Continuing trends & new opportunities: 5 predictions for email marketing - ClickZ

30-second summary:

  • In 2020, we saw a vast increase in the usage of email marketing as the volume of senders skyrocketed. Will this trend continue into 2021? Or should we expect a different kind of disruption in the coming year?
  • Based on insight from several of our in-house experts at Validity, below are our top five predictions for email marketing in 2021.
  • These trends include: Inbox overload, alternatives to open rate tracking, increasing email fraud, more intent-based marketing, and greater use of AMP.
  • Here’s how these trends will impact marketers in 2021.

In 2020, we saw a vast increase in the usage of email marketing as the volume of senders skyrocketed. Will this trend continue into 2021? Or should we expect a different kind of disruption in the coming year?

I checked in with several of our in-house experts at Validity, and here are our top five predictions for email marketing in 2021:

Inbox overload

With email maintaining its role as the most trusted digital marketing channel, especially during a pandemic, list sizes have grown significantly.

According to our data, year-over-year global email volumes are already up by 25%. And those numbers continue trending upward. This ongoing expansion of email volume will make it harder to get into people’s inboxes, and harder to get people to engage with the messages they do receive in 2021.

Alternatives to open rate tracking

The open-rate key performance indicators (KPI) are becoming increasingly unreliable. At Validity’s recent Summit, Marcel Becker, director of product management at Verizon Media (which powers Yahoo! Mail and AOL), told us that actual open rates may be three times lower than what’s being reported.

Causes include (Read more...) image caching, especially on mobile devices, and bot-driven signups, which lead to artificially inflated open rates. Legal considerations may also prompt a shift away from open rate tracking: In Europe, an open tracking pixel is deemed a cookie, making it subject to specific consent requirements.

In 2021, we think senders will focus on more useful KPIs than open rates, such as the amount of time people actually spend reading and engaging with emails.

Increasing email fraud

In April, Gmail said it was blocking 18 million malware and phishing emails each day—and more than 240 million spam emails daily—all of which were using COVID-19 as a lure. These kinds of attacks are continuing to grow and evolve. Bad actors will often impersonate a trusted website, such as the World Health Organization (WHO), by using a fake subdomain like

In the coming year, we predict legitimate marketers will take additional steps to protect their brands, their sender reputations, and their customers from this kind of fraud by implementing a Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance (DMARC) policy.

The DMARC standard is designed to give domain owners control over who sends emails on behalf of their domains and their subdomains. At the Summit, Becker said his personal wish is for 100% adoption of DMARC in 2021.

More intent-based marketing

In 2020, many brands realized they needed to communicate with their customers using greater empathy: less selling, more focus on We’re in this together, how can we help you? This isn’t going away in 2021.

In fact, we believe many companies will connect with customers even more effectively in the new year. Signup profiles are one way in which we see senders segmenting their lists more effectively, in this case based on a subscriber’s intent.

Did this person sign up because of a particular product being offered, an affinity with the brand, or some other benefit? Progressive profiling, in which marketers gather small amounts of data at a time, often via a series of forms on their website, also can help companies tailor email content, tone of voice, timing, and so on to better serve each audience segment.

This type of intent-based marketing has the potential to help senders increase engagement and conversions, as well as reduce complaints and unsubscribes.

Emerging technology

We predict more senders will be using Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) for email in 2021 to deliver rich, engaging experiences within the inbox. With AMP for email, consumers don’t have to click a link, then wait for a web page to load.

Instead, companies like, Pinterest, Doodle, and Babylon Health are weaving website-like functionality into the email itself, including drop-down lists, carousels, and customer surveys, which increase engagement and reduce friction in the sales process.

We’ll also see greater adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) for such things as subject line and headline optimization, as well as augmented reality (AR) to bring more of an in-store, “try it on” experience into the inbox.

To stand out in crowded inboxes in 2021, senders will be employing new technologies, and getting to know their customers better, in order to make messages more relevant, more compelling, and more actionable.

To do that, marketers will need good, clean data, and a way to make sense of it all. And they’ll need to protect their brands, customers, and reputations from fraudulent email activity. By doing so, they’ll be able to leverage the power of email to engage more deeply with customers, which ultimately benefits everyone.

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