What’s Ahead for Email Marketing in 2020?

By April Mullen

It’s hard to believe that it’s 2020 and that email is more effective than ever. Our beloved channel is aging gracefully in many ways. While it still doesn’t get the attention it deserves as compared to other channels and digital innovations, it has withstood the test of time and continues to dominate in terms of driving a ROI.

Email isn’t done evolving and I fully expect 2020 to bring a surprise or two, as well as a tipping point increase in capabilities that have been a part of the conversation for some time. Here are my top predictions for the year ahead:

Email Will Gain More Utility Function via Innovations like AMP

In 2020, we’ll see more innovation in email, such as AMP, which gives email more utility value beyond serving as a clickable gateway to a website. AMP capabilities allow for the conversion to be completed right within the email vs. using the click to drive that activity to happen in websites and apps. While this capability is in its nascent stages, we’ll need to consider how this will impact the micro-conversion optimizations we make to the entire email conversion funnel, because it will evolve in the coming years.

Some examples of ways that AMP can improve email experiences are:

  • In-email surveys, polls, product reviews
  • Calendar event RSVPs
  • Data gathering such as newsletter sign-up or progressive profiling
  • Live shipping updates
  • Actions such as “liking” or other social media activities

One of the bigger challenges the industry has with AMP is that development can be more complex, which will slow its adoption.

AI and Machine Learning Will Continue to Gain Ground

AI and ML have been in the email industry conversation for years, but marketers will embrace it more in 2020. It used to be an intimidating topic–one where marketers felt it would replace their jobs. Now, marketers understand that it can benefit them in a multitude of ways to free them up for more interesting work. For email marketers, it can help with segmentation and targeting, product and offer recommendations and even content development.

The process of getting an email out the door is quite complex, and AI/ML capabilities will help decrease the burden. As marketers embrace AI and ML more, they’ll be able to spend more time on strategy and customer experience instead of tactical work.

Accessibility Will Get The Attention It Deserves

According to the World Health Organization, over 1 Billion people globally have some form of disability. There’s a real opportunity for marketers to implement accessibility into their email programs to reach people with visual impairments and other disabilities. By using color contrasts, HTML text over images (so that screen readers can vocalize text), 14px+ fonts and much more, emails can be better tailored to fit a wider audience of recipients that may not be able to read your emails today. I predict more brands will take this up as a priority in 2020, because it’s far overdue and a socially responsible way to engage underserved individuals.

ISP Innovations Will Continue to Evolve

ISPs, especially Gmail, will continue to invest in what I call the user-focused inbox. The innovations are exciting because they help make email manageable for recipients, but also pose challenges to senders because the industry is often caught by surprise when changes are implemented. Capabilities like foldering, reminders to follow-up and automatic additions to calendars that are synced with email are some examples.

With foldering in particular, algorithms have long been making decisions on what emails get blocked, put in the spam folder, promotions folder, etc. I expect that 2020 could be the year that we begin to see algorithms sorting within folders. Today, emails are organized by when they are received within each folder. It’s possible that 2020 could be the year that the ISPs begin sorting within the folder based on rankings, much like search rankings or what you see in your Facebook newsfeed. Being user focused in their approach, ISPs may sort emails that have the most engagement and place them toward the top, while others with less engagement may sink to the bottom. Start thinking now of what you’ll do if a drastic change like this occurs, so you’re not caught off guard.

Without a doubt, email will continue to reinvent itself this year as it always has. I look forward to seeing what happens in the year ahead. Let me know your predictions for email in 2020 in the comments below. Cheers and Happy New Year!

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April Mullen is the Director of Strategic Insights at SparkPost, a Co-Founder of Women of Email and an adjunct professor of digital marketing at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

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