How Has Email Marketing Changed for 2021?

January 18, 2021 | 4 minute read
Michael McNichols
Senior Content Manager
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At the tail end of 2019, when email marketers were looking forward to 2020, they might have thought they’d have to concentrate on new and continuing trends, such as:

Dark mode (using lighter text on a darker background)

• Optimizing for mobile

• Personalization, customization and, in some cases, individualization

Send frequency optimization 

Writing better subject lines and preview text

Send-time optimization 

• Better connecting with email audiences

Of course, the COVID-19 crisis changed many priorities and how digital marketers go about their campaigns. However, when doing email marketing, the items listed above remain important. In fact, it has been more important than ever to connect with customers during this trying time. 

Empathy and authenticity in email

Melissa Sargeant, CMO of Litmus, told Sales and Marketing Management back in June 2020, “Ultimately all messages sent should be truly helpful information that’s authentic to the brand.” 

Empathy, sensitivity, and authenticity have come to the forefront. With an email or any piece of marketing, you aren’t trying to make a hard sell. No, instead, you are offering helpful content and solutions to problems your customers are experiencing. 

Still, your emails should stand out in some way. After all, people are still flooded with emails every day. According to Statista, 2020 saw about 306.4 billion emails sent and received every day. So, you still have to optimize your emails to make the most impact. 

How should you go about optimizing and making your emails stand out from the crowd?

Personalization and optimization 

A 2020 report by Email on Acid found that 68% of marketers surveyed thought the best tactic to improve the effectiveness of email marketing campaigns was to optimize content. 68% also thought more personalization would help improve email performance. 

Listening to your customers and taking in feedback as well as A/B and multivariate testing play huge roles in personalizing and optimizing your email content. It will also help if you have to pivot and make adjustments to your strategy in order to realign with customer needs. 

In fact, Chad White, Head of Research for Oracle Marketing Consulting, thinks that marketers should focus on realignment to achieve success. 

“Marketers should be constantly realigning themselves with their subscribers,” he says. “That’s why we listen to our customers by A/B testing, using analytics, having preference centers, and doing progressive profiling campaigns. 2020 highlighted the need for realignment in stark, acute terms—and brands rose to the challenge. In 2021, as consumers start to establish a 'new normal', the realignment will be much more gradual. The risk is that this gradual change will go unnoticed by some brands who aren’t listening to their customers.” 

Unfortunately, sometimes, realigning and changing your strategy happens due to a crisis, which is probably at the backs of most marketers’ minds nowadays. 

Crisis messaging

In the event of a systemic shock such as the pandemic, you must pivot to becoming able to answer your customers’ burning questions and addressing their needs. Specifically for your email marketing, you might want to:

• Check your automated messages to make sure the messaging lines up with current events and customer needs

• Recognize customer behaviors and make adjustments to your send frequency, subject lines, content, offers, and whatever else might not be appropriate 

• Remember to be sensitive, emphatic, and patient

Adjustments and transitions similar to what occurred in 2020 might happen again in 2021. With new lockdowns and restrictions being announced, brands will have to message into and out of those. Then there will be a gradual shift in consumer behaviors over the year and into 2022. Therefore, 2021 will be another year to be nimble, pay attention to analytics, test regularly, and use personalization, send-time optimization, and other tools to keep messages relevant to individual subscribers.

Email marketing in 2021

Outside of crisis messaging, what should an email in 2021 look like? 

Direct and to the point. With the huge amount of emails going around, your email should emphasize the principle of “less is more.” Get right to the point and how you can help customers.

Concise copy and scannable text. Don’t overload the email with words. Make your point as concisely as possible. Use typographic hierarchy to clearly differentiate your headlines, subheads, and body copy to increase the email’s scannability. 

More value. You might choose to lessen the frequency of your emails or you might lessen the amount of copy you use in an email. In either case, make sure that you offer more value in the email (i.e., more compelling content or more compelling offers). 

Stand out. Write as compelling subject lines as possible, perhaps try to emphasize visual elements over text, or even use a theme (if in a newsletter).

Buttoned up. Whether someone is reading on mobile, doesn’t have much time to read, or is experiencing email fatigue, you still want to get your point across to them as succinctly as possible. Make sure your email hits all the points it needs to get its message across in as clear and easy-to-understand way as possible.  

Also bear in mind that marketers now can use email to keep customers updated about changing safety policies and protocols as well new delivery options, such as curbside pickup and same-day delivery services. You might even consider adding a banner to your email as a continual reminder of these options. 


To learn more about email marketing, please check out:

Michael McNichols

Senior Content Manager

Michael McNichols is a Senior Content Manager for Oracle Digital Marketing. He has over ten years of experience in professional writing and has been widely published.

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