4 Email Marketing Trends That Matter in 2012

In the column, “Inbox Rising,” I covered how email was poised for another big year as the central hub and heartbeat of any conversations and conversions happening in the digital world. Now, let’s look to see what trends may emerge this year. I mean real ones that will likely surface and cause each and every email marketer to adapt in a meaningful way.

1. Major creative overhaul. Boring start, right? Well, my phone hasn’t stopped ringing from smart, pragmatic marketers looking to hit singles and doubles in the first half of the year. One way to do that is to make wholesale changes to your (often) stale email creative and messaging. Ask yourself: does your creative look like it was built pre-iPhone? Has it been truly touched and refreshed to account for your brand’s evolution and your subscribers’ inbox viewing changes?

Whether it is an automated message that IT created and hasn’t updated in years or your key revenue-driving promotional templates, these are calling for optimization and often, throwing out the window for new and more relevant creative. Strategic creative changes can often have the most dramatic and quickest impact to your email program.

2. Mobile. First let’s connect to the previous item. The best thing that’s happened to email marketers in the past five years? Apple’s iPhone (and its followers and clones) thankfully beat out less HTML email-friendly smartphone makers like RIM’s BlackBerry. This has led email to be the number-one activity that consumers perform on their omnipresent smartphones. So those beautiful 2012 emails (see above) will render much nicer on the iPhone than a draconian device.

But this goes beyond email creative and toward rethinking how we communicate to our subscribers. Think more right time, right place messaging (and remember that 76 percent of smartphone users in the United States read email on their phones, according to Pew Research). We now need to not only drool at this prospect but plan how to trigger an email to a subscriber after they check in at one of your locations, acquire a new subscriber through a new experience like an app or social network, or the best way to serve up the right email coupon so your offline staff can handle and track it in the most efficient manner.

3. People. Unsung heroes of any marketing department (it’s not the media or technology, it’s the people!), email folks toil in near obscurity yet are the ones making or saving their employee a substantial amount of money. It’s not the email “machine” driving millions of leads and dollars but the people and partners behind (and in front of) of any technology. With the economy showing a modest recovery and email’s proven ROI, serious digital marketers will stock up to find the right teams to help move their email program from one that manages and delivers emails to a versatile and strategic one that becomes adept at moving the business forward not just the campaign message.

For a refresher why, see “In Appreciation of Email Rock Stars.”

4. Integration. Both from an internal and external perspective, email will become more in sync with what’s going on within your company and outside it. This means coordinating deeper teamwork and education with the groups that power email’s wingmen (search and social) to e-commerce, technology, and offline efforts. If your email program lives in an isolated existence, you must seek a way to break out of this silo. You will be doing yourself and your company a major service.

What else is on the horizon for your email marketing program this year?

Simms is off today. This column was originally published on January 12, 2012 on ClickZ.