What does the future hold for email? We asked our readers

All last week, we here at ClickZ ran a series entitled 'The Future of Email Marketing' in which we took a microscope to the brands, technology and ideas underpinning the future of email. But at the same time, we really wanted to know what our readers at ClickZ thought the future had in store.

Date published
October 02, 2017 Categories

To find out, we sent out a survey to our subscriber base with six questions about email, the role it plays in the modern marketing strategy, how marketers feel about their grasp on the world of email martech, and whether email is at risk of being disrupted by instant messaging.

Here’s what we found out.

Personalization is seen as the biggest change for email strategy

Our first port of call was to establish how important email marketing still is to marketers today, and the verdict was: still very important. Of the 141 marketers who responded to the survey, two-thirds said that email is “Extremely important” or “Very important” in the context of their broader strategy.

A further 20% of respondents reported that email is “Important, but not central”, while 13% said that it is “Not important” or “Irrelevant”.

It’s been reiterated over and over that email is still a key tool for marketers even in the age of social media and instant messaging, as the marketing industry repeatedly establishes that no, email is not going away any time soon.

But while this result isn’t all that surprising, it is an important piece of context for our later findings. After all, if marketers didn’t consider email important to their overall strategy, we could safely assume that any future changes to email wouldn’t have that much of an effect on the wider marketing industry.

When asked which of the current trends in email are likely to impact most on their email marketing strategy, 30% of marketers responded with “Personalization”. Segmentation was a fairly close second, with 21% of marketers choosing this as the development most likely to impact their email marketing.

Interactivity and HTML5 video were seen as the least likely to have a significant impact, with only 7% and 5% of respondents, respectively, saying that these trends will have the biggest impact on their email marketing.

Marketers are unsure where they stand on email technology

In a slightly tongue-in-cheek question, we asked marketers how firm they consider their grasp of the martech universe to be when it comes to email, on a scale from “Like a vice” to “Limp”.

Our results showed that marketers are fairly evenly split on email martech between feeling confident and feeling unsure. While only 4% of respondents would describe their grip on email marketing technology as vice-like, a comfortable 28% consider their grasp on email tech to be a “firm handshake”, making 32% of marketers who feel as though they have a good grasp on the world of email martech.

On the other side of things, however, 7% of our marketing respondents described their grasp on email technology as “Limp”, with 28% saying that their grip is “Unsure, slightly moist” – making a total of 35% who evidently do not feel as though they completely understand the technology available to them or how to use it effectively.

With that said, the largest group of respondents was the one made up of marketers who were confused by our question – 32% of marketers replied simply with “What?”

Clearly the marketing industry needs to work on its appreciation of handshake analogies.

In five years’ time, email will still be recognizable as email

What will email marketing look like in five years’ time? While we know that our readers aren’t psychic (otherwise they would all be very well-off indeed), we asked survey respondents to make a broad assessment as to how much they think email will change in the next five years.

Will it be unchanged, broadly the same, significantly changed but still fundamentally email, completely transformed, or non-existent?

The vast majority of our respondents believe that email will still be recognizable as email five years down the line. 38% of survey respondents said that they think email will be “Broadly the same with some innovations”, while a further 39% believe that email will undergo “Major changes but with the same fundamentals”.

However, almost all of our respondents do believe that change will happen – only 2% said that there will be no change to email whatsoever in the coming five years.

This seems like a fairly safe bet to make given that email has been around in some form for four and a half decades now (if we take 1971, the year that the first email was sent across a network, as the year of its invention), and as we’ve established, doesn’t seem to be going away.

While email is no longer the only option we have for communication over the internet by any means, it still manages to offer something that instant messaging, website-specific direct messaging, SMS and social media do not.

Email can be personal or professional, informative or brief; it integrates seamlessly with other organizational systems, and can deliver files, newsletters, RSS feeds, updates and invitations directly to your computer, smartphone or wearable device. As one respondent wrote at the end of the survey, “Email as a system of data storage and note-keeping is too vital for all age groups to go away.”

And as a marketing channel, it gets results.

At the same time, email has undergone some major changes over the years which, as we’ve established, marketers expect to have a big impact on their overarching strategy. It can now be optimized for mobile. Rich media can bring it to life, while AI and machine learning have brought about huge improvements in personalization and campaign fine-tuning.

With all this in mind, it’s no surprise that most marketers don’t foresee email being replaced by instant messaging any time soon. When asked whether they believe that email is at risk of being replaced by instant messaging, 67% of marketers said no.

However, more than a quarter (26%) said yes – which is not an insignificant portion. (The remaining 7% didn’t answer).

One respondent wrote: “Instant messaging is poor – long live email!”

Another pointed out,

“Instant messaging is a powerhouse, but it’s the last level of privacy/direct to consumer. People don’t want their phones becoming spam houses so they will be extremely selective.”

However, one marketer believed that email might be in danger of dying out in certain contexts. “I think email will remain important for person to person communication, and business to business communication, but I think the business to person communication use of email will diminish or cease to exist.”

Do you agree? What’s your take on the future of email over the next five years? Leave a comment below and join the conversation.

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