The Future of Email

Five years ago, who knew that email would become such a powerhouse marketing tool? Even just two years ago, very few of us were marketing through this channel on a regular basis, either from a lack of awareness or a fear of being confused with spammers. Banner ads were still the online advertising venue of choice.

So it’s time to dust off the old crystal ball and take a look-see into the future. What lies ahead for marketers in this space? What new choices and tools will we have at our disposal? What will our customers and prospects experience when they open up their email programs?

Granted, we won’t be able to foresee ALL that lies ahead. But as far as email’s potential goes, I think it’s safe to say…

We ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

The immediate developments are fairly predictable. As house lists become bigger and more important to the bottom line, marketers will begin utilizing functions such as database segmentation more frequently. Hence we’ll see greater personalization – meaning, of course, that marketers will address their customers by more than just their names.

It will most likely become the norm for house lists to be split by age, interest, income, previous purchases… plus any other demographic or historical information that will improve the likelihood of a sale. Such an email could look something like the following (simplified for illustrative purposes):

Dear Joe,
Last December, you purchased our deluxe toolkit of high-quality graphics for your job as Chief Web Developer at CoolWebSitesRUs.com. We’re pleased to announce that we’ve just released a completely updated toolkit containing yet another 300,000 images! Best of all, we’ve made it incredibly easy to order. If you’d like to use the same American Express card that you used last time, simply click the following link, and your order will be AUTOMATICALLY placed and shipped to you within 24 hours. You needn’t do anything else. It’s that simple…

Sure, some marketers are already running promos such as this, though they’re not yet mainstream. They will be. Or at least they should be, as technology is quickly making the once cumbersome process a whole lot easier.

Keep in mind, however, that this will no doubt bring to the surface even more privacy issues than what we see today, since marketers will have the ability to apply non-traditional information and knowledge to their email promotions. I don’t know about you, but I’m not so sure I want to receive an email promotion from a site based on which of its pages I last visited. Or WHEN I visited. Or which links I clicked when I visited. (More on THIS topic in the weeks ahead.)

So what else is in store? A bit further down the road, it will be much easier for an email message to become something much like a portal. For example, those of you with a “MyYahoo” page (or a similar self-personalized business/entertainment/information page) think of the not-too-distant future where your page could be automatically updated, then dumped into your inbox. You’d be able to navigate the main site completely from within this email, taking care of business such as checking and updating your stock portfolio, paying your bills, checking movie times and locations, etc. You would never need to go to the main site’s home page again.

Beyond the above, what’s really going to affect the future of email is, quite simply, speed. Just remember this: Increased bandwidth will change everything.

And depending on when that actually takes place for the majority of online users, we have some incredibly big things in store.

For one thing, rich media emails will just get richer. Companies such as RadicalMail, BlueStreak and eCommercial are doing some amazing things NOW with streaming video and sound within emails. And it’s only going to get better.

Imagine getting a screen-sized, 30-second TV-quality commercial sent right to your inbox. Maybe it’s a Pets.com ad with the hand-puppet dog. The difference: You’d be able to interact with THIS dog… and ask questions, give feedback and place an order. All without ever leaving your email.

Yes, some of this can be done now. But the REAL bells and whistles are just waiting for more speed. And it’s coming.

(If you’re an email marketer reading this article in the ClickZ Archives, you’re probably saying to yourself: “Been there. Done ALL of that.” Well… just give us some credit and keep in mind that this is only the year 2000, after all.)

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