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 consumer behaviors and business goals are shifting rapidly. To help you prioritize your email marketing efforts this year, we surveyed Oracle Digital Experience Agency’s hundreds of digital marketing and communications experts, asking them to rate the current adoption of a range of email marketing technologies and tactics, as well as their predicted impact during 2022. 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 rapidly evolves, 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 a sizable return on their investment. 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 experts about, seven of them were rated as being in the low adoption–high impact quadrant for 2022. Let’s talk about each of them in turn.
Especially for businesses with lots of products (i.e., retailers) or lots of content (i.e., 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 Digital Experience Agency. “AI-powered capabilities are enabling marketers to put their data to work with less time spent manually 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. In other words, this is the trend that offers the biggest competitive advantage right now.
Email copywriting has traditionally been a combination of intuition, experience, and testing. However, AI-powered copywriting tools now add predictive to the mix by suggesting words and phrases based on the previous reactions of your audience—or, when that isn’t available, the reactions of other brands’ audiences.
Our consultants are of two minds on AI-powered copywriting tools. On the one hand, we firmly believe that AI copywriting tools have a bright future and see their adoption and impact continuing to grow. But on the other hand, there continue to be near-term challenges as the underlying technology tries to grow out of its awkward adolescent stage.
“This is a continued area to watch as algorithms improve,” says Lauren Kimball, vice president of Oracle Marketing Consulting. “It’s also certainly an area for much more testing and ROI analysis.”
Over time, we expect more competition, more finely tuned machine learning algorithms, lower infrastructure costs, and perhaps different pricing models to improve the lackluster returns on investment that have caused some of our clients to walk away from this technology in the past.
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 6 ways that subject line writing has changed over the years.
Rather than focusing on industries or markets, account-based marketing (ABM) focuses on, well, accounts. It helps businesses focus on building and maintaining opportunities at select high-value accounts, rather than a huge number of small-value accounts. For the organizations that it’s appropriate for, it can have a big impact.
However, the pandemic created challenges around executing ABM, says Cristal Foster, manager of Expert Services at Oracle Digital Experience Agency. “In-person events and direct mail are table stake components of ABM, and events have been largely shut down and employees have been working from home,” she says. “That has caused B2B marketers’ adoption of ABM to struggle. Yet, there is an expectation for ABM to come back into the forefront for 2022 as more people start attending in-person events again and return to the office where they can be reached via mail.”
All of this has caused ABM to move from a Proven Essential to a Competitive Differentiator.
Inbox providers have long penalized senders who don’t authenticate their email using Sender Policy Framework (SPF) and DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) and publish a Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance (DMARC) record, as those all help inbox providers identify and reduce spam and spoofing. But in recent years, there has been growing momentum to offer an incentive to use all three in the form of Brand Indicators for Message Identification (BIMI).
For those brands that comply with this standard, participating inbox providers will display the sender’s logo next to their from name in the inbox and in emails. With brands hungry to stand out in the inbox and eager to boost their brand recognition, BIMI is attractive.
The major downside to BIMI has been its low adoption by inbox providers. However, last year, Gmail joined Yahoo Mail, AOL Mail, and Verizon in supporting it, giving BIMI much more of a payoff for all the hoops you have to jump through to set it up.
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 email personalization purposes.
The value for marketers is that it allows them to send more relevant messages and to optimize the frequency at which they email different kinds of subscribers. That allows you to boost your engagement rates, which increases your deliverability. It also allows you to reduce email fatigue and list churn, which improves your list growth and subscriber lifetime value.
“I think 2022 will primarily focus on generating additional revenue from a relatively static bucket of marketing funds,” says Ian Rotondi Gray, account director at Oracle Digital Experience Agency. “To that end, discovering and ultimately utilizing richer, more complete information about customers will likely be a unifying trend. That means that better segmentation, personalization, AI-powered recommendations, and RFM modeling will be the order of the day.”
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 can add interactive components to their emails that consumers are used to seeing on websites, including:
Despite the pandemic causing email marketing staff cuts and spurring a renewed focus on the basics to stay nimble and efficient, our consultants see adoption increasing. However, Gmail’s decision to support AMP for Email instead of CSS-based interactivity continues to weigh its long-term potential down.
“Since CSS-based interactivity doesn’t consistently show up across all email clients, we’re forced to provide a fallback experience for many subscribers. Driving them to a landing page where we can provide a consistent experience might remain the preferred approach,” says Katie Anderson, designer for Creative Services at Oracle Digital Experience Agency. “The constant pressure to keep email content short and to the point may also limit the growth of interactivity.”
While the average consumer in the early ’00s typically used two touchpoints when buying an item, consumers today use an average of almost six touchpoints, according to research by Aberdeen, Oracle, and Relationship One.
The pandemic, which has constrained stores and led to a vast expansion of curbside pickup and buy online pick up in-store, has made it even more 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. The financial strain of the pandemic has also increased the urgency for businesses to break down operational and line of business–centric silos.
“Companies have woken up to the importance of being able to create journeys and programs across several touchpoints and not continue to have channels siloed,” says Celestina Fisher, client partner at Oracle Digital Experience Agency. “They have a growing interest in making structural changes to their martech stack, looking for a single partner to be that central pillar of their martech stack to minimize integration points, reduce overhead costs and management, reduce points of failure, and more importantly create a unified profile of their customer.”
Readers of our post on 2021’s Competitive Differentiators might recognize that six trends are missing from this year’s group of low adoption–high impact trends: subscriber acquisition source optimization, personalized landing pages, dark-mode optimized email designs, live or real-time content, inclusive design and email accessibility, and multivariate email testing.
All six of those trends grew enough in terms of adoption to push them over into our Proven Essentials quadrant, which will be the subject of our next blog post in this series.
For a full look at all 26 email marketing trends to watch for in 2022, 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:
Need help exploring these email marketing trends? 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.
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 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.