A good,

free summary of E-mail trends

has just been published by E-consultancy from one of their round tables. This features much of the guidance in the new edition of my

Email marketing book

and in my Email marketing workshops.

Here is a summary of my take on the top e-mail trends, based on my experience in 2006, but with my thoughts on the first few prompted by the E-consultancy briefing.

1. Measurement moving to a customer-based approach

Rather than looking at overall campaign performance and response, savvy companies are now looking at individual customer response, e.g. how often do customers click or open across the whole quarter or year, which types of offer do they respond to?

Companies can then use ‘right-channelling’ to use the right medium for the right customer at the right time, e.g. direct mail or phone if they are not e-mail responsive or reduce costs by less DM and e-mail to customers who are e-mail responsive.

I have been saying this is the way forward for the past few years, so it is good to see this trend. However, I think many e-mail vendors lag behind in their capability for this customer-focused approach – often SQL queries have to be hand-crafted to access this information.

2. More focus on touch frequency or contact strategy

Oftentimes, for a retailer, increasing frequency will get better response from the list overall and helps to keep the company at front-of-mind. Witness the at least weekly emails from Tesco,  Dell and Lastminute.

Coupled with the previous point, savvy companies are working out where e-mail is not having an impact and throttling back on the frequency. I believe Amazon do this. They are also good at offering communications preferences which enable customers to choose the type of communications and so reduce email quantity. Thomson Holidays give a choice of frequency and product with their newsletter.

Another approach with contact strategy is to set pre-determined limits of frequency and interval between messages for customers with different value and response patterns.

3. More distinction of e-mail types

I have felt that many companies focus too much on e-newsletters which are great in that they can give a blend of offers which are more likely to appeal to a range of audiences.

However, there is a dilution effectcwhere your core messages may not get through. This is where solus e-mails have a role since they can be more targeted and precise.

4. Greater clarity on e-mail hierarchy

Linked to touch strategy, if communications frequency is limited, it is important to prioritise the communications, this is what E-consultancy mean by e-mail hierarchy, where the most important type of messages, e.g. tailored reactivation messages are given precedence over messages.

5. Newsletters getting less salesy

In my book I talk about getting the Sell / Inform / Entertain balance right for an e-newsletter. You have it wrong if you have too much sales content. Instead, it is important to provide content which makes a difference to the recipient, e.g. helping a B2B audience work smarter or develop themselves, or helping a B2C audience enjoy themselves more or solve a problem.

E-consultancy gives the example of a retailer producing articles and guides on digital photography. Great content is also worth investing in since it is good for the brand and SEO too.

6. Increased use of email accreditation / authentication services

The report mentions the Sender Score Certified scheme, formerly known as Bonded Sender and the Goodmail Certified Email Service, a paid-for service offering proof of delivery which they say is gaining ground mainly in the financial services, particularly for transactional email related to statements.    

Goodmail is encrypted delivery which works by means of a token on an email which is redeemed when the email is put in the inbox. There doesn’t seem to be much action on this since the scheme was first reported as coming to the UK at some time in the future in February.

The roundtable felt that getting the basics right would be more important for most e-mail broadcasters. It doesn’t say what these are. I would say:

  • Keeping the list clean by removing hard bounces after 3 deliveries (ISPs don’t like e-mail broadcasters who have a high bounce rate)
  • Use the SPF and Domain Keys authentication approach
  • Ensuring e-mail broadcast rates aren’t too hig
  • Responding to complaints and unsubscribe requests
  • Educating users about whitelists

7. The use of RSS feeds as a complementary channel

Awareness and usage of RSS feeds is still low outside of tech-savvy and journalist audiences, so this isn’t going to replace e-mail in two years as some have said.

However, with increased adoption of IE7 and Firefox browsers making it easier and more obvious to take feeds, this will slowly change. When I lecture to students, I find there is much more usage of blogs and feeds in this age group – often through personalised Yahoo!, MSN or Google homepages. For me, accessing RSS in my e-mail inbox through Attensa is the best way to consume content.

8. Integration with direct mail

Some companies such as low-cost airlines have moved to e-mail only direct campaigns, but for most, the physical impact of direct mail in conjunction with e-mail will make a campaign more effective. Either using e-mail as a teaser before receipt of a direct mail or using an e-mail reminder or response mechanism after a DM has been received are important.

9. Multi-message Email and SMS campaigns

Not mentioned by E-consultancy, but a real quick win which requires a change of mindset. With direct mail it is often not cost-effective to do follow-up, but with the lower cost of e-mail, the cost is much less of an issue.

A follow-up E-mail a few days after the first messages can have a great impact as a reminder if the message is tweaked to change the offer or to alert to an end of period.

Often these messages target those who have already interacted with a previous e-mail by clicking on it to show interest or intent.

I’m also seeing more text message reminders, particularly for events.

10. Event triggered e-mails

Not explicitly mentioned by E-consultancy, but related to their comments on touch strategy, there is a move from talking about automated event triggered e-mails to implementation.

Obvious examples are following up on abandoned shopping carts or first purchases or after a period of inactivity.

So, there’s ten ideas for you to benchmark against your own practice. What do you think fellow e-mail experts? What other approaches are out there?

Dave Chaffey