In the column, “Innovations in Email,” I highlighted advancements that impacted the email industry in 2011. This time around, I’ll showcase trends and predict what the email marketing industry can expect in 2012.
1. The Mayan calendar ends, but email continues to show signs of life. As I have pointed out in previous columns, email’s death has been greatly exaggerated. Email will continue to be the top text-based communication tool that more than 90 percent of all Americans will use every day. Email marketing will remain a highly profitable activity for organizations. As a marketing tool, it shows no signs of slowing down.
2. More email marketers will embrace behavioral segmentation. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior and the marketer’s ability to digitally understand customer’s desires and actions begins with segmenting audiences based on click-based engagement. Our consultancy found that in 2011 more email marketers embraced segmentation than had done so in 2010. While click-through-based segmentation adoption increased only five points to 42 percent during this time, adoption of demographic-oriented segmentation jumped 12 points year over year to 61 percent. Overall, email marketer sophistication will continue to increase, placing more competitive pressure on what gets noticed in the inbox.
3. Cross-channel attribution and scrutiny on success measures will dominate our attention. The sheer fascination of launching social marketing campaigns will subside and the focus will rightly turn to the return on investment of those social efforts. Marketers will place more focus on the channel that drives the desired customer behavior and will weigh the value of the discreet email and social spends. For the last decade, email marketers have placed great emphasis on reporting and analytical features of their email marketing applications. In 2012, some vendors will reward their marketer clients with sleek new tools to measure campaign attribution across channels. Still others will turn to an emerging crop of ROI calculators and financial planning tools from email marketing agencies. For example, FulcrumTech just launched ROI-Goalsetter, a useful financial modeling tool for email planning and measurement. Email marketers will also become more focused on determining the value of their subscribers, but this will continue to be challenged by the lack of cohesive and standard success measures that we use as an industry. I expect and hope that we will see greater adoption of the Email Experience Council’s support for standardized metrics or the S.A.M.E project, and that more email service providers will participate in this measurement accuracy initiative.
4. Security, breaches, and legislation will increase in 2012. Unfortunately, 2011 was memorable for some high-profile data-breaches within email marketing and other industries. The sophistication of data hacking attacks is increasing. Unfortunately, there will be more incidents and they will be greater in scope. Congress will continue to give attention to national cyber-security and trusted identities legislation works its way through Washington. 2012 is an election year and I expect cyber-security will become an important and easy issue for politicians to get behind. Marketers should become involved in the dialogue and understand what is at stake, as security is everyone’s job. There are several excellent resources and non-profit groups focused on these issues including the Online Trust Alliance and government agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission.
5. Marketers will understand the penalty of mailing to dormant addresses. It’s no secret that large ISPs hate when email marketers blanket an array of dormant dead email accounts. As financial belts further tighten at legacy webmail providers such as Yahoo and AOL, there will be greater focus on blocking careless senders that mail to dormant accounts. Sending to dormant accounts is increasingly viewed as a cost center to these ISPs. Removing subscribers that have not demonstrated any behavior in over a year is not a best practice – it’s common sense. Marketer reputation will increasingly be measured by inbox placement; inbox placement is and will increasingly be determined by the sender’s list hygiene – active to non-active complaint rate. This may be the year when marketers become less focused on list size and actually prioritize lists based on the value and ROI they deliver. Regardless, if marketers get on board with cutting dead weight or not, the signs are clearly there from the receiver community that they have had just about enough of getting blasts to the cemetery of long-dead mailboxes.
I’ll check back around this time in 2012 to see how close these predictions came to becoming true. The key to finding success in email is developing a plan that incrementally increases your relevance with your audience, the sophistication of your own marketing skills, and following the data and measures that define your high-value subscribers. Best wishes for a successful 2012!