Email marketing trends 2021: 9 ideas for the new year

Email marketing will remain an important tool in the future to inform your customers about offers, new products, or special promotions. Technical developments and changed user behavior mean that you have to regularly adapt your strategy to stay up-to-date. You might already be familiar with some of these trends - a sign that they are becoming more and more important. Other methods, such as A/B testing or smartphone optimization, have become so commonplace when it comes to newsletters that they don’t need to be explained in this article.

Tip

If you want to create effective newsletter campaigns, online services can be very helpful. With IONOS email marketing you can achieve great results without too much work!

Generally, this year’s mail marketing trends are also aimed at inspiring readers and challenging them with new ideas. The biggest challenge with newsletters is providing users with useful content and original advertising messages.As a marketer, however, you have to adapt to new target groups and reading habits.

A new generation of customers is growing up – and they have grown up with online shopping and permanent accessibility. Marketing newsletters are taken for granted, especially by young people of Generation Z, who have been using smartphones since childhood, and are therefore giving less and less attention to them. This makes it even more important to stand out with a unique message, to deliver something with a personal touch, and to invite readers to interact.

Social commitment

In today’s world, companies should no longer present themselves as anonymous corporations. Instead, they should show their charitable side. Humanitarian and sustainable approaches are important to young people in particular – and have an impact on their consumer behavior. Companies that are committed to the environment or social causes have a better chance at scoring points here. If you and your company are committed, it’s a good idea to make these efforts known. On the one hand, this provides good publicity and, on the other hand, it will help make the respective project known and help you gain further supporters.

Newsletters are a perfect opportunity to demonstrate social commitment. Content that informs readers about interesting projects and conveys values is more likely to be read than advertising messages. Therefore, write a meaningful text that readers will want to take the time to read. But don’t overload the email. Instead, create a separate landing page on your website that can then be linked to. This will drive traffic to the page and can even help with lead generation.

Note

Social commitment must really come from the heart. If you only do good for the sake of appearances, customers will quickly notice – and this will reflect badly back on you. So, make a point of supporting projects that you have a link to. This will make it easier for you to create compelling content for your email marketing.

Accessibility

Your clientele is diverse – and your newsletter should reflect that. So, make sure to design emails in a way that all recipients feel addressed and can access the content. This includes people with visual impairments. Therefore, don’t get too creative with the color selection, and ensure strong contrasts. This helps both people with visual impairments and those who are color blind. Enough white space, i.e., blank spaces, visually structures the text and makes it even easier to read.

Also, assume that people with no eyesight at all are among the recipients of your newsletters. Blind people often use a screenreader. This software captures the content on the screen and then reads it aloud. So, for your newsletter content to be expressed, it must also be perceived as text. That’s why you shouldn’t exclusively place content in graphics. For HTML newsletters, use additional alt texts that put the image content into words.

For newsletters, you can follow the same tips that apply to accessible websites:

  • Clear test design with plenty of whitespace
  • High contrast and restrained color design
  • Correct HTML formatting
  • Meaningful alternative texts for images
  • Clearly recognizable buttons and links

However, accessibility can also refer to the language used. Not every mail recipient can decode nested sentences and understand foreign words. If you offer a version in simple language in addition to the detailed text, you are actively promoting inclusion.

Gated Content

One hurdle you have to overcome as an email marketer: how do you get your customers’ email addresses? Without the user’s consent, you can forget sending out newsletters. But since almost every website, blog, or online store operator now wants to send its users regular emails, you might find that very few users are willing to part with their personal details easily. Therefore, it’s best to find a strategy where both sides benefit.

Marketing specialists can adopt a technique from the online newspaper sector to precisely do that: gated content. To create additional ways of making a profit in addition to advertisements, some internet magazines place special articles behind a paywall. The rest of the content is still available free of charge but those who want to read the premium articles have to pay. Other journals offer a certain contingent of freely available content. If the user has reached their article limit, further articles are only available after payment has been received.

As an online marketer your currency is customer data. It makes sense to create content that will only be activated once the user has entered their personal information by subscribing to the newsletter. Only content that provides users with real added value is suitable for this: customers are happy to share their details in exchange for whitepapers, statistics, or online courses. You could provide a preview so that users can see in advance whether it’s worthwhile signing up.

Automation

Once you have built up your mailing list(s), it’s important to send informative newsletters to your customers on a regular basis. These should be automated as much as possible. While automation is not a new mail marketing trend, it is a continuing one – and is becoming increasingly important. In the past, it might have been sufficient to send a message once a week and schedule a dispatch date in advance. But now it’s simply not enough. Good automation reacts to the users’ behavior. This way, you can accompany different users in their purchase decisions.

Good newsletter automation works via triggers – customer actions. Depending on how your customers act (or don’t act), you send an automated, prepared email. Simple triggers can be registration or purchase, for example, after which you send a confirmation. But it can be more complex if you build chains and let them branch out. For example, with well-set automation, you send different messages depending on whether the reader opened your last newsletter or it ended up unopened in the trash. A/B tests can also be perfectly controlled by way of email automation.

Thanks to automation, you can kill two birds with one stone: on the one hand, you can react much faster and more individually to each user. Depending on how your customers act online, you can prepare the right email for them and can send it in real-time. On the other hand, you save resources because automation processes mean you need less time and fewer staff members to run effective email marketing.

Customization

Another newsletter trend that is becoming more and more popular every year and is closely linked to automation is personalizing your emails. For your messages to be effective, they should be as individual as possible. You need more than just the correct name of the customer to impress them: you should also react to what your customer is doing and find out who is behind the email address. Make the most of the information you have on your customers. Even if this data can’t always be assigned to individual people, it gives you a good overview of your target group.

Thanks to automation, you can also react directly to your customers’ behavior. Send follow-up emails when they’ve made a purchase, respond to a product search, try to reactivate users that have gone quiet, or simply congratulate them on their birthday and give them a gift voucher. Make sure you only deliver content that is relevant to your customers. Don’t, for example, try to sell women’s clothes to someone who is only interested in men’s shirts. Work with different distribution lists since not all users fit the same template. Create meaningful groups and address users more effectively.

Interactive content

Another newsletter trend is aimed at interactive content. This means that users can influence the content when reading the email. This is based on the idea of gamification: typical game elements that give the reader a challenge are inserted into the email. The principle works because the user gets a high from playing and doing well, even though they don’t technically get anything for winning. However, you can create further incentives by distributing small prizes such as coupons, as a reward.

But it doesn’t always have to be a game: anything a reader can click on will increase their interest. For example, several tabs can be integrated within an email so that the reader can click through the offer. It’s also possible for surveys to be filled out directly in the email that bring in very good results. This gives you a double advantage: on the one hand, you can collect interesting data from the survey and on the other hand, your email will get more attention.

Note

Not every user can display interactive elements correctly, so make sure your e-mail looks acceptable and interesting to read even without these elements present. You can also provide a link so that the content can be displayed in the browser.

Although these email marketing trends in 2021 have become important for design, and new possibilities shouldn’t be overlooked, you might notice that a countermovement is happening at the same time: some marketers are going back to plain text emails. This is because they want to ensure that all users see the email as it’s intended to be seen. However, it is questionable whether this trend will prevail or not.

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence is starting to spill out into areas outside of computer science. Smaller companies also now rely on artificial intelligence and machine learning. Therefore, another current email marketing trend is to integrate artificial intelligence into the creation and distribution of newsletters. This development is still in its infancy but it’s advisable to get in there and keep your eye on the ball. The focus is on optimization and making predictions.

For example, artificial intelligence can determine the best dispatch time. It is not only possible to determine the optimal time for large groups: it’s also possible for individual recipients. The same applies to the very important subject line: if this isn’t appealing enough, the email won’t be opened. AI can also help here, although it goes one step further: thanks to the enormous amount of data that artificial intelligence can process, it also makes it possible to make predictions. This way the computer can determine beforehand how well a certain image in a newsletter will be received, for example.

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Storytelling

All these email marketing trends help you make use of storytelling – a technique that has been successfully used in brand communication for quite some time. Instead of simply sending a message, you become a storyteller and catch recipients’ interest with emotions instead of calls to action. But this doesn’t mean that storytelling becomes an end in itself. Your story is always interwoven with the brand. The feelings conjured when reading link to your company or its products.

You can also combine different newsletter trends in storytelling: For example, the values represented by the company can serve as a starting point for your narrative. In turn, interactive elements can be used to tell the story. This makes the reader part of the narrative. This involvement of the readership is further enhanced by personalization, in which the story adapts to the customer’s situation and speaks to them at just the right moment.

To ensure that your newsletter doesn’t end up in the trash unopened, the subject line should already make clear that readers can expect more than just a standard promotional email. In this way, the story starts before the email is opened – and doesn’t necessarily end after it’s closed. Continue telling the story, on your website, in a whitepaper, or in the form of an infographic.

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Data protection and privacy

Another newsletter trend is competing with the possibilities of artificial intelligence and shouldn’t be ignored: data protection. This, of course, isn’t a new topic. Data protection is, was, and will continue to be an important task for marketing specialists. The large amount of personal information makes it easier to advertise on the internet (especially in combination with AI). Of course, you have to comply with the laws. If you fail to do this, your (future) customers will lose faith in you. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has outlined strict rules for companies’ handling of personal data.

Customers must agree to their data being collected and it may only be used for purposes to which they’ve given their consent. In other words, data provided by a customer so they can buy something cannot be then used for advertising purposes. This requires additional approval. You must also ensure that this data does not fall into the hands of unauthorized people.

Furthermore, there are extensive documentation and information obligations: which data you store for which purposes must be precisely documented. You must also provide the user with information about the data storage and delete all data at the user’s request. Another important point for many companies is the one best known as “privacy by default”: the technical setting for the collection of personal data must always be as restrictive as possible. Personal data may only be transmitted after users have given their explicit consent. For email marketing, this means that in the future you will have to handle user data even more transparently and responsibly than was required in the past.

Tip

Find out more about data protection, especially the GDPR in the EU in our extensive article on the topic. Although an EU regulation, it could affect your website and newsletters in the USA and elsewhere, too.

Summary: newsletter trends

The email marketing trends of 2021 are bolder than ever before: automation and individualization will continue to be important in the future and can be further developed by adding artificial intelligence to the mix. The same applies to email presentation: interactive content can be used to inspire your readers. It will be interesting to see what is going to be possible in the future when it comes to design and selecting the content in emails.

It’s also becoming apparent that the content of newsletters is once again coming into focus: customers are less and less likely to be convinced by pure superficiality. Instead, you should convince them with fascinating stories and convey the values of your company. Especially with a young target group, you can score points with authenticity.

What’s becoming increasingly important is data protection. Many users have had bad experiences in the past; not necessarily because they’ve had their data passed on to third parties. It’s more often the way that they have been addressed or harassed by newsletters. Make sure you have a sense of responsibility when it comes to data protection and content design, since this will remain a relevant newsletter trend for years to come.

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Some ideas for successful newsletters in 2021

Throughout the year, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to make your email marketing seasonal to increase customer engagement. So that you don’t sweat and can plan your successful campaigns in advance, we have put together a few dates for you:

  • New Year (1st of January): Wish your customers a good start to the new year.
  • Super Bowl (7th of February 2021): The American football spectacle is gaining traction internationally, too.
  • Valentine’s Day (14th of February): Romantic themes work best every year around Valentine’s Day.
  • International Women’s Day (8th of March): Reaching out to the women who subscribe to your newsletter is always welcome!
  • Start of spring (20th of March): With the flowers starting to blossom outside, it’s the ideal opportunity to introduce new colors and ideas into your mail-outs.
  • Easter (1st of April-4th of April): The Easter holidays are a time to address families.
  • Mother’s Day (9th of May): There are all kinds of ways of showing appreciation for moms – not just presents, so be creative in your letters!
  • Father’s Day (20th of June.): An opportunity to highlight Dads across the USA!
  • Summer Olympics (23rd of July-8th of August): Tokyo becomes the center of worldwide sporting interest.
  • Summer Paralympics (24th of August-5th of September 2021): Advocate for greater inclusion and celebrate the Paralympics with a fitting newsletter, too.
  • Thanksgiving Canada (11th of October 2021): Time to give thanks – and show your readers, Canadian or otherwise, that you are grateful for their readership.
  • Halloween (31st of October): In the USA, the festival of horrors is becoming more and more popular.
  • Thanksgiving USA (25th November 2021): A second opportunity to give thanks – and again show your readers that you are grateful for their readership.
  • Black Friday (26th of November 2021): Black Friday is getting bigger each year, either join in with the madness, or acknowledge it with alternative offerings.
  • Advent (28th of November-24th of December): Advent is traditionally a time for reflection – despite the Christmas shopping.
  • Cyber Monday (29th of November 2021): Cyber Monday might give you an opportunity to reach out to begin the Christmas period.
  • Christmas (24th to 26th of December): During the whole Advent season, with the highlight around Christmas Day, Christmas campaigns can be easily spread via newsletters.
  • New Year’s Eve (31st of December): The end of the year is the perfect moment to look back – share it with your customers.

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