By, Tom Sather
The big story for marketers in 2018 was around data protection and artificial intelligence. 2019 will most likely be a continuation of that theme, creating winners and losers for the AI future. Here’s what you need to know to be one of the winners in 2019.
In 2018, the biggest development was that the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was enacted in the EU, causing headaches and a flurry of updated privacy policies and email lists from email marketers around the globe. But here’s the good news – and most likely a result of this policy – we saw more emails being delivered to the inbox as marketers culled bad and inactive addresses from their lists, while also bolstering their opt-in and permission processes. Even California and Brazil got in the game and passed similar data protection regulations.
Part of the heightened attention in 2018 to consumer data comes from the ever-expanding use of artificial intelligence in, well, just about everything. From digital personal assistants to emails that nearly write themselves, AI is firmly entrenched in our modern life, whether we know it or not. As any AI practitioner will tell you, AI is only successful and accurate when it has data – and lots of it. As consumers, we love that our digital assistants give us directions or turn on our lights, but it also makes us feel uneasy that they’re always listening to us and everyone else in order to learn.
2019 will likely be a continuation of this battle between an easier and more automated life. And as marketers, we will find even more opportunities even if there are some stumbling blocks. Here are three things email marketers should know going into the new year.
Robots are taking your jobs
It’s true. Ok, maybe not jobs, but the machines will at least be taking over the reins for the most mundane tasks to the most herculean analysis so marketers can focus on strategy. In 2019, we’ll likely see more marketers using AI in their jobs than before, and these businesses will have a head start and an almost unfair advantage when compared to those not using AI. While I don’t think AI will be adopted by the majority of businesses in 2019, it will be close and these pioneers will position themselves to be the marketer leaders of tomorrow.
In the Return Path sponsored Demand Metric study, only 9% of respondents stated that they were currently using AI. And those that were using AI were more likely to report that their email marketing effectiveness was improving. In another study by The Relevancy Group, they found that email marketers using AI for email personalization were able to reduce costs by sending less email, while at the same time delivering 41 percent more revenue than those not using AI. In addition, the email marketers using AI saw higher inbox placement, open, click, and conversion rates, as well as an email average order value that was five percent higher.
Let’s face it, those results will only get better in 2019 and beyond as AI matures, learns, and becomes more accurate with more data.
You’ve come a long way, “FIRST_NAME”
Customers and prospects have come to expect a certain level of personalization, and this will only be truer in the future. In Demand Metric’s State of Email Marketing report, email personalization was the number one tactic, with 68% of respondents saying it’s an important tactic. Study participants who report above-average open rates, revenue-growth, and improvement in email effectiveness all knew more about their email subscribers. For marketers to be successful in 2019, the same rings true: understand your email subscribers’ preferences and leverage the data you capture to provide a more personalized experience.
And thanks to AI, 2019 will see us getting closer to delivering an even more custom, personalized customer experience. In the aforementioned Relevancy Group study, of those using AI, 54 percent were using it for personalization. As a result, deliverability improved nearly two points, open rates increased 8 percent, click-through rates rose over 13 percent, and revenue rose a breathtaking 41 percent. Email marketers using AI were also able to reduce churn by 87 percent. It’s clear that personalization is a good problem for AI to solve if you capture and the leverage the right data to do it.
Navigating the Data Protections
The GDPR enacted by the EU affected anyone marketing to EU citizens. But even if you didn’t need to worry about GDPR compliance, there are some good reasons to adopt some of the principles behind it. It’s likely 2019 will see even more regulation passed by countries and even some states in America, so staying ahead of potential changes is key. But more importantly, those that see opportunity in these regulations are seeing better results than others. My colleague Guy Hanson pointed out that businesses that saw an opportunity and took a customer-centric approach to the changes saw a nearly universal uplift in deliverability, open, and click rates as a result. In one example, Manchester United experienced a 25 percent increase in open rates, while subscribers marking messages as spam declined by half, while messages delivered to spam declined a third from pre-GDPR levels.
While the new year will not be without its challenges for marketers, there are still many opportunities ahead. Knowing more about our subscribers and customers, delivering personalized experiences, and building strong relationships on a foundation of trust and permission is a recipe for success for 2019 and beyond.
About the Author
Email marketing and deliverability expert Tom Sather has worked with top-tier brands on effective email marketing programs, and to diagnose and solve inbox placement and sender reputation issues as a strategic consultant with Return Path. As the company’s senior director of research, Tom is a frequent speaker and writer on email marketing trends and technology. His most recent analysis of new inbox applications’ effects on consumer behavior was widely cited across leading business media outlets including the Financial Times, Ad Age, and Media Post.