Email marketing trends 2020: automation reaching maturity

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17, December 2019

The DDMA National Email Benchmark, which was published in June this year, describes how email ratios have remained the same or even increased slightly. Positive news, as this shows that email marketing is still on the rise. What will we see (again) in 2020?

In email marketing (automation), you need to take small steps in order to achieve the eventual big results. It involves learning by doing, and, just like with most major/online ‘mature’ organisations, small steps often lead to astounding results.

I don’t think there will be new trends per se in 2020. Rather, I see trends reaching maturity. There are some interesting things on the horizon. Due to the smart developments in which data and email marketing are inextricably linked with one another, the profession of email marketer is certainly becoming more exciting as a result. 

And that is not to mention all the new terms that we will see emerging. In this article I will outline these trends as well as the associated trend words 😉 . 

Smarter automated segmentation

As a channel, email is fully integrated in the complete marketing stack. Many organisations have made considerable advances in automation in the last few years, and that means they are ready for the next step: optimising existing email flows and creating new ones: a series of automatic emails.

Optimisation generally takes place through adding a CDP/DMP to the marketing stack or through improved integrations with systems such as CRMs. As organisations have access to more data, it is easy to take the step towards content segmentation in addition to target group segmentation. With target group segmentation you send different content to one target group, for example men, than you would to your target group of women. Content segmentation, on the other hand, involves sending men within your target group of men different content based on preferences, for example on the basis of buying behaviour.

More A/B testing

A consequence of the above trend is more A/B testing. A/B testing is not a new functionality in itself but something of all times. After all, there is always room for improvement.

As automation runs in the background, there is more time available for A/B testing. People are therefore going to focus more on optimising email flows, as well as carry out tests on matters such as the subject line, personalisation of the subject line, personalisation of the images, multivariate testing of images, content based on the weather, and scheduling dispatches on the basis of historical opening behaviour. Based on AI (Artificial Intelligence) you can even automatically test what content achieves the best results. An interesting example of a party that carries out non-stop A/B testing is This interesting article explains how this is done.

Changing role for the marketer – who is in control again

As an email marketer, you can use machine learning (automated learning via software that continuously improves its own performance) to determine performances more quickly. Your subject line may, for example, be performing inadequately. In this case, you will automatically receive advice to replace this. As marketer you would see this sort of advice on for instance a weekly dashboard or through a dynamic interface.

The automation of reports also lightens the workload and reduces the costs. I think that this will therefore lead to an even higher ROI for email. As it’s becoming increasingly easy to link cloud services to one another, it is getting easier to gain access to data on which you can base your marketing activities. This improves the digital experience for both consumers and marketer. This in turn, for the marketer, leads to the famous “360 degree customer profile” or rather: knowing each individual customer as well as possible.

I also expect that the marketer will generally be more in control again. In the past, an external team of online marketing specialists was often deployed through an agency. At times when prospects demand good information to be able to make choices, knowledge of the sector is important when producing quality content.

I see marketers choosing more often to take matters into their own hands again. They therefore opt for an email marketing (automation) platform where they can take hold of the reins and guide the process from A to Z, from creative idea to quality content in the inbox.

Design: from interaction to interactive

Interaction in email is a “trend” that has been ongoing for years, but one that now has to be deployed in a different way. Two years ago, when flat emails became interactive emails, we saw that interactivity was deployed as an element for entertaining the recipient.

In 2020 we have to particularly ensure that the consumer does not leave email, and that email promotes involvement. Email for making purchases, for giving opinions, etc. Your email is, as it were, your mini website. The most popular interactive email elements that we will see in 2020 include:

  • CSS animations: these are similar to GIFs, but less heavy. CSS is a code style. It requires less data to retrieve these images and less knowledge for the design. I see, for example, many animated buttons/CTAs (mouseover buttons) appear in emails based on CSS. Rather than show you countless examples, I recommend that you read this article on CSS.
  • Interactive image and product carousels: you can click through these in the email. These are responsive and adapt to your device.
  • Rollover effects: you see these with, for example, product offers. Move your mouse over an image and a different visual appears.
  • Parallax: a parallax e-mail is an email with a fixed element (for example a miniature figure, a car or something else) that scrolls with you through the email. Thanks to the fun and playful way of reading the email, recipients reach the lowest CTA more frequently.
  • User generated interactive content: the email retrieves, for example, the latest content posted by ‘fans’. You can also automatically load the latest reviews.

In addition, it is extremely effective in directing the recipient through the interactive elements within an email to a landing page, where you can tempt the visitor ‘in style’ to undertake a particular action. You can use such a landing page, for example, as an extension of your email, for registrations, profile enrichment and sales. You can often put this together in your email platform. You therefore no longer need an external web builder or tools for enticing the recipient of an email to respond to a special deal. And this, too, adds to the fact that the email marketer is gaining more control again.

*This basic landing page can be put together by an email marketer in an email platform in 5 minutes. A web builder is therefore no longer necessary. Share this example through social media and grow your database. Ensure, however, that you do this in a GDPR-proof manner.

GDPR – Enhanced Privacy and Protection

From practical back to strategic. The Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant recently reported that DUO had violated the privacy rules when placing an open pixel in emails personally directed at students. In relation to the following trend, I would like to briefly describe what this case involved.

DUO had placed open pixels to be able to measure who opens an email. The organisation would be able to use the “open information” in a legal case as evidence that a student had received important information. After the questions raised by De Volkskrant, DUO initiated a discussion with the Dutch Data Protection Authority (AP).

DUO has for the time being stopped tracking in personal emails. It was later revealed that health insurance companies (along with the rest of the Netherlands) also use open pixels, which started a hot debate: Is it or is it not allowed to use open pixels? The answer is, yes, it is. Here, too, ensure that you do this in a GDPR-proof manner. To cut a long story short: inform people in your Privacy Statement of the placing of tracking pixels, for example under the heading “Newsletter and tracking”. Here you explain that you use tracking, what data you record and how a recipient can indicate that he/she does not agree to this.

It is therefore not necessary to ask for explicit permission for using open pixels. It was different, however, for DUO. This government agency sends emails in the execution of a public service. That is why DUO – and other (semi-) government agencies – are not authorised to invoke the principle of its own legitimate interest. The agency needs a legal basis to be allowed to do so. In this case, there is none.

Yet there is currently a legal school of thought that believes a pixel in an email should be treated in the same way as a cookie. This means that you may only start tracking after active permission has been given. As no organisations have permission in this way, they opt for the careful approach in this area and choose not to track. They therefore look for a party where tracking can be switched off. The relevant term here is Enhanced Privacy and Protection. The recipient is more and more in charge.

Start offline for the greatest impact online

If you think that your organisation is still in its infancy, no problem! My advice would be to just start. Visit interesting events, speak to professionals and allow yourself to be inspired. Or rather; start offline for your greatest impact online.

You can start yourself with email marketing and marketing automation. But you can also call upon the services of an expert with whom you have a click. Then you can truly and optimally realise your email marketing automation, and inextricably linked to this, your data. It’s an art!

Then, together, we can enjoy the fine results and the time that is freed up when automation does its work. I’m looking forward to 2020 and the surprises awaiting me in my inbox.

Let’s mail!

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Sean Barten

​Client Service Director +31 85 773 99 90