7 email trends to watch in 2018

2017 was a stellar year for email marketing. With 72 percent of consumers in Litmus’ 2016 State of Email report stating that email is their first choice for brand communication, and more than 225 billion emails (PDF) sent every day (a 5 percent increase from previous years), email continues to play an important role in brands’ marketing strategies and is the digital linchpin for the consumer.

As we barrel into 2018, there are no guarantees that the email tactics and strategies that worked in 2017 will deliver the same results. To make the most of your email marketing investments and stay on the cutting edge, consider the trends that will impact email over the next 12 months.

1. Editorial or ‘sticky’ content will become a must-have

OK, OK — “must-have” may seem a little aggressive, so consider this my cry for help to all marketers! Today’s consumers (B2C and B2B) value content that goes beyond offers, promotions and product information. They crave useful information that speaks to the intersection of their lifestyle and brand values.

Gift guides, recipes, how-tos, related news, tips and tricks, outfits of the day and other types of sticky content are also useful for marketers because they help keep subscribers from passively opting out or unsubscribing, especially if they don’t buy from the brand frequently (e.g., monthly). Subscribers will stay engaged with your brand if you make the effort to educate, entertain or find a unique way to incorporate lifestyle trends into your messaging.

Forward-thinking brands already rely on sticky content within email to strengthen their relationships with customers. For example, REI serves up geo-dynamic content that informs subscribers about hiking trails that are near their location. If geo-content isn’t available, they provide generic content that is similarly relevant to subscribers’ lives.


2. Automation and AI technologies will make emails more human

Artificial intelligence continues to be a hot topic in marketing circles. Although the implications of AI and the scope of its marketing applications are still somewhat vague, in 2018, marketers will continue to ramp up experimentation with automated plug-and-play applications.

Content optimization is an obvious target for AI solutions. A lot of applications are fighting in this space that enables marketers to evaluate audiences and generate content using language and emotion tailored to specific segments while learning as more data comes through. None of them are perfect or what we all want AI to be, so do your homework and evaluate all potential possibilities before signing that contract.

Take Optimail, which optimizes email campaigns through adaptive personalization, or Phrasee, a fun company that started only focused on subject lines, and in very short order their technology has expanded to all sorts of copy/content. Don’t limit your horizons; think creatively how you can expand the capabilities.

Ironically, a major benefit of AI technologies is that they make emails feel more human. By providing more personalized user experiences through data, AI can help create deeper connections with your subscribers and invoke more emotion with its language (or emoji) usage — a slightly creepy cherry on top.

3. Real-time, cross-channel personalization will drive customer experiences

In addition to using AI applications to create more tailored user experiences, this year we’ll see marketers increase their efforts to personalize content in real time across channels. Expect next-generation personalization to appear more frequently in emails, websites, and even products.

Small clothing brands like StitchFix and TrunkClub are already reaping the benefits of personalization. By personalizing subscription boxes, these brands give customers individualized brand experiences. Other brands personalize individual products. For example, Coca-Cola allows customers to order bottles emblazoned with their names, and Converse allows customers to customize the fit and color of their sneakers.

As this level of detail migrates to larger brands, it could lead to a seismic shift in the way consumers interact with brands and products across a range of industries.

4. Kinetic email will change the look, feel and experience of email

One of the trends I’m excited to see more of in 2018 is kinetic email. Designed to make emails look and feel more like a website experience, kinetic emails introduce a new layer of interactivity to the email experience. As ISPs like Gmail continue to adopt these functionalities, it will make the experience in the inbox more fluid and quicker to the register.

The best examples of kinetic email include hover buttons, hotspots, add to order carts, image carousels and other features. The upside is that these emails are not only more attractive than traditional email, but they’re also more effective for encouraging subscribers to engage with the brand and its products.

Although marketers are still working out the kinks (Microsoft sent a kinetic email that didn’t work on Microsoft email clients), Taco Bell, Burberry and Nest are examples of brands that are using interactivity in the inbox. It’s hard to find them out in the wild, so be sure to look for more of these emails to land in your inbox in the coming months.

5. Passive opt-outs will (continue to) be a major challenge

Marketers are sending more emails than ever before. In Q3 2017, our company sent more than 7 billion emails through our cross-channel communications platform.

But with so many emails filling inboxes, it’s becoming difficult to keep subscribers engaged, and some marketers are struggling with declining KPIs. In 2018, I expect that some marketers will continue to struggle, while others will take the initiative and implement strategies to stem the trend of passive opt-outs.

To reduce opt-outs, email campaigns should engage audiences quickly, using offers and content that are relevant to individual subscribers’ opt-in path. Early welcome touch points, segmented engagement buckets, robust triggers, personalization and other tactics can go a long way toward retaining subscribers at key points in the customer lifecycle.

6. Mobile purchasing will reach a tipping point

Mobile purchasing is rapidly closing the gap with desktop purchasing as consumers and B2B buyers embrace smartphones and other mobile devices as primary conduits for brand connections.

Even though marketers are aware of the trend toward mobile purchasing, many brands continue to struggle with the basics of mobile optimization. Instead of delivering seamless mobile and cross-channel experiences, brands continue to stumble when it comes to making images, call-to-action buttons, content and other features more appealing to mobile audiences.

For brands who say their email is “responsive already” and have put mobile on the back burner, it’s time to develop a comprehensive mobile strategy. We’re reaching a tipping point, and the marketers who stay serious about optimizing emails and purchase experiences for mobile will continue to win out.

7. GDPR will create headaches for unprepared marketers

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is European legislation that will force businesses to protect the data and privacy of European Union citizens. Slated to go into effect in May 2018, GDPR impacts transactions that occur within EU member states and will inevitably impact any brand that sells to European markets.

In many ways, the pending GDPR deadline is similar to the debacle surrounding Canada’s Anti-Spam Law (CASL) — many marketers won’t be prepared for it to go into effect and will have to race to the finish line to meet GDPR requirements.

All marketers need to start preparing now. GDPR is more complex than it seems, and the consequences of non-compliance will be severe.

Change is the only constant in life — and email marketing. For 40 years, email has generated great results for marketers that evolved their strategies to align with new realities. This year won’t be any different. If you stay current with trends and adapt your strategy accordingly, email will continue to deliver exceptional results for your brand in 2018 and beyond.