2020 Email Marketing Analysis

Part
01
of five
Part
01

2020 Email Trends - Personalization

We have provided examples of personalized emails in the project slides as requested. Note that we have not attempted to reformat the slides, e.g., to remove or reformat text boxes, as we are uncertain whether text is desired and the project criteria do not provide clear guidance. Below is an overview of each company, their best practices, and — as available — their success metrics, which we have attempted to provide in brief bullet points that might be easily copy-pasted into the slides as desired.

Since the overwhelming majority of information about best practices regarding personalized emails comes from firms attempting to sell personalized emails as a marketing tool. Consequently, while we have no reason to believe that the best practices they tout are inaccurate, they may be self-serving. We have attempted to mitigate this by attempting to compare best practices across multiple sources.

The Three Elements

  • Campaign Monitor describes the three core elements of a personalized email:
    • Relevance; that is, content that directly impacts the reader.
    • Timeliness, content that directly speaks to the reader's stage in their customer journey.
    • Personality; that is, that the email at least appears to come from a person rather than a faceless company, e.g., it has an individual's name in the "from" field and a face rather than a logo at the top of the email.

Examples of Personalization

  • The simplest form of personalization is to simply put the reader's name at the top, as shown in a recent ad for Sephora (slide 2).
  • One form of personalized email, called dynamic email, "makes use of triggers to display specific content based on subscriber data," including "gender, age, geographical location, occupation, and more."
    • Even basic segmented marketing campaigns see a 6% to 15% boost in open rates and 60% more click-throughs than non-personalized campaigns.
  • One simple form of this might be an email campaign that displays a different ad depending on whether the recipient has a masculine or feminine name, as was recently demonstrated in a series of Adidas marketing emails (slides 3 and 4).
    • As an example, a list of the triggers available through Mail Chimp can be found here.
  • As explained by Campaign Monitor, triggers can include more than demographic information; e.g., segmenting users by how much they have spent in the past (slide 5) or, as in an EasyJet campaign, "a unique email with personalized content that highlighted everywhere" the reader had "traveled with easyJet in the past 20 years" (slide 6; note that due to the email format, only part is shown on the slide).

Part
02
of five
Part
02

2020 Email Trends - Automation

Automated emails, a subset of automated marketing, is different from other email trends in that it is fundamentally a process that underlies techniques like personalization and interactivity. As such, when done correctly, it is invisible to the reader and has the same appearance as a custom-written email. Consequently, it is difficult to provide visual samples in the project slides which would meaningfully illustrate email automation, though we did find a few useful visuals and charts from MarketingSherpa, which consequently became our primary source. However, this brief will focus on best practices and meaningful metrics of success rather than visual examples of automated emails.

However, please note that automated email marketing campaigns are almost inevitably tied with automating all marketing within a company, and we are unable to separate the success attributable to the email campaign alone.

CentricsIT


Rhinov


Zachys Wine & Liquor


Return Path

  • In contradiction to the prevailing wisdom that more points of contact with a client are always better, a 2014-15 study of nearly 14,000 email subscribers by Return Path found that email read rates dropped rapidly as users received more emails from the same domain (slide 4).
  • The best balance between email frequency and read rate happens at about one email per week, "when customers would read almost every third email (0.32)."
  • This matches with a benchmark MarketingSherpa study, which found that 61% of consumers claimed that they liked to receive promotional emails "at least weekly."
  • However, the above study took place among eight apparel retailers, and not all industries will necessarily have identical results. Consequently, MarketingSherpa recommends the following:

Part
03
of five
Part
03

2020 Email Trends - Interactive Emails

We have provided examples of interactive emails into the project slides as requested. Note that we have not attempted to reformat the slides, e.g., to remove or reformat text boxes, as we are uncertain whether any text is desired and the project criteria do not provide clear guidance. Below is an overview of each company, their best practices, and — as available — their success metrics, which we have attempted to provide in brief bullet points that might be easily copy-pasted into the slides as desired.

A couple of notes on our approach:

There was some question on the interpretation of the request; namely, should we interpret "companies who are implementing" the technology to refer to the marketing firm and/or platform provider or the company on whose behalf the emails were sent. We ultimately decided on a split approach, using the marketing platforms as our headers but including samples of existing companies under each.

Second, since the overwhelming majority of information about best practices regarding interactive emails comes from firms attempting to sell interactive emails as a marketing tool. Consequently, while we have no reason to believe that the best practices they tout are inaccurate, they may be self-serving. We have attempted to mitigate this by attempting to compare best practices across multiple sources in addition to looking at success metrics, particularly where the latter were not publicly available.

Campaign Monitor

  • Campaign Monitor provides the CM Commerce platform, which provides its clients "with automated email marketing," including interactive emails.
  • The company blog notes that an interactive email "is anything that requires a viewer to engage actively and participate with the content to access the full experience, usually by tapping, swiping, or interacting with the piece of content."
  • Consumers want to be entertained and 91% prefer their content in a visual and interactive form. This extends to emails, with 69% preferring GIFs, 65% preferring embedded video, and 82% preferring interactivity in any form over traditional emails.
  • An embedded video in an email increases open rates by as much as 19% and click-through by 50%.
  • Thus, an interactive email might be as simple as a moving GIF which draws the reader's eye to a button, enticing them to click it and move to a landing page, as in a simple interactive email from Fundbox in which a skier makes their run down the page to a button that offers a gift or a video for Shop Signature (slides 2 and 3). Two of the best practices associated with these types of email are:
  • A step beyond this is a kinetic email, which combines the use of HTML and CSS to enable users to fully interact with most or all of the email elements, just like a webpage, as in an ad for B&Q (slide 4) which uses "tap to interact" buttons to provide an elegant in-email slideshow.

Litmus

  • Litmus is another automated email campaign platform that aids in campaign development, reviews and collaboration, pre-send testing, analytics, and — of course — the technology to embed interactive elements into an email.
  • According to a Litmus poll, carousels (67%) and hamburger menus (53%) are the most popular interactive email elements.
  • A carousel is an image gallery that slowly rotates and which also allows the user to move forward and backward using unobtrusive buttons, as shown in the images for campaigns designed for Under Armour and Lego (slides 5 and 6).
    • Note that the examples given are deliberately stretched off the slide for readability.
  • A hamburger menu is a drop-down menu activated by a relatively small button in the corner of the email ad, typically indicated by three stacked lines (hence the name).
    • According to Litmus, "This has become the most pervasive interactive email element as it has been incorporated into mobile email designs across a number of large brands, including REI, Chili’s, Aeropostale, and Neiman Marcus" (see slide 7).

Final Notes

  • Though not entirely germane to the topic, Litmus' article provides several caveats to the perceived effectiveness and ROI on interactive emails, such as the warning that users may remain in the email and never click through to a landing page at all.
  • Consequently, some ideas which sound innovative and cutting-edge, like embedding a mini-game into an email, may be counterproductive; this is a medium where simpler is better.
  • We recommend reading this section ("Interactive Email Challenges," about 2/3 of the way down the page) for more insight into the limitations of this medium.
Part
04
of five
Part
04

2020 Email Trends - Dark Mode

For reasons explained in our findings below, the development of dark mode for email clients is fairly recent and, for marketers, a hindrance rather than a feature. That is to say, dark mode requires additional planning and programming to avoid creating glaring and unattractive visuals in an email ad; it is not a feature that can be exploited for a positive impact. That, and its relative recentness, prevent us from providing any success metrics — or, indeed, examples of successful dark mode email marketing campaigns. Nevertheless, there are several challenges and best practices for which we have located illustrations, which we have presented in the project slides as requested.

Note that we have not attempted to reformat the slides, e.g., to remove or reformat text boxes, as we are uncertain whether text is desired and the project criteria do not provide clear guidance.

The Problems of Dark Mode in Email Advertising

  • Litmus author Alice Li wrote an extremely recent article (November 2019) discussing how the tech industry's infatuation with dark mode has created "the new big challenge for email marketers," namely, making emails look good in both modes. The real issue is that while many email clients provide dark mode, they handle how emails appear in dark mode very differently.
  • For example, iOS and Apple Mail make no changes to the email at all unless the sender specifically programs them to invoke dark mode (slide 2).
  • Outlook offers a "partial color invert," which changes light backgrounds to dark while leaving dark backgrounds alone (slide 3). This can be overridden by dark mode-targeting code.
  • Unfortunately, some of the most popular email apps, like Gmail and Outlook 2019, use a "full color invert" scheme which turns dark areas light and light areas dark, creating a distorted image (slide 4). Even worse, these clients "also don’t allow Dark Mode targeting at the moment."
  • A complete chart showing which protocol various email clients use for dark mode is available in slide 5.

Best Practices for Working with Dark Mode

With the above challenges in mind, the following best practices have been advised by email marketing platform Litmus and the Business 2 Community business news site. While we found many other sources in our research, we found none that added significantly to nor were considered as authoritative as these two and so will avoid adding superfluous sources.

  • First, logos and other images should be optimized for all styles; this includes adding translucent outlines to dark text in transparent PNGs so that words remain legible regardless of background (slide 6).
  • Consider carefully whether to use images with solid backgrounds versus transparent backgrounds (see the difference in the Striata logo in slides 7 and 8). If images aren't transparent and do have backgrounds, "make sure there is enough padding around your focal point to avoid an awkward juxtaposition" (slide 9).
  • Enable dark mode and apply dark mode styles in CSS for the email platforms which allow it.


Part
05
of five
Part
05

2020 Email Trends - Additional Trends

Based on an analysis of a dozen authoritative sources that monitor email marketing trends, we conclude that the only true trend not already covered in our previous briefs is the concern about data privacy. Our findings on this trend, some possible "honorable mentions," and a detailed explanation of our research strategy can be found below.

While not required by the criteria of this research brief, we have collected our findings across our sources into a project spreadsheet, which we have attached since it provides some insight into which trends are the most talked-about.

Data Privacy


Possible Miscellaneous Trends

The following so-called "trends" were each mentioned in only a single source out of a dozen and, therefore, likely constitute a minority opinion rather than a true trend in email marketing:

  • Abandoning the traditional sales funnel in favor of gathering leads at multiple points during the customer journey.
  • Nurturing leads by finding "a balance between being informative and moving them to the purchasing stage" rather than engaging in pushy sales tactics.
  • With 293 billion emails going out each day, businesses have to increasingly focus on developing a unique voice to stand out in the crowd and catch potential clients' attention.
  • Emails in simple grid formats have become so common that they have become monotonous to readers; Social Media Today advises using techniques such as the 960 grid system (which enables diagonal cuts in email images and copy), negative space, and surprise elements to "defamiliarize [the] subscriber" and break that monotony.
  • With Gmail becoming the primary email provider for many companies, email marketers are becoming aware of the need to create emails with an awareness of Gmail's filtering system:
    • "In order for marketers to optimize clicks, opens, and conversions, they have to pay more attention to whom they are emailing and how they’re sending their email," says Web Pro News, adding that "the upcoming year will see more companies using more robust analytics to optimize results and foregoing conventional rules like not sending mail to those who haven’t clicked or opened an email in the past three months."

Research Strategy

As this brief is a continuation of a project which has been the subject of multiple Wonder briefs already, we began by pulling the prior research and listing the trends discovered thus far to avoid duplication. These trends are:

  • AMP
  • Mobile Email
  • Social Media Integration
  • Interactive Design
  • Accessibility (inclusive design for visually disabled)
  • Automation
  • Personalization
  • User-Generated Content
  • AI

Both for the sake of quickly isolating new trends by source and satisfying a personal curiosity about which trends are cited the most often, we pulled this list into a project spreadsheet. As we studied each source discovered in the course of our research, we pulled this source into the spreadsheet with a link for easy reference. In this way, we could minimize the time needed to locate additional trends and their sources.

This requires some judgment calls on our part. We found many cases in which a so-called trend amounts to a throwaway line in a single source. For example, Smart Insights mentions "nurturing over selling," but does not provide any concrete examples, links, or other information which would allow us to call this a true trend. Such instances are marked in our spreadsheet with a "0" rather than a "1" to indicate their more opinion-based status. (Note that we scored trends identified in previous briefs as a "3" to acknowledge the multiple sources provided therein.)

In other cases, we found that our sources broke down already-discovered trends into multiple trends; e.g., separating interactivity and video, or having multiple trends for what amounts to graphical design. In such cases, we have opted for consolidation rather than unnecessarily and unjustifiably multiplying trends.

Ultimately, this led us to conclude that there is only one true trend that has not been covered in our other briefs: data privacy. Therefore, we provided detail about this trend at length with a small section for so-called trends for which we found only one source in a dozen.
Sources
Sources