2020 was a memorable year for all of the wrong reasons, however with challenges often come with valuable lessons – and this was certainly the case for digitial marketers. Whilst most would rather leave the past in the past and move forward, it would be remiss to not acknowledge that the need to deploy new strategies to cut through significantly increased email traffic and connect with customers in the midst of a volatile economic and social climate gave marketers some valuable learnings that can be applied to create stronger performing email programs in 2021. So before we erase last year from our memories entirely, let’s revisit the top email marketing learnings:

Data quality should be the priority  

In the first wave of lockdown, we saw a five-fold increase in spam trap hits. This wasn’t good news for marketers as spam trap hits negatively impact sender reputation, which is key to ensuring your emails are delivered to your subscribers.

Sender reputation is strongly influenced by the quality of your customer data, but despite this well-known fact, a recent report by DMA and Validity Inc. showed that 11.1% of the email data businesses hold is inaccurate and invalid – which has the potential to make a huge dent in the success of a campaign.

The ultimate learning for digital marketers is that good data management is an ongoing activity that requires regular attention. It isn’t something that can be done periodically or only in the midst of a crisis. Instead, care must be taken to ensure subscriber data is properly captured, managed and stored, so that it can be readily drawn upon at any given time, such as when you’re sending a communication to your entire mailing list letting customers know important new safety information.

With that, it’s imperative that digital marketers implement processes to ensure customer details are regularly checked and updated, to remove dormant and inactive addresses, and to validate current ones and eliminate typo traps. An accessible product that can assist with this is Validity’s BriteVerify which ensures that an email address actually exists in real time, helping you to protect your sender reputation and achieve deliverability.

Timing is everything

As the world swapped stilettos for slippers and embraced working from home, the optimal time to send emails unsurprisingly shifted. As opposed to the traditional peak times of the morning and evening commute, we began to see higher levels of engagement in the afternoons and on the weekends instead. And now, with remote working cementing itself as an ongoing trend as we head into the New Year, there’s an opportunity for marketers to continue to experiment with send times and test when works best for them.

Another lesson worth remembering is that global internet volumes rose around 50% during the first few months of the pandemic – resulting in a number of virtual traffic jams, and many missing or delayed emails as marketers continued to schedule emails on the hour as they’d always done. In fact, Validity Inc. identified that a massive 70% of marketing emails go out within the first ten minutes of every hour, therefore it’s worth considering scheduling your emails to go out a little later, for example 15 minutes past, to help you avoid getting caught in the queue in future – plus, you will be helping the MBPs too by freeing up some of their bandwidth.

Augmented reality is trending and here to stay

With customers unable to physically shop in store for large parts of the year, retailers were forced to bring dynamic shopping experiences to customers’ virtually instead. We saw some great examples of augmented reality (AR) during the pandemic, with Ray Ban’s ‘Try on a Pair of Virtual Sunglasses’ campaign, and MAC Cosmetics’ ‘Test the Perfect Shade of Lipstick’ both bringing real-life shopping experiences to subscribers’ inboxes.

Now that subscribers have become accustomed to this level of creativity, interaction and convenience from their favourite brands, the use of AR to enhance email is set to be a fixture for digital marketers in 2021. This prediction was shared by a number of leading marketing experts at a recent event by Validity, ‘The Summit’. 

It’s about what you say

As a result of the events of this year, many of the standard communications businesses have traditionally relied on to engage subscribers were made redundant and a valuable lesson was learnt – communicate with purpose and empathy or don’t communicate at all. Whether on an ordinary day, or in the midst of a crisis, marketers shouldn’t be sending emails to subscribers for no good reason.

Marketers would do well to continue putting themselves in their subscribers’ shoes and asking the question, ‘What do they want to hear right now? Do they need to know about changed store hours and new return policies?’ Yes. ‘Do they want an email from you wishing them a happy holiday with no value adds or offers to accompany it?’ Likely not.  

All in all, the events of last year only further cemented email as the top marketing channel when it comes to powerful and cost-effective digital marketing. And if marketers are looking to reap the benefits of this channel in 2021, they’d do well to follow these simple, yet extremely valuable lessons that came out of the year that was.

Guy Hanson is vice president at Validity Inc.