Maybe what you thought was true is, in fact, not.

Chances are, according to the "experts" and "gurus" and "jedis", the email marketing world is still flat (it's not).

Email’s cigarettes will make you look cool and help you breathe better (they don't). And email’s sun will orbit around the customer’s earth (it doesn't).

Let’s break the cycle in 2016. Forget the status quo. It’s time for email anarchy.

My hope in 2016 is that people start experimenting with email marketing, challenging the norms, questioning the axioms, and finding out their own truth.

What works for you may be different than what 1,001 "experts" and "gurus" and "growth hackers" say. 

There is no reason to follow anymore. Instead, there is every reason to lead. 

Whoah, Parry, you’re a veritable ray of sunshine today!

Right, I get it, the preceding points were, perhaps, a bit on the nihilistic side. 

So, let’s flip the script.

Who wants to hear about two super-positive predictions that I believe WILL come true in 2016?

NO ONE? Huh. That sucks.

Well, here they are anyways:

1. Innovation will continue to happen, but not how you expect.

“Innovation in email?” you ask. “You crazy,” say the inventors of Peach.

But email innovation is here, now, today, and it is powerful. Thing is, you have to know where to look.

Here’s the thing. I’ve worked client-side, and ESP-side.

As a client, I was always nagging the ESP to fix bugs, or catch up to other players in the market on feature sets.

When ESP-side, I was always fielding calls from clients about bugs to fix, or requests to feature-match competitors.

In this client-supplier dyad, it results in the client constantly having to jury-rig methods to complete particular tasks, and the ESP to constantly bug-fix.

This results in bipartisan frustration. And the collective inability to innovate.

This isn’t to say that ESPs and clients can’t be innovative in isolation.

But with the incumbent commercial relationship between them, there’s both time and technical constraints that limit any form of non-business-as-usual activities.

So, this isn’t where email innovation is really happening these days. Where is it happening, you ask? Well...

Innovation in email happens in agnostic software that can adapt to:

  1. Client needs.
  2. ESP limitations.

Some of these companies are already pretty big (i.e. Movable Ink and LiveIntent) and some are smaller but growing fast (i.e. KickDynamic and Phrasee – disclosure – I’m a Phrasee co-founder.)

It’s perhaps parasitic, insofar as companies like these are leveraging ESP motherships as transmission vehicles.

But the services they provide are unique, and ESPs aren’t able to provide similar tech.

So when looking for the “next big thing” in email, look beyond the ESP, and look towards the independents doing something cool. Because that’s where you’ll find your competitive advantage in 2016.

2. Someone will say “Email isn’t dead!” and we’ll be like “No sh*t!”

Raise your hand if you’re bored of the old “email is dead” vs. “email isn’t dead” debate.

I mean, come on.

We’ve all seen the blog posts like “242 reasons why email is alive n’ kicking” or whatever. It’s not news.

And yet, a million monkeys on a million typewriters still waste our time by cluttering our browser screens with this repetitive tripe.

Why?

First of all, surely we can all agree that email isn’t dead. I mean, there’s a 60% chance you came to this article from an email newsletter.

And that you get receipts from online purchases to your email inbox. And that you need your email address to verify your identity on Facebook, Peach, or whatever.

So let’s put this stupid debate to bed.

Is email dead, and will it ever be?

Marketers aren’t idiots (at least, the ones I’ve met aren’t).

They know the power of email, and don't need anyone to convince them of this fact.

The next time someone writes a blog post entitled, “873 reasons why email isn’t dead,” don’t even bother leaving a comment.

It’s not worth your time.

Instead, focus on being awesome at email marketing. That is worth your time.

Maybe 2016 will be the "YEAR OF EMAIL" or some other pointless meme that adds nothing to your daily life.

So in the meantime, while the pundits argue about a moot point, focus on what you do best: using email to deliver value to your customers, your company, and you personally, regardless of what people say you "should" be doing.

Make 2016 the year of email anarchy.

It's long overdue.

Parry Malm

Published 13 January, 2016 by Parry Malm

Parry Malm is the CEO of Phrasee and a contributor to Econsultancy. Connect with him on LinkedInTwitter or Google+.

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Comments (1)

Lisa Wisniowski

Lisa Wisniowski, Brand Communications Director at Stickyeyes

A long but thoroughly enjoyed read. Thanks for making me smile @Parry!

8 months ago

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