Email marketing is constantly evolving, so it can be difficult to know where to invest your time and energy from year to year. It’s extra challenging in turbulent times like these, when the economic environment, consumer behaviors, and business goals are shifting rapidly.
To help you prioritize your email marketing efforts this year, we surveyed Oracle Marketing Consulting’s more than 500 digital marketing experts, asking them to rate the current adoption of a range of email marketing technologies and tactics, as well as their predicted impact during 2023. We then mapped the results into adoption-impact quadrants.
In this post, we’re looking at the Competitive Differentiators, which are in the low adoption–high impact quadrant. The technologies and tactics in this quadrant are not completely proven, but some companies are already seeing great results from using them. They offer a significant competitive advantage with considerably less risk than our Unproven Opportunities.
But, there are still risks, including the acquisition of smaller providers, frequent process and feature changes as the technology stabilizes, frequent changes in best practices as knowledge grows, changing cost structures, scarcity of needed skills, and other issues. These hassles and expenses are easier to accept, however, because many adopters are already seeing sizable returns on their investments. Their willingness to accept some uncertainty in exchange for good returns gives them a distinct advantage over their competitors, most of whom have yet to embrace these tactics and technologies.
Of the 26 trends we surveyed our digital marketing consultants about, eight of them were rated as being in the low adoption–high impact quadrant for 2023. Let’s talk about each of them in turn.
E. AI-powered subject line and copywriting tools
ChatGPT, Bard, and other generative AI services have garnered an incredible amount of attention recently, and have marketers asking themselves anew whether these kinds of tools should have a place in their workflows. For years, marketers have had access to narrower AI tools focused just on writing email subject lines and other marketing copy that suggest words and phrases based on the previous reactions of your audience—or, when that isn’t available, the reactions of other brands’ audiences.
At best, ChatGPT and Bard are in their awkward adolescence, where they need aggressive parental supervision due to their looseness with the truth and propensity for disturbing behavior. But even the narrower tools that have been around for several years have a way to go. While accuracy is less of an issue, off-brand suggestions are common. But more importantly, the return on investment just isn’t very compelling currently.
That said, given the tens of billions of dollars being invested in generative AI, brands should expect these tools to rapidly improve. They should also expect more price competition, which will improve ROIs.
Without a doubt, AI copy tools will play a significant role in marketing’s future. Brands that experiment with it now should have a distinct advantage in the years ahead.
F. Brand Indicators for Message Identification
As a reward to brands that fully authenticate their marketing emails using SPF, DKIM, and DMARC, Brand Indicators for Message Identification (BIMI) has been only modestly successful because of a complicated and costly setup process and limited support. However, the latter is changing due to Apple announcing support for the standard last year.
Its support comes with additional requirements for mail providers like Gmail and Yahoo. However, both of those providers have indicated they will be making those changes in the coming months. When they do, marketers who adopt BIMI can expect their logo to appear with more than 90% of the emails they send on average, according to Litmus’s Email Client Market Share data. That’s up from the roughly 33% of emails that appear with BIMI support as of this month. This greatly expanded support will turn BIMI from a nice-to-have to a must-have—at least for larger brands that can afford the setup costs.
“BIMI has been picking up a lot of steam for my clients heading into 2023,” says Pete Hall, Senior Strategic Consultant for Analytic & Strategic Services at Oracle Marketing Consulting. “That’s despite the fact that there are lingering questions about the long-term return on investment from it, especially as adoption rises and the novelty wears off.”
G. AI-powered product and content recommendations
For businesses with lots of products like retailers, lots of services like travel companies, or lots of content like media companies, AI-powered content recommendations are the only viable way to truly personalize at scale. For many companies, even very sophisticated manual methods of matching content to recipients leaves a ton of money on the table.
But it’s not just about better performance, says Kaiti Gary, Senior Director of Analytic & Strategic Services at Oracle Marketing Consulting. “AI-powered capabilities are enabling marketers to put their data to work with less time spent manually setting up, testing, optimizing, and re-testing, which ensures that results are real-time relevant. This will be an area of growth over the next few years as technologies improve and marketplace adoption rises.”
In fact, of all the trends rated by our consultants, AI-powered recommendations had the biggest gap between the level of current perceived adoption and its anticipated impact—for the second year in a row. In other words, this trend offers the biggest competitive advantage currently.
H. Subscriber acquisition source optimization
As during past economic slowdowns, marketers are placing more emphasis on their email marketing programs as a way to drive sales efficiently. However, that focus is being intensified by platform privacy changes that threaten brands’ ability to recognize and cater to their customers, says James Keating, Client Partner at Oracle Marketing Consulting.
“The sunsetting of third-party cookies and the introduction of App Tracking Transparency and Mail Privacy Protection by Apple are putting added pressure on companies,” he says. “Every business is racing to build out their first-party audiences and to increase their collection of zero- and first-party data to mitigate the loss of scale, reach, and insight caused by these changes.”
In addition to optimizing your email signup forms to maximize appeal and minimize abandonment, try to turn more of your email addresses on file into opt-ins, boost your list growth by reducing list churn, and use our Audience Acquisition Source Ideas checklist to ensure you’re not missing out on any worthwhile ways to safely grow your list.
I. Customer data platform (CDP)
CDPs like Oracle Unity are not only a central repository of customer data, but they keep this data clean, control access to this data, provide analytic capabilities, and make it available for activation via marketing and other systems in real-time.
“Data integrity will continue to be the key conversation in 2023,” says Jen Healey, Director of Analytic & Strategic Services at Oracle Marketing Consulting. “Data disparity continues to be a struggle with even the biggest brands. Marketers need to right their ship, connect the dots with customers, and figure out how they leverage zero- and first-party data.”
In addition to being an important trend in its own right, we see CDPs as underpinning several other major email marketing trends, including omnichannel orchestration, advanced analytics, personalization, segmentation, and automation.
J. Personalized landing pages
The personalization of emails has long been recognized as a critical tactic—but then subscribers click through to generic landing pages. More and more brands are coming around to the need to personalize their landing pages as well, pulling in content related to not only the current email interaction but to past interactions across channels.
“People don’t like wasting time navigating to multiple pages when it comes to learning about or buying anything online,” says Puneet Singhal, Associate B2B Consultant at Expert Services at Oracle Marketing Consulting. “Brands need to provide their subscribers with personalized landing pages so they can get what they want in the least possible amount of time to avoid losing them.”
The simple truth is that the landing pages associated with an email campaign have a huge effect on the campaign’s results. Personalized landing pages boost a campaign’s bottom-of-the-funnel performance.
K. Dark mode–optimized email designs
Instead of the usual dark text on a light background, dark mode features the reverse: light text and a dark background. It’s a major trend in user interface experiences across a wide range of apps, including email clients, and many consumers like it. Around 34% of emails are viewed in dark mode, according to Litmus.
“Not only are more and more of our clients thinking about this user experience, but it has become baked into their core email design, not a last-minute add to a particular campaign,” says Elizabeth Thomas, Senior Art Director for Creative Services at Oracle Marketing Consulting. “Now they’re looking at their color palette in dark mode at the start of the campaign and we talk about how to control the design for certain scenarios.”
Unfortunately, like so many other aspects of email rendering, dark mode is implemented differently across the inboxes where it is supported. That means, marketers need to use a range of email client–specific fixes to have their emails look good in dark mode everywhere.
An indicator of how tricky this can be, our consultants downgraded dark mode–optimized design from a Proven Essential last year to a Competitive Differentiator this year based on what they saw as a dip in adoption.
L. CSS-based email interactivity
Using CSS and HTML, email marketers are able to add interactive components to their emails that consumers are used to seeing on websites, including:
However, this interactivity isn’t supported everywhere, with Gmail’s decision to support AMP for Email instead of CSS-based interactivity being a major hindrance.
After a sizable jump in adoption last year, this year our consultants see usage holding steady, as marketers look to simplify email production going into the economic downturn.
Trends on the move
Readers of our post on 2022’s Competitive Differentiators might recognize that two trends are missing from this year’s group of low adoption–high impact trends: account-based marketing and omnichannel orchestration. Both have moved over to our Proven Essentials quadrant.
You might also notice that we have three new Competitive Differentiators this year. Subscriber acquisition source optimization, personalized landing pages, and dark mode–optimized email designs are all back from spending a year as Proven Essentials. Our consultants just didn’t see the adoption of these tactics and technologies maintaining their momentum. With their long-term potential still strong, these semi-proven trends perhaps represent particularly safe investments.
For a full look at all 26 email marketing trends to watch for in 2023, also check out our posts that examine:
Also, for a better understanding of how all of these email marketing trends are evolving, check out our Email Marketing Trends posts from last year:
Chad S. White is the Head of Research at Oracle Marketing Consulting and the author of four editions of Email Marketing Rules and nearly 4,000 posts about digital and email marketing. A former journalist, he’s been featured in more than 100 publications, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Advertising Age. Chad was named the ANA's 2018 Email Marketer Thought Leader of the Year. Follow him on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Mastodon.