Many of you may know that at the beginning of March my colleague Rebecca McAdams who had been leading Forrester's email marketing research for the previous 18 months moved into an Advisor position with Forrester's customer experience leadership board.  With this change, I'm proud to reclaim email marketing as my very own.  Some of you may be thinking, "This feels a little back to the future…"  You are right!  I've been studying email since 1999 (yikes!).  And am looking forward to continuing our great research agenda on the workhorse of the digital marketer's toolkit. 

Rebecca launched some "future of email" research before her move.  As I go through the notes from the smart conversations she had trying to find the answer to: What is next for email marketing?  This question pops into my mind instead: Has email marketing already come as far as it can?  What I learned from the research is that:

Marketers already know what best practices will make email marketing better, they just don't apply them.

Because doing so:

  • Costs more.  Making email better, through analytics, improved segmentation, dynamic content or offer optimization drives up email CPMs (from basically free to not quite free).
  • Calls for more tenured staff.  Email is still run by more junior associates who move off of email as soon as they gain enough experience to do so.  This creates a turn over in email program knowledge and bascially resets any advances that have been made by one email manager to zero when a new one takes over.
  • Doesn't improve performance that much.  Now, I'm not crying false on the 300% lift in clicks and conversions that vendors claim they earn from improving email relevance.  I'm just saying that when a medium already costs almost nothing to deploy, the return is already so good, that it doesn't seem worth it to work harder or invest more.

I want to write a report about how to overcome all of this and leverage email as the cost-effective, contextually-aware, relationship-building medium we know it can be.  But for nearly 20 years, these dynamics have held email to its same performance level.  Will email ever get more experienced management or more strategic applications without a financial incentive to invest to make email better?

Convince me there is a turning point ahead!  What do you think will change email marketer's habits? How will email marketing be used 5 years from now?