With the decade drawing to a close, it's a great time to put on our reflective hats and have a look back at the key changes in email marketing across the last 10 years.

Back in 2010 a pesky volcano stopped us all from flying, the Chilean miners were miraculously rescued, and England were dumped out the World Cup by Germany and some horrendous refereeing decisions (I'm still sore about that - it was over the line!)

Whilst we have lasting effects from 2010 (such as rules around flying through volcano ash clouds and VAR), it seems like a world away from 2019. The relentless pace of progress has kept up at an eye-watering rate, and email marketing is a nice microcosm for showing that. So let's do just that - we are going to look back at some of the major changes to email marketing across the 'twenty-tens'.

The rise of mobile devices

It's not some dystopian film where humanity is under the thumb of sentient iPhones. This decade has seen email usage on mobile devices, especially phones, shoot through the roof. Mobile phones are now the most common device that an email is read on. Adestra found that approximately 62% of all emails are read on mobile devices, and Pew Research note a 42% rise in smartphone ownership since 2011 in America alone. This all means that more people want to stay online and access digital information on the go.

Chances are that this person is reading an emailChances are that this person is reading an email

With over half of all emails now opened on mobile devices, has an appreciation for mobile-centric emails evolved? Well, yes and no. Whilst emails are now coded to work on mobile devices as standard, for many brands they are still created primarily from the desktop viewpoint.

Smart and savvy marketers are already shifting to a mobile-first approach. Given that viewing emails on a mobile device is the most popular way it seems a question of when, not if.

Email is still the key channel for marketers

Email marketing has been under threat this decade by new and exciting marketing technologies; none more so than social media. It's hard to even imagine a society without social media, even though it didn't exist 15 years ago, such is its grip on us. And marketers were quick to realise its potential. Social media is now an important weapon in the marketer's arsenal.

But has it usurped email as the most important? Predictions said it would, but the evidence suggests email still reigns supreme. Despite being seen as 'traditional' in the face of new marketing channels, email has not only innovated to keep pace with the newcomers, but provides an ROI that other channels can only dream of. The current statistic from Litmus shows that email delivers $42 for every $1 spent, and this is around twice as much (if not more) than other channels.

And in multi-channel marketing campaigns, email tends to be the focal point that other channels revolve around. Getting people to sign up to newsletters or requesting their consent to sign up to direct marketing is usually done via the newer mediums. Once that consent has been secured, email is utilised to market the actual selling points of the company and/or products.

Yes, having an effective email marketing structure can take effort to establish. But the gains are enormous. And you can always make your email more effective too (I suggest taking a look at Taxi for Email, and not just because you're reading a blog from them). Those who choose not to engage with email marketing, or have moved away from it under the allure of the newer channels, are now discovering the FOMO that comes with that 42:1 ROI ratio. And email marketing shows no sign of slowing down and seceding it's dominance and importance going forward either.

Marketing automation in email becomes a necessity

What do we think about when we think of 'manual'? Manual labour? Instruction manuals? Manual transmission in cars? Manual means a lot of work and lots of time spent on repetitive tasks. But this is the 21st Century, we don't need all of this. Email marketing, at one time, suffered under the strain of manual processes.

Not using automation? May as well be using one of theseNot using automation? May as well be using one of these

Email automation was around before the start of this decade, but it was in the early years of the 'twenty-tens' that saw a commercially-led growth explosion for automation companies. A demand for automation saw large companies (Salesforce, Oracle etc) hoover up smaller automation specialists (ExactTarget, Responsys) in acquisitions that drove an intense commercial competitiveness. This in turn drove down costs, making the automation tools more affordable to smaller companies. Which then spread the reach and common usage of automation.

But as costs fell, it became more difficult to differentiate by this factor. One cheap automation tool couldn't control the market, as they were all cheap. So the focus turned to technology; more specifically the features, reliability and usability of the tools. These ramped up over the remaining years to where we are now - a marketing world where automation is no longer a buzzword, but a necessity to compete. It's as essential to a marketing team as an F1 car is to Lewis Hamilton (except it's a lot less expensive to own).

The new challenge with automation is making it easy for marketers to execute — tools like Taxi help marketing teams take advantage of the powerful yet complex automation tools they now have.

How we use data grew and shifted with society

Data has had quite the journey this decade. It was seen as a utopia for marketers. It gave them the ability to tailor content and offers, understand behavioural trends and track user journeys from start to finish.

Behavioural emails use data collected from interactions with apps, products and websites to inform and suggest further interaction and behavioural trends. If you left your shopping cart with items in it, prepare for a reminder email telling you you've done so! If you've recently purchased a video game, expect an email into your inbox with suggestions based around that video game's genre, art-style, price-range and age. All this from a simple online purchase.

How data is analysed and utilised to provide a more personalised experience for consumers has exploded over the course of the decade. We've just talked about behavioural emails but data insights power much more than that. Personalisation, segmentation and multi-channel automation are all ways in which data can empower email marketing. And data has become more accessible internally thanks to an appreciation for less siloed departments and collaborative efforts.

There is also another side. How marketers use the data they have consensually collected creates any number of opportunities to be inventive and creative, and really focus in on what their audience wants. But how was the data obtained and stored? And why were people getting contacted by companies that they didn't ask to be?

The face when you receive an email you didn't sign up forThe face when you receive an email you didn't sign up for

Society became aware that their personal data was just that; personal. Consent around how their data was used, as well as ethical considerations about obtaining and storing it, were of paramount importance. In Europe at least, this resulted in 4 letters that are now seared into every marketer's brain; GDPR. A stringent and robust set of legislation that also carried hefty punitive measures, it ensured that the way data was collected and used would change forever.

And for the better, because unethical use of data now gives companies an incredibly damaging brand image. Just ask Facebook. Conversely, if your brand is known for ethical and careful use of personal data, this boosts your brand reputation. And you can still be as creative an innovative with the data that you hold.

Personalisation is the darling of email marketing

We mentioned this earlier whilst discussing data, but personalisation in its own right has been a huge innovation in the email industry over the past decade. Starting out as purely addressing the customer by their name (this happened before 2010), this decade has seen personalisation expand from location, gender and company, to intricacies such as mapping previous purchases and telling you a story based on that.

Frequent EasyJet customers can receive emails that highlight everywhere they have travelled with them. You can receive unique discount codes to celebrate anniversaries, and entire emails that are tailored to your previous purchasing or browsing habits.

Personalisation is possibly the buzzword of the decade, especially the second half. Accenture found that people are 75% more likely to buy from a brand that personalises their marketing, and the Data and Marketing Association uncovered that segmentation, a component of personalisation, drives a 760% increase in email revenue. With these stats in mind, it's no wonder that marketers are clamouring to include more innovative styles of personalisation in their emails.

Where next?

With email marketing having come so far this decade, who knows what will happen over the next ten years? Actually, given the fast rate of progress, what will happen next year? Keep an eye on the Taxi blog for an upcoming article that may just address this.

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