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Email Marketing Trends for 2021: Unproven Opportunities

By Chad S. White

In the ever-changing world of email marketing, you might find it challenging to know where to invest your time and energy. It could prove extra challenging in turbulent times like these when consumer behaviors and business goals are shifting.

To help you prioritize your email marketing efforts this year, we asked Oracle Marketing Consulting’s more than 500 digital marketing experts to rate the current adoption of multiple email marketing technologies and tactics, as well as their predicted impact during 2021. We then mapped the results into adoption-impact quadrants.

This post looks at the unproven opportunities in the low adoption–low impact quadrant. The technologies and tactics in this quadrant are not fully vetted and may not generate long-term adoption or impact. They may pose 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 those risks, most brands might find that the best strategy is likely to wait…and let others work out all the details, uncover the best practices, and stress-test the technology. However, the pioneering companies who embrace these trends at this early stage may seize a sizable competitive advantage.

We surveyed our digital marketing consultants about 26 trends, and they rated 3 of them as being in the low adoption–low impact quadrant for 2021. 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.” Dynamic emails let marketers 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 when the email is opened rather than when the email is sent.

While Google has been talking about AMP for Email for years now, it only became usable in late 2019, so it’s still a relatively new technology. While Yahoo has announced support for AMP for Email, Microsoft ended a preview of AMP for Email, encouraging marketers to use their Actionable Messages functionality instead.

In our deep dive into the pros and cons of AMP for Email, we call out several of the risks, including the two biggest 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?

  • Secondly, will digital marketing platforms support the addition of a new AMP for Email MIME part?

“That has the industry stuck in the proverbial chicken-and-egg scenario,” says Clea Moore, Director of Strategy for Email Deliverability Services at Oracle Marketing Consulting. “ESPs are waiting on their customers to clamor for this new feature while marketers are waiting to see the value of implementing AMP for their emails.”

The pandemic has further complicated AMP for Email’s adoption. With some brands trimming email marketing staff and others looking to shorten email production cycles to better address changing subscriber needs, AMP for Email seems like a luxury, if not a hindrance.

B. Email Annotations in Gmail

Gmail displays Email Annotations in the place of traditional preview text in the inbox under certain circumstances for emails in Gmail’s Promotions Tab when those emails have had Email Annotations coded into them. That’s a lot of ifs and not an insignificant amount of additional work per email to get more visibility in Gmail inboxes alone.

Our consultants think the adoption of Email Annotations has grown significantly over the past year. However, their skepticism about the benefits has also grown. That skepticism caused Email Annotations to be the only trend to fall from being a Competitive Differentiator in 2020 to being an Unproven Opportunity this year.

Email Annotations will need to demonstrate some tangible impact and scale before I expect it to become more than a minor trend in 2021,” says JT Capps, Director of Analytic & Strategic Services at Oracle Marketing Consulting.

For a deeper exploration of Email Annotations and to figure out if it makes sense for your brand, check out our examination of the opportunities and concerns with Email Annotations.

C. Universal holdout groups

How can you ensure your emails drive positive behavior? How can you ensure that your email program isn’t incentivizing behavior that would have happened anyway? Universal holdout groups provide 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.

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

Despite the financial pressures that many companies face, our consultants saw adoption of universal holdout groups grow significantly over the past year, a sign that the benefits outweigh the costs—even if those benefits aren’t enough to make universal holdout groups a significant trend in 2021.

“With many businesses hyper-focused on measuring channel revenue and return on investment,” says Peter Briggs, Director of Analytic & Strategic Services at Oracle Marketing Consulting, “this is a rock-solid way to showcase email channel value and advocate for bigger budgets and more headcount.”

Moving on and moving up

Readers of our post on 2020’s Unproven Opportunities might recognize that two trends are missing from this year’s group of low adoption–low impact trends: voice-assistant–friendly email design and Brand Indicators for Message Identification (BIMI).

With our consultants seeing its adoption as very low and its impact in 2021 falling, we dropped voice-assistant–friendly email design from our roundup of trends this year. That said, it’s a trend we’ll continue to watch.

“Email interactivity on voice assistants will likely grow in popularity as people begin commuting again and they lose the time they had saved by not having to go into work,” says Jonathan McClure, Director of Analytic & Strategic Services at Oracle Marketing Consulting.

On the other hand, BIMI is viewed as having a more significant impact this year, enough to push it up into our Competitive Differentiator quadrant. It was the only trend to make that move this year.

For a full look at all 26 email marketing trends to watch for in 2021, check out our posts that examine our

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

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

Also, for a better understanding of how all of these email marketing trends are evolving, check out last year’s posts:

  • Email Marketing Trends for 2020: Unproven Opportunities

  • Email Marketing Trends for 2020: Competitive Differentiators

  • Email Marketing Trends for 2020: Proven Essentials

  • The Highest Impact Email Marketing Trends of 2020

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.

Reach out to us at CXMconsulting_ww@oracle.com.

For more information about email and digital marketing, please visit Oracle Marketing.

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