A look back at the past year's email scene and what the implications will be for your email program next year.
A year ago, I predicted a number of trends for 2012 in my ClickZ column, "B2B Email Trends to Watch in 2012." How did I do?
This week, I'll see how accurately I predicted the email scene and discuss the implications for your email program.
Prediction No. 1: Mobile Expansion
In 2011, I predicted the expansion of mobile usage would have a dramatic impact on email programs. These days, my clients report that 30 percent to 40 percent of their email messages are opened on mobile devices, and not just on smartphones.
Tablets are driving this boom in mobile usage, thanks to popular devices like the Kindle Fire and the Apple iPad.
Continuous innovation and introduction of more smartphones and tablets, such as the Apple iPhone 5, the iPad Mini, and the Kindle Fire HD indicate that this trend will not slow down.
In fact, most industry research groups predict that at some point in 2013, the majority of email opens will happen on mobile devices.
Implications: In 2013, just optimizing your email for mobile will not be enough. You also must identify your mobile users and send a specific creative developed for their devices or experiment with responsive design templates.
Responsive email design is an approach to email creative in which the HTML version is built to provide an optimal viewing experience across a wide range of devices, from a desktop computer email client to a tablet to a mobile phone. This includes easy reading and navigation with minimal resizing, panning, or scrolling.
Prediction No. 2: Relevant Content Is King
With the rise of content-quality tools such as Google's Panda search engine algorithm and Facebook's EdgeRank algorithm, I predicted that content would remain king in email marketing.
As I predicted, the "Last In On Top" model is no longer the norm. Major ISPs, including Gmail and Yahoo, adopted individual recipient engagement metrics as a large part of the sender-reputation equation.
Many major email marketers who did not actively track which subscribers were either engaged with their email programs or inactive saw their email messages blocked or routed to the bulk folder several times throughout the year.
Implications: You must use behavioral traits, including opens and clicks in regular email, browsing on your website, or discussing with your sales reps, to segment your mailing list and drive follow-up messaging.
Marketers who don't track subscriber engagement will find their email engagement metrics will steadily decline as their messages get blocked or bulked. Marketers who use in-market data will yield, on average, three to five times the return in revenue per email over traditional broadcast messages.
At the very least, keep tabs on which subscribers are inactive and reduce your cadence of mailing to these subscribers. Sending more emails to the most active subscribers and fewer emails to those who are less active will help you prevent being banished to the "unimportant" email box.
Prediction No. 3: Rethink How You Send Email Campaigns
I predicted that triggered email programs would become a critical part of the email marketer's playbook.
Earlier in 2012, the Email Experience Council compared open and click rates for triggered messages to those of "business as usual" (BAU) messages. The group found that triggered messages had a 93.8 percent higher open rate and a 123 percent higher click rate than BAU messages (typically broadcast).
The report also showed that the percentage of triggered messages grew 19.8 percent from 2010 to 2011, with quarter-over-quarter growth throughout 2011. This proved that triggered messages are becoming a necessity for any email marketing program.
Implications: Every organization has some kind of customer lifecycle. Your goal should be to study your specific buying cycle and identify the optimal milestones for building triggered lifecycle programs. Build these programs to be as automated and hands-off as possible to maximize revenue generation 24/7.
The Last Word
Most of my predictions for 2012 came true in one way or another. The results show that the era of "batch-and-blast" email marketing has come to a close, and these are the three imperatives for your email program:
Your benefit will be a strong-performing, customer-focused email program that will allow you to maximize engagement, conversions, and revenue. Those who don't will be left in the dust.
In my next column, I will unveil my predictions for 2013.
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Mike Hotz is a senior strategic consultant for Responsys, working with clients to design, develop, and execute cross-channel digital marketing strategies that contribute to their cross-channel digital marketing success. As an industry veteran, Mike has worked in e-mail marketing since 1998, designing, building, and executing e-mail and multichannel direct marketing strategies focusing on increasing customer engagement, nurturing leads, supporting sales organizations, and driving revenue for companies such as CDW, OfficeMax, Grant Thornton, and Digitalwork.com.
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