Five Ways Email Marketing Will Change In 2017, 2018

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by George Bilbrey I spend a lot of time looking at new marketing technologies. Over the last 16 years, I’ve seen new technologies r...

by George Bilbrey



I spend a lot of time looking at new marketing technologies. Over the last 16 years, I’ve seen new technologies reach rapid adoption because they work within the real-world constraints of email marketing teams. In other cases, I’ve seen email marketing teams change to take advantage of the potential of new technologies.


I would expect the following trends that I’m seeing in a few email marketing platforms to become more widespread over the next year or two:

Less focus on campaign metrics, with a shift toward customer metrics. Email service providers have made significant investments in moving marketers from “batch and blast” campaign-based mailing to different forms of “contextual messaging” (triggered messaging, automated customer journeys, lifecycle messaging, etc.).

The adoption of triggered messaging by ecommerce companies has been rapid. Adoption of full cross channel “‘customer journeys” has been slower but is making real progress.

With a greater focus on contextual messaging, the primacy of campaign-based metrics will start to fade. Smart email marketers are starting to understand that the goal of email marketing (and other direct “push” channels) is to increase the engagement, loyalty, and share of wallet for customers in key segments. Reporting will move to tmeasure the increase in value and health of key customer segments.

Alternatives to A/B split testing. Several vendors are using testing approaches that help marketers find  the optimal content (subject line, offer, images, call to action) much faster than traditional A/B testing.

Multivariate testing techniques have been around for a while, but new implementations make it much easier for marketers to use. Some technology vendors are using reinforcement learning (a kind of predictive analytics) that automatically experiment with different creatives for subscribers with different “states” (historical profiles) to find winning creative for each subscriber. As vendors continue to make these technologies easier to adopt, I expect to see them in more common use.

Better data transfer and APIs by email service providers.Building complex, contextual messaging requires having a lot of information about the customer’s context and past activity with a brand. A great deal of the historical data is locked up in the email marketing platform.  Many email platforms haven’t invested in their APIs and data transfer capabilities, making it hard for marketers to combine email data with other data on their own systems. I expect demand from marketers for better APIs to drive a higher level of investment from email platforms in data transfer capabilities.

The move to new kinds of analytics, solutions driven by machine learning, and more “contextual” messaging techniques will require changes to email marketing team, especially the following:

Email marketing becomes more like product management. As marketers start to build detailed, cross-channel customer journeys mediated by sophisticated machine learning, the skills required of marketer have started to resemble those of product management. Email marketers need to understand the pains, desired gains, and jobs-to-be done for distinct customer segments in distinct contexts—just like product managers. They need to take those insights and turn them into strong value propositions that drive increased customer value over time—again just like product managers.

Marketing teams become more “center-brain.” My colleague Loren McDonald wrote a great recent Email Insider about the need for  “mid-brain marketing” (marketing that combines the analytic left brain with the creative right brain).    He wrote: “A team that can think and design processes and creative for a marketing program run on data and automation needs people with more abilities and experiences than just batch-and-blast marketing. Center-brain marketing teams require the right balance of data scientists and creative people.”

Loren is spot-on. I think in the future, we’ll see a broader set of skills represented in email marketing teams, including product management (see above), data science (which is different than the data analytics capability on most teams today), and data engineering.

What changes to email platforms do you expect over the next couple of years? What will that mean for the skills and composition of email marketing teams?

This post originally appeared on Media Post.

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