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Email Marketing Trends for 2020: Unproven Opportunities

By Chad S. White

In the ever-changing world of email marketing, it can be difficult to know where to invest your time and energy. To help you prioritize your email marketing efforts this year, we surveyed Oracle CX Marketing Consulting’s more than 500 digital marketing experts, asking them to rate the current adoption of a range of email marketing technologies and tactics as well as their predicted impact during 2020. We then mapped the results into adoption-impact quadrants.

Today, we’re going to look at the Unproven Opportunities, which are those tactics and technologies in the low adoption–low impact quadrant. The technologies and tactics in this quadrant are not fully vetted and may not generate the adoption or impact necessary to be broadly worthwhile. If all goes well, they offer a sizable competitive advantage to the pioneering companies who embrace them at this stage.

However, there are significant risks that could undermine your investment in part or entirely, including rejection by consumers, inadequate inbox provider support, inadequate digital marketing platform support, the passage of legislative impediments, and other issues. Because of that, big investments of time and energy in these trends should be made cautiously. And for most brands, the best strategy is likely to wait…and let others work out all the details, uncover the best practices, and stress-test the technology.

Of the 26 trends we surveyed our digital marketing consultants about, they put four of them in the low adoption–low impact quadrant for 2020. Let’s talk about each of them in turn…

A. AMP for Email

AMP for Email is a set of open standards created by Google for creating what they call “dynamic emails,” which allows marketers to bring functionality that’s common on the web into their email designs, such as live forms, carousels, accordions, and hamburger menus. Perhaps even more importantly, AMP for Email allows for live content that is populated at the time that the email is opened rather than the time that the email is sent.

While Google has been talking about AMP for Email for years now, it only became usable last year, with mobile Gmail inboxes supporting it late in the year. So, it’s really new, which is why our marketing consultants rated it the trend with the lowest adoption of all the ones they rated. Much isn’t clear about AMP for Email.

While inbox provider support is decent, with Google building support beyond its own Gmail inboxes, there are two big unknowns: First, will marketers invest the time and energy in learning a new coding language and then creating a new MIME part of every email they design? And second, will digital marketing platforms support the addition of a new AMP for Email MIME part?

Some intrepid marketers are making the investment, like job site Indeed. They told attendees of Litmus Live Boston in October that they’ve been using AMP for Email in their email for its live content functionality. They explained that while they’ve been using it, code support has changed without notice multiple times, which has led to broken emails and lots of scrambling for fixes. Rohan Kapoor, a software engineer at Indeed, said, “When you’re on the bleeding edge, you have to be prepared to bleed.” But Indeed has also been rewarded, as they’ve seen twice as many clicks in their AMP-powered emails compared to their HTML emails.

Given that CSS-based interactivity and live content are both seen by our consultants are high-impact trends in 2020 and the fact that AMP for Email does both interactivity and live content, it’s probably a safe assumption that marketer adoption isn’t what’s holding this technology back. It’s digital marketing platform support. We believe that support is coming, albeit slowly.

For lots more details about this technology, check out our deep dive into the pros and cons of AMP for Email.

B. Voice-Assistant–Friendly Email Design

Voice-assistants are everywhere, with smart speakers being their latest, most visible, and somewhat controversial expansion. One of Siri’s, Alexa’s, Cortana’s, and Google Assistant’s newer abilities is to read emails.

“Voice is already becoming a massive player in the engagement space and overall attention economy,” says Anthony Thornton, Senior Copywriter for Creative Services at Oracle CX Marketing Consulting. “Marketers would be wise to integrate voice into the end-user email experience.”

While they read plain text inter-personal emails well, they struggle with marketers’ emails. The central issue is that our emails are optimized for visual communication, not verbal communication. These two approaches aren’t completely at odds, but they absolutely butt heads.

This fledgling trend is being held back by two powerful facts: First, we have no idea how many emails are being read via voice-assistants since dictating an email doesn’t trigger its tracking pixel. And second, since most voice-assistants aren’t equipped with a web browser, nearly all calls-to-action currently used in marketing emails would need to change.

While that first barrier may be overcome with better reporting from Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and Google at some point, that second issue is going to be difficult, if not impossible, to overcome. That fact may keep voice-assistant–friendly email design relegated to the Unproven Opportunities quadrant for the foreseeable future.

For a full discussion of the issues around voice-assistants reading emails, read our advice on how marketers can adapt.

C. Universal Holdout Groups

How can you be sure that your emails are driving positive behavior? How can you be sure that your email program isn’t incentivizing behavior that would have happened anyway? Universal holdout groups are the answer.

You create a universal holdout group by taking a small percentage of your subscribers and suppressing emails to them for a period of time. You can then compare the level of engagement, revenue, and profits for your subscribers to this suppressed group. Doing this gives you a clear view of the lift generated by your email program.

While universal holdout groups can be helpful, they can also frustrate subscribers who are on them. After all, they expect to be getting your emails. Having a universal holdout group also costs your company money—and the more lift your email program generates, the higher the cost of your universal holdout group.

Optimizing the size of your suppression group and the duration that you keep people in the group can minimize the cost to you and frustration to your subscribers, while still producing valuable insights.

D. Brand Indicators for Message Identification (BIMI)

For over a decade, the best practice has been to authenticate your emails using the two long-standing standards: Sender Policy Framework (SPF) and DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM). Then several years ago, Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance (DMARC) was launched to build upon SPF and DKIM to allow senders to clearly identify themselves and help eliminate spoofing.

Inbox providers have penalized senders who don’t use all of three of those standards, but for the first time there’s growing momentum to offer an incentive to use all three. Enter: BIMI.

Brand Indicators for Message Identification is a standard whereby inbox providers will display a sender’s logo next to their from name in the inbox and in emails. With brands hungry to stand out in the inbox and eager to boost their brand recognition, BIMI is attractive.

“Even though BIMI is relatively new, I’ve already gotten lots of questions about it,” says Helen Lillard, Principal B2C Consultant at Oracle CX Marketing Consulting. “Our clients are very interested in BIMI, Email Annotations, and other tools that can make them stand out in the inbox and build trust with their recipients.”

That interest should get more brands to fully adopt SPF, DKIM, and DMARC. However, the major downside to BIMI is its low adoption by inbox providers. Currently, only Yahoo Mail supports it. While there’s talk of the Apple Mail and Outlook desktop email apps supporting BIMI in the future, the only inbox provider that has publicly announced testing is Gmail, which will be testing BIMI this year.

The prospect of Gmail embracing BIMI seems slightly muddied by the fact that it currently allows to have your logo displayed next to your sender name if you use Email Annotations. Having gone their own way on email interactivity by creating AMP for Email rather than supporting CSS-based email interactivity, we wonder if Gmail will ultimately stick with Email Annotations rather than support BIMI.

These are just a few of the email marketing trends to watch for in 2020. For a look at more technologies and tactics, check out our posts that examine our…

  • (coming soon) Competitive Differentiators, with are high-impact trends with low adoption
  • (coming soon) Proven Essentials, which are high-impact trends with high adoption

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Need help exploring these email marketing trends? Oracle CX Marketing Consulting has more than 500 of the leading marketing minds ready to help you to achieve more with the leading marketing cloud, including teams dedicated to Strategic Services, Email Deliverability Services, and Creative Services.

Learn more or reach out to us at CXMconsulting_ww@oracle.com

For more information about email marketing and the tools to make it successful, check out Oracle CX Marketing.

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