A Look at Email Marketing’s Future, as seen by an Email Agency

Future Email MarketingOne of the perks of living and breathing a niche business, like an email agency, is that it affords one the opportunity to ponder what the future may hold.

The following is a future-vision of what email marketing will look like in year 2017 for practitioners, marketers and consumers alike.

The Name of the Game Has Changed

Fast forward six years and the term “email marketing” has disappeared from our vernacular entirely. Although lower than 2011, email marketing still produces a considerable ROI; however it is but one digital marketing vehicle.

In this future, the integration between social, mobile, location-based and home-based marketing is seamless. Individual messaging channels are irrelevant.

There are slight nuances to delivering effective messages through each of those marketing channels but those differences are largely driven by well-documented consumer preferences not the delivery mechanism itself. The primary function of using these blended delivery channels is the same as it was back in 2011: the distribution of relevant and timely messages. In other words, the goal was, and has always been, to put the right offer, in front of the right person, at the right time.

Because the terms “email marketing”, “social marketing” and “mobile marketing” were too restrictive and increasingly offensive to a marketing-weary consumer, they had to go. Welcome to the age of Digital Messaging.

However, the biggest changes in modern Digital Messaging was not how it was referred; it was the commoditization and consolidation of technology, the need for talented implementers, and the perception and empowerment of the consumer.

The Shift Was Rapid and Sweeping

Now, in the year 2017, Digital Messaging Providers (DMPs for short) can easy distribute personalized marketing messages across devices, time and space. They now encompass real-time, adaptive communications which flow effortlessly across new channels, like interactive TV, and old ones, like point-of-sale. But the DMP’s offerings are not limited to the dissemination and tracking of digital marketing messages. They have made surprising advancements in data analysis and marketing automation.

The reporting and campaign production too is infinitely smarter and more efficient, it has gone far beyond opens and clicks and WYSIWYG editors. Think live, multivariate testing and manipulation, multi-sourced dynamic content assemblage, responsive delivery and rendering, as well as closed-loop, cross-channel ROI calculations to the 10th power.

DMPs also offer robust methods of data collection. This rich data pours in from every interaction; from simple subscriptions on a mobile device to behavioral data collected from multiple offline customer touchpoints.

But how did the DMP’s offerings evolve so quickly? Back in 2012, the Email Service Providers ( than called ESPs) scrambled, Google-style, to keep marketers within their interface-and only their interface. A technology and intelligence arms race ensued.

The Perks of Lower Costs and New Power

What this Digital Messaging warfare meant to the everyday marketer was that the cost of digital messaging services began to decline substantially and the tools began to improve rapidly. This was obviously welcome news for the marketer but also for the Digital Messaging Providers, because sweeping consolidations and acquisitions took place that forever change the industry.

On a mission to incorporate every feature that marketers demanded, the DPMs began to acquire media monitoring and data scoring companies. They hired analytic masterminds and UI experts. They opened their applications up to the world and cranked out new versions every quarter. They were on fire.

The small and mid-sized Digital Messaging Providers could not keep up with the frantic pace and reduced revenue. They were either crushed or swallowed. Niche providers were relegated to add-ons. For a marketplace that was once flooded with competitors, now only a handful of global behemoths remain.

Modern DMPs generate far less revenue-per-customer as they once did. However, their scale is so vast that, if it weren’t for their lobbyists and strict self-regulatory guidelines, anti-trust and privacy advocates would start to take an unhealthy interest in their activities.

They discovered new revenue too, top of which is generated from licensing the customer data they warehouse. This intelligence is offered to, and exchanged with, research firms and competitive marketing channels like paid search, direct mail, and digital display.

The Rise of Craftsmen and Technicians

The comprehensive tools, offered by Digital Messaging Providers in 2017, are now within reach to nearly every marketer. However digital messaging programs are far more sophisticated. Skilled personal is the key differentiator between programs that generate poor, mediocre and exceptional ROI from Digital Messaging, but as history tells us not all specialists would make the cut.

Because the reporting is so robust and actionable, marketers no longer need in-house or outsourced marketing mathematicians to analyze data and make recommendations. However this data must now be applied and the programs must be optimized. The rockstars of the Digital Messaging industry now fall into two camps, craftsmen and technicians.

The craftsmen are those that create the plans and carry them out; be they thinkers, managers, or creatives. The technicians are those who diagnose problems, which range from deliverability speedbumps to integration hiccups, and rectify them.

Consumer Behavior and Perception

The consumer is now keenly aware of the numerous, yet relevant, marketing messages that swirl around them. This has forced marketers to convert, what once were, one-sided offers into customer-focused dialogues. These conversations take place on a one-to-one level and amongst virtual crowds. They evolve over time as the consumer’s demographics and behaviors change and shift with cultural norms.

The data that is provided by the consumer, and extracted from their behavior, is now boundless. The marketer has seemingly unlimited insight into the mind of the individual as well as predictive models of their demographic classes. The marketer uses this information to deliver what the consumer is most likely to purchase now, and in the future, as well as predict their lifetime value and then allocate the appropriate resources.

Because the consumer is so conscious of behavioral marketing and concerned that the practice will ultimately become too invasive; a privately-owned global permission repository has recently been established, simply called “Choice”.

Choice is a cooperative, centralized data management and preference center that is both highly secure and omnipotent. It will afford the consumer the opportunity to control, exactly, what type of data is collected and utilized by the marketer and which messages they will accept, and from whom; as well as how and when those messages will be delivered.

This is a free service to the consumer but the Digital Messaging Providers must license this information, which will ensure that they meet consumer expectations and comply with the Digital Privacy Protection Act of 2015.

The Reversal of Roles

In the year 2017, the Digital Messaging industry has all but inverted itself. In the early days of email marketing, the lion’s share of the cost, time and attention went toward the tools themselves. But now that the DMPs services have been commoditized, the true value of Digital Messaging is solely dependent on the talent that wields their tools.

This role reversal is also reflected in the relationship between the marketer and consumer. Marketers are now far more sensitive to the needs and wants of their customers and prospects. If they are to continue the conversation in the years to come, they have to be. And in exchange for their deeply personal information, the consumer receives tailor-made, high-value offers and experiences control over their privacy like never before.

About the Author: Scott Hardigree is the Founder of email agency, Indiemark. He can be reached at scott@indiemark.com or indiemark.com


  1. Nice thinking piece Scott, digital years are like dogyears, things go fast.

    How will the future look like? I know a thing or two about Email tools. But we don’t know. If you look at the mature state of the email channel and the current ESP movements into consolidation. It seems very likely that there will be less ESPs out there. You could take a look at CRM software to see how that evolved. As that market became mature, just that thing happend. There are a few big players that really matter left.

    Need for cross channel communication will become more apparent, companies will be given power-tools to effectively efficiently work with. But there will always be a market for simple sending as well. I see that movement by ESPs into social and web is going fast. And they have to, because the other way around (mainly by CMS / CRM systems) is also happening.

    Jordie van Rijn http://www.emailmonday.com | http://www.emailvendorselection.com

  2. I like it. In the future consumers will be more likely to “consume” marketing when and where they want, using the device and medium of their choice, so the idea of an integrated messaging platform is exactly what I think will happen. Will ExactTarget, Salesforce.com or someone else lead this?

    1. Thanks for contributing Stefan.

      SFDC and ET certainly have a head start but if I had to pick a stable of winners, I would lean toward more nimble companies and technologies.

  3. Hi Koen – All signs point toward email retaining it’s position in marketing. After all, it is the glue that holds most digital channels together but as this article suggests, email is but one channel.

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