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 shift 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 Proven Essentials, which are in the high adoption–high impact quadrant. The technologies and tactics in this quadrant are mature but are still improving and delivering tremendous results.
Our Proven Essentials stand in stark contrast to our Unproven Opportunities, which still have significant risks associated with them and benefits that haven’t fully materialized. Our Proven Essentials also have a risk profile that’s the inverse of our Competitive Differentiators—that is, where our Competitive Differentiators offer a competitive advantage to early adopters, our Proven Essentials put late adopters at a competitive disadvantage.
Of the 26 trends we surveyed our experts about, a whopping 17 of them were rated as being in the high adoption–high impact quadrant for 2022. That’s a big increase from our prior surveys. Let’s talk about each of them in turn.
How can you be sure that your emails are driving positive behavior? How can you be sure that your email program isn’t incentivizing behavior that would have happened anyway? Universal holdout groups are 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 the size of your suppression group and the duration that you keep people in the group can minimize the cost to you and frustration to your subscribers while still producing valuable insights.
Despite the intense financial pressures being felt by many companies, our consultants saw adoption of universal holdout groups continue to grow over the past year. But more than that, our consultants see the impact of universal holdout groups increasing more than any other trend we asked them about. That’s likely an indication of the pressure that email marketers are under to prove the value of their channel and justify their budgets.
Over the past two years, brands have had many reasons to optimize their subscriber acquisition sources, including:
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 grow your list.
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. Oracle Maxymiser and other solutions allow marketers to create interaction journeys that are unified and cohesive by taking into consideration their action in the email that brought them to the landing page and their historical behavior.
“The one-size-fits-all model no longer works,” says Isabelle Emmons, principal consultant for Oracle Maxymiser. “Email subscribers are expecting tailored content from beginning to end—and if they don’t get it, they won’t give you their loyalty.”
After being a Competitive Differentiator for the past two years, a surge of adoption has pushed personalized landing pages into our Proven Essentials quadrant, validating that this duo is a powerful one-two punch.
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. Between 6% and 14% of email opens occur in email clients with dark mode on, according to Email on Acid.
However, support for dark mode for email is not only far from universal, but dark mode is implemented differently across the inboxes where it is supported. That means, like so many other solutions in email, marketers need to use a range of email client–specific fixes to have their emails look good in dark mode everywhere.
“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 R. Thomas, senior art director for Creative Services at Oracle Digital Experience Agency. “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.”
For a deep dive into this issue, check out our advice on how marketers should adapt to dark mode for email.
Most email content is determined at the time of send, but live content is determined at the time that an individual subscriber opens the email. 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:
While our consultants see healthy adoption of live content, they are growing skeptical of the value of this tactic because of pre-fetching by Apple Mail users who have enabled Mail Privacy Protection. Pre-fetching by Apple pulls in live content before the email is opened by subscribers, reducing the timeliness of this content, which is live content’s entire selling point.
Even though an early read on the impact of MPP on live content by Movable Ink shows that “for the vast majority of Apple Mail users, ‘recent-time’ is far closer to ‘real-time’ than expected,” it’s impossible to know if the impact will grow when MPP adoption exceeds 95% later this year as expected. It’s also uncertain if pre-fetching behaviors by Apple will stay consistent, as they changed considerably during the beta and first month of release.
“Because of Apple Mail Privacy Protection, it is harder to know when and where an email is being opened,” says Jonathan McClure, director of Analytic & Strategic Services at Oracle Digital Experience Agency. “As such, lots of brands have (at least temporarily) stepped away from being focused on live content. This may shift back as better work arounds for MPP are developed, but it will likely be less of a focus moving forward. To still provide a relevant and tailored experience, consider driving to a personalized in-app or landing page experience instead of using live content within an email.”
Both of these tactics allow brands to better understand the needs and desires of their subscribers. Generally promoted during onboarding and during unsubscribes to reduce opt-outs, preference centers typically focus on core, long-term preferences, like content, contact frequency, and delivery preferences.
On the other hand, progressive profiling happens periodically throughout a subscriber’s time on the list. Sometimes its goal is to discover enduring preferences, but often it’s to learn about a short-term interest, such as gardening and lawn plans for this spring or most likely vacation destinations for this summer.
“With the adoption of Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection growing and the expiration of third-party cookies on the horizon, brands will need an even greater focus on capturing first-party data to inform personalization, segmentation, omnichannel orchestration, and the customer experience at large,” says JT Capps, senior director of Analytics & Strategic Services at Oracle Digital Experience Agency. “Preference centers and progressive profiling should be a major trend for 2022 to ‘fill the gap.’”
When is the best time to send email? This is one of the most popular email marketing questions of all time. 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 machine learning, which examines each of your subscribers’ engagement time histories to come up with the best answer for each of your subscribers for each day of the week. As each of your subscribers engage with subsequent sends, the optimal send time for them is adjusted, so it’s always adapting to your customers’ changing behaviors—which have been changing rapidly during the pandemic.
After proving incredibly valuable in 2020, when the onset of the pandemic dramatically shifted email engagement times, the effectiveness of send-time optimization has been called into question by Apple’s launch of Mail Privacy Protection, which floods marketer’s email systems with fake opens. However, email service providers, including Oracle Responsys and Oracle Eloqua, have simply changed their send time optimization algorithms to omit auto-generated opens by Apple and to also factor in click times. Together, those two changes have ensured that send time optimization is as valuable as ever.
Basic analytics provide basic insights. And as more companies shift from simple campaign marketing to more sophisticated audience and relationship marketing, those basic insights aren’t nearly enough. Apple’s MPP has only accelerated this need, says Peter Briggs, director of Analytic & Strategic Services at Oracle Digital Experience Agency.
“Fractional attribution, lifetime value, and other advanced performance analysis will be critical,” he says, “as brands start pivoting away from the open metric and begin identifying new ways to evaluate email channel performance.”
As companies uplevel their performance analytics, they’re focusing on metrics that are farther down the funnel, on metrics that account for performance across channels, and on metrics that are customer-centric rather than campaign-centric. To ensure that you’re asking the right questions about performance, check out our “Questions to Ask Instead” series on email performance measurement, frequency and list building, and return on investment.
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 need ramps so that people in wheelchairs, injured people using crutches, delivery workers, and parents with strollers all have easy access.
While inclusive design is about being more user-friendly, accessibility is increasingly about a legal baseline of customer experience that needs to be delivered, says Sarah Gallardo, lead developer for Creative Services at Oracle Digital Experience Agency.
“Accessibility will become a more pressing issue for email marketers as more legislation is passed and more lawsuits are filed to push companies toward producing accessible communications across all major channels,” she says. “Too many marketers get by with incomplete alt text or emails that can’t be read by screen readers and other assistive technologies. These users are paying attention and taking action.”
For advice on how to adapt your email designs to be more friendly toward people with visual, cognitive, hearing, and motor impairments on a permanent, temporary, or situational basis, check out Email Accessibility: Fulfill Your Legal Responsibilities and Expand Your Reach.
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 increasingly used and impactful tactic is only for those brands with really large lists.
Not only have supply chain problems caused by the pandemic severely strained customer loyalties, but the impending phase out of third-party cookies have brands focused on retaining customers like never before. Because of that, loyalty programs are having a transformational moment.
"COVID has put us on an accelerated path toward change," says Emily Rudin, senior director of loyalty product strategy and growth for Oracle CrowdTwist. "If you have a spend-to-get program, it’s time to rethink that program. First, younger generations aren’t motivated by price in the way that older generations were. Second, copycat programs of competitors don’t work anymore, so be unique to your brand. Third, customers want to be surrounded by brands who get them and who understand where they are. And fourth, there is a huge investment in loyalty programs right now not just for retention, but for acquisition — which you do by not only turning a good customer into one of your best customers but by inspiring them to bring in someone else who also becomes one of your best customers.”
It’s not enough to have subscribers that tolerate receiving your marketing emails. To avoid serious deliverability problems, they also have to engage with those emails. That means that marketers should send fewer emails to subscribers who haven’t engaged in a while and eventually stop mailing chronically inactive subscribers who haven’t opened or clicked in a long time.
Of course, the latest challenge in an already challenging task is that Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection is obscuring which of their users are opening your emails. Given that the Apple Mail app is the No. 1 email client for most B2C senders, MPP is causing serious disruptions to how email marketers manage their engaged and inactive subscribers.
“As MPP adoption grows this year, marketers will inevitably run into deliverability challenges,” says Heather P. Goff, strategic director of Email Deliverability Services at Oracle Digital Experience Agency. “The temptation to routinely target subscribers who are only showing auto-open activity will be too great for some to resist, and others will struggle to effectively use cross-channel behaviors to select active email marketing audiences. 2022 will be a year of emergency adjustments and trial and error as marketers try to find a new deliverability balance in a world with far fewer opens.”
Implementing a modular email architecture to reduce email production time has risen to the top of many of our clients’ to-do lists for two reasons. First, marketing teams are smaller because of the dual shocks of the pandemic and the Great Resignation, so teams need to do more with less. And second, sudden developments like the social protests of 2020 and the rapid rise of the Omicron variant has brands wanting to get more nimble, so they can adapt their messaging more quickly to changing market conditions and consumer sentiments.
Rather than having a bunch of different traditional templates for different types of emails, modular build systems allow you to create a variety of content blocks that you then stack to create a particular email. When we implement them with our clients, email build times are reduced by about 25% on average.
“We recently worked with a financial services client to implement this across all their triggered emails, which they’d been treating as ‘set it and forget it,’” says Jeannine Pine, senior director of Agency Services at Oracle Digital Experience Agency. “With modular architecture in place, we’ve been able to revisit and update these campaigns much more easily, improving both speed to market and reducing overall campaign management execution costs.”
The groundswell of stronger privacy regulations is undeniable and likely to continue as lawmakers struggle to catch up with how their constituents feel about the effect that technology is having on them. While Canada and Europe have passed strong national laws in CASL and GDPR, the US not only hasn’t replaced its antiquated CAN-SPAM law but also has a mishmash of privacy laws that aren’t unified.
That has led states to fill the void by passing their own privacy legislation. California has made the most headlines by passing the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and then following it up with the California Privacy Rights Act (CPRA) at the end of 2020. Those laws go into effect in January of 2023, and, according to security firm Cytrio, most companies are not prepared to be compliant.
However, Colorado and Virginia have also passed privacy laws, and more than two dozen other states have introduced privacy bills. All of that state-level activity has started the countdown on the inevitable passage of new national privacy legislation, says Daniel Deneweth, head of Email Deliverability Services at Oracle Digital Experience Agency.
“Legal compliance will trend up this year, as companies work to comply with CCPA and as more US states roll out privacy legislation,” he says. “The renewed push for US federal privacy legislation is likely to shift into high gear in 2022, as consumers cry out for more privacy protections and as businesses decry the costs of complying with a patchwork of state laws.”
Like several other Proven Essentials, dynamic content within emails isn’t remotely new. However, the ability to personalize email messages has progressively become more sophisticated and easier to execute and manage. During the pandemic, personalization has become even more of an imperative as marketers struggle to stay relevant as consumer behaviors and desires change rapidly.
“As the pandemic started, lots of brands quickly raced to build out their online presences,” says McClure. “As we enter year three, many brands have been able to do the larger data transformation work that needed to be completed to better connect their customer data profiles. That, combined with increased adoption of real-time customer intelligence tools like Oracle Infinity IQ, is bringing more effective personalization to campaigns.”
Segmentation and personalization are two sides of the same coin. Both help you get the right message in front of the right customer. However, while both can help with content strategy, segmentation is essential to an effective contact strategy, helping marketers send the right number of emails to individual subscribers to maximize conversions and minimize fatigue and opt-outs.
In particular, segmentation and suppression are a key way to reduce subscriber churn and to maintain good email engagement rates, which are one of the seven key factors affecting email deliverability.
Whether they’re triggered by an action, inaction, date, or internet-connected IoT machine, automated emails deliver just the right messages to customers and subscribers at just the right times. And just like personalization and segmentation, automation is only becoming more powerful thanks to AI, machine learning, and an increasingly 360-degree view of customers.
“That latest innovation with automated messaging is the infusion of AI-powered real-time content recommendations via modular email architectures,” says David Chang, senior director of Agency Services at Oracle Digital Experience Agency. “We see tremendous opportunity with lifecycle messages that can evolve and incorporate these other major trends.”
For a list of more than 110 triggered campaigns to consider, check out our Automated Campaign Ideas checklist. In addition to setting up new ones, be sure to optimize your existing automated messages and not settle for “good enough” for such high-ROI campaigns.
For a full look at all 26 email marketing trends to watch for in 2022, check out these 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.