The 2017 Email Marketing Industry Census suggests that automation is now a key area of focus for marketers, cited by 66% as the single most important attribute of an email technology provider.

Through automation, email has the potential to become even more personalised, timely and targeted. Of course, it’s not the only component of an effective strategy.

So, what other techniques are marketers turning to in 2017?

Based on a survey of 1,200 respondents, the 11th edition of the report contains a comprehensive review of current email practices, resources, and the channel’s effectiveness compared to other types of marketing. Subscribers can download it here – or read on for a run-down of how marketers are further planning to innovate with email in the year ahead.

Improvements in email design and relevance

While automation remains high on the agenda, the majority of email marketers cited an increased focus on creative uses of behavioural triggers, as well as greater use of dynamic elements such as video, content and GIFs in emails. 

This tallies with the long-held focus on making the inbox experience more engaging through improvements in the design and relevance of emails – taking both content and context into consideration for the greatest level of success.

Similarly, the development of a mobile-optimised customer journey remains a high priority for many respondents – cited by 38% of company marketers and 28% of those on the supply side.

Innovation beyond personalisation

While ‘innovation’ is often put into a box – i.e. innovation through automation – many marketers are now seeing the potential beyond this. 

When asked what the single biggest change to email marketing will be in five years’ time, the majority of answers involved further personalisation – to the point where it is a given – with emails being entirely based around the user’s needs and actions.

More than this, however, is a desire to understand how email can support multichannel marketing and customer segmentation.

Interestingly, the idea of action within emails was also suggested – such as responsive forms or the ability to fill out a quote form or checkout without actually visiting a site.

Artificial intelligence is now on the agenda

This year’s census includes a question about how artificial intelligence can improve marketing performance.

While it was the first time the topic of AI has been included, it is clear that it’s been emerging for a while. 17% of company respondents said they plan to innovate through AI in 2017. Meanwhile, 52% of client-side respondents said that it could help to optimise send times, and 43% said it could optimise calls to action. 

The fact that artificial intelligence is both a new and relatively high priority for 2017 could also suggest that other areas of focus (e.g behavioural triggers and automation) are being seen more as ‘business as usual’ activities rather than true ‘innovation’.

Of course, AI presents challenges to even the most established email practices. With data access and interpretation typically posing problems for marketers across the board, adding AI capabilities into the email marketing armoury isn’t going to be easy.

For further information, you can download the Email Marketing Industry Census here.