Predictions for the coming year are always fun to come up with, and even if we don't get the timing exactly right, they certainly represent the larger directional shifts taking place in the industry.
As each year draws to a close, we have an unofficial tradition at Return Path of forecasting the next big trends in the email and digital space in the coming year. You can check out our predictions (and some cases "unpredictions") on our blog. These lists are always fun to come up with, and even if we don't get the timing exactly right (we always err on the side of being aspirational) they certainly represent the larger directional shifts taking place in the industry.
I'm getting a bit of a jump-start this year, and we'll have a more complete list on the Return Path blog soon, but here are some predictions to ponder as we ride into the year of the horse:
Marketers will stop talking about Big Data and start acting on it.
There's a great TED Talk by David McCandless, a British journalist and researcher, where he refers to data as "the new soil." What are you going to grow? It's imperative that marketers learn how to use the wealth of data at their disposal and do more than just gather it. After all, what's data worth if it's not helping you make decisions and gain insights that lead to measurable results and the ability to continually optimize?
While these efforts aren't exactly easy, they certainly cost less now than they ever have, and there are lots of products and tools available to help you visualize, correlate, analyze and combine data from multiple sources. At the very least, it's worth auditing the subscriber, customer, competitor and prospect data you have available to determine whether or not it's the right data to inform your strategic decision-making in 2014.
Engagement will become more important than "response" in any one channel.
Somewhat related to finally making active use of data assets is having a complete picture of a customer's brand interactions across channels will trump the importance of any one channel. Furthermore, marketers will start creating KPIs that accurately measure the true definition of engagement, which goes far beyond a one-time interaction in a single channel.
From an email perspective, engagement will increasingly impact inbox placement (already a major driver of filtering algorithms at the major mailbox providers), which will in turn tie back to brand reputation. In other words, where you land in the inbox is how your brand will be perceived by your customers. Likewise, fraudulent email from phishing and spoofing attacks will not only damage email engagement, but brand perception and interaction in other marketing channels.
Wider adoption of HTML5 will make the inbox its own "screen."
Traditionally, the inbox has been a relatively static place to view content. An email message's ultimate goal was to drive an action away from the inbox to a more interactive, content-rich experience like a website or landing page, which would (hopefully) do the heavy-lifting of driving a conversion. HTML5 is fundamentally changing this by making the inbox a dynamic place where consumers can experience content directly.
The inbox will no longer be a place to navigate away from. Landing pages will be less relevant and video in email will become commonplace as part of the inbox experience. According to a recent study by Email Monks, 58 percent of users can now see HTML5 video in their inboxes. As for what kind of videos to feature, training courses and product demos were rated the most effective, but expect to see more customer testimonials and contest-related videos.
With consumers self-collecting and sharing more personal data than ever before, the concern about data privacy has never been greater. Consider the Quantified Self Movement. The type of personal data being made available goes far beyond a consumer's name, title and zip code. Through wearable products like Fitbit and Jawbone and mobile apps too numerous to name, PII now includes biofeedback data (e.g., heart rate, blood pressure, sleep patterns, moods, stress levels), as well as what consumers are eating, the calories they're consuming, when they're exercising and conceivably every activity that generates a physiological response.
Consumers are also becoming savvy enough to recognize that their personal data is an asset to be protected - an asset whose mistreatment has severe repercussions for your brand's reputation.
This doesn't just apply to global brands that have made newsworthy judgement errors in data privacy, like Facebook, Google and Yahoo. This applies to any brand capturing, storing and using their customers' data. While maintaining compliance with state and federal privacy laws is obviously a requirement for any reputable brand, marketers will need to be more proactive about communicating how PII is being managed and protected, as well as using language that is clear and straight-forward.
This will have a direct impact on a subscriber's decision to interact with your brand and share one of their most precious assets with you. With consumers increasingly relying on product reviews from friends and family to make purchasing decisions, mistreating this asset has severe short- and long-term ramifications. Marketers will not only need to adjust their privacy practices accordingly, but actively celebrate the brand's commitment to those practices so that consumers associate high standards of privacy with the brand's reputation.
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As vice president of professional services at email intelligence company Return Path, Margaret Farmakis oversees teams of specialists helping global brands improve the deliverability, response, revenue, and ROI of their email marketing programs. Prior to her six years at Return Path, Margaret spent 10 years producing and managing multi-channel integrated direct marketing programs for Fortune 100 companies, focusing on the financial services and technology sectors.
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