Email Marketing Trends in 2022 [PODCAST]

Adam Smartschan

Partner & Chief Strategy Officer

In 2022, email marketing will return to basics: the customer.

In this episode, Alex Burdine, Director, Marketing Technology and Adam Smartschan, Chief Strategy Officer, discuss what’s new, what’s old and why we need to return back to serving our customer.

Discover email marketing trends in 2022 and how these trends impact B2B marketers by listening (and reading along!) to the full podcast episode below.  

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Alex: I’m Alex Burdine, Director of Marketing Technology at Altitude Marketing. Welcome to Marketing Trends 2022, a view from 30,000 feet.

This is a mini-series on the top marketing trends we think will define 2022. Each episode I’ll interview a different member of our team. We’ll talk about the topics facing B2B companies, as well as provide valuable insights to move your marketing efforts forward.

To lead the conversation, we have Adam Smartschan, Chief Strategy Officer at Altitude Marketing. Welcome, Adam.

Adam: Hey, thanks, Alex.

Alex: Let’s talk email marketing.

Adam: Absolutely.

Trend #1: Email Is Tougher Than Ever

Alex: One may say it is a foundational piece of any business at this point to communicate with one’s customers or potential clients.

Adam: Absolutely, no question. It’s something that we’ve been doing at this point for ten, fifteen years in earnest in some way – twenty, twenty-five years. And that’s also created some problems. I think we’ll get to them in just a little bit.

But at the end of the day, every single business I can think of sends email in some way, shape or form. The cadence is different, the tenor is different, the tone is different, but you know, everyone does it and for good reason.

We all get emails. We all get emails constantly. You know, I’ve gotten four or five buzzes since we’ve been sitting here. Unfortunately, I bet a bunch of them are junk, but that’s OK, right?

Alex: You said it creates a problem. What do you mean?

Adam: So I just mentioned that I got four or five emails in the time we’ve been sitting here. And like I said, I bet a bunch of them are junk. That is not unique to me, and that is not unique to any industry, any type of company, any geographic location. We’re all inundated with emails and everyone knows this. It’s not just the users who know this, it’s not just the senders who know this, it’s also the email clients and the people providing the email tech that know this.

So what has that done? It’s created a pushback, right? Email technology has become so not necessarily commoditized but democratized. It’s very, very easy to send mass marketing emails. Frankly, mass marketing emails that look really good, perform really well once they’re in the inbox because those prices have dropped – and we’ll get there – and because, frankly, the barriers to entry are so much lower than they used to be. Everyone’s adopted it. The amount of email going out has never been higher.

And like I mentioned before, there’s been pushback. That pushback has been, you know, reductions in the level of tracking that we’re getting, frankly harder deliverability, right, it’s just tougher to get into inboxes. And, you know, certain things just simply not working the way they used to. So that long history there, all of that email going out is really good.

You know, like you mentioned, it’s this foundational piece of a lot of marketing strategies. It’s also one that’s a whole lot tougher. And the trend here in ‘22 and frankly beyond is going to be having to do it in different, new and innovative ways to make it work even on a percentage basis of the way it used to work.

Trend #2: There Are A LOT of Tools at Our Disposal

Alex: Price is always an issue. Let’s talk about price.

Adam: Absolutely. I mean, I mentioned ten, fifteen years – that was really the dawn of what we call marketing automation these days. At that point, you know, a couple of systems, maybe a dozen solid ones, three or four you’d be looking at in earnest at any given time.

At the high level, you had your Marketo’s, you had your HubSpot‘s, really getting into the infancy there. The prices always had a comma. You know, four figures to start. You had your very, very low-end vendors. Now these are the ones who could let you send an email without really anything else involved. Maybe a basic WYSIWYG editor to throw things together. Those were dirt cheap. Didn’t offer very much functionality.

What you have today is literally hundreds of email vendors, automation vendors, including some really good ones. They cost a tenth, if not less, than what the really good ones cost ten years ago.

Alex: Are there winners and losers in this new market?

Adam: Absolutely. There are winners and losers all across the board.

Let’s start with the marketing side, and let’s assume that deliverability and the tracking and all those good things are the same as they were maybe five years ago.

Now, if we take that prior into account, yeah, the marketers have it really good. I look at something like Active Campaign. Active Campaign, you know, full functionality here, in many cases, less than $200 a month, depending on the size of your list. It’s killer, and it was completely unthinkable, you know, half a decade ago.

You look at the HubSpot’s of the world: still premium priced, not insanely priced, though, for what you get. Hyper, hyper feature set, just really fantastic functionality you can do there.

On the very high end, the Adobe’s of the world, the Salesforce Marketing Cloud‘s of the world, these truly awesome and connected customer experiences.

So we, as marketers, have never had more tools at our disposal.

Trend #3: Deliverability & Tracking Is Not What It Used to Be  

Now, you mentioned winners and losers. We’re also losers because users are also winners. I mentioned deliverability rates before. Way, way, way lower than they used to be. You know, if you’re hitting 90% anymore, you’re doing pretty well. And I’m talking 90% deliverability into the inbox in some way, shape or form. I mean, Google for Business at this point does have, you know, the promotion folder, you have the social folder. Those aren’t things that existed not all that long ago. Now you look at personal gmails and personal email, you know, spam filters are much better than they used to be. Promotion filters are much better than they used to be.

You know, I have newsletters, frankly, that I send that started hitting my promotion feed in the last six months to a year. So much, much harder to land in that real inbox.

Then you go one step deeper on the email client side. A lot of high end corporate filters are automatically clicking links at this point. Now, again, good for the user, good for the network. We’re avoiding malware or avoiding trojans, avoiding all of these nasty things that can happen. Very bad for user.

Great. So what was a classic way to do email automation? If clicked, send this. If didn’t click, send that. There’s absolutely no way to tell if it was a robot clicking or a human clicking, and we’ve looked up the documentation, I’ve talked with folks at places like MailChimp. They throw up their hands. It’s not a bad way, right? Because what happens? You hit an interstitial link. If link hit, then it was clicked. Yeah, there’s no way whatsoever to tell if a human being instigated that action or didn’t instigate that action.

So we, as marketers, are losers here. Despite having all the tools, users a lot of times are winners because, you know, hey, fewer trojans, that’s kind of good. So society’s a winner, right? Winners and losers.

Open rate tracking, too. Look at Apple Mail. Apple Mail is basically not feeding back opens anymore. They’re not firing the pixel that they used to fire. There is no reason whatsoever to think they’re going to be the last one. So even open rate tracking and open rate automations are going to be harder for marketers.

So losers, winners. Networks winners, marketers winners. Marketers also losers, society as a whole, I guess winners. So hey, there you go.

Alex: [Laughs]I like your math. So winners and losers. Is there anything that we can do?

Trend #4: Simplify Design & Workflows

Adam: Yes, and fortunately for once, it’s not getting more complicated. It’s simplification, right? It’s Princeton’s back door offense, the one they ran in the nineties to knock off UCLA. At least, that’s how I remember it. Not 100% sure on that one, but simple, simple, simple.

That’s what it comes down to. Let’s break down why that is.

So, number one, I mentioned before, I’ve gotten a bunch of emails since we’ve been sitting here. I’ve gotten them on my phone, quite frankly, I’m going to read them on my phone. If you’re listening to this, you’re probably listening on your phone. And if you’re going to an email today, you’re going to read it on your phone. So you want it to render, well, there.

You have two options as a marketer, as someone sending it. You can rely on the phone and email client to take whatever you did, render it, change it, modify it and make it look good – or just make it look good out of the box.

So a simple design, single column is key, not overdoing graphics, because at the end of the day, even the best email clients aren’t rendering the code and the design you put in nearly as well as modern web browsers are going to do. So keep it simple there. Keep it easy there. Don’t go nuts with custom fonts. Don’t go nuts with spacing and all of the things that we were doing five years ago to make it look amazing on desktop. Because at the end of the day, email accounts for something like 60% – excuse me, mobile accounts for something like 60% of email opens. No reason to think that’s going to go down. So simplification of design.

The other piece is simplification of workflows.

I got to this before: It used to be you could build these insane tree charts. Now when Pardot’s Experience Manager came out, it was great. You could build all of these awesome things, but they were predicated on user actions, opens and clicks primarily.

Well, we’ve lost some of the opens. We’re going to lose more. We’ve lost a lot of clicks in terms of tracking. They’re just not there. So those workflows can’t necessarily see into the past nearly as well as they used to. You can’t necessarily trigger an action nearly as easily as you used to.

So what you have to do is create – and I think we’ll get to this here – these human centered experiences, these real experiences, not necessarily worrying so much about what the tech can do and what this button can do and what that workflow can do. But really, just understanding your buyer, giving them something of value and actually delivering the brass tacks experience that we as marketers are kind of supposed to do.

Trend #5: Give the People What They Want

Alex: Everything you said so far has been focused on tech.

Adam: Yes.

Alex: But how do we get to the actual real human engagement?

Adam: That’s a great question. But fortunately again, it doesn’t necessarily require complication. What it requires you to do is take yourself out of your own brain for a second. Think about who the user is and think about what’s actually useful to them.

I don’t care what you want to say. I don’t care what you want to promote. I don’t care how hard you worked on something. If it’s not useful to them, they’re not going to open it because they have about 100 other options sitting right at the top of that inbox that they can open. So real usefulness, something that actually matters to them. Not that you can squint and say, it matters to them, but it actually matters to them. That’s the litmus test, right?

The other piece here is the way you put things together. We went back about two years ago and did a study on ten years of our emails that we sent out. There’s a lot of them. Hundreds and hundreds. What we found was timing mattered, right? Delivering things, you know, at the time, someone was willing to open them. So obviously not in the middle of the night, typically not in a weekend. We also found that language mattered. Big, strong language does set you apart. I remember in particular two words that stood out in the subject line were hate and beer.

Alex: Hmm.

Adam: Now those are stoppers, right? You’re going to stop when you see one of those. Now is that necessarily a hugely sustainable way to do it? No, you don’t want hate in every subject line – probably creates an issue at some point. But you know, you do see that human connection, right? And an actual person stopping on something, an actual person giving you some attention.

Then when you get to workflow, right, coming back to the tech piece, we can’t necessarily base our workflows on purely automated things anymore. I got to that before. It has to be based on a human action. So what can a human do that a robot can’t do right? A human can fill out a form with actual human information and quickly you can tell. A human can, you know, deliver an action on a site. A human can make a connection. Or, a human can simply read and contact you a different way. The email is the entrée rather than the be all end all.

Alex: What about personalization?

Adam: So there are two ways to take that. There is the traditional way of personalization. Hi, insert first name, fallback friend. It’s garbage. Everyone knows that’s garbage. It breaks, even if it breaks 1% of the time, you can tell, and it’s really bad.

I can think of a very, very significant company I was on the list of. I have friends who work there, and it was routine that I would get these emails from them with, you know, dynamic insert first name here.

The fallback wasn’t set up right. Clearly, my first name wasn’t in there, you know, or when I have a typo, right, where I fill something on mobile and it comes in, you know, autofill in all caps and all of a sudden until the end of time, I’m getting, you know, my name in all caps screaming at me in the email. Nobody likes that. There’s absolutely no reason to do that unless there is a good reason to do it. That’s circular, I know. But. Hi, insert first name. Even if you know your failure rate is one in 10,000, you looked really bad for the benefit of OK, great, I know they have my name in the database – because everyone knows how that works at this point. So that level of personalization, I would argue, is worthless to the point of being actually a huge negative.

Now, real personalization is something very different, and I don’t mean, again, inserting dynamic data. I mean, actually delivering something when and where someone needs it. So, you know, an example I’ll give is Brex. Brex is a flower bulb company. Essentially, they sell plants, all sorts of nice things for your garden, for your yard.

This time of year, we’re talking here in late January, which is just kind of crazy. But this time of year, they’re starting to hit you up with the stuff that you can plant in the spring. It’s going to take a couple of weeks to get here. You can start planning. You can start thinking, not look out your window and be wildly depressed, just like moderately depressed but optimistic about the future and what’s coming up for you. So that is actually useful to me. You know, am I going to open that stuff in November? Probably not. I don’t really need seedlings in November. This time of year, yeah, it’s stuff that you know when it gets here, I can probably pop in the ground, be pretty happy with, you know, come June or July or August.

Final Thoughts

Alex: Is there any last thoughts you have on email marketing in 2022?

Adam: What it comes down to again is, just be cognizant of the fact that because you can do something doesn’t mean you need to do something. And the fact that you can do something at this stage in the game with email means, frankly, everybody can do it – and everybody is doing it. That overuse, which is fine, no one’s throwing stones here, but that overuse has come with pushback. We have less tracking than we used to. We have less deliverability than we used to. We have less attention from the user than we used to.

So, pull the lens back. Stop just thinking about the tech, start thinking about how you can actually make a connection with somebody, how you can actually engage them, how you can actually deliver value.

No one wants your sales pitch. People do want things that advance their life, their career, their wallet, whatever it happens to be. We want benefits. And if 50 people send me something that doesn’t give me anything, I’m not going to read it and delete it instantly. But the one that hits me at the right time with the right message that’s formatted to my device that actually gives me some utility in my life. I’m going to open, I’m going to read it and be pretty happy with it.

Email Marketing Trends in 2022: Taking It Down to 5,000 Feet

Alex: There’s mini-series is subtitled A View from 30,000 feet. How can we zoom in a little bit more? Maybe to 5,000 feet on email marketing for 2022?

Adam: No, that’s a great question. The first thing I would do is look at what you did in 2021. Dive in and see what happened. If you have a decent email system, you can see at least three things: You can see open rate, ou can see click rate and you can see deliverability.

I’m going to tell you three things happened, right, and I would be stunned if these didn’t happen.

Number one is your list probably turned over to the tune of about 20%. That’s roughly what we see. Twelve-month period, you’re going to lose or, you know, change about 20% of your list. People change jobs. People unsubscribe. People bounce either because they changed their email address or just something happened and there was a glitch and they’re off the list. So if you add up the non-deliverables, you’re going to have lost about 20% of your list year over year. Now it’s worth going through unless you have an absolutely massive database and looking at those names because there might be some that surprise you. You know, it could be that your buddy Jim accidentally hit unsubscribe. Maybe he didn’t mean to, and maybe you want to reach out personally. It could be that, you know, Kim at a different company left and you didn’t know. Oh no, she bounced. Now she’s over there. You might have a sales opportunity. Or at the very least, you know you need to update your database. So that’s number one.

Number two, I bet in the last six months, you know, from, let’s say, July 2021 through December, your click rates went way up. I bet you’re going to see a lot of clicks from individual users. It’s especially true selling to Big Tech, especially true selling into Big Pharma. Really true selling into Big Pharma. So, you know, all those folks at that one company who all clicked the first five links in your email – didn’t. Unfortunately. Maybe one did. You don’t know. So if that didn’t happen – I’d be very surprised if there’s not at least some increase in that click rate. There’s a chance while that was happening, you were looking at it and getting happy. I’m sorry to say that it seems pretty universal. It’s just the way spam filters are working these days. It’s the way firewalls are working these days. They’re automatically going through, you know checking at least the first few links, sometimes every link in an email. So you do need to account for that in your workflows.

And then the last piece is that raw deliverability rate. 95% is typically about where you’re going to be if you’re doing it well. You can be pretty happy at 90, I mentioned that before. Below 90, you are triggering something. So you do want to watch that. You do want to run some spam checkers if you can, you know, something like an Active Campaign will come bundled with that.

You know, HubSpot is pretty good about that as well. But that deliverability rate, you’re looking for that 90 to 95. Above that, hey, good for you. Below that 90 or so? You do want to take a look at that.

So those trends we do see coming down. It used to be pretty easy to get that 97. It’s not going to happen necessarily anymore. I bet it’s lower than it was in ‘20, bet it’s lower than it was in ‘19. But you can take a look at that. You know, see what the system that you’re using has to say. See if there are any tips and tricks you can do to make it look a little bit less spammy and land in a few more inboxes.

Alex: Well, thank you, Adam Smartschan, Chief Strategy Officer at Altitude Marketing, for sharing your insights on 2022 and what you see for email marketing.

In the coming weeks, we’ll be talking about content marketing, web development. We’re going to specialize in some life science marketing –one of the things that we definitely focus on here at Altitude. B2B social media, emerging marketing and marketing technology, among other things. So thanks again for being on and we look forward to having you next time.

Adam: Absolutely. Thank you.

Adam Smartschan

Adam Smartschan heads Altitude's strategic marketing and branding efforts. An award-winning writer and editor by trade in a former life, he now specializes in data analytics, search engine optimization, digital advertising strategy, conversion rate optimization and technical integrations. He holds numerous industry certifications and is a frequent speaker on topics around B2B marketing strategy and SEO.
Adam graduated from Northeastern University in Boston in 2007. He grew up in Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley, just miles down the road from Altitude's headquarters in Emmaus, Pennsylvania.