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When it comes to email marketing, company marketers are more interested in improving their personalization and segmentation efforts than their marketing automation activities, according to the latest Email Industry Census [download page] from Econsultancy and Adestra. But innovation plans surrounding email are centering more this year than last on using automation to enable 1-to-1 communication.

When marketers (surveyed globally, but primarily from the UK) were asked how they intend to innovate with email this year, most pointed to more creative uses of behavioral triggers (60%), as they did last year (58%).

The majority of marketers (55%) also say they’re looking to make greater use of dynamic elements such as video content, GIFs, and countdown clocks, with intentions on this front again much the same as with last year (52%).

The year-over-year comparison of results shows that one aspect of email innovation is gaining steam: the use of automation to enable one-to-one communication. This year 53% of respondents noted that they were including that in their email innovation plans, up from 45% last year.

The only other email-related innovation seeing somewhat of a trend from last year is the use of the email address as an identifier on external platforms. Surprisingly, fewer said they’d be doing that this year (16%) than last (20%), despite separate research indicating that B2C decision-makers believe that the email address is the most valuable piece of customer data, in part because email registrations can be an effective way to consolidate data on a customer across platforms, in turn enabling better personalization.

Marketers’ Use of Automation Has Room to Grow

It may be that the rise in interest in automation this year relates to a pervasive sense that there’s plenty of room for improvement. Indeed, just 8% of company respondents believe that they’ve been “very successful” in implementing automated email marketing programs. And while most (55%) feel they’ve been “quite successful,” that number has dipped from last year, as more this year (37%) feel unsuccessful in their efforts.

Marketers’ use of automated emails appears fairly sparse, per the report. Fewer than half, for example, send automated emails based on subscriptions or website sign-ups (46%) or based on website visits/sign-ups (38%).

Likewise, the implementation of predictive or intelligence solutions in place of manual marketing processes remains immature. One-third have either trialled, partially implemented or fully implemented intelligent solutions for scheduling/frequency of email, while only around one-fifth have done so around language/wording (19%), content (18%) and product selection (19%).

Many aren’t even considering these solutions, and among those who haven’t used them, more than one-third aren’t aware that they exist.

A recent report found that marketers who have adopted machine learning in their email programs spent 4 months on average to implement their solutions. Even so, the same report indicated that the application of machine learning can eliminate some manual tasks – such as content selection, HTML coding and proof testing of messages – that marketers say collectively take up almost one-quarter of their work week.

Marketers More Confident in AI’s Potential Impact

The results this year don’t show any upward trend in the planned use of artificial intelligence (AI) to improve email performance: 17% of company respondents intend to use AI for that purpose this year, unchanged from last.

However respondents this year seem more convinced of the various ways in which AI could improve email marketing performance, by:

  • Optimizing send times (64% this year seeing this benefit, versus 52% last);
  • Optimizing calls to action (54% vs. 43%);
  • Improving subject line copy (49% vs. 35%);
  • More efficient use of resources (46% vs. 35%); and
  • Improving email copy (38% vs. 29%).

The growing recognition of the benefits that AI can provide suggests that it will take on greater planned use in the years to come. Already, about one-third of marketers and e-commerce professionals in the Asia-Pacific region are using AI for email marketing, according to a study from Econsultancy and Adobe, as are close to one-quarter of such professionals in North America.

The full Econsultancy and Adestra report is available for download here.

About the Data: The results are based on a survey of 704 company and in-house marketers (68% share) and supply-side respondents (32%). (This article examines only the responses from company/in-house marketers.) A majority (56%) are based in the UK, while 13% are based in North America.

Respondents came from a variety of industries and company sizes, and leaned more towards B2C marketing (47%) than B2B (34%) or B2B and B2C equally (19%).

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