Email Marketing Trends for 2020: Competitive Differentiators

February 11, 2020 | 9 minute read
Chad S. White
Head of Research, Oracle Digital Experience Agency
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In the ever-changing world of email marketing, it can be difficult to know where to invest your time and energy. To help you prioritize your email marketing efforts this year, we surveyed Oracle CX 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 2020. We then mapped the results into adoption-impact quadrants.

Today, we’re going to look at the Competitive Differentiators, which are those tactics and technologies in the low adoption–high impact quadrant. The technologies and tactics in this quadrant are not completely proven, but 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 rapidly evolves, changing cost structures, scarcity of needed skills, and other issues. These hassles and expenses are easier to accept, however, because most adopters are already seeing a sizable return on investment. Their willingness to accept some uncertainty in exchange for good returns, gives them a distinct advantage over most of their competitors, who have yet to embrace these tactics and technologies.

Of the 26 trends we surveyed our digital marketing consultants about, they put 14 of them in the low adoption–high impact quadrant for 2020. Let’s talk about each of them in turn…

E. Dark Mode–Optimized Emails

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. 

“Dark mode is here to stay,” says John A. Lillard, Principal Consultant for Implementation Services at Oracle CX Marketing Consulting. “Unfortunately, it’s not an easy fix. Forcing your email to stay in light-mode isn’t a good answer. It’s better to let your clients choose, and that may mean doing some tough work on the creative side to make sure that colors will change as intended.”

For a deep dive into this issue, check out our advice on how marketers should adapt to dark mode for email.

F. Email Annotations in Gmail

Gmail displays Email Annotations in the place of traditional preview text in the inbox under certain circumstances for emails in Gmail’s Promotions Tab when those emails have had Email Annotations coded into them. Email Annotations can give your emails a significant advantage in visibility, but taking the time to add the annotation coding to your email doesn’t guarantee any additional visibility.

Because of this uncertainty, Email Annotations may not make sense for your company. To figure out if it does, check out our examination of the opportunities and concerns with Email Annotations.

G. AI-Powered Email Copywriting Tools

“A major trend for 2020 is the role of data and AI tactics,” says Otilia Antipa, Principal B2B Consultant at Oracle CX Marketing Consulting. “We have more data than ever, and AI puts it into action, truly reshaping and redefining how we look at automation. Whether you’re looking at AI-powered subject line and copywriting tools or at product and content recommendations, AI will drive efficiencies and provide insights for quick decision-making.”

While we firmly believe that AI copywriting tools have a bright future, there are near-term challenges. However, over time, more competition, lower infrastructure costs, and perhaps different pricing models will change the return on investment calculus that have caused some of our clients to walk away from this technology.

“Testing capabilities like this can drive value for your business,” says Peter Briggs, Director of Strategic Services, Oracle Marketing Cloud Consulting. “You just need to have a plan, internal alignment, and clear understanding for what will equal success.”

For a deeper dive, read our advice on how to use AI subject line and copywriting tools successfully. Also, keep in mind that this is just the latest of six ways that subject line writing has changed over the years.

H. AI-Powered Content Recommendations

AI-powered copywriting is great, but AI-powered content recommendations are more established and significantly more impactful, according to our consultants. 

“AI is the buzzword in the industry—really, in the world—at the moment,” says Jarrod Browning, Project Manager in APAC for Oracle CX Marketing Consulting. “Anything that can make data-driven decisions that the client can trust and not waste time on themselves is a big asset.”

Especially for businesses with lots of products like retailers or lots of content like media companies, AI is by far the most effective way to personalize your emails with highly relevant content. Thanks to advancements in AI, we’re getting closer and closer to fulfilling the ideal of true one-to-one marketing.

I. Personalized Landing Pages

Landing pages are the critical last mile of most conversions. Using personalized landing pages allows your company to create interaction journeys that are unified and cohesive by taking into consideration not only their action in the email that brought them to the landing page, but their historical behavior, too.

Personalized landing pages, like the ones that Oracle Maxymiser makes possible, build upon the personalized email experiences that customers value so much. Email personalization is a trend that’s already in our high-adoption–high-impact quadrant. Soon, we expect that personalized landing pages will be there, too, as part of a powerful one-two punch.

J. RFM Modeling for Targeting

Recency, frequency, and monetary (RFM) modeling gives you an effective way of measuring the engagement and value of your email subscribers. This data can be used to create audience segments for email segmentation purposes or for email personalization purposes

The value for marketers is that it allows you to send more relevant messages and to optimize the frequency at which you email different kinds of subscribers. That allows you to boost your engagement rates, which increases your deliverability, and to reduce email fatigue and list churn, which improves your list growth and subscriber lifetime value.

Subscribers are constantly giving senders feedback on whether they’re sending the right email content at the right frequency for them. RFM modeling is a helpful way of reading that feedback and then using it to send email more strategically.

K. Account-Based Marketing (ABM)

Rather than focusing on industries or markets, account-based marketing focuses on, well, accounts. It helps business focus on building and maintaining business opportunities at select high-value accounts, rather than a huge number of small-value accounts. For the organizations that it’s appropriate for, it’s having a big impact.

“Account-Based-Everything continues to prevail in the B2B space,” says Autumn Coleman, Consulting Technical Manager at Oracle CX Marketing Consulting. “Clients are looking for ways to automate contact-to-account linkage and tiering for advanced segmentation and personalization techniques.”

To help power their ABM efforts, our clients are turning to data appending tools like Oracle DataFox, and web identification tools like Oracle Infinity and CX Unity.

L. Omnichannel Orchestration

While the average consumer in the early ’00s typically used two touch-points when buying an item, consumers today use an average of almost six touch-points, according to research by Aberdeen, Oracle, and Relationship One.

That makes it essential that you’re able to see customer activity across channels and respond across those channels to create a seamless and smooth omnichannel customer experience. That’s the ideal, but it’s challenging. So, set small goals to connect everything together a little more tightly.

“We’ve been talking about omnichannel orchestration for years in the marketing community, but the technology has now caught up to the concept,” says Kaiti (Livermore) Gary, Director of Strategic Services at Oracle CX Marketing Consulting. “With easier and faster integrations between various parts of the marketing tech stack, it’s now easier than ever to execute on omnichannel strategies.”

M. CSS-Based Email Interactivity 

One of the most dramatic changes to email over the past several years has been the rise of interactive emails. Using CSS and HTML, email marketers are able are add interactive components to their emails, including:

  • Hamburger menus

  • Carrousels, accordions, and tabbed content

  • Hot spots and hover effects

  • Radio button selections and form fields

“These advancements open up the ability to build messages with similar interactive features that you engage with on websites,” says Nick Cantu, Senior Art Director for Creative Services at Oracle CX Marketing Consulting. “This adds to the overall experience and encourages your recipients to explore.”

Email interactivity goes hand in hand with another design trend: minimalism. “Interactive carousels and accordions allow email recipients to engage deeper with content of interest within the email environment while allowing you to keep the base message of your communication clean and simple,” says Kathryn Alva, Associate Creative Director for Creative Services at Oracle CX Marketing Consulting. “They’re a great way of including additional content without cluttering up the email or adding unnecessary length.”

CSS-based interactivity isn’t supported everywhere, but is strongly supported across Apple’s email clients. Of course, Google’s AMP for Email standard is another way to create interactive email experience, but our consultants still consider it an Unproven Opportunity. For now, CSS-based email interactivity is the safer bet.

N. Send Time Optimization

When is the best time to send email? This is one of the most popular email marketing questions ever. It has also become a rather dated question. The better question is: When is the best time to send email to each of my subscribers?

To answer that question, you need AI, which examines each of your subscribers’ open time histories to come up with the best answer for a given email send to each of them. And then as your subscribers engage with subsequent sends, the optimal send time for each of your subscribers is adjusted.

“Send time optimization is a simple, easy-to-implement feature that has an immediate positive impact on performance outcomes,” says Ben Green, Technical Services Consultant in APAC for Oracle CX Marketing Consulting.

O. Multivariate Email Testing

A/B testing is an effective way to listen to the preferences of your subscribers. But it can be slow, since you’re limited to testing two versions that differ in one way, such as each version having a different hero image, headline, or call to action.

Of course, you don’t have that limitation if you’re doing multivariate testing, which allows you to test multiple elements within a single email at the same time. In addition to allowing you to iterate more quickly and therefore learn more quickly, multivariate testing offers greater insights into the combinations of the elements you’re testing. For example, it can tell you if hero image A works better with headline A or B or C, and which ones work better with hero image B.

In addition to other A/B testing pitfalls, multivariate testing has the added challenge of needing lots more data to reach conclusive results. So this tactic is only for those brands with really large lists.

P. Live or Real-Time Content

Most email content is determined at the time of send, but live content is determined at the time of open. It can increase the relevance of your emails by keeping your content up to date.

The best use cases for live content involve content that changes rapidly, such as:

  • Countdown timers

  • Live poll results

  • Sports scores

  • Local map based on subscriber’s location

  • Local weather based on subscriber’s location

  • Ad inventory for items that are time-sensitive, have limited quantities, etc.

While vendors, such as Movable Ink and Liveclicker, facilitate and host live content, companies can also create live content using the fledgling AMP for Email standard. For some, the live content capabilities of AMP for Email will be more attractive than its interactive elements, but the standard still has significant drawbacks at this point.

Q. Inclusive Design & Email Accessibility

Accessibility is mostly about after-the-fact accommodations for people with disabilities, while inclusive design is about designing with the full spectrum of human abilities in mind from the beginning. It’s the difference between adding wheelchair ramps to a building and designing buildings that don’t have ramps but are still easily accessible for people in wheelchairs, injured people using crutches, delivery workers, and parents with strollers.

“Doing the right thing has not always been seen as the right thing for the bottom line, but in the age of social media and value-driven Millennials, values matter,” says Kristin McCambridge, Senior UX Designer for Creative Services, Oracle CX Marketing Consulting. “Plus, every brand knows that a larger addressable audience is one of the keys to success.”

R. Advanced Performance Analytics  

Basic analytics provide basic insights. And as more companies shift from campaign marketing to audience and relationship marketing, those basic insights aren’t nearly enough.

“Clients are pushing the boundaries with reporting and are no longer satisfied with simple metrics like click and open engagement,” says Ferris Boyd, Principal B2B Consultant at Oracle CX Marketing Consulting. “2020 will continue this trend and companies will work toward reports and dashboards that highlight conversion, velocity, lifetime value, and ROI in order to show value in their marketing efforts.”

The metrics your company tracks and uses as key performance indicators are indications of your corporate values. What do your metrics say about your company’s culture and priorities?

These are just a few of the email marketing trends to watch for in 2020. For a look at more technologies and tactics, check out our posts that examine our... 


Need help exploring these email marketing trends? Oracle CX Marketing Consulting has more than 500 of the leading marketing minds ready to help you to achieve more with the leading marketing cloud, including teams dedicated to Strategic Services, Email Deliverability Services, and Creative Services.

Learn more or reach out to us at

For more information about email marketing and the tools that help you drive success, check out Oracle CX Marketing.

Chad S. White

Head of Research, Oracle Digital Experience Agency

Chad S. White is the Head of Research at Oracle Digital Experience Agency 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.

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