Email is on the verge of an exciting new role. In addition to connecting people to the friends, family members, business associates, and brands they care about, email will connect machines to one another by the end of the decade.
"Email will be the universal plumbing that connects the Internet of Things," explains Paul Farnell, chief executive officer and co-founder of Litmus. "When I get low on milk, my smart fridge will email my grocery store app, adding milk to my shopping list. And when I go grocery shopping, the receipt will be emailed to my financial software app, which will add it to the itemization of my purchases."
Before all that happens in people's homes, however, email will change the way marketers work.
Newer, flatter, and broader
First, companies will adopt new organizational structures. The silos of today's marketing departments will vanish because customers expect a consistent, unified experience across channels when interacting with a brand. Technology will allow brands to meet these expectations.
"Successful organizations will break down data silos and share data from across the enterprise, creating a consistent subscriber experience across the entire lifecycle," says Eric Stahl, senior vice president of product marketing for the Salesforce Marketing Cloud.
This removal of silos within the marketing stack will require cultural and organizational changes as well. Marketing organizations will become broader and span commerce, web, email, mobile messaging, and paid channels (such as display, search, and video).
This transformation will require marketers to broaden their expertise and their responsibilities. Otherwise, they'll put their relevance at risk.
Machines as partners and audiences
Marketers have long sought to send relevant emails to the right person at the right time. The good news is that technology will enable that on a scale not previously possible. The bad news is that this new scale is far too vast and complex for people to manage.
The solution? Handing over many more decisions to machines.
"New paradigms are needed that allow marketers to create principle-based automation rather than the current prescriptive-based methods," says Tim Watson, founder of U.K.-based email marketing consultancy Zettasphere.
But in giving more responsibility to machines, marketers will fundamentally change their day-to-day jobs. They'll cease designing email campaigns as we currently think about them.
Machines will not only be pivotal teammates in email marketing workflows, but they'll also make up an entire new audience for marketers. Over the next several years, email volume will go through the roof. But a good chunk of that volume will never be seen by human eyes. Instead, the recipients will be machines that we want to keep in the loop.
As a result, marketers will have to not only adjust how they message, but also adopt new tools. Email will contain status updates, travel information, and receipts -- all written and coded to optimize it for machine consumption.
Preparing for a new future
These changes sound drastic, but we still have some time to prepare. Here's how to get ready for what email marketing will look like by 2020:
Reorganize your marketing department for the omnichannel future.
If you haven't removed the silos from your marketing team, now's the time. It'll help you create a holistic view of your customers, allowing you to focus on the right places and better coordinate campaigns and messaging.
In January, our company did some consulting for the marketing department of an NBA team. We were talking about how to reengage subscribers who weren't opening emails often or at all, but the team had people on the call who covered social, web, and other parts of the business. That kind of broad engagement across the marketing team is quite rare, and it's sorely needed to be able to meet the challenges that marketers will face in the years ahead.
Expose channel experts to other channels.
Deep expertise in a channel is critical, but so is a foundational knowledge of other channels. It provides a broad appreciation for how a brand connects with its customers. Then, marketing team members can better strategize as a team as opposed to on a channel-by-channel basis.
The same goes for executives at your company. At the bare minimum, leadership should have a basic understanding of how key channels work to prevent misinformed executives from overriding channel marketers who know better.
Foster a culture of experimentation and rigorous testing.
Brands need to be open to change. That's why it's so important to create an environment where experimentation and testing can thrive. However, most brands are risk-averse -- even when it comes to low-budget endeavors.
Instead of experimenting, companies often want to see multiple case studies before going ahead with a project. By waiting, all you've done is put yourself months behind the competition. Marketing teams should have capacity designated explicitly for experimentation and A/B testing and establish firm expectations and KPIs to ensure it happens.
In 2015, the number of Internet of Things-connected devices was estimated at about 15 billion. By 2020, that number is expected to more than double. To accommodate such an increase, you'll need to break down those silos, expand your expertise, and experiment with what's possible. Otherwise, the competition will overtake you.