Email marketing has been around for two decades — and it's showing no signs of dying any time soon. In spite of newer, cooler-sounding channels like social media and mobile marketing, email marketing has proved to be one of the most effective and sustainable ways to reach customers and grow a small business.
Thanks to technology, email marketing is continuously evolving. From laboriously managing lists and manually sending text-only emails, a plethora of email marketing solutions now offer advanced systems that let you send automated, beautifully designed rich-media messages that convert and deliver a decent return on investment (ROI). And there is so much more to come.
To help you stay ahead of the tech curve and gain an edge on competitors, here are five tools that are changing email marketing and how you can use them for your small business. [The Future of Email Marketing]
1. E-commerce: Transactional email
What: Transactional emails can change the way online stores cross- or up-sell their products and services. Considered as one of the hidden opportunities in email marketing, transactional emails like order confirmations, delivery notifications, receipts, password reminders and other transaction-related messages are almost guaranteed to be delivered and read by customers. For this reason, transactional emails are an excellent way to suggest additional items customers might like and add to their orders, distribute promotions and coupon codes, and announce future sales and special events.
Solution: Check out Campaigner. Its new SMTP Relay feature helps businesses harness the power of transactional emails to build relationships with customers. The service guarantees increased open rates and delivery to help businesses boost revenue from customers already interested in their products and services.
2. Mobile: Responsive email templates
What: Responsive email templates can change the way your emails are opened, viewed and acted on by customers. Just like responsive Web design, responsive email templates ensure that your emails are seen the way they are meant to be seen. They automatically adjust to a customer's device — desktop, tablet or mobile — for the most optimized view based on screen size.
Moreover, data from the U.S. Consumer Device Preference Report revealed that 65 percent of emails are being opened on smartphones, making it more important than ever to use an email marketing service that offers this feature. Because if a customer can't read your email properly the first time, or if they have to bother with zooming and endless scrolling on a small screen, it will likely be trashed and future emails will probably be ignored.
Solution: Check out Campaign Monitor, which specializes in optimizing emails across all devices. The service lets you create your own template, which you can easily design using drag-and-drop elements — no coding skills required. It also gives you the option of choosing from pre-made, mobile-ready templates so you can get started right away. If you are a little more tech-savvy or you have a Web programmer on your team, Campaign Monitor lets you edit templates using open language CSS and HTML.
[For a side-by-side comparison of the best email marketing services, visit our sister site Business.com.]
3. Engagement: Video emails
What: Adding videos to your emails can change the way customers engage with your brand. It's a growing trend that few businesses have yet to master, but those who have mastered video email gain an edge over their competitors. A 2013 study revealed that 55 percent of marketers who used video email marketing saw higher click-through rates, while 44 percent saw an increase in how long customers viewed emails; 41 percent also experienced more shares and forwards.
This year, KISSmetrics, an analytics company, predicted that video marketing will continue to grow, as it delivers more of an impact to consumers, saves time getting your message across, and offers the potential to go viral. Additionally, videos can be repurposed throughout other marketing channels and social media, giving businesses a boost in search engine optimization.
Solution: Check out MailChimp, which offers several ways to include video codes in your email marketing campaigns. Most email providers don't support video players in emails, but MailChimp provides three work-arounds. These include auto-converting embedded videos that you've already posted on your website or blog, manually linking to your videos with screenshots and video merge tags for YouTube, Vimeo and other online video-streaming services.
4. List management: Big data and predictive analytics
What: Big Data and predictive analytics can change the way you manage email lists to better segment and target customers for more successful email marketing campaigns. These advanced reporting tools can help you discover what's truly working and what isn't — by revealing key insights such as trends, how customers are interacting with emails, the ways demographics impact customer behaviors, and how purchase and Web-browsing histories are predictive of future behaviors — so you can make wiser data-driven decisions when it comes to your marketing spend.
Solutions: Check out BlueHornet email marketing solutions, which aims to increase ROI for small businesses by offering a wide range of advanced analytics and reporting tools. The service can help you segment lists based on clicks, as well as target customers using social media and mobile behaviors. It also offers features like data visualization, custom reports and email testing. Additionally, BlueHornet gives you access to delivery management reports to uncover how emails are treated by customers and email providers; this includes complaint rates, spam rates, bounce rates, blacklists and block lists.
Another option is to integrate small business-friendly Big Data solutions and customer relationship management (CRM) software into your email marketing campaigns. Using these additional tools, you'll discover even more insights into customer behavior and how this data can boost your email marketing campaigns.
5. Delivery: Wearable technology
What: Wearable technology — particularly smartwatches — will change not only the way people communicate, but how they access, read and act upon emails. Apple Watch is set to arrive in early 2015, and Android Wear has already claimed its stake with several smartwatches on the market. Just as email marketers have had to adapt and cater emails to smartphones and tablets, they'll have to optimize emails for even smaller screens and thus far unpredictable wearable-based consumer behavior.
Solutions: There are currently no wearables-friendly email marketing solutions available, but there are several best practices that industry analysts have already began to surmise. Marketing research firm eMarketer reports that wearables have a much smaller window of opportunity for emails to convert and that interaction will be limited. Instead, businesses should focus on touch-based engagement and single-touch responses, not two-thumb typing and multi-tap browsing, as customers usually would with other mobile devices.