I’ve been asking some of our email marketing guest bloggers about what they see as the major trends in 2010, and their predictions for email in 2011… 

What were the most significant trends/events for email marketing this year? 

Matthew Kelleher, Redeye

Deliverability as a ‘trend’ seems to have run its course. Instead, deliverability has now become a background topic, accepted as both essential and also ‘standard’. The rules for achieving good deliverability are now well known and, rather wonderfully, produce better returns on investment! So those emailers that continue to drop into the junk box on an ongoing basis are letting themselves down on more than one front!

2010 was a year in which email marketers began to wake up to the fact that email is not purely a revenue driving media but rather a ‘customer communication channel’. Indeed, the realisation that email is the only mainstream digital channel that allows organisations to contact customers seems to have finally dawned on mailers. So, instead of mailing just to drive revenues, email has shifting to supporting brand awareness and customer experience in order to support a crucial long term channel.

Margaret Farmakis, Return Path:

Through 2010 the email channel has become increasingly overloaded. Social networking updates, messages from friends and family and irrelevant marketing messages are all clogging up email users’ inboxes. A large amount of these messages are now referred to as ‘grey mail’ – it’s not clearly spam but also isn’t universally loved, such as messages that users have subscribed to but may not want right now. Email providers have responded with services like Gmail’s Priority Inbox and Hotmail’s recent improved inbox control to better protect their customers. ISPs will continue to strengthen their defences through 2011.

Email continues to be a major vector for attack by the Internet axis of evil – phishers, spammers and spoofers. In 2010, phishing continued to be one of the largest worldwide criminal enterprises. During the year, phishing evolved from primarily forging email from banks and financial institutions to more targeted attacks using any trustworthy online identity including e-commerce merchants, social networks, government departments and brand marketers. Phishing and spoofing will cause further brand erosion and subscriber distrust in 2011.

Mobile email has continued to surge in 2010 – exceeding 10% of most marketers’ email address database for the first time. The onus is on marketers to ensure all messages they send are rendered with a mobile email client. For any marketer who isn’t worried about how their message looks in all mobile formats, now is the time to start due to the ever-increasing range of mobile handsets being used by subscribers.

Email reputation is the major driver in deciding inbox placement, and in 2010 most marketers finally got it. With spam at an all-time high it’s not postmasters at ISPs making decisions over whether an email should be delivered to a customer’s inbox, spam folder or be blocked from their customers altogether, but machines employing algorithms.

Philip Storey, eCircle:

There have been significant ‘movements’ in our industry this year. We’ve not seen changes to email clients on this scale before. The arrival of the Gmail Priority Inbox and Sweep in Hotmail caused widespread panic throughout the industry, but I still celebrate this as another opportunity to champion permission-based and relevant conversations in the inbox.

I think that what Hotmail are doing with Active View is really interesting. Although only a handful of companies are authorised to use the service at the moment, once this is rolled out to all trusted senders, it could transform the type of content we can offer in the inbox. At present I am working on a project (in partnership with industry bodies), which could also revolutionise the kind of content that we can serve up in the inbox, across many email clients/platforms. More information on this in 2011. 

What will the major email marketing trends be next year? 

Matthew Kelleher:

These are not words I ever thought I would utter again, but 2011 is going to be the year of the ‘one-to-one’ email experience. Seth Godin, Pepper and Rogers, your time has come! Originally trumpeted as the future of marketing over a decade ago, direct marketing was the wrong media to achieve the realisation of these ‘dreams’. The combination of data from all channels, on and off line, driving email communications, means that we are close to realising these original concepts.

What makes this possible? Firstly, databases are now flexible enough to manage merged online and offline data and make real time, individual level decisions on a mass scale. Secondly, behavioural marketing means that we can combine previous customer RFM information with REAL recency… eg what products an individual was browsing on a website 30 seconds ago. And finally, automated systems combined with truly flexible dynamic content means that systems can respond to an individual action with true relevance and timeliness… the one-to-one vision.

Margaret Farmakis:

Email is changing, and fast. As a result, it’s increasingly important for marketers to be proactive rather than reactive with their email marketing campaigns. As email volume and spam levels continue to increase, there will be even more competition to stand out in consumers’ inboxes in 2011.

2011 will see increased synchronizing of social media marketing and email marketing through coordinated campaigns. Social media sites excel in the dynamic and immediate nature of their information, and now consumers increasingly expect this. The savviest email marketers in 2011 will learn these lessons from social media to offer their subscribers immediate, relevant, dynamic content via email.

The next year will see a huge rise in ISPs using engagement metrics to better protect their customers from criminal email. This includes tools such as not spam data, which enables users to notify ISPs of emails in their spam folder that are relevant to them, and clamping down on marketers who continue to send to inactive accounts and users.

We expect to see an increase in video included within email. Video is a proven response booster and ISPs like Yahoo, Gmail, AOL and Hotmail are now allowing videos like YouTube clips to be played directly. But marketers must remember it is important to have a compelling reason for including video within their emails rather than just doing it for the sake of it as consumers won’t watch something that isn’t interesting or relevant to them.

Philip Storey:

2010 was supposed to be the year that ‘spray and pray’ died a death, but email marketers are still widely using email to just get generic messages out there as quickly as possible. I’ve often described this as ‘abuse’ of the channel, that many marketers have failed to see the benefit of a little bit of relevance.

Email can and should be used as a relationship channel. I hope that in 2011, brands will start to see the value in shifting their mindset from commercial, blanket messaging to a customer-centric email marketing model that truly benefits their prospects and customers.

I’m interested to see how Facebook Messages will change the way that email marketers converse with people. As Facebook Messages collates all of your SMS messages, emails and instant messages for each of your contacts, all in one place, it could allow brands to have a single dialogue with their customers. This could be very interesting for brands that use a mix of SMS and email. The potential of only talking to your customers once, instead of twice with the same message, whilst possibly saving budget along the way, must be appealing to marketers. After all, It’s not often you can offer a better customer experience and save some budget along the way.