The future of email marketing & technology through different lenses

What will be the most interesting developments for ESP and marketing software for the coming 3 years and what can the marketer expect to see in the coming year? We interviewed industry experts who allowed us to look through their lens into Future of Email Marketing & Marketing Automation.

As Marketing technology transforms itself, 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.

Stop being Calimero and start visualizing data

There are 3 trends that I clearly see in the market:
1. ESPs or campaign tools are merging together with other marketing tools to create a multi-channel experience, but also create a better interaction on a campaign level between channels.2. Data and data visualisation is becoming key. Most ESPs have a simple way of looking at data. However their clients need a more robust way of defining segments for creating a real-time experience with their audiences. Integration with CRM is crucial in the future.

3. Marketing is about real-time personalisation. This means that tools and people will have to create this real-time connection with their clients, on whatever channel is relevant to their audience.

The ecosystem needs to professionalise. We still see email marketing as “the little brother” of display and for most companies this isn’t anymore the case. Conversions are way higher for email marketing and we need to treat is as one of the best digital platforms. Time to stop the calimero image and see it as the digital powerhouse.

Hans Smellinckx is Director of Marcom Factory & Marketing Manager Artoos as well as chairman of taskforce email marketing of the IAB.

Traction for multichannel deployment of marketing messages

Over the next three years, I think one of the most interesting area that will get more traction and development is the actual effective use multi-channel marketing. I think there will be an increase in marketers’ ability to deliver messages how, when and where consumers want to receive those messages.How: We’ll be able to deliver messages via the channel the consumer prefers, whether that’s email, SMS or social.
When: Real-time triggered messages will become the norm, and location-based marketing will as well, like sending a text with a coupon just when a customer is walking past a store, for example.
Where: We’ll be able to deliver in-store messages because we’ll know the consumer is in our store. And all of this ability to be that targeted will make the messaging that much more relevant and timely to consumers.

In terms of services, I predict the email marketing ecosystem will increasingly rely on third parties. I think the number of third parties that supply dedicated products and services to the customers of the ESPs and marketing automation companies will continue to grow, along with their offerings. There are two reasons for this:

    1. As the ESP and marketing automation platforms become ever more powerful and complex, they also because hard to use effectively. Consider the Cessna pilot who climbs into the cockpit of a Boeing 747: That pilot will be confronted with a lot more dials and gauges, and not be sure how to fly the bigger plane. That’s what it can be like for marketers when confronted with platforms that offer an increasing number of features along with an increasing amount of complexity.
    2. The second reason is the tremendous growth of the ESPs and marketing automation companies themselves. This growth is great for the industry in the long-term, but in the short-term it can lead to diminished service and longer wait times for customers. The third parties can augment the services, speeding up implementations, for example. The ESPs and marketing automation companies are leveraging these relationships with the third parties, and they are smart to do so. The model works.

Marco Marini is CEO of ClickMail Marketing and veteran email marketing expert w/ 20+ years of experience.

Middleware will bring synergy, don’t expect a lot of consolidation in the market

For marketers I believe that marketing middleware will make it easier to share data between different applications, such as between email and social channels, or email and web properties. Part of this will be analytics data, part of it will be personalization data. Marketers will have a lot more opportunity to develop synergy across their marketing technology stack.”Consolidation” will not be the dominant theme of the marketing technology landscape for the immediate future. Yes, there will be some consolidation, especially across the major marketing platforms. But the number of net new companies offering marketing technology innovations will expand for the foreseeable future.

Scott Brinker is co-founder & CTO at ion interactive and the Chief Marketing Technologist at

Marketing Automation tools should adapt to users, not the other way around

The biggest problem in the world of Marketing Automation today is that it’s still too complicated. It can take a lot of time (and money!) before you have your first campaign up and running. Many marketing automation software solutions require new customers to follow comprehensive training.I believe that the market needs a paradigm shift where users don’t have to learn about software but the software learns about the user, based on their (in)actions, which makes it a super personal experience! ESPs and/or marketing automation vendors who will make this change, will be tomorrow’s leaders.

As ESPs will become more user-friendly, basic tasks are more likely to be performed – or insourced – by companies themselves.

The bigger opportunity for agencies is to move further up the food chain towards a more consultant kind of role. Earning a strategic place at the table with CMOs and digital marketing leaders in the role of a trusted advisor will pave the way to a more durable relationship between customers and agencies.

Joost Nienhuis is CEO of Tripolis Solutions

This year will prove that speed and adaptability wins.

Adaptation to the Internet of Things (IoT) will be one of the most interesting developments in ESP and marketing software functionality for the coming 1 – 3 years.If this holiday is evidence of anything, it is that the future of shopping has changed. The in-home, and out of home device experience will likely tell you more about a consumer than their implied behaviour translated through clicks and impressions. The architectures will need to adapt, analytics, machine learning- all will need to rethink how they will support this.

The vision of Big data vs. point solution profile management will change how you look at ESPs and marketing automation vendors. How do we store more data, with less cost and provide some elasticity in the areas where marketers need it (audience and analytics).

I don’t see a lot of change to the ecosystem for 2015. It’s a really fragmented space and with all the consolidation of the largest ESPs and recent infusion of capital within some of the niche providers.

I think the industry is up for grabs and marketers will have a few more options in 2015 vs. the big marketing cloud visions that rarely live up to expectations.

We will see a new crop of consultants, agencies trying to capitalize on the need for speed. They will be pressed to do more than 101 optimization and think really hard about optimizing the mobile shopping experience. This will stretch many specialists to expand their customers’ brands past clicks and opens to mobile, mobile web, WAP to APP experiences and building strategy around episodes vs. promotions.

I don’t think this space is any more complex than it was 10 years ago, except there are a lot more options for consumers to burn their time. 2015 will prove that speed and adaptability wins.

David Baker is Chief Operating Officer at Cordial

Keep a close eye on 3rd parties for innovation, or face boring developments

I predict that ESP functionality will develop in very boring ways, and that there’s not much interesting that will happen with them. Most ESPs have pretty much the same functionality – sure, one calls it “automation” and another calls it “lead nurturing” or whatever… but there’s no real technical differentiator between ESPs who are effectively email distribution engines.3rd parties are pretty much the only interesting part of the ecosystem these days… there’s only so many ways you can upload HTML and click the launch button… but there’s so much you can do in-email… that ESPs don’t or won’t build and offer on their own.

What will be interesting, however, will be ESP-agnostic bolt-ons that overcome the technical limitations of existing ESP technology. Companies like Phrasee, KickDynamic, LiveIntent and the like are the ones to watch.

Parry Malm is a famously digital anarchist. Building brands and helping them… well, make more money at Howling Mad

Marketing Automation will power sales-led communications through content, playbooks

I expect more marketing software capabilities to extend to sales teams, which will help strengthen alignment and support deeper funnel customer engagement. What I mean is, Sales reps are already sending ad hoc email to their prospects through their CRM platforms. These are tightly focused sales-led communications focused on 1:few or a 1:1 customer outreach.The problem is how sales reps choose content, or create content from scratch, the messaging, appearance, and measuring the response. Marketing and Sales need to understand what content works for the best in these emails in order to measure performance and identify opportunities for new content.

Marketing Automation tools have some capability here that can power the sales-led communications. However, Sales often needs to send messages independently from Marketing. Providing Sales with defined content libraries or playbooks to choose from for personalized communications is very valuable. Especially with tight CRM integration and the ability to measure how content supported a sales cycle.

I also expect to see better data services that marketers can subscribe to that will help dynamically and more effectively keep contact record data current and up to date. Some vendors are beginning to offer Data as a Service, which is interesting. The problem is a database is a static snapshot of a specific moment in time. I would love to see vendors offer services to dynamically maintain and continually update a database, instead of working on batch updates.

Brian Hansford is an award-winning director of Client Services and Marketing Automation Practice at HeinzMarketing

Native triggers and analytics start to replace 3rd party integrations

I think there will be a fair amount of focus in the next year on email creation and deployment functionality, with improvement in the template area and ease in creating responsive emails.
Longer term I think we will see a lot of the functionality that was typically integrated and provided by ESP/MA technology partners, being built natively into ESP/MA platforms. This includes functionality like real-time cart abandonment and predictive analytics.The big shift, or question, will be: Do most of the ESP solutions morph into marketing automation platforms? At minimum, I think most pure ESPs will add significant triggered/automated email functionality, while probably stopping short of true marketing automation.

While many ESPs have mobile push notifications and SMS offerings, I think we will see more automation in these areas and the ability to leverage behaviours across these channels into other channels and vice versa. Lastly, I think we will see significant developments in content marketing automation functionality being added into ESP platforms.

Loren McDonald is Vice President, Industry Relations at Silverpop, an IBM Company, Industry thought leader and won 2011 Marketer of the Year award (eec).

ESPs will need to become Real time Connected

A Roadmap of an Email Service Provider seldom exceeds 12 months. However, like in France, the coming 3 years they will certainly become more interconnected with other digital channels like Web Analytics, Facebook and Real Time Marketing Tools which offer online interactions.The ESP holds a lot of data (subscriber/clients), also behavioral, so it should possible to optimize and refine all these web interaction scenarios:

  • According to the behavior or status of the website visitors, push targeted Ads on the social networks
  • To easily interface Web analytics and ESP to quickly create dynamic behavioral retargeting trigger (in less than 1 minute)
  • to recover the behavior of the web visitors once identified on the site (premarketing or marketing continues,
  • to easily personalize and target web interactions (banners, pop ups …) with data from the ESP

Bruno Florence is a french email expert, author of the martech blog and specialized in deliverability and CRM Marketing solutions

Predictive analytics will become bigger and movement towards integrated marketing

Predictive analytics will take on a huge role in the coming years. I think we will see functionality that allows a given brand/sender to deliver content via email based on past behaviors.There will also be continual changes to inboxes. Innovations such as the recent Gmail release of Inbox will likely change the way customers engage with email marketing content. As Kevin Senne, Deliverability Director at Oracle Marketing Cloud said recently, “I see Inbox as Gmail on steroids… The save function is one that is great for marketers, and could give messages a second life beyond the initial open.”
There will be a more concerted move towards ESPs who offer fully integrated cloud-based email marketing functionality. The need to deliver a true cross-channel, real-time experience is paramount for success.

Nick Bell is Senior Director and Modern Marketing Expert at Oracle Marketing Cloud

Bring external data to the doorstep and dynamic content and automation will follow.

Over the last few years I have seen a huge advancement in features at both the enterprise and SMB (Small/medium business) ESPs. I think this year will see the actual benefits start to emerge and scale. As marketing technologies move further away from a ‘campaign centric’ or ‘old world’ approach BAU (business as usual) emails – to a more ‘listening’ individualised approach.The tools around this automation are getting easier to use. I’m not saying the tools are new – but it has taken years to actually follow through and to achieve adoption at scale that is happening now.

Already a few SMB ESPs are showing how to properly design and build smarter UI to enable marketers to work on complex tasks, such as an automation series, much easier. It is painful to look back at how hard some of this was in the past compared to how you can now execute these programs.

In concert with this is the need to make other data driven features like dynamic content easier to use. If you look at that history of being able to individualise emails with content we are moving rapidly away from the early 2000s when programmers and dbas had to technically manage this part of the build on a campaign. Unfortunately if you ask a marketer to explain dynamic content or conditional content today – you still get a wide range of confusion and answers. Some even still walk away completely based on the added time and effort required. But I feel like this year and beyond the tools from the providers and third parties will help make this more baked in and easier to execute.

Beyond all our hype on features like automation – the data is the fuel. It is also the biggest challenge.

You cannot activate product-based dynamic content emails or lifecycle automation beyond simple events like subscribe/optin programs (or email behaviour) unless you have a way to get the right data in at the right time. Too many sales people in ESP-land have pushed these features without a clear, cost affective way to easily connect the data needed. The customer is left having to figure a hell of a lot of things out to get the right data at the right time to the ESPs doorstep.

The good news is that this year and beyond the options have exploded in terms of simplifying and expanding import/export, partner integration, connectivity and 3rd party tools. Making things seriously connected. And as easy to push data back and forth is great to see.

One final thing to watch this year is around the people working on these tools. Using these new techniques requires different skills as it is not about just pushing a button and setting up another campaign (but more like SEM where you have to be thoughtful about going live and then monitor, test and improve continually). I don’t know that this has hit home yet but you can’t tell your campaign execution person to suddenly transition to setting up, going live and optimising an automation series that is running all the time off data loads. Very different in too many ways. But exciting.

Simon ‘O Day is head of Partnerships at Emma Inc, formerly VP at Responsys Asia Pasific

Top image by Nate Laverdure

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, online marketing strategy, software selection, campaign management, optimisation and RFP / vendor selection. He tested, reviewed, and wrote about 100+ business software including email marketing services, CRMs, ecommerce platforms, and online course creators. Published in-depth email marketing guides for financial service, ecommerce, travel, restaurant, and fashion industries.
Named one of "50 Online Marketing Influencers to Watch" by Entrepreneur magazine. Companies like Scania, KLM, Unilever, AEGON, CZ, FNV, NRC Media have asked me for advice.

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