Email Predictions: Revisiting 5 Years Ago & Looking Ahead to 2020

Almost exactly five years ago I asked some digital and email experts – or heavyweights as I believe accurately framed their opinions – to tell me where email was headed. A lot has changed in the email world during these five years – major M&A action, smartphones brought email to busy consumers on the go, Gmail tried to shake up the inbox, and an emergence of niche email vendors trying to make the email experience better. This is a decided difference since the previous five years mostly were trying to kill the channel in a quixotic fashion as opposed to embrace and enhance, which is where the action is.

In fact, the email landscape looks dramatically different, encompasses a much bigger playing field, and is more crowded than five years ago. Here’s one company’s take on the email marketing-scape.

So I went back and asked some of these fine and smart digital pros to tell me what and why they got right and wrong five years ago and to look into that crystal ball one more time. I cover their thoughts and my own in this two-part series.

My own thoughts first – or at least one of them:

Email in the Center of the Holy Trinity of Mobile

Mobile has brought more competition for screen time to consumers and professionals, but email is front and center for most with a pulse and one of the top activities on smartphones if not the top one. It is in the holy trinity (with social and messaging, whether SMS, Snapchat, WhatsApp, or Yik Yak) of what people do in the grocery store line, stuck in traffic, and bored in meetings. Mobile has ensured email stays front and center of the digital consumption experience, and while what that looks like will continue to evolve, email’s role in the middle of it all won’t.

I could go on and on, but that is why you can hire BrightWave, and I brought my fancy pants digital stars to this party (plus, look for part two).

Jay Baer, best-selling author and head of Convince & Convert, told me:

“Remarkably, I’m even more bullish on my prediction about relevance than I was five years ago. Now, not only are emails expected to be hyper-relevant and triggered by behavior and circumstance, but that same concept has infiltrated social media and mobile marketing, as well. Led by marketing automation suites, the era of 1:1 marketing is truly upon us now.

“I do find it interesting that despite the many communications and technology changes over the past five years, the fundamental structure and architecture of the email (and of email marketing) remains mostly unaltered. Certainly, email is more often 1:1 today, and new filters and algorithms enable adoptees of those add-ons to manage their inboxes more efficiently. But otherwise, email in 2010 looks pretty much the same as email in 2015. And I’m not sure there’s anything else in marketing or communications that can make that claim. I can’t decide whether that’s a sign of strength for email, or a sign of weakness?”

Jeff Hilimire, chief executive (CEO) of mobile gaming company Dragon Army, had these choice words:

“Five years later, I’m shocked to see that email STILL provides the number one ROI for marketers. It seems that as consumer behavior changes, from various social media platforms, to new devices, etc., the one thing that remains the same is the reliability of email as a way to reach someone.

“While I felt five years ago that email had seen little innovation (because it worked so well, marketers were lazy with it), I feel that over the past few years there has been a tremendous amount of innovation in marketing automation, leading to perhaps a golden era of email marketing.

“The funny thing is, as I try to build a new company around what I believe to be the future of marketing, MOBILE, I find myself looking to email as we determine if the ROI of our work is effective. Email is still the benchmark!”

Jordan Cohen, longtime email veteran and now an executive at Fluent, chimed in with this:

“Five years ago I said that 2010 would be ‘the year of mobile.’ In retrospect, I think a more accurate statement would have been that we were entering ‘the decade of mobile.’ The impact of smartphones was just starting to register on marketers’ radars in 2010, but it has taken the whole of these past five years to get marketers up to speed and broadly using technologies and tactics like responsive design, device targeting, and deep linking to create quality mobile email experiences.

“With more than 50 percent of email opens and Web traffic taking place on mobile devices today and showing no signs of relenting, there is still a lot of focus needed – and improvement to be made – in mobile email marketing as we close out the decade.”

Tell me and this motley crew of digital studs what they missed and look for part two to include more reflection and prognostications.

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