Email Marketing Trends for 2021: Unproven Opportunities

February 16, 2021 | 6 minute read
Chad S. White
Head of Research, Oracle Digital Experience Agency
Text Size 100%:

In the ever-changing world of email marketing, you might find it challenging to know where to invest your time and energy. It could prove extra challenging in turbulent times like these when consumer behaviors and business goals are shifting. 

To help you prioritize your email marketing efforts this year, we asked Oracle Digital Experience Agency’s hundreds of digital marketing and communications experts to rate the current adoption of multiple email marketing technologies and tactics, as well as their predicted impact during 2021. We then mapped the results into adoption-impact quadrants.

This post looks at the unproven opportunities in the low adoption–low impact quadrant. The technologies and tactics in this quadrant are not fully vetted and may not generate long-term adoption or impact. They may pose significant risks that could undermine your investment in part or entirely, including:

  • Rejection by consumers

  • Inadequate inbox provider support

  • Inadequate digital marketing platform support

  • The passage of legislative impediments 

  • And other issues

Because of those risks, most brands might find that the best strategy is likely to wait...and let others work out all the details, uncover the best practices, and stress-test the technology. However, the pioneering companies who embrace these trends at this early stage may seize a sizable competitive advantage.

We surveyed our experts about 26 trends, and they rated 3 of them as being in the low adoption–low impact quadrant for 2021. Let’s talk about each of them in turn.

A. AMP for Email

AMP for Email is a set of open standards created by Google for creating what they call “dynamic emails.” Dynamic emails let marketers bring functionality that’s common on the web into their email designs, such as live forms, carousels, accordions, and hamburger menus. Perhaps even more importantly, AMP for Email allows for live content that is populated when the email is opened rather than when the email is sent.

While Google has been talking about AMP for Email for years now, it only became usable in late 2019, so it’s still a relatively new technology. While Yahoo has announced support for AMP for Email, Microsoft ended a preview of AMP for Email, encouraging marketers to use their Actionable Messages functionality instead. 

In our deep dive into the pros and cons of AMP for Email, we call out several of the risks, including the two biggest unknowns: 

  • First, will marketers invest the time and energy in learning a new coding language and then creating a new MIME part of every email they design? 

  • Secondly, will digital marketing platforms support the addition of a new AMP for Email MIME part?

“That has the industry stuck in the proverbial chicken-and-egg scenario,” says Clea Moore, Director of Strategy for Email Deliverability Services at Oracle Digital Experience Agency. “ESPs are waiting on their customers to clamor for this new feature while marketers are waiting to see the value of implementing AMP for their emails.”

The pandemic has further complicated AMP for Email’s adoption. With some brands trimming email marketing staff and others looking to shorten email production cycles to better address changing subscriber needs, AMP for Email seems like a luxury, if not a hindrance.

B. 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. That’s a lot of ifs and not an insignificant amount of additional work per email to get more visibility in Gmail inboxes alone.

Our consultants think the adoption of Email Annotations has grown significantly over the past year. However, their skepticism about the benefits has also grown. That skepticism caused Email Annotations to be the only trend to fall from being a Competitive Differentiator in 2020 to being an Unproven Opportunity this year.

Email Annotations will need to demonstrate some tangible impact and scale before I expect it to become more than a minor trend in 2021,” says JT Capps, Director of Analytic & Strategic Services at Oracle Digital Experience Agency.

For a deeper exploration of Email Annotations and to figure out if it makes sense for your brand, check out our examination of the opportunities and concerns with Email Annotations.

C. Universal Holdout Groups

How can you ensure your emails drive positive behavior? How can you ensure that your email program isn’t incentivizing behavior that would have happened anyway? Universal holdout groups provide the answer.

You create a universal holdout group by taking a small percentage of your subscribers and suppressing emails to them for a period of time. You can then compare the level of engagement, revenue, and profits for your subscribers to this suppressed group. Doing this gives you a clear view of the lift generated by your email program.

However, while universal holdout groups can be helpful, they can also frustrate subscribers who are on them. After all, they expect to be getting your emails. Having a universal holdout group also costs your company money—and the more lift your email program generates, the higher the cost of your universal holdout group. Optimizing your suppression group's size and the duration you keep people in the group can minimize the cost to you and frustration to your subscribers while still producing valuable insights.

Despite the financial pressures that many companies face, our consultants saw adoption of universal holdout groups grow significantly over the past year, a sign that the benefits outweigh the costs—even if those benefits aren’t enough to make universal holdout groups a significant trend in 2021.

“With many businesses hyper-focused on measuring channel revenue and return on investment,” says Peter Briggs, Director of Analytic & Strategic Services at Oracle Digital Experience Agency, “this is a rock-solid way to showcase email channel value and advocate for bigger budgets and more headcount.”

Moving On and Moving Up

Readers of our post on 2020’s Unproven Opportunities might recognize that two trends are missing from this year’s group of low adoption–low impact trends: voice-assistant–friendly email design and Brand Indicators for Message Identification (BIMI).

With our consultants seeing its adoption as very low and its impact in 2021 falling, we dropped voice-assistant–friendly email design from our roundup of trends this year. That said, it’s a trend we’ll continue to watch. 

“Email interactivity on voice assistants will likely grow in popularity as people begin commuting again and they lose the time they had saved by not having to go into work,” says Jonathan McClure, Director of Analytic & Strategic Services at Oracle Digital Experience Agency.

On the other hand, BIMI is viewed as having a more significant impact this year, enough to push it up into our Competitive Differentiator quadrant. It was the only trend to make that move this year.

For a full look at all 26 email marketing trends to watch for in 2021, check out our posts that examine our

Also, for a better understanding of how all of these email marketing trends are evolving, check out last year’s posts:

—————

Need help with your digital marketing campaigns? Oracle Digital Experience Agency has hundreds of marketing and communication experts ready to help Oracle customers create stronger connections with their customers, partners, and employees, even if they’re not using an Oracle platform as the foundation of that experience. Our award-winning specialists can handle everything from creative and strategy to content planning and project management. For example, our full-service email marketing clients generate 24% higher open rates, 30% higher click rates, and 9% lower unsubscribe rates than Oracle Responsys customers who aren’t.

For help overcoming your challenges or seizing your opportunities, talk to your Oracle account manager, visit us online, or email us at OracleAgency_US@Oracle.com.

Want to better understand your email marketing risks and opportunities, take advantage of our free Email Marketing Assessment. Our experts will check your deliverability, review your email creative, audit your signup process, do a partial competitive analysis, and more. If interested in this free assessment, reach out to us at OracleAgency_US@Oracle.com.

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.


Previous Post

Makers of Modern Marketing: What Makes for the Best Marketing?

Michael McNichols | 5 min read

Next Post


How to Stress Mobility in Your Content Marketing

John Rampton | 3 min read