2016: Predictions for the Year Ahead

Posted by Guy Hanson on

Following last week’s post that looked back over last year, we wanted to look ahead and make a few predictions for 2016 that we believe will be appearing in next year’s edition of ‘the year in review.’

These forecasts were first shared during our annual review and predictions webinar, which was hosted on February 10th and included contributions from Return Path’s Dale Langley, Matt Hayes, CEO & co-founder at KickDynamic, as well as Return Path consultants from across the globe who offered up insight from their own markets.

New year, old problems…
With more marketers coming to realise the potential of email as a platform comes more competition to stand out in a crowded inbox. This difficulty is compounded by the fact that, when things move fast content goes out of date more quickly. And this time, pressure is further exacerbated as marketers are challenged to improve and deliver more creative campaigns under the same time and resource constraints.

Thankfully, just as the technology behind email was developed to speed up our communication processes, the industry’s brightest minds are constantly working to engineer new solutions to old problems – time and lack of it being perhaps the oldest.

Email on the up (again)
It’s the innovative developments such as these that make the first of our own predictions for the New Year both easy and obvious: email will continue to grow.

According to Strongview-Selligent’s 2016 Marketing Trends report, 56% of marketers plan to increase their budget this year – and email will be a top target within that with spend outsizing social, display, and mobile.

Triggering more ROI
Another expected increase is that of triggered email implementation. Last year, triggered email continued its popularity among marketers and accounted for around 3% of email program volumes.

Based on findings from the 2015 DMA National Client Email Report, we’re predicting that this will continue into 2016 and that triggered emails will ultimately occupy 5% of program volumes, delivering 50% of program revenues.

The rise of the machine learnings1
Indeed, 2015 was the year that automation went mainstream. For 2016–and beyondwe can see this extending further to include more machine learning–applying algorithms to data to not only help with details, such as more accurate personalisation of emails but to learn from and improve on past campaigns and services more generally too.

In the past, analysing huge quantities of data has been a laborious and resource-heavy process. Machine learning is key to streamlining this; big retailers such as Amazon already use it to great effect, and as the technology becomes more accessible we can see more email marketers making use of it in the coming months and beyond.

Responding to responsive
Despite the fact that emails incorporating responsive design across all platforms have been proven to elicit higher click-through rates, marketers have been relatively slow to adapt to including responsive design for mobile. We can see this changing in 2016, and expect that the percentage of brands using responsive design in their marketing emails will tip the 50% majority mark.

However in addition to this, with the momentum of playing catchup in their favour, we also predict that 2016 could be a strong year for fluid design as an excellent, relatively simple way to optimise for mobile – particularly for email viewers that do not currently support responsive design.

Moving forward with kinetic
For those who’ve already wholeheartedly grasped responsive design, kinetic email is the next step in the move towards more interactive, dynamic content that can capitalise on the estimated 3-15 seconds the average reader spends looking at an email.

Functioning more like a web page than a traditional email message, kinetic emails incorporate responsive builds and actionable content to keep the recipient engaged. This can also be used to reduce the steps to purchase. Chad White, Litmus’ research director, has predicted that the practice could go as far as brands containing the entire shopping experience within a single email.

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Increasingly Greater Context

2015 was definitely the year that the use of contextual marketing came to be front of mind for email marketers and 2016 will see this technique going mainstream. It’s going to become standard practice for marketers to optimise their campaigns to send emails when recipients are most likely to open them, dynamically vary offers to reflect external variables such as the weather, use location tracking to tailor offers by proximity, and seamlessly integrate from social channels (twitter feeds, product reviews, etc).

The art of persuasion
Ultimately, though, if you’re not speaking to your customers in a way that they can relate to – or the way that they expect of you – then what you have to say is likely to fall on unresponsive or, worse, irritated ears.

The tone of voice, whether to write in the first or third person, use of emotionally loaded keywords, and more, all remain key considerations when implementing campaigns. In 2016, we’ll see more marketers using data and split testing to tailor persuasive language to further develop customer engagement. And if you’re looking to get started on this already, you can find our most recent guide to A/B testing.

Getting all emotional
But learning from customer responses needn’t be something that occurs only during or after a campaign. Over the next year, and into the future, we’re predicting that the increased interest in and availability of AI technology will see further uptake in the use of eye tracking and face mapping.

Data points from these readings can be used to calculate positivity, negativity and level of engagement, and are set to become a vital tool in pre-testing campaigns and planning audience segmentation.

Where will wearables go?
Elsewhere on the human body, wearables will continue to pique marketers’ interest. Apple’s eponymous iWatch is due to receive an update this year, the success of which some may view as something as a make-or-break moment for the technology.

However, with Gartner predicting that there will be around 180 million wearable devices purchased in 2017 it’s certainly a trend worth keeping half an eye on. This is a sector that’s certainly more relevant to some than others, but when you consider the importance of email and digital platforms more generally to the likes of the banking industry it’s not one that can be ignored lightly.

Marketers tighten up on security
Equally foolish to ignore, particularly for the sensitive financial sector, fraud protection is no longer a realm occupied solely by security professionals. 2015 saw its fair share of data hack scandals, and this is an issue that marketers will be more and more involved in curbing over the course of the coming year.

Email fraud is now taking place in more sectors than just finance, and is impacting more than just the direct victims of the scams: it also has a significant negative impact on deliverability and brand trust of the sender’s legitimate email program – two of any decent email marketer’s key concerns. It is worth taking a look at our recently published 2016 DMARC Intelligence Report.

More fact than fiction or prediction
And finally, something that can’t really be considered a prediction since it is now a fact. EU Data Protection Revisions will usher in new regulations around explicit consent, the right to be forgotten, breach notifications and the requirement for businesses to have a data protection officer.

Since these are regulations and not directions, they will come into effect across EU member states with immediate effect. The precise effect that the new regulations will have is yet to be understood, but it’s certainly something that all of the savvy digital marketers out there should be paying close attention to as the New Year progresses.

For further information and resources, a visit to www.dma.org.uk is recommended.

Acknowledgements:
– Kath Pay – internationally renowned digital, eCRM and email marketing expert


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About Guy Hanson

Guy is a passionate advocate for intelligent use of customer data to drive responsive email programs. With a knowledge base that now spans nearly 15 years, he is a global e-mail expert and thought leader. Leading Return Path’s International Professional Services consulting team, Guy has worked with a broad range of clients across 5 continents to improve their email delivery, subscriber engagement and revenue generated. Outside of work, Guy is the Chairman of the DMA Email Council. In this role, he works with industry peers including brands, agencies, and service providers to promote the best interests of the email industry to a broader audience. He is also a regular contributor to the industry press.

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