What developments can you expect from email marketing in 2011?

2010 has come and gone and arguably the biggest industry prediction that came to pass was the rise (and rise) of social media and its relevance and impact on how we use email. Towards the end of the year many marketers were left mumbling when Gmail announced its Priority Inbox and Facebook unleashed Messages, both of which have added a heap of new email deliverability issues, to which answers are still being sought.

As far as 2011 goes, I’m loathe to use the word “predictions” when I talk about email marketing, simply because I am not a fortune teller, rather I’d like to stick to “developments”.

First off, real-time email marketing has come along in leaps and bounds and guaranteed there’s still much to be explored on that front. It’s not as big here in South Africa as it is in the US and Europe, but that looks set to change.

Marketers know that strategies are developed months in advance and are a long-term process, but what real-time marketing does is focus on what’s happening right now, what’s trending, and what can be done to make a difference to your customer today. Take for example the relentless snowstorms and sub-zero weather that has been tormenting much of the US (and Europe for that matter), this past season. Many retail email marketers took advantage of the ghastly weather and quickly designed campaigns around it. The result was relevant, timeous emails offering specials on such things as sub-zero winter clothes, snow equipment, motor anti-freeze and skiing holidays targeted to customer’s individual locations.

Retailers claimed increased responses in the number of opens and forwards, and conversion rates also increased over the period these specials ran. Even though these campaigns didn’t necessarily coincide with regular email newsletters that customers received, they were more receptive to them because they were so relevant.

Marketers in South Africa could also look to real time marketing, based on our scorching summer temperatures and heat waves that hit us for weeks at a time. Think of specials on bikinis, board shorts, sunblock and suntan lotion and seaside weekend getaways. Obviously you have to be fast on the ball with real-time email marketing, but there is no doubt that if you successfully pull a campaign like this off, then you’ll reap the rewards, and that’s aside from your regular email promotions.

Another great example was put forward by David Meerman Scott, author of “Real Time Marketing & PR”, who was interviewed at the MarketingSherpa Email Summit in January in Las Vegas. He spoke about the Chilean mining accident and the fact that when each miner emerged they were sporting the new range of Oakley sunglasses. The company thought ahead and knew that after months underground the miner’s eyes wouldn’t be prepared for the sunlight so they did the next logical thing and equipped each miner with sunglasses.

Great marketing and the pictures made front page news worldwide, but they could have taken it further. They could have hit their email list with specials on those same sunglasses; have a special feature on their website showcasing the range or even a link on their site to articles explaining the damage that ultra violet rays can do to a person’s eyes. Don’t get me wrong; what they accomplished was a great marketing strategy. They saw a unique opportunity and worked fast to capitalise on it and the free advertising they got from it was incredible.

I wholly agree with David though, they could easily have taken it to the next level.

Aside from real-time email marketing, we should be seeing more technological developments with “intelligent content”, which renders when an email is opened, giving customers real-time offers tied to available stock. An example of this would be if a featured item was already sold out by the time the recipient opened it, then a similar alternative offer would automatically be presented.

The result is that you have a higher chance of your emails being read and converted and your customers are happy because they are getting relevant offers that don’t expire. A precursor to intelligent content is “time-sensitive messages”, which automatically delete from an inbox once the offer expires.

This is a good alternative if you aren’t yet able to combine intelligent content with your email campaigns. Your customers, however will still appreciate the fact that they aren’t opening loads of emails that are irrelevant and worse still, entirely invalid, which would give them good ammo to unsubscribe or report you for spam.

Of course we’re definitely (and anxiously!) expecting more video email and viral email marketing tactics in 2011. While video email is still in its infancy, new apps are almost certainly being created that will make this process quicker and easier to format and render across all major email clients and mobile devices.

Viral email marketing has the potential to reach huge audiences very quickly and with the right amount of calculated research, clever strategy and unique content, you’re almost guaranteed a successful campaign.

You can read more about video email marketing here and viral email marketing here.

Real-time email marketing, intelligent content, time sensitive messages and video and viral email marketing tactics are all positive signs that email marketing isn’t ‘dead’ at all, it’s simply adjusted to a changing environment and developed new strategies that should enable it to continue providing high ROI’s. By keeping abreast of these developments and testing them in your campaigns to find out what works best for you, you’re helping yourself stay relevant and interesting to your valued customers.



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