Three Hot New Trends in E-mail

A few weeks ago, I was discussing e-mail with an advertising agency creative director who made an interesting comment. He said many creative designers don’t like working on e-mail projects because there are so many e-mail-client restrictions, template rules, and brand guidelines, you can no longer express much creativity in the design.

He’s right. Over the past few years, e-mail creativity has become somewhat stale. The good news is all that is changing and driving phenomenal results. As I looked into the marketplace, I uncovered three unique trends that put the spice back into e-mail and make it interesting and fun again.

Trend 1: E-mail Does Double Duty

Brands like TigerDirect, AbeBooks, Abercrombie & Fitch, Staples, and REI use e-mail in a very interesting way; as an advertising vehicle for company efforts such as hiring, volunteer work, and more.

It makes sense. If you have a loyal customer base that takes the time to read weekly newsletters or product e-mail, why not use that time to mention something else of interest about a brand they already trust. The Reportlet: Recruiting subscribers post offers examples of these e-mail messages and others like them.

Trend 2: In-box Icons Increase Open and Response Rates

With so much e-mail in everyone’s inboxes, people can sometimes accidentally miss or delete an important message. Worse, some marketers’ (like eBay’s and Bank of America’s ) message validity is questioned because of ongoing phishing (define) scams. One of the most effective trends to address these issues is to add an icon to the sender address or subject line.

Currently, Goodmail Systems offers a CertifiedEmail program that puts an icon on your message sender address or subject line to let recipients know the messages are safe, secure, and, more important, something they requested. In six months of study, Goodmail found a 20 to 30 percent improvement on CTR (define), conversions, and revenue per e-mail, which consistently translates to 300 percent or more ROI (define). The improvement is attributable to not only program benefits (100 percent assured delivery and automatic link and image rendering), but also the improved sense of trust and importance garnered by a retailer’s message being delivered in a certified class as opposed to a regular class.

Other companies, such as Iconix and Advenix, have gotten into this space. Advenix offers a unique twist on icon placement. I’ll be curious to see if it takes off.

Trend 3: Rich Media Is Back

Remember when video inside e-mail messages first came out? RadicalMail, TMXinteractive, and MindArrow Systems had interesting approaches to putting commercials and other video inside e-mail, but they were bit ahead of their time. Broadband penetration, high production costs, and stripping JavaScript from e-mail caused video use inside e-mail to drop off.

Video e-mail recently made a comeback. While there are many recommended best practices for when and how to use video e-mail, the bottom line is early results show response rates (opens and clicks) 3 to 10 times higher than those for static e-mail. More important, these e-mail messages tend to drive even higher increases in landing page traffic and conversion. Companies currently playing in this space include Vismail, AVI Mail, and PixelFish.

Each trend offers new, innovative ways to think about the e-mail we design and send. It’s a fantastic time for vendors and marketers to celebrate the resurgence in interest and creativity in and response to this medium. One important note: many of these trends require us to think outside of the box and try strategies and tactics that may conflict with typical published best practices or recommendations. In all cases, try new and innovative things, even if they break the rules. Just make sure they’re tested the first time around to validate results.

Want more e-mail marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our e-mail columns, organized by topic.

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