All of us in the email marketing industry — whether on the brand, agency or technology provider side — have seen significant change over the past several years. Consumers are more fatigued and overwhelmed by brand messages than ever and are voting with their feet and wallets when marketers fail to deliver relevant content. This dynamic has given rise to a permanent 1:1 economy that can’t be ignored. In this five-part series, I’ll share my thoughts about how email marketers can build a future-proof roadmap for success based on this new reality.

Step 1: Assess Current Trends and Separate the Wheat from the Chaff

There’s a saying about how difficult it is to make predictions — especially about the future. Yet, that’s exactly what industry pundits do every year. One body of work that stands out for me is John Koetsier’s roundup on Martech which compiles and analyzes based on input from hundreds of CMOs and marketing leaders. This year, there were some familiar ones (AI, privacy) and some newcomers (the metaverse, Web3). 

For marketers and marketing technology providers, it’s easy to overlook “old” trends like AI (that haven’t truly been mastered or maximized yet) and get distracted by the next shiny new objects in the room. Future-proof by definition means resistant to obsolescence from better technology, and building a durable roadmap requires planning for emerging trends. However, this can’t come at the expense of capitalizing on the here and now and continuing to evolve and optimize previously adopted trends (AI for example).

AI comes with its own baggage. Marketers were pitched and promised value from AI-powered (fill in the blank) for years and it’s still hard to digest the reality of it all when there’s been so much hype. We have a whole separate series planned around email marketing learning systems where we will do a deeper dive into the role of AI and how to operationalize it, but let’s prime the pump with the points covered in John’s Forbes piece.

“Marketing leaders see AI as an essential aid through the Great Resignation.” This has significant implications for a future-proof email marketing roadmap in the 1:1 economy. Today, marketers are under immense pressure to deliver on demands by consumers and leadership for meaningful personalization with limited staff. The single pain point I hear from the email marketers I speak with is around content production. The reality is that no email production team could ever be big enough or have enough hours to be able to deliver personalized and relevant content at scale. AI is solving this.

“It’s also something that can help with personalization.” Like AI, personalization has become one of the biggest marketing buzzwords. Every marketer is trying to harness the holy grail of personalization but in many ways it’s elusive because it’s come to mean everything and nothing at the same time. I wholeheartedly agree with Bryce Boothby, director of global technology at McDonald’s in that “personalization is more than just knowing a customer’s name; it’s about leveraging customer data to build relationships with consumers that deliver relevant and compelling experiences.” Meaningful Personalization requires using granular data based on a customer’s individual behavior and profile to tell them something that they don’t already know — and that requires AI.

“And AI can achieve relevance at scale in real time.” There are a couple of things to dissect here. Relevance is a keyword. In fact, it actually sits above personalization in the hierarchy of terms. The truth is that for all the focus on personalization, it is just one pillar of relevance. Relevance is more than one-off personalized data points; it’s about content that evolves, improves and becomes more targeted over time with each touchpoint. “Real-time” when it comes to email marketing has completely changed with new data privacy laws and is a whole topic we’ll tackle more in depth later in this series.

Another trend in this roundup that caught my attention is the one about story. It was actually the second most popular prediction after privacy. This prediction is about “the power of story and content to build brands and sell products. The technology pieces to enable it include video, including live-streaming, and audio, particularly podcasting.” For email marketers, the concept of story is important but a bit different than what’s captured here (brand building and selling products). The specific tactics of audio and video may actually become increasingly relevant as content modules for email marketing (something we will tackle in a post about modular content and design systems).

Regardless, this topic of “story” is central to the next piece of this roadmap: differentiating purposes and having different objectives/strategies for email triggered journeys vs. newsletters.

I’d love to hear from you about what trends are informing your strategy for 2022 and beyond, what the distractions/challenges are, and thoughts on the above topics. Stay tuned for more!