Snapchat, Instagram, mobile, RFID, wearables, Internet of Things, email… they’re some of the most talked about channels for marketing today.
But when you look at that list, something stands out. Alongside the latest and greatest (and in some cases sci fi-esque) marketing capabilities, sits email. That’s right — the same email that’s been around for decades, or at least some version of it, continues to be the foundation of retail marketing programs, even as new channels emerge with great promise (and hype).
In fact, email remains the preferred communication channel for consumers as well as the chief driver of online revenue and biggest customer retention channel for retailers. With clout like that, it’s clear that email isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, but I thought it would be interesting to take a look back at why we continue to see innovation in the email channel.
We’re Experiencing a New Wave of Innovation in Email
Although the consumer internet is a little more than 20 years old, email marketing has been evolving for more than 40 years. The first email was sent back in the 1970s, email started to hit the mainstream from the late 1980s to the early 1990s and it really took off in the mid 1990s. Throughout the 1990s and into the early 2000s, we saw significant innovation in email, especially as it relates to eCommerce email marketing, what with the rise of email service providers (ESPs) that made sending large volumes of email possible.
But since then, the field has been relatively quiet… until now. We’re currently seeing a new wave of innovation in the retail email marketing space, driven largely by the rise of new solutions designed to augment the capabilities offered by ESPs.
Of course this recent onslaught of activity, especially after a decade-plus of minimal innovation, creates an interesting phenomenon. Most notably, it begs the questions: Why is this innovation happening now and what does this innovation look like?
Why We’re Suddenly Seeing a New Wave of Innovation in Email
The simplest answer to the question of “why now” is because the barrier to entry for new email solutions is significantly lower. Specifically, new cloud infrastructure has made it possible for companies to bring to market entirely new solutions much faster and continuously innovate on those new solutions.
That shift has also improved the speed for retailers to introduce new solutions, which has lowered the barrier to entry for marketing teams as well. Traditionally, the process of implementing or migrating to a new email solution has been a long road that requires months of heavy lifting from internal IT resources and third party services, not to mention activities like IP warming and connecting data feeds. However, this new wave of innovation has made this process far faster and simpler.
Two Areas of Focus for the New Wave of Email Innovation
Next comes the question of what this email innovation looks like, and the answer tells quite the interesting story because the focus of this innovation has brought significant change to the email marketing space.
The first wave of innovation in email back in the 1990s was primarily focused on the bottom line: Making it easier and more cost effective to send emails at scale. This new wave of innovation in email is focused on the top line and making an already high performing channel even more successful. In particular, it’s focused on two key areas:
Emphasis on Performance
ESP solutions are generally not optimized to drive campaign performance. Rather, ESPs were designed to support volume. This goes back to the first wave of email innovation, back when sending mass marketing emails at scale was the biggest problem that needed solving. ESPs filled that gap well, and they still do today.
But as we continue to move toward more personalized marketing efforts, relevance becomes increasingly important — in some cases even more so than volume. As a result of this shift, marketers need to layer in a solution that’s focused on delivering more relevant messages to more targeted (and therefore smaller) audiences. This heightened relevance might include more intelligent product recommendations as well as new types of emails designed to react not only to customer behaviors, but also product assortment changes.
Whatever the end solution looks like, it’s important that it makes this type of personalization easy for marketers to accomplish, so as not to exacerbate the personalization gap we face today.
Most core email solutions serve a variety of industries, but we’re rapidly moving to a time when technology will be more vertical specific. That’s because vertical specific technology is designed to solve very specialized use cases that matter most to the target user. And this verticalization is especially important in the age of AI, as it allows for deeper insights.
A vertical specific solution is more actionable than a horizontal one because it has language and workflows that match users’ exact needs and were designed specifically to help solve the problems their business faces. Furthermore, having a deep, vertical focus allows AI to better understand specific types of data and business goals that are unique to different verticals. In turn, this deep and focused understanding enables it to make decisions with specific outcomes in mind.
Meanwhile, a horizontal solution that’s designed to please everyone ends up requiring users to engineer it for their specific needs, and even then its intelligence simply won’t cut deep enough to find anything more than very basic patterns in the data. Essentially, we can think of the move toward verticalization as personalization in the technology sector.
Get Ready for the Next Generation of Email
Email might not be a shiny new way to reach customers, but time and again it’s proven how valuable it can be. And with the latest wave of innovation in email we’re experiencing right now, it’s about to become an even more powerful marketing channel. With that in mind, are you ready for the next generation of email?
What exactly does the new wave of innovation in email make possible? Check out our playbook, Bluecore for Email Marketers, to find out.