EmailAdvanced Email MarketingInbox innovation: The tools and technology powering the future of email

Inbox innovation: The tools and technology powering the future of email

The high-volume, low-cost nature of email makes it ripe for innovation. The sheer amount of data email marketers work amplifies the significance of even the smallest improvements. Buzzwords like 'personalization' and 'automation' are among the promised benefits of advanced email tech, and feature heavily in this article.

The high-volume, low-cost nature of email makes it ripe for innovation.

The sheer amount of data email marketers work with amplifies the significance of even the smallest improvements.

Buzzwords like ‘personalization‘ and ‘automation’ are among the promised benefits of advanced email tech. But when you really get down to it, what are the most promising innovations currently being pioneered in email marketing?

Here are our picks for the technology that we think make up the future of email.

Subject lines

The subject line is arguably the most important element of a marketing email. Efforts to optimize other elements – such as the copy, length, call-to-action or images – are all in vain if the recipient doesn’t open the email in the first place.

Research found that 47% of email recipients open an email based on the subject line alone, and 60% will report an email as spam based on the subject line alone.

The number of words used in a subject line also impacts open rates. One study found that emails with a subject line of between 0-5 words had an average 16% open rate, compared to 21% when the subject had 6-10 words. That figure dropped to 14% for 11-15 and down to 12% for 16-20 words.

Optimizing the subject line has a knock-on effect on other metrics like clicks and conversions as well. If CTR is consistently 10%, more total opens will equal more total clicks. So how can marketers ensure their subject lines are as effective as it can be at generating opens?

A/B testing allows marketers to split an audience in half, sending the first group (A) one version of an email, and the second group (B) another. A/B and multivariate testing is now a standard feature for major email marketing vendors – such as MailChimp, Adestra and GetResponse.

However, this is a manual process – requiring marketers to create a hypothesis, track the results and implement the best-performing solution.

Tools like Phrasee now allow marketers to hand this over to a bot, which accesses your email marketing data and uses machine learning to generate a subject line it thinks will perform the best with your audience.

A case study for cruise provider P&O shows the effect emotional language had on the audience’s willingness to engage:

Dynamic content

Personalized brand interactions are increasingly important for consumers – one survey found that 74% of online consumers get frustrated when online content appears to have nothing to do with their interests. What’s more, research by Experian found that personalization was particularly important for ecommerce brands, with personalized emails delivering a 6x uplift in transaction rates.

As Thread’s Tom Banham pointed out in our interview with him, email is an inherently personal channel that should be handled carefully:

“I personally think that when you’re in someone’s inbox, that’s a responsibility. It’s a very personal thing, and you shouldn’t just be sending stuff because you feel like you need to be present.”

Batch-and-blast emails are exactly that – mass communications that signal to the recipient that they are just another email address. Unfortunately, marketers are often well aware of the need for personalization, but simply don’t have the technology to deliver it at scale. Lack of data typically isn’t the issue. But making use of that data in a scalable, repeatable way is.

Luckily, there are some nifty tools that help marketers use their customer data to automatically personalize email communications.

Movable Ink helped music streaming service Spotify do this to great effect, with a highly personalized campaign sent out to premium subscribers. The body of the email was populated with each subscriber’s unique usage data, showing their most-listened tracks and artists for the past year.

57% of subscribers said the campaign was memorable, and Spotify achieved an astonishing 75% engagement rate – as well as created a significant buzz on social media.


One of the key benefits of email is the ease with which it can be automated. Emailmonday found that, on average, 51% of companies are currently using marketing automation in one form or another. 58% of B2B companies said they planned to adopt the technology soon, with 36% citing the reduction of repetitive tasks as a primary benefit.

Most email marketing platforms provide some form of automation as standard. Common applications include confirmation emails, cart abandonment emails and onboarding campaigns.

The importance of optimizing these emails is clear – tiny improvements can have a huge impact when pushed out on a large scale. However, optimization can still be a time-consuming process. But new email marketing tools can help generate better open rates, more clicks and higher engagement – all without human intervention.

Tools like Automizy use machine learning to help automate the optimization process by testing the subject lines and content variations of autoresponders and follow-up emails for you (the tool is current in alpha as of October 17).

You can also set up drip campaigns to deliver highly personalized automated emails based on a series of trigger, filters and tags. And A/B tests can be set up to automatically implement the better version.

And one more thing

While we’re talking about innovations in email, a special mention goes to online and print publisher Quartz, whose email newsletters I’ve been a fan of for quite a while. As Zach Seward, SVP of Product and Executive Editor at Quartz explains, they’ve recent implemented an interesting feature in their newest email newsletter, the Quartz Obsession.

“When we created our first email, the Quartz Daily Brief, five years ago, we intentionally kept the design as simple as possible—all text, no images—to make sure it worked really well on people’s phones. But a lot has changed about email technology since 2012.

“So with our second daily email, the Quartz Obsession, we wanted to push the limits and add some interactivity that you don’t usually find in your inbox. For instance, in email clients that support it, you can take a poll and see the results directly in the email. It’s pretty cool, and we’re already seeing a ton of engagement with the Quartz Obsession right from the start.”

Here it is:

The email marketing technology listed above just give a flavor or what’s to come for email marketing. As the volume of customer data accessible by companies increases, personalization will become even more compelling.

And as machine learning becomes more sophisticated, campaign will require less and less human intervention. In other words, email marketing is here to stay – but not necessarily as we know it.


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