The Evolution of Marketing by Email

Marketing by email has been a mainstay of the marketer’s arsenal ever since the early days of the Internet. The first moment that some tech savvy marketer realized that email was a viable tool for distributing brand information the marketing world was changed forever. Things have changed a lot since those early days, and in the rapidly evolving world of web marketing they continue to change rapidly, even in the last five years.

Let’s take a look at how the email landscape has changed since 2008 and hopefully we might glean some insight into where marketing by email will be headed in the next five years.

Since 2008 most marketers now require much less information during the opt-in process for new subscribers, according to the experts at Return Path. That report concluded that out of the 76 companies they surveyed in 2013 and the 61 they surveyed in 2008 around 33% only require a new subscriber’s email address to opt-in today. That is compared to only 20% of marketers that were satisfied with only an email address circa 2008.

Surprisingly – or perhaps not surprisingly depending on what camp you’re in – collecting less information has not appeared to hurt marketers or the effectiveness of their message. Comparative analysis of marketers who collected only emails vs collecting more information showed no notable change in inbox placement, read rates or click-through rates.

Another notable change in the past 5 years is the adoption of new unsubscribe practices aimed at retaining more subscribers. The report claims that 25% of brands now offer some kind of “opt-down” option to subscribers that allows them to adjust the frequency of emails. Only a handful of brands offered this choice just 5 years ago. Another shocking development that might surprise many people is that 22% of brands will ask customers for feedback as they unsubscribe (a practice this writer had assumed was commonplace), while only 3% employed this practice in 2008.

Welcome messages and personalization have also made major shifts since 2008. The number of brands that sent new subscribers a welcome message has doubled since 2008, with 80% sending messages today. Personalization has actually been on a downward trend since 2008, with only 22% using customized names and locations, down from 25% in 2008. This trend might be representative of subscribers becoming more savvy to the capabilities of marketing by email; fewer people are impressed by a custom name than in previous years.

While these trends are far from a certain predictor of the future of marketing by email, it is still valuable for marketers to remember where they came from in order to plan where they are headed. Following these trends can lead to a better understanding of what has worked, what still works, and what very well might work in the future.

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