The evolution of email marketing


Posted by: Stafford Sumner on 24th April 2019


Pause for a second and cast your mind back to 2003. You probably had a Nokia phone, a first generation iPod, and wherever you went it seemed you couldn’t escape the Black Eyed Peas asking you ‘Where is the love?’

If you were born before 1990, it’s a time that will be instantly familiar yet remarkably different. It was also the year Jarrang was founded and our work in the email marketing industry started in earnest.

By this point email, which started to get widespread use in the late 90s, was beginning to establish itself as a serious marketing channel. So much so that 2003 was the year the Can Spam Act was passed in the US and the Privacy & Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) were introduced in Europe.

Marketers had realised email was the perfect vehicle for delivering messages instantly to customers and prospects. Compared to snail mail and cold calling, it was a revolutionary (and a highly cost effective) way to send information to people.

But the system was open to abuse and spam was everywhere. One of the biggest challenges we faced as early email marketing pioneers was getting legitimate emails seen among the sea of spam. In 2004, the introduction of the Sender Policy Framework (SPF) – which is a means of verifying that the sender is who they say they are – and feedback systems (where an email could be marked as spam) by the major email service providers (ESPs) helped take the fight to spam and clean up inboxes.

As a consequence, getting feedback on emails helped lay the path to take email marketing where it is today. All of a sudden, as marketers, we were able to see what recipients thought of our emails and how they engaged with them. And, the more engaging and relevant our emails were, the less chance they had as being marked as spam.

The mid noughties saw email marketing grow and flourish. Businesses across all industries – from finance through to retail – were using email marketing campaigns to drive sales and fuel business growth. But, in 2007, two huge things happened which would once again shape email marketings future.

The first was Facebook (and later, the likes of Twitter and Instagram) exploding onto the scene. Businesses were quick to jump on the social bandwagon and embrace a new way of reaching customers.

The second was the launch of the first iPhone. A true game changer, the rise of smartphones would fundamentally shift the way everyone approached email marketing. In the face of new technology and new ways of communicating, email marketing and email marketers had a simple choice to make; adapt or die.

Email marketing not only adapted, it flourished and remains the number one digital marketing channel in terms of delivering a return on investment. Here are the key ways email marketing has evolved:

Design

It goes without saying we expect the emails we receive from our favourite brands to look great. Not only do we want them to look great, we want them to look great on all our devices. The best examples of email marketing will look equally stunning on a desktop, a phone or a tablet. They’ll make smart use of imagery, colour, graphics and more to help drive engagement and conversions.

Increasingly, we’re now seeing interactivity built into email marketing campaigns alongside gifs, video, and fun elements like countdown clocks to add a dash of sparkle to email campaigns and make them stand out from the crowd.

Data

Data is email marketing’s trump card. Thanks to advanced segmentation of email marketing databases, we’re able to send highly personalised content to each and every recipient. As above, this significantly improves engagement and conversion rates. We’re also able to create automated journeys (often based on a recipient’s behaviour) and send triggered emails when certain rules are met which means the right message gets delivered at the right time to the right person.

Content

Clever use of data and great design still need powerful content in order for email marketing campaigns to be successful. All the way back in 2003, the first emails we ever sent out at Jarrang still had to have great content. Fast forward to today, and, because we’re able to use data and segmentation incredibly effectively, we can serve personalised content that’s highly relevant to the recipient.

Where do we go next?

As far as the future goes, email marketing is stronger than ever and, when it’s done right, is can be one of the most powerful marketing channels out there to deliver results.

No one has a crystal ball and, apart from odd significant milestones like changes to government legislation, the industry has always been about evolution rather than revolution. From using dynamic content, building advanced automation programmes, segmenting database, or creating responsive templates, we’ve always made sure we’re two or three steps ahead of where the market is and that’s no different now.

Our role as an email marketing agency has definitely evolved and will continue to do so. While more people than ever can now happily use platforms like Mailchimp and Campaign Monitor, we continue to push the boundaries of what can be done with email marketing.

Expect to see increased interactivity within emails, even more advances in data and segmentation, more use of AI and machine learning, and integration into more devices like wearable tech.

From our point of view, email marketing is one of the most exciting industries on the planet and we’re proud to be on the cutting edge of its evolution.

About the author

Stafford Sumner

An expert in developing businesses through email marketing, Stafford founded Jarrang in 2003, and since then has worked with hundreds of business across the globe helping them grow and succeed.