Having been involved in email marketing for the last ten years in one way or another, it's interesting to see how the practice has evolved.
In some ways the fundamentals haven't changed a great deal. After all, email itself hasn't changed much in the last ten years. Most of the metrics you currently find were available then too. Clickthrough, open rate, bounce and unsubscribe tracking are all veteran metrics of the email marketing scene. In terms of design, HTML email still has to conform to “old school” HTML standards as many popular email clients handle message display in a very old fashioned way – not like modern browsers at all.
So, on the face of it email marketing hasn't moved much. However, if you look closely there have been quite a few changes. One of the biggest challenges it's had to deal with is the tsunami of spam emails. This has forced ISPs and PC security systems to arm themselves with an array of anti-spam technology that is far more sophisticated than it was ten years ago. As a result, email marketing systems have had to adapt to mitigate the chances of valid emails being caught as spam.
Another area where email marketing has evolved is in the area of list segmentation and targeting. In the old days it was common to just “fire and forget” with an email campaign. Today, even small organisations are attempting to get smarter with their emailing. Most email marketing packages now allow advanced list segmentation based on various criteria including interactions with previous email campaigns.
For example, these tools allow marketers to create follow-up campaigns to recipients that opened an email, or clicked on a specific link within the email. Linked to this is the popular concept of the “auto-responder”. These automated follow-up emails allow a sequence of pre-defined emails to be sent to a recipient following specific triggers – usually after the person has subscribed to the list.
Email marketing has also embraced the recent phenomenon of social media. Email campaigns regularly include the standard issue “tweet” and “share” icons from all the popular social networks. It's even possible to update social media sites automatically from your email marketing software, or vice versa.
Marketing on the move
Perhaps the most interesting innovations in email marketing relate to how email is being integrated into the mobile world. The concept of email and text messaging as two completely separate entities is starting to fade. They're both just messages as far as the user is concerned. From the marketer's perspective, they have different strengths and weaknesses.
Mobile messaging is expensive, but very direct and has excellent delivery rates. Email is much cheaper and can contain much richer content, but its deliverability is weaker. The smart marketers over the next few years will be the ones that utilise both messaging formats to their maximum potential - together. They should be seen as complementary to each other rather than as two unrelated tools within the marketing chest.
So maybe in ten years' time we won't be talking about email marketing any more, it will just be message marketing. This is going to be an exciting period for those of us involved in this area!