Four Trends That Will Inform Email Marketing For SMBs In 2018
"Hyper-personalization, a common theme in 2017 will likely go into overdrive in 2018" with email and content marketing at the center, writes SendGrid CMO Scott Heimes.
It’s still early in the new year, which, for marketers, means two things: it’s time to assess what did and didn’t work and it’s time to start planning ahead. To help your team (or you) in this endeavor, here are a few notable trends that either came to fruition in 2017 or are likely set to bloom in 2018. They are by no means all-encompassing, but they are significant and are items every marketer needs to be aware of heading into the new year. Let’s take a look now:
The future is in AI
News about Artificial Intelligence (AI) was overwhelming in 2017, but witnessing substance in AI was a rarity beyond a few academic gimmicks, like Google and DeepMind’s AlphaGo. That’s set to change in 2018, when early AI-adopters hope to see returns on their futuristic investments.
Those returns could be generous. A capable machine learning algorithm should be able to analyze a multitude of ways customers interact with an organization’s brand, including across channels. If successful, AI scientists and marketers will be able to burrow down into hyper-personalized personas, giving companies the opportunity to add personalized touches where appropriate.
Still, the return on AI may vary for marketing and email marketing. The reason for this variance is threefold: first, not all AI indicatives are marketing-centric; second, marketing-centric AIs tend to be early in their lives, and may not work as advertised based on a variety of factors; third, different types of AI may yield wildly different results. Additionally, not all organizations can invest in the infrastructure necessary to power AI initiatives, which, for now, is data-heavy. Many SMBs, for example, will need to find a different route to an AI solution, perhaps through a software-as-a-service model. Expect to see progress in these areas in 2018.
More than ever, quality content is a must
There are a few things to take note of when it comes to content. Specifically, 2017 saw a drastic rise in the popularity of newsletters, with two distinct styles emerging.
The first is text-heavy, image light. The second is text-light, image heavy.
Fortunately, there’s plenty of room for both and both perform fairly well, depending on your target audience. Expect newsletters to continue to grow in 2018, with a particular emphasis on quality and engaging storytelling over a quantity of items listed for a user to select. Newsletter publishers will likely continue monetizing their newsletters through sponsored posts, though the nature of those posts may change depending on how consumers continue to consume newsletters.
The most important take-away, however, is the need for quality content. There’s been a notable trend towards crafting more storytelling in emails and carving out deeper connections to readers regardless of where they consume content — even well beyond email. What this means is there is going to be a need for richer stories, quality videos and video case-studies without the typical promotions expected in branded content. Consumers want to trust brands, but only so long as brands treat them with respect.
Personalize emails with data-rich user actions
Email has come to fill a unique area in the user’s life. It’s a means of coordinating activities, sending gifts and, perhaps most common, a receptacle for receipts. This is good.
Tracking how users interact with their emails provides senders the context-rich details they need to personalize interactions to a granular point. Hyper-personalization, a common theme in 2017 will likely go into overdrive in 2018.
Personalization has progressed over the years. It has lurched from simple tasks, like including first names, to complex, like re-targeting and personal engagement. Senders saw the trend hit new heights in 2017, where they could easily segment their lists based on rich demographics, data on how customers use products, the time users spend on-site and more to build engaging experiences. 2018 will likely see hyper-personalization expand beyond the confines of email. Brands should be able to leverage the same data — with user permission — across chatbots, social network messaging and other channels, making the omnichannel experience more cohesive.
Attribution will get (slightly) better
Email is perhaps the best digital marketing channel available to marketers today. The problem for many, however, is the difficulty in attributing email’s influence on direct sales. This has been a problem throughout 2017 and it’ll continue to be an issue in 2018. While attribution will remain a problem, there are a few opportunities for marketers to realize improvements.
First is email’s main advantage: data. Email collects a lot of data on user behavior, and 2018 may see the current available data in an email become even more granular. For example, marketers will be able to boost the interaction available in their emails.
Depending on how an organization deploys interactivity, users could purchase items directly from email. Such innovations could give marketers the attribution they need to boost their email marketing program. AI, too, could potentially give marketers the attribution they’re looking for by providing context in user activities and detecting previously unseen interactions across channels.
For email marketers, 2017 was a solid year. It laid the foundations for data-rich experiences, which should enable marketers to better personalize and communicate with subscribers in 2018. The year ahead will both test the viability of these new methods and reinforce the need to follow best practices, such as list segmentation, email cadence, A/B testing and building a solid relationship with the subscriber. If email marketers understand where your reader’s priorities are — from convenience to trust — 2018 should be a great year.
*Scott Heimes serves as Chief Marketing Officer at SendGrid, where he is responsible for the company’s brand strategy, driving demand for its solutions and leading global marketing operations. Scott oversees corporate marketing, demand generation, corporate communications, partnerships and alliances, international expansion and SendGrid’s community development team.