2021 is already underway and may it be the most wonderful year on record. It sure is going to be an interesting year for email marketing. Lots of businesses have moved online, many of them permanently. Customers have changed their habits and also shifted to more remote work environments.
All of these things required adjustments, but also gave email marketers new opportunities that many gladly took advantage of. We asked email marketing experts from 14 companies for their opinions on the future of email marketing. They also shared how COVID-19 impacted their businesses and what they learned from it.
Let’s hear their thoughts!
What was the impact of COVID-19 on your email marketing campaigns?
In 2020, many businesses had to close their brick & mortar facilities and abruptly move to the online world. Others, previously balancing between online and offline, had to suddenly generate all their revenue from just a single channel.
Companies had to make certain adjustments to the new situation of many of their customers.
HubSpot has free Marketing, Sales, and Customer Success tools all powered by a free CRM so we were uniquely positioned to help businesses make the shift from selling in-person to selling online. Early on in the pandemic, my team got together to realign our email strategy around helping our database with free resources and software to move their businesses online. This shift in strategy led to improvements across our core email metrics.
We’ve had to revisit our email communication to see whether our tone and style are suitable for the current global environment. Moreover, we noticed that some of the best practices we had followed in the past no longer applied. This was especially visible when it comes to the best mailing frequency or the suitable time for sending your messages. Interestingly, Friday afternoon didn’t always seem such a bad idea, since many of our subscribers were sitting at home & working with different schedules.
Sending relevant communication, and looking at things from the customers’ perspective became even more important last year.
Many people seriously jumped into email marketing only last year. To help them out, we focused on sharing more of our email marketing knowledge with our community. We produced a lot of content on topics such as email deliverability or eCommerce marketing and distributed it via our monthly newsletter. Our email list grew much faster than in the prior years and we also saw a spike in engagement.
People spent a lot more time online. As a result, email sending volume at MailerLite increased by 45% in 2020 compared to the last year. Email became the best channel to keep customers informed about what was going on. In addition to sharing new content, people used email to keep their customers updated on their COVID response and shared advice for marketing during challenging times.
Our focus has always been to provide value, and even more so this year, we built our email marketing tactics with empathy and to provide relevant, timely, and useful information for our audience for the current situation.
We saw an increased number of small business owners for whom email marketing was a new thing. Therefore, we try to provide them with as much relevant information as possible for achieving maximum sales. For this reason, our email campaigns are active throughout the quarantine.
We tried to show how our business is navigating through COVID-19 by sending awareness emails to our customers, however, we also did not make it our priority to address it constantly. We focused on keeping in touch with our customers and providing them with all the necessary information to show how we are addressing the issue at hand. We noticed that our email campaigns were doing consistently great throughout the pandemic and our recipients were just as interested in our content as they were before.
Email marketers saw an increase in engagement, but also had to ramp up their efforts.
We have seen a significant increase in email engagement in recent months, and our email marketing has performed better than usual during the pandemic. Now more than ever, staying connected through digital channels is critical, and email marketing has direct access to your customers, as the inbox is the equivalent of their home. This is probably one of the main reasons why email marketing can continue to prosper even in the midst of a global lockdown.
During the pandemic and lockdowns, email became the number one communication channel for companies around the world. As they were trying to ensure the best deliverability for their messages, brands relied even more on our service. So, we’ve intensified our own email marketing campaigns. We wanted to communicate with our customers to let them know they can count on us. On top of that, through our newsletters, we shared the best resources to help them succeed with their own email marketing.
They actually performed better than pre-COVID as most people have been working remotely and check their emails more frequently from what we have seen. We have also seen a boost in engagement as well as opens but since we do work in the email deliverability space, we have seen more aggressive filtering than ever before.
Others focused more on supporting their customers.
As for the frequency of our email campaigns, it didn’t undergo big changes. As a B2B company, we have minor to no physical interaction with our clients, so we didn’t have to send notifications on shop closure, changed work hours, safety measures, etc. Also, we didn’t have to freeze our promos due to temporary irrelevancy. Additionally, we provided expert tips and advice on how to adjust marketing strategies to the COVID-19 crisis but they were sent within our regular newsletters.
For others, the numbers stayed about the same in 2020, which, with thousands of businesses going out of business, can certainly be considered a success too.
While we’ve seen a slight decrease in email engagement, we’ve seen engagement increase in other areas, like our product and partnerships.
Luckily for us, we saw a stable open rate and conversion rate for our email campaigns during the pandemic. While the numbers did not soar high, it did not dip down majorly [relieved].
What do you plan to try in 2021?
Among our respondents, we observed several repeating trends.
For some, interactivity will be the key in the years to come. This is not surprising at all. More and more often, we can observe videos and GIFs embedded in emails, interactive forms, and creative use of images in all sorts of situations. With the advancement in technology, the trend is likely to only strengthen in 2021.
Building on the wealth of resources and guides Kinsta has, we’ll be delivering even more rich content, how-tos, video tutorials, and more to your inbox.
We’re planning to use more videos in our future campaigns & worry slightly less about the quality of looking like we’re recording live from a studio. Even on TV, you can see late-night show hosts joining from their homes with normal, every-day backgrounds. In other words, we’re going to go for authenticity & usefulness for our audience.
In 2021 we’re going to lean heavily into personalization and interactivity. We want every communication an individual receives to feel like it was custom-made for them. We also want to continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible with email, adding interactive elements to delight our database while also removing friction from the purchase process.
We’re planning to use more interactive functionality within our newsletters such as surveys, quizzes, and image carousels. It’s more important than ever to personalize your customer experience using dynamic emails. Along that same theme, we’re focusing on improving our engagement with transactional emails using MailerSend. Every email interaction is an opportunity to build a stronger customer relationship.
Collecting feedback from their user base will be the focus for some in 2021.
Our aim is to create more engaging content and get to know our users a lot better. We’re working on a lot of new features for Mailtrap and want to understand better their pains and priorities. That’s why every opportunity to interact with them is priceless for us.
In terms of email design, AMP and Dark Mode are our two main priorities. The AMP technology enables you to take action straight inside the email without being directed to new pages. We’ve already used the AMP form to collect customer feedback. It worked well, so we’re planning to extend its applications. And Dark Mode optimization will help our customers read our emails the way that is the most acceptable and comfortable for them.
We are planning on trying to generate more user feedback through our email campaigns. Until now, our email campaigns consisted of welcome emails, onboarding series, product announcements, and general newsletters.
We will apply A/B testing for our new onboarding email and collect more feedback with email campaigns about our new interface.
Segmentation and providing a better experience will be also the focus for many.
When it comes to email marketing, we’ve always chosen the approach of helping over selling, especially right now. We want to provide our customers with an amazing email marketing tool that allows them to achieve their goals and be a trusted resource they turn to for educational content and tips that help their businesses thrive.
A large contributor towards providing customers with what they need is utilizing segmentation. Segmenting our leads based on various factors, like areas of interest, website behavior, or email engagement helps us to personalize our content so that each email we send has an intent and provides value.
Since eSputnik offers extensive functionality for email segmentation and personalization, we ourselves test all the features firsthand. Pre-scheduled extra messages based on campaign activity is the recent feature we’ve introduced, and we’re planning to use it in our own newsletters and promo offers. We also want to try personalized promo codes and personalized product recommendations for blog newsletters. Hope it’ll help us deliver the most relevant content to every subscriber.
2021 will be the time for new experiments.
We plan on experimenting with various engagement campaigns especially during some of the holidays such as Easter coming up in a few months. We plan on making them fun as with COVID much has shifted remotely and social distancing is still being enforced so we are looking for ways to keep the holiday spirits up with the means that we have.
I rebooted my email marketing & strategy newsletter, each has a test and shares the outcomes + there are a lot of innovations/experiments on the to-do list – like creating some AMP email functions.
Last but not least, consistency and clarity should be of the utmost value for most (if not all) email marketers.
We’d like to maintain clear communication between our company and its customers. In the upcoming email campaigns we want to be transparent, build a lasting relationship with recipients, and keep them close, so they can always be aware of our company action plan. We’d like to show them Elastic Email from our point of view – the dedicated, passionate people that want to help them send better and more impactful emails. We also would like to roll out a few automated campaigns to keep recipients in the loop without delays.
We want to continue being consistent in 2021, as consistent as we were this year. Consistency pays.It was fascinating to see our subscribers engage with our emails— whether newsletters or promotional campaigns. In times of crisis, people value information and guidance, and we want to continue providing both.
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What would be your advice for email marketers heading into 2021?
Finally, we asked our guests to share their tips for all the email marketers out there. Here’s what they said.
Show the human side of the brand. Customers are human beings and they want to know that they’re interacting with other humans. It’s especially important in the more remote times that we got to live in, when live human interactions are limited. It can happen via many different email channels – newsletters, product or shipping updates, support tickets, and others. Show the faces behind the company. Sign each email with someone’s name and include an unusual closing line. Add a personalized message with every order you ship. Make each interaction memorable and customers will reward you in time.
We are seeing a shift in marketing where businesses focus more of their efforts on retaining current customers rather than fighting for new ones. In our 5 email marketing trends for 2021, one of the key trends focuses on personalization at scale. Personalization at scale refers to the opportunity that transactional emails will play in building stronger connections with your customers. The ability to create automated workflows based on triggers means that emails can be sent at exactly the right time with a personalized message.
I think personalization is going to be more important in 2021 than ever before. Seek to truly understand your personas and create unique email communications for each of them. With many more businesses moving online during the pandemic, it will be harder than ever to stand out in the Inbox. A personalized, relevant, and timely email should ensure you make it to the top of the inbox every time!
“You have nothing to fear, but fear itself” has never been more true. When it comes to the style of your emails, don’t do what everybody else does because you won’t end up anywhere new. In your strategy and tactics, dare to be different and stick with it.
Mobile commerce would get more and more relevant to any business. A smartphone is going to replace a physical store or at least substitute it to a great extent. If you’re not on that smartphone, you’re not on the market. AMP for websites, voice optimization, light apps, one-click ordering, smart chatbots, responsive emails, personalized mobile pushes, and SMS are the technologies to pay attention to.
Advanced segmentation is another big thing to focus on. Many brands have learned to track and collect behavioral data but few know how to benefit from it. Learn to build flexible microsegments that will respond to any change in customer’s preferences and you’ll be able to deliver the relevant content to the right people at the right time.
Automated messages and creating a meaningful dialogue between brands is something that will definitely have a great impact on 2021 email marketing. We should continue to create hyper-personalized content and build emails that will resonate with individuals instead of focusing on broad although generic messages. We should also concentrate more on the aesthetic parts of the emails, as people pay even more attention than ever, to how the content is presented.
My main advice will be to start caring more about your email list & start building it – if you haven’t done so already. Last year was especially difficult for those who haven’t collected their databases properly – including maintaining the proper list hygiene or paying attention to the consents. If you’ve got a good quality list, you’re off to a good start and can run effective marketing campaigns that go beyond just one channel.
Email remains a super-popular marketing channel and its use is expected to increase more and more in the coming years. That is why I suggest that in 2021 you take the opportunity to improve aspects of your email marketing that will help you survive and thrive when the pandemic is over. Work on future engaging content, update your old content that is still relevant today, organize your campaigns and messages in a better editorial calendar, refine the design of your email templates, adapt or reinvent your email strategy while continuing to deliver valuable content to your audience.
Video clips, animation, and bite-sized information is great for email, but don’t forget about your long-form, unique, and complete resources too.
The common thread from all the trends/predictions 2021 is making the email more personal, humanizing, and it is the first year ever that empathy is a keyword. A very practical, quick to do tactic. Try and add 2 emails to any flow or email series you have. One “normal” and one without much design / looking plain text.
My advice would be to keep sending quality email campaigns frequently, filter your list constantly, and most importantly, making sure emails are landing in the inbox because if they aren’t, then there will be no opens and no progress!
Microsegmentation through dynamic content is going to give smart marketers a leg up in the inbox. A core lesson from 2020 is that there is always diversity, even as people get segmented into groups. Even if you’re segmenting your users, you can go a step further and appeal to key characteristics in the inbox. For instance, if a core segment is teachers, much of your email messages may be the same, but you may want to send a different offer to teachers holding a class on Zoom than teachers working in the classroom.
Take a good look at your email list for 2021. With more competition for the inbox than ever, you want to make sure that the people on your list want to hear from you and that you aren’t sabotaging your deliverability by sending emails to subscribers who are never going to open or click, hurting your engagement and deliverability.
The primary goal is to ensure that your emails land in the primary tab of your users (if the majority of your users are using Gmail like ours). Secondly, I think it is safe to say that your email subject line determines your email’s fate. So my advice would be to get all technicalities fixed and work on your email content.
Use email verification tools to increase email deliverability.
Many thanks for reading. Also, thank you to our wonderful partners who agreed to share their thoughts in this article. Stay in touch with the content we publish on our blog by subscribing to our newsletter.
And, on behalf of the whole Mailtrap team, I would like to wish you the very best year, full of the success and growth your business certainly deserves.