Email trends in 2022 and beyond

Oct 13, 2022

When it comes to connecting with your customers, one practice remains tried and true: email. Thought by skeptics to be in decline, email continues to not only evolve but play an even greater role in reaching new audiences, growing brands, and increasing sales.

With privacy changes and the impending elimination of third-party cookies, first-party data continues to gain importance for brands. Email maintains a high level of return on investment (ROI)—generating $42 for every $1 spent—and is agile, as campaigns are quick to deploy and adopt. Investing in this channel aligns with other marketing tactics and translates to positive impacts across organizational silos. From a consumer perspective, most people use email every day—and extensively—making it an integral part of their customer journey and a valuable touchpoint for growing their connection with your brand.

A look at recent statistics confirms the importance of this channel as a part of your holistic marketing and customer experience strategy:

  • 76% of leaders say their email marketing program made a positive impact on the business in 2021, compared to 58% in 2020
  • 95% of leaders say email marketing aligned with other marketing disciplines in 2021, compared to 50% in 2020
  • Email marketing revenue is estimated to reach nearly $11 billion by the end of 2023
  • 99% of users check their email everyday

Consumers are trained to check this communication method daily—and meeting them where they are is an opportunity to cultivate a personalized connection with your brand. By increasing investment in email, companies can support their overall communication and customer experience goals.

Though email marketing remains a top tactic, the industry continues to evolve. That’s why understanding current email marketing trends in 2022 and beyond can provide a roadmap for successful strategies for engaging with targeted customers and increasing brand exposure.

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Trend #1: Effects of privacy and personalization

Understanding privacy changes and challenges is paramount to developing and maintaining an effective email strategy.

Though the anticipated cookie depreciation is delayed, it will eventually come into place. Brands and advertisers should invest resources in evaluating and testing the new Privacy Sandbox technologies and devise a strategy to ensure that their content and experiences remain relevant to consumers while preserving consumer privacy and trust. After developing such strategies, brands should next focus on using zero-party and first-party data-based targeting strategies and contextual advertising to align with consumers’ increased need for privacy, transparency, and trust.

The fact remains that email is the most universal channel using first-party data. Securing access to third-party and second-party data will become increasingly complex, while first- and zero-party data (also called declared data, which is data provided directly to your brand by the customer) will become the gold standard. Fortunately, email is well-positioned for using first-party data—and marketing professionals can leverage this platform to also collect valuable zero-party data which will help them create personalized and relevant experiences.

As these changes take shape, brands must adjust from promotion-only strategies to personalized and nuanced connections. Consumers will become more cognizant of the data they are sharing with brands and will evaluate whether your brand can be trusted with this valuable information based on how the data is being used. By incorporating intentionality into data collection and email strategy, companies can gain trust in the face of evolving privacy regulations.

Apple MPP leads to redefining success metrics

Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection (MPP) is the latest privacy feature introduced by Apple with iOS 15. This feature prevents email senders from using tracking pixels to measure open rates and device usage while also masking the IP address of recipients to prevent location tracking.

When an individual receives and opens an email, it’s often tracked via pixels. As MPP seeks to pre-fetch images in email, it will provide an indication that the email was opened—even if it wasn’t. This change impacts and redefines email success metrics in significant ways. First and foremost, open rates—a traditionally important metric for all email marketers—will be drastically inflated. In August 2022, 57.72% of email opens were on an Apple device, making this shift a significant concern.

In addition, MPP indicates that:

  • Open times will be random and unreliable
  • Device information will be unavailable
  • User location will be approximated

Marketing teams should consider alternatives when it comes to tracking campaign success:

  • Clicks (total and by link)
  • Conversion and unsubscribe rates
  • Engagement from other channels, such as SMS and mobile app

Despite their accuracy, email opens remain important. After all, customers must open the email to click through and connect with a brand. For this reason, it’s critical that companies still optimize for strong open rates. To do this, rely on best practices that include using engaging sender names, subject lines, and pre-header texts. Additionally, brands should increase the interactive and personalized elements of their email content to increase click-through rates and conversions.

Takeaways and tips for brands as success metrics shift:

  • Companies should look to developing more robust, engaging, and interactive content and creative to drive clicks
  • Use click-through rates, conversation rates, and unsubscribe rates to measure email success
  • Focus on optimizing opens through a strong combination of sender name, subject line, and pre-header text
  • Open rates can still be used for same time-period comparisons for A/B testing

Trend #2: The growing importance of owned data

While privacy regulations benefit consumers, companies remain concerned, stating the following upcoming changes as the top privacy changes concerning their brand leadership:

  • 81%: Apple iOS 15 changes
  • 77%: Google’s third-party cookie depreciation
  • 72%: Government regulations like General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPR)
  • 72%: Depreciation of app tracking data

By breaking down these concerns through a more strategic reliance on first- and zero-party data, leaders can better prepare for upcoming changes and elevate the customer experience to engage audiences more deeply. As owned data becomes increasingly valuable, brand leaders should gear up for more investment in email.

Increased efforts to collect—and use—zero-party data

While privacy concerns shift tactics, it’s more important than ever to increase efforts for collecting zero-party data. Zero-party data enhances personalization efforts, especially in the wake of third-party cookie depreciation. Brands that employ personalization in a responsible way that delivers value to customers—not exclusively self-serving to the company—will produce customers who maintain a positive sentiment toward the brand. In fact, 71% of consumers say that a personalized experience would influence their decision to open and read emails.

There are several tactics that brands can employ to collect zero-party data.

First, optimize the customer preference center to capture their data and communication preferences. This can include everything from frequency and channel to content types and opt-ins. In addition, it’s important to educate a customer on the purpose of data collection to establish trust. By explaining in a clear and direct way—and following through with promises made about use—customers are more likely to share their data.

Another important way to gather zero-party data is by collecting data in stages instead of all at once. By collecting data in stages, a brand can gather important information over time in smaller increments. This helps customers not feel overwhelmed by being asked to enter too many fields at once. Data can be obtained via email calls-to-action, surveys, or quizzes. For example, an organization may already know the location of a subscriber by their state alone. By asking the subscriber which store within a state is their preferred shopping location, the company may be able to connect a more geotargeted profile of where in the state the consumer lives or shops and offer content and promotions relevant to that store location.

Once collected, it’s critical to use this data in ways that are meaningful to consumers. Going through the efforts of collecting it makes no impact if it’s not used. By delivering on the promise to use the information collected to improve relevancy, brands can make subscribers feel more comfortable with sharing personal data—knowing that it results in more tailored communications. Employ best practices for personalization across the board and capitalize on sending the right content at the right time to increase engagement.

Trend #3: Rise of dynamic, interactive, and accessible elements

When it comes to ROI, email marketers must rely on dynamic content. Brands that always include dynamic content increase email ROI by 100% (42:1) compared to those who never or rarely do (21:1).

Dynamic email content is updated at the moment of the email open. Incorporating a dynamic content block helps modify the email content based on an individual customer persona. This creates efficiencies and saves time and effort for the marketing team. In addition to traditional dynamic content that leverages first-party data, the ease of accessing direct feeds through agile content development helps email marketers vastly reduce the time it takes to populate emails with fresh content. For example, a live feed can be pulled from social channels to populate certain modules within emails.

Dynamic content should be based on consumer data points, acquired via a robust zero- or first-party data strategy. In other words, customers expect brand communications to be relevant to them based on the information that they’ve already shared about themselves. In this way, dynamic content can impact click-through rates and conversions via personalization.

Brands face increased inbox competition and the fight for customer mind share. This presents an opportunity to incorporate more engaging elements in emails to make them more dynamic—an ideal strategy for retaining attention.

Developing interactive emails using Google AMP

60% of individuals are likely to engage with an interactive email and more than 50% indicate that they like it when they can interact with content within an email. Many brands turn to Google Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) to make their emails more dynamic and interactive. Google AMP is an open-source project that helps web publishers and marketers create mobile-optimized content on all devices. This effort to drastically improve the performance of the mobile web on any phone or tablet, includes the instantaneous loading of rich content like video, animations, graphics, and smart ads. Google AMP’s effectiveness has proven to increase conversions by 520%.

Though launched in 2015, the adoption of Google AMP continues to increase across sectors. For consumers, AMP email recipients can quickly act within the email without visiting a separate landing page. For developers, AMP email enables them to easily develop interactive functionality, such as carousels and light boxes, with minimal effort using code snippets—with the bonus of using such features to collect zero-party data.

There are several ways to use Google AMP to make more active, dynamic email content. This includes:

  • Embedding image galleries
  • Accepting user inputs through a form
  • Marking items in a cart
  • Adding product cards to purchase products within an email
  • Completing a questionnaire in an email
  • Responding to comments
  • Linking the email to a calendar and tracking event registrations.

Using BIMI for better deliverability and authentication

In addition to interactive emails, companies need to consider their branding in email inboxes. If the customer doesn’t trust an email enough to open it in the first place, the interactive elements incorporated are meaningless.

BIMI (Brand Indicators for Message Identification, pronounced bih-mee) is an email specification that enables inboxes to display a brand’s logo next to the brand’s authenticated email messages. Launched in 2019, BIMI aims to give trusted senders control over how their brand is represented in messaging services. It leverages behind-the-scenes security updates, helps subscribers avoid phishing attempts, and makes your messages stand out.

The Agari report shows a 96% growth in BIMI adoption since 2020, with high-profile companies like Google and Yahoo joining the nearly 19,000 brand domains with BIMI records. While BIMI alone is not the most a company can do to protect its customers from email spoofing and phishing, it adds an important layer of authentication that can prevent cyberattacks.

Designing emails for all subscribers is table stakes

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over 1 billion people live with some form of disability. Globally, at least 2.2 billion people have a near or distant vision impairment. Additionally, color blindness affects approximately one in 12 men (8%) and one in 200 women (.5%).

Email accessibility is a critical component of providing a positive customer experience and reaching all subscribers. It is the practice of ensuring that your emails can be read and understood even by subscribers with disabilities. It is also relevant when certain sections of an email become inaccessible due to technical compatibility issues. Therefore, it is important to have the right email design to encourage engagement among all subscribers. Brands can uncover opportunity areas through detailed email best practices and design audits.

There are general practices that all marketers can deploy to make emails more accessible, including:

  • Avoid all-image emails
  • Keep email layout simple
  • Use legible typography
  • Use appropriate color contrast
  • Allow enough white space/breathing space
  • Make links and buttons distinguishable from other email elements
  • Create responsive emails for different screen sizes
  • Design for dark mode
  • Left-align email text: People with dyslexia prefer left-aligned text rather than central aligned due to the consistent character and word spacing—it is also more readable for the general population, as well

Trend #4: Using Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) to increase revenue

When it comes to Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML), it’s all about analytics. Previously, brands relied on manual segmentation to personalize their content and deliver emails to their ideal customers. With technology enhancement over time, many practices are increasingly automated and lead to more precise personalization capabilities using advanced analytics. In fact, AI and ML have evolved to become integral components of communication strategies for a growing number of brands.

AI and ML help brands increase revenue by sending better emails and decreasing costs through time reduction. This increased precision and time management continue to catch the eyes of business leadership, which is why 41% of marketers agree that using AI for email marketing generates higher market revenue.

As AI and ML continue to become more mainstream, brands leverage them for myriad purposes that include:

  • Automating list segmentation based on purchase history and interests
  • Predictive eye tracking analysis to assist with design automation
  • Gathering real-time subject line insights
  • Personalization of the email body at the individual stage

Strategic investment in technology to boost email engagement and conversions and compete for the customer’s mind share will be of increasing importance to break through crowded consumer inboxes. Brands should consider expanding AI/ML efforts to optimize segmentation, targeting, and personalization.

Key takeaways

Email marketing not only remains one of the most important marketing channels, but it also continues to evolve in ways that increase user engagement and conversions. Current trends take into consideration updated regulations, shifting expectations, and updated technology to provide brands with powerful options for reaching consumers in new and personalized ways via this channel.

Brands should hone in on four key areas as they seek to enhance email marketing as part of their overall communications strategy:

1. Understand the ever-increasing importance and impact of privacy and personalization

2. Lean into owned data to power deeper connections and relevancy

3. Establish trust by following authentication best practices and increase ROI by creating dynamic, interactive, and accessible content

4. Use AI and ML to improve revenue from email marketing efforts

Investing in the email channel and implementing campaigns using best practices will not only improve conversions and deliver top-line business benefits, but it will also elevate the customer experience—engendering greater levels of trust and ensuring the authenticity and intentionality customers expect in communications from their chosen brands.

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Meet the author
  1. Bindu Gupta, Senior Director, Customer Strategy, Insights and Research

    Bindu is a strategic problem-solver with more than 10 years of experience in marketing and customer engagement. View bio