Experts reveil the future of email marketing and marketing automation

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What will be the most interesting developments and trends in the coming years? We asked industry experts for their views on the future of Email Marketing & Marketing Automation.

As Marketing and technology forward with leaps and bounds, we see the outlines of how technologies could turn into profits and growth as well as the challenges that are looming in that same space.

“hyper-personalization” is becoming a reality

Email Platforms are more and more becoming Omnichannel Marketing Suites with various cross-channel functionalities to map and accompany the individual customer journey. Having all relevant channels at hand allows marketers to implement a seamless and smooth Omnichannel Automation. The integrated messaging activities will be based on detailed subscriber profiles including precious cross-channel information.

Comprehensive customer intelligence capabilities will also make segmentations and comparisons between actual and target performances possible. The buzzword of “hyper-personalization” will then become reality. In short: State-of-the-art Omnichannel Marketing will make communication more relevant in terms of the right person, right content, right time and right channel.

René Kulka – Email Marketing Evangelist at optivo, Consultant, and author of E-Mail-Marketing: Das umfassende Praxis-Handbuch

Guidance for triggered marketing sequences is a necessity

What I’d like to see, since it’s I think is needed, is for more direction from the services on creating automated sequences. All the surveys I have seen show a surprising limited adoption of behavioural, event triggered email sequences, call them what you will.
So ESPs need to provide solutions that guide users to review their use of email and then make recommendations of best practices. It’s not enough to say ‘we have a drag and drop editor’ for defining rules and sequences. That’s great, but more guidance is needed, either in a help system or through recommendations in the service.

Dave Chaffey, author of Total Email Marketing and publisher of Smart Insights.

Consumer expectations are pushing marketing automation technology vendors

New consumer expectations of how they want to communicate with brand are pushing marketing automation technology vendors to integrate real-time messaging apps like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, WeChat and Instagram. We’ll also see much more activity toward one-to-one targeting solutions that provide personalized advertising functionality based on on-site and off-site behavior, CRM data or transactional history of customers. And finally, vendors will start to integrate more and more content marketing platform functionality to support the emerging content marketing operations teams in enterprises.

Tom De Baere – Senior Digital Strategist & Managing Partner, creating customer love at the agency invisible Puppy.

Email marketing and marketing automation are stealing from each other.

Email marketing and marketing automation systems will continue to grow towards each together. Meaning that the lines between email and automation are starting to fade as functionalities start to overlap. In other words, they are stealing each other’s good ideas.

The research into the 111 vendors for the Email marketing Buyer’s guide showed that ESPs are adding quite sophisticated functionality that before was only expected from Marketing Automation.
What we before labelled as “email marketing only” platforms now offer the functionality to send behaviour and data-driven mails. 57% offers a scoring mechanism to act on user engagement. Marketing Automation systems are stepping up their game in the usability of campaign management and email marketing. Or, of course, buying a platform that already has.

Although Email marketing is a pretty clear term, marketing automation isn’t that clear at all. In the end a software platform is a combination of functionalities. So all vendors have their own interpretation, based on their own feature set and marketers also make their own version of what they understand Marketing Automation should mean. Which can lead to quite amusing Babylonian discussions.

Jordie van Rijn – Email marketing consultant, MarTech enthusiast and founder of emailvendorselection.com

Personalisation will be the bigger trend

Personalization is a big trend right now, and I’m talking beyond the simple addition of a person’s name (although that is still an important addition). We know from our research at VB Insight that personalizing emails makes a huge difference to both the reader and the results for the marketer.

This includes the ability to change the contents of the email dependent on when the reader opens it.

Adding in a coupon that has already expired at the time of reading, for example, is not only wasteful, it creates a negative impression. Replacing that coupon with relevant content every time the email is opened is where the market is going.

Stewart Rogers- director of Marketing Technology at Venturebeat Insight

The new focus on optimising is a huge movement in the industry.

There’s been loads of time spent on operational developments. So, trigger campaigns, and automated workflows, and even semi-personalised content (which are normally run by static decision trees, but I won’t cover the inherent fallacy of this strategy.)

There’s been very little work done on optimising what is sent out, not just how it’s sent out. And this is set to change. Companies like Phrasee (disclosure: I’m the CEO), MovableInk, KickDynamic and LiveIntent focus on optimising the what, not the how, and this is a huge movement in the industry.

Parry Malm is Digital marketing’s Hannibal Smith and CEO of Phrasee; an artificial intelligence subject line optimiser.

Easier multi-channel multi-touch campaigns thanks to better UI

I think that for the most part platforms will become easier and easier to use across multiple channels through a more seamless User Interface. We think we’ll see a smooth operational transition from one channel to the other in mapping and implementing multi-channel multi-touch campaigns become more common and more robust.

John Caldwell – consultant on Email Marketing Vendor Selection, Integration, Operations, and Production at RedPill email.

Technological advancement of marketing tools is extremely valuable

The technological advancement of marketing tools is extremely valuable to modern marketers. The ability to collect, analyze and segment data to provide a customized experience for your audience is a new world of opportunity. Unfortunately, recent research by Ascend2 and research partners revealed two issues that must be addressed.

First is that 59% of marketers are only using a limited amount of the marketing automation tools at their disposal. An analogy would be using your smartphone just to make calls. What a waste to not use apps, email, IM and more. As we move forward, marketers will become more comfortable with the tools at their disposal and as result, the effectiveness of their programs will increase.

The second trend is the focus on strategy. The Marketing Automation Strategy Survey (pdf) shows that the most challenging obstacle to marketing automation success is lack of an effective strategy. Marketers will realize that tools alone will not improve performance, but it is the strategy you create to find, engage and convert your audience that is the key to success. So marketers must allocate more time to strategy and invest in their people resources both internally (training staff) and externally (agencies).

Todd Lebo – Partner and Chief Marketing Officer at Ascend2 research and marketing professionals.

Widespread integration of machine learning

I believe we will start to see more widespread integration of machine learning, specifically to build predictive models that help marketers find the right message for each individual.

This will go beyond simply ranking likelihood to respond to a specific email, to selecting the best content to insert. The result will be to increase the effectiveness of “batch and blast” emails without the need for complex, branching workflows provided by marketing automation.
Results from this degree of targeting are usually anything from twice to ten times the response rate compared with sending the same message to everyone.

David Raab – expert in marketing technology and analytics. Raab Associates publishes VEST, a B2B Marketing Automation Vendor Selection Tool.

The future of the email marketing and automation market

The market can have a big influence on the eco-system. One of the most interesting points, as we look at the future, are the expected (r)evolutions in the arena. What will be changing at the junction of software vendors, suppliers and agencies?

“Functional Chunks” are the next step in modular evolution

On the emailvendorselection site, we keep tabs on the different functional marketing software additions and updates. Of course not every update makes it to the site. But you can notice a clear divide. Some SAAS suppliers are trying to keep up, others are not investing in development as much. I think the later ones will be seriously outpaced in a year or two, if not already.

An especially interesting development is what I call “functional chuncks”. Pieces of functionality that can be integrated with any software. Like an email relay service or a separate Drag and drop email composition engine, analytics, remarketing or reporting functionality. Think of it as Lego blocks, giving other applications or start-ups the possibility to quickly expand functionality without having to develop everything in-house.

Jordie van Rijn is Email marketing consultant, MarTech enthusiast and founder of emailvendorselection.

Effective experiences as a starting point

We have broad trends on creating effective mobile designs and marketing automation over the last three years or so. I’d like to see a move to a more customer-centric view of email marketing as part of a broader customer experience and customer journey rather than an isolated channel. We barely talk about desktop and mobile website design, instead we talk about building digital experiences, so email marketing should be seen more as part of that customer experience than simply an automation process. So rather than asking question like – what are response rates, how much did we sell, we also ask whether the experience was effective and think about how we can measure and research this.

Dave Chaffey, author of Total Email Marketing and publisher of Smart Insights.

Mid-market platforms are proven big game hunters.

The recent changes in the email eco system has begun to change the market. While we still have many clients on platforms that have been consumed by or make up the new Cloud (Oracle, SFMC, IBM) companies, we see several others moving toward the Data (Experian, Epsilon, Acxiom) companies and the more advanced mid-market platforms.

We see a lot of activity across the mid-market platform spectrum in regards to product development and in acquiring up-market clients. Make no mistake, many mid-market platforms are proving themselves to be successful big game hunters.

John Caldwell -consultant on Email Marketing Vendor Selection, Integration, Operations, and Production at RedPill email.

Smooth third party data enhancement

I believe it will become substantially easier to import third party data to enhance the marketer’s own (first party) information about her customers. Making this happen requires changes throughout the ecosystem as email systems and data vendors build easy integrations with each other.

Specifically, the email systems must be able to expose selected user data (email address, name, postal address, possibly device IDs) for matching, while the data vendors must be able to ingest this data and match against it. This implies considerable new standardization on both sides.

Other ecosystem players will get involved including identity association vendors, especially companies that link devices to people (getting around the increasingly harmful limitations of browser cookies). Data vendors will expand beyond traditional demographics to incorporate intent data based on user behavior and media consumption. New data sources will emerge including ad exchanges and social networks.

David Raab – expert in marketing technology and analytics. Raab Associates publishes VEST, a B2B Marketing Automation Vendor Selection Tool.

The biggest players will take the spoils, no power shifts, yet

I don’t see any big changes in the email marketing ecosystem through 2016. Yes, you’ll see dozens of new players enter the market, and some are going to have smart, predictive, personalized solutions that will catch people’s attention. But that won’t change the fact that the solutions with the biggest market share will take most of the spoils. We’ve seen some big acquisitions and significant funding in the email marketing space recently, and that will likely continue, but we’re not ready for a power shift, yet.

Stewart Rogers – director of Marketing Technology at Venturebeat Insight

4 Core service layers that will make the difference

Successful vendors and customers that engage at four core service layers will achieve stability and performance. The core layers are: 1.) Best practices centered on accomplishing distinct quantifiable business objectives,
2.) Sufficient personal training and coaching on how to meet the objectives on the platform,
3.) offer to execute on their behalf, and
4.) A platform that can pull it all off as a stand alone and sufficient integration with other cloud apps.
I think this is valid for the gross of the customers and vendors and will stay that way for a while. We will see how these might shift as the landschape changes, call it a 2016 – 2017 prediction. :)

Jay Adams – CEO at Makesbridge Marketing Automation

Innovation comes from outside the feature-set arms race

‘Marketing Automation companies’, or what used to be referred to as ESPs, are in a feature-set arms race. But, the core functionality remains the same – they focus on the operational efficiency of email marketing (or landing pages, or social, or whatever.)

This creates an opportunity for ESP-agnostic innovators to deliver rich feature sets that ESPs either can’t develop on their own, or develop to be inexorably tied to their own tech stack.

Parry Malm is Digital marketing’s Hannibal Smith and CEO of Phrasee; an artificial intelligence subject line optimiser.

Consolidation and the rise of specialist third-party services

In the last years, we have seen constant mergers and acquisitions in the email marketing world. The main goal was to accelerate growth and create synergies in field of email marketing and beyond.

Some big names have been integrated into bigger platforms or have a different business focus today.

Furthermore, in the last two or three years many specialized third party services popped up in different areas of the email ecosystem. Their expertise is deliverability, testing, live content, remarketing, predictive analytics, email advertising or customer intelligence. That has been a really important and interesting development. In my eyes there will be enough room for most of these specialists. At the same time a consolidation might be underway also in this field. Agencies, in turn, are following the path to Omnichannel Marketing set by Email Service Providers.

René Kulka – Email Marketing Evangelist at optivo, Consultant, and author of E-Mail-Marketing: Das umfassende Praxis-Handbuch

Enterpise supplier-agency-model needed for digital transformation

The marketing technology market is growing massively, with new entrants arriving into the market every day. Digital marketing is becoming increasingly complex with more and more options available to marketers. And content marketing as a discipline is getting more attention of decision makers in companies, which causes the amount of content being created to explode.

Unfortunately companies are in many cases implementing digital marketing, content marketing, and related marketing technology platforms in an incorrect way. This can be caused by lack of skills or knowledge in marketing teams, but it is also caused by agencies and suppliers underperforming in terms of advice or delivery.

That’s why you will see a continuation of the trend, where enterprises are increasingly building a suppliers and agency model that consists of many smaller, specialized, niche expertise companies to support them in their digital transformation.
Tom De Baere – Senior Digital Strategist & Managing Partner, creating customer love at the agency invisible Puppy.

About Jordie van Rijn


Jordie van Rijn is an independent email marketing consultant and Analyst. He is the Founder of Email Vendor Selection and specializes in smart email marketing, optimisation and RFP / vendor selection. Named on of "50 Online Marketing Influencers to Watch in 2016 " by Entrepreneur magazine.

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  • Bartosz Zerebecki

    Hi Jordie, thank you for these fascinating insights. I am particularly interestes in the dynamic email content that changes according to the time of opening of the email. It makes dynamic not only laterally differentiated to customers but also temporally dynamic. That’s some exciting news. I was also interested in the customer centric view of email marketing and smooth transitions and integrations between different channels. Do you think that lack of customer oriented development of Marketing Automation could be added to the list of why customers leave: http://bit.ly/21IQ8uq . If they are not treated appropriately with emailing designed to match smartphone screen or traditional desktop or if they do receive the expired coupon? Do you think trends described including temporally dynamic emails and omnichannel integration is actually an iteration of better customer service and leads to customer centric marketing automation?

    • http://www.emailvendorselection.com Jordie van Rijn

      Hi Barthosz,

      Thanks for the comment. From the examples you mention I think showing an expired or nonredeemable coupon is one of the most frustrating ones. That can be a real let down. The customer is thinking: “why did they send it in the first place?”

      Dynamic email can be real-time, but knowing the life span of one single email, the biggest challenge might be to start with the right message in the first place.

      I wrote a piece on dynamic email a while back: http://www.emailmonday.com/dynamic-email-marketing-dynamic-content-platform

  • http://sprout24.com/ Ankit Prakash

    Hey Jordie,
    You are absolutely right about the “functional chuncks”. This gives other applications or start-ups the possibility to quickly expand functionality without having to develop everything in-house.

    This is exactly what we did with EasySendy Pro service. It provides Front end interface to manage, segment and send targeted emails with ability to connect multiple SMTP relay servies like Amazon SES, Mandrill, SendGrid, Sparkpost, Leadersend, Elasticemail and MailGun.
    Sending targeted emails through multiple SMTP relays and using re-engagement feature yield 150%+ open rate of email campaigns.

    We are happy to help marketing teams achieve their goal :)