Three trends to watch in e-mail marketing

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Nineteen percent of online marketing budgets are now allocated to e-mail, according MarketingSherpa, and 54% of marketers plan to increase their e-mail budgets this year, based on research from Econsultancy and ExactTarget. Given that, what adjustments should e-mail marketers be considering only two months into the year? Check out these trends, which are heating already in 2010.

1) Permission and privacy: In January, Maine's Attorney General directed the Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife to turn over its' e-mail address list to a third party who claimed it had the right to the list under the Freedom of Access Act, originally put in place to encourage government transparency. Last September in California, the ruling in Powers v. Pottery Barn effectively prohibits brick-and-mortar establishments from obtaining email addresses at the point-of-sale during a credit card transaction.

Privacy rulings are getting more complicated and some of your existing programs may be impacted even if they are “permission-based.” A working knowledge of CAN-SPAM is no longer enough.

2) Video in e-mail: According to a study released last week by Implix, 64% of marketers plan to use video in e-mail in 2010, while only 12% used it last year. Less than 2 weeks ago, Google announced that links to YouTube videos will play videos directly inside the Gmail client. While some quirks have been pointed out, Google has set the precedent. Within the past week, WhatCounts and Delivra have both announced the development of tools to make it easier to integrate video in email.

While video in e-mail will continue to be a challenging for marketers in 2010, it is getting easier. Make sure it is on your testing agenda as case studies from those who have navigated the challenges promise significant performance bumps.

3) Convergence of e-mail and social media: Social networks have invigorated consumers by allowing them to talk back to marketers and since this feedback is public, marketers are forced to listen. Still, in the 2009 Channel Preferences Study we found more than 70% of consumers still want marketers to initiate contact, such as promotions, alerts, customer service messages through e-mail.

Integration of e-mail and social media took shape in 2009 with the inclusion of e-mail links allowing users to share content on social networks. Now companies like Flowtown are enabling marketers to append data to e-mail addresses based on information obtained through social profiles. And already this year, Google made Gmail more social with Buzz, Facebook announced Project Titan as a Gmail killer, and Twitter's COO praised ExactTarget's CoTweet acquisition as, "strong validation that valuable, sustainable businesses are emerging from the Twitter ecosystem.”

E-mail and social are on a collision course, which will result in an improved consumer experience. Keep an eye on integration of data across channels to improve message relevance.

Looking at these early 2010 trends should make us appreciate how fast this industry is moving. While good to see that e-mail budgets are increasing, results from a report released this week from EmailStatCenter suggest that the median salaries of e-mail marketers are lower than their peers specializing in other online disciplines. As such, e-mail is too often seen as a springboard to specialties in other areas. Marketing executives are well advised to insure their increased investments in this channel by investing in the talent that manages it.

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