The Future of Email Marketing

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From selling an event, a subscription, or a box of cookies, for 15 years now, I’ve found that a personal and well-timed email has almost always delivered me the best bang for my buck as a marketer.

Today I want to look ahead. I’ve gathered some examples that point to some significant changes amongst email providers and email marketing tools, and no doubt, they will soon influence the design of the hundreds of email templates available on ThemeForest.

The Inbox Is about to Get More Visual

At Envato Market, over 60% of our newsletters are opened in Gmail. Google are the king of email, so it’s worth watching their new trials closely. In recent years they’ve really pushed email marketers to send more targeted and tailored email content through the introduction of their promotions tab filter (effectively placing all marketing emails into one folderโ€ฆ kind of like a modern day catalogue drop) Plus there’s now a native unsubscribe button.

Native unsubscribe button in Gmail.
Native unsubscribe button in Gmail.

The promotions tab hasn’t killed email open rates like everyone predicted. In fact, it seems to suggest that recipients now dedicate actual time to reading marketing emails, rather than skipping or deleting them as they prioritize personal messages.

And next, Google are about to make browsing their promotions tab even better. In March this year they announced the trial of Grid View. It’s currently opt-in only and turns your Gmail promotions tab into an eye-catching Pinterest-style wall. Grid View picks images from within emails and displays them as tiles. If you’re a MailChimp user, you’ll notice they’ve gone as far as to include a feature called ‘Social Cards‘ which helps you auto-generate these tiles.

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What we’re seeing is the delivery of real-time content right from within the subject line, before the email is even opened. As email volumes continue to grow each year, that may further challenge your open rates. It’ll be interesting to see just how much time marketers need to invest in crafting a single sample image and engaging subject line in the future (perhaps it’s time to channel those social media skills).

Email Is Re-Invented with Google Inbox

Will Grid View ever roll out? It looks like many of Gmail’s innovations have been leading up to something bigger – the launch of an entirely new application called Google Inbox. I’ve only spent a few days using the app on Chrome and iOS. It appears to build on the tab concept introduced by Gmail and takes the idea of categories even further. It has also added a new series of features and workflows that have the potential to change the way people manage their email.

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It relies heavily on the user setting automatic rules around ‘bundling’ relevant emails together. There are default vertical labels like Purchases, Travel, Finance and Promos. Most marketing emails will default to Promos. However, if you’re marketing holidays (Airbnb for example), Google may filter things like your browser/basket abandonment emails under ‘Travel’.

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On the downside, Inbox could see a decrease in open rates, as busy users ‘bundle and sweep’ their promotion into the Done box. Inbox users can also choose when theyโ€™d like to receive emails in each bundle (immediately, once a day, or once a week), which may reduce the impact of strategically timed sends.

Overall, it means we’ll need to make email content even more relevant to the individual through better segmentation. We’ve made some inroads here at Envato. Take for example our weekly email – if you’re a video maker, we only send you news about video and audio items, not themes and code.

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The most interesting Inbox features? Campaign Monitor have called out two: ‘Highlights’, which could help your promotion stand out beyond the traditional sender name, subject and pre-header. You can highlight other important actions within the email by adding Schema.org markup, for example, Rsvp’ing an event, submitting a customer review, or even one-click purchase.

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‘Reminders and Snooze’ will give people the opportunity to snooze your email and come back to it later on, whilst ‘Pin’ allows you to post an email, or email thread, to the top of your inbox. These features could be perfect if you’re running a limited time offer – someone might snooze the email until their lunch break or set it as a reminder before the offer closes.

As for how emails render, Inbox doesn’t support responsive design *sigh*. Litmus have investigated this further, and also look at the use of a verified Google+ profile to enhance your profile picture.

Emails Go Super-Sized on a Phone, MVP on a Watch

Despite Google ignoring responsive support, responsive email templates are still best practice. But is there anything new to consider with the launch of bigger phones, like iPhone 6 Plus? Yes indeed. It’s time to adapt your media queries accordingly, and consider new breakpoints. You have a couple of options if you want to adjust your media queries to target each of these screen widths individually. Check out this excellent Email on Acid article for all the geeky details.

subject lines to 35 characters
iPhone 6 subject line set to 35 characters

Many email experts will now tell you to keep subject lines to 35 characters, so they’re captured in full within iOS and Android email browsers. Beyond subject lines, preheaders are going to become more important than ever. For example, Mail on the new iPhone will display more characters in the from name, subject line, and preheader text. This could be interesting for email marketers since they will be able to provide more engaging information for subscribers directly in the inbox view, in order to motivate them to open and click.

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What about Apple’s Smart Watch? It’s too early to tell, but it will have some basic email lookup abilities. That again will mean shorter subject lines and clever pre-headers will be essential in good email content planning.

Builders and Marketing-on-the-Go Will Continue to Grow in Popularity and Sophistication

Whether the same can be said for email code, that remains to be seen. Sadly email design still needs to support dozens of platform/email clients from AOL to Microsoft Outlook. Thankfully, there are an increasing amount of tools that make it easy to build bulletproof, custom email templates. Many template authors on ThemeForest, like promail, now offer access to powerful template builders, included in the price of the template.

Meanwhile, Campaign Monitor continues to develop and add features to their excellent Canvas tool, making it even more customizable for even the most novice email coder.

Campaign Monitor's excellent Canvas tool.
Campaign Monitor’s excellent Canvas tool.

While those with a deeper interest in perfecting their code craft, there’s the new Litmus Email Builder, which claims to be the world’s first code editor with both mobile and desktop views, built for email designers by email designers. The platform is continuously improved through contributions from the Litmus community and allows for one-click testing.

The Email Builder from Litmus
The Email Builder from Litmus

Meanwhile, it seems MailChimp have channeled the power of Snapchat with MailChimp Snap – perfect for shop owners wanting to quickly promote new stock.

Watch This Space

Despite being the veteran of digital channels, email continues to evolve and adapt to keep pace with modern marketing. Whether you’re reading your next edition of Envato Market News on a desktop, mobile or watch, it’s going to be an exciting year ahead. What are your predictions for email marketing and email design?

  • Alex Holmes

    So much knowledge in here – great read!

  • Fiorella

    Loved the article Dan! A lot of really interesting stuff and insights.

  • Good stuff Danno.

  • Jade Butler

    So comprehensive Dan, I really enjoyed reading this ๐Ÿ™‚

  • This is some thing really interesting and informative.

  • Becca Z

    ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Dave Kramer

    Really good read, Dan. Thanks!

    • Thanks Dave, I hope you found it useful ๐Ÿ™‚

  • onreact

    Oh my. Another Google monopoly to deal with. I hoped I could escape the Google search traffic trap by email marketing… The gatekeeper is everywhere.

    • Sad but true… when in Rome!

    • Stamplia

      Google is definitely taking over!

  • ANKUSH MENAT

    It won’t survive… I just read titles and “sweep” all of them ๐Ÿ˜€
    Good move gmail. Atleast I won’t miss important email.

  • Great stuff… really enjoyed reading this! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Paul Manson

    Great article. Being based in South Africa lends its own unique challenges especially when it comes to email clients (both desktop and mobile).

    • Really? What challenges are specifc to SA? We have a pretty global mailing list, would be interested to learn. Thanks Paul !

  • Anika Jaffara

    I’ve been so eager to see my Gmail improved that I’ve been toying with Inbox… but I didn’t click YES when I was prompted to stop Gmail. I’ve got high hopes. We’ll see.

    I AM looking forward to how web design and email marketing will continue to evolve. I’ve seen some pretty awesome emails lately!

  • Mark Burdon

    Great article and I look forward to getting access to Inbox as the current gMail app is a little too kid’s birthday looking for me. Has Google become like the Borg though? Your use of “Google are” a few times makes it seem like a collective…which is fairly accurate I suppose.

    Wasn’t sure if it was a slip or intentional. Not trying to be a twerp.

    • Resistance is futile Mark! thanks for the feedback ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Na’im Beyah

    Insightful! Thank you for preparing me for the future!

  • Jaina

    There is so much innovation and “new stuff” happening in email marketing at the moment. It’s pretty exciting. Things like Inbox are forcing email marketers to come head-to-head with the fact that we’ve known for a long time – it’s all about personalised, relevant and timely content. Get that right, and no amount of bundles and swipes will terrify you!

  • Very interesting. Technology moves so fast and there is always way too much information to take on board. That said – these steps in email design are really important. Thanks for sharing.

  • Jordan Pitts

    As if dealing with Outlooks 7-11 wasn’t hard enough… I’m getting head aches already.

  • This is exciting news! I canยดt wait for the full blast.