dead flower
Email marketing is not dead. But it is evolving. PHOTO: Jakub Kriz

Based on the many predictions of its impending demise over the years, email has outlasted a long list of mortal enemies, from SMS and social media to Facebook Messenger and Snapchat.

I think its death has been greatly exaggerated — and that email instead as a system to deliver promotional messaging will evolve into a higher form.

What form email marketing will take is something everybody has been talking about but nobody agrees on.

Litmus took a crack at prognosticating email's future with its publication of "Email Marketing in 2020," in which 20 industry thought leaders, myself included, speculated on the changes that will shape email marketing in the next few years.

6 Factors Driving Email Transformation

Although we all assumed that email would continue in some recognizable form, I think it's time to recognize that email itself will evolve into something else, that its present form will die and we had better be prepared for it when it happens.

Why? Industry experts base their predictions on six general trends:

  1. Internet connections are everywhere: We are surrounded by internet-connected devices that constantly deliver and interpret data signals, from the watch on your wrist that counts your steps to the car that tells you it's time to change the oil. Internet-connected devices will expand exponentially to the point where every new product will be a connected device.
  2. AI is on the rise: Artificial intelligence or machine learning in devices like IBM's Watson, can sort through vast amount of data to find connections. Meanwhile, we have sophisticated analytics today that use third-party data to build propensity models that predict consumer behavior.
  3. Everyone is permanently plugged in: People are so connected today that unplugging —voluntarily or otherwise — has become more like kicking a habit than just leaving the phone at home. People might talk wistfully about unplugging to be with family, friends or just their own thoughts, but I have yet to find anyone who can do it well.
  4. Innovation is instant: Innovation is happening at a faster pace. People can spot market deficiencies and correct them quickly. Take a walk around the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and see all the innovative devices. It’s clear that technology solutions are rapidly outpacing our ability to understand customer needs.
  5. More and more data is available: We create more data every day than has been around in the entire history of humanity. For consumers to even have a chance at processing what’s relevant to them, we must deliver that information to them at the times they choose to consume it.  
  6. The real-time revolution will be automated: Consumers want real-time information, and they expect to access that information wherever they are instead of having to go to a central device to retrieve it. Creating and delivering that real-time, relevant information will harness machine learning to learn what you want and deliver that information when and where you want it.

The Future Form of Email

Based on these trends, it's reasonable to suggest that email marketing as we know it today passing into another form.

Messages will be delivered to you not on a specific device but in the best places for you to react to them. One-to-one email will always have a place, but promotional email as we know and use it today already has a "use-by" date.

And if you aren't using all the data you have on your customers to create more relevant email, you could be left out as email transitions to a new form. Ignoring data, or saying it doesn't matter, is no longer a reality that any of us can accept.

Keep Your Eye on the Data

But no matter how commercial email transforms in the future, what's clear today is that relying on promotions instead of data to drive your email program is a tactic whose power is fading fast. Using data is just as crucial now as optimizing your emails for mobile once was.

Most of the industry now takes mobile seriously, so I'm optimistic that marketers will get the data message, too.  In short, the data train is waiting on the tracks right now. Better jump on board now so you're not left behind when it leaves the station.