With so many different ways to reach your target audience, who knew something as traditional as email could still be such an effective channel for marketing? It’s a smart tactic that can help you connect with customers, inform them on the latest and greatest to expect from your company and keep your brand at top of mind. With that said, email marketing is not necessarily a one-size-fits-all strategy – there are specific campaigns that have a shelf life and may need to be reconsidered for the new year.

What can we expect to see in the world of email marketing in 2019? What are the tools and trends that will add value to your campaigns in the new year? Now’s a great time to set achievable goals based on insight from the professionals who know the business best.

We asked eight industry experts their opinions on successful email campaigns from 2018, as well as what they plan to do differently (or the same) in the new year. Here’s what they have to say:

What worked and what are you planning to do more of in 2019?

The stress of GDPR was a trending topic among the experts, but they’re happy about the opportunity that resulted from it. Storytelling and connecting with consumers were other hot talking points.

Melanie Kinney, email marketing manager at GasBuddy

“While I’m sure things like interactivity and personalization will continue to be trends in 2019, there’s one other thing that I’m really excited about.

Throughout the business industry, this notion of humanizing your brand has been a hot topic. In 2019, I’m looking forward to that spilling over into email marketing.

The rolling out of GDPR, while slightly painful, was a great opportunity for marketers to really acknowledge the two-way relationship between email and the subscriber’s inbox. It’s not just about how many people are on your email list; rather, it’s who they are, where they’re coming from, and how we can help them get relevant content from our companies.

One thing we’re doing in 2019 to help empower our users is revisiting our preference center. We’ll be taking a look at how our content has changed and what we can do to better align the category options with our content.”

Radu Neag, email marketing and CRM manager, Travian Games

“The focus for 2019:

Find new ways of using the storytelling approach.

We will definitely continue using the storytelling approach in emails, not only because it makes the content more personal for the reader, but offers another perspective compared to the other basic communications. Of course, the approach doesn’t work for each campaign but can have a huge potential for brand promo or launching a new product.

Hyper-personalization in email.

Personalized emails are designed with the user preference in mind and help them to connect more with brands. Collecting and using the subscriber data (website or app activity) in email connects your product with the user better and offers unique content individually. It’s not a guess, but a fact: 82% of marketers report increased open rates through email personalization. We will definitely collect and use more data from our customers in the emails this year but will continue to optimize the existing campaigns, too.

Push the boundaries of interactive emails.

Emails that contain interactive galleries, image carousels, games or quizzes allow users to interact with the product or brand without leaving the email. They can navigate directly in the email, make a purchase by adding several items to cart or discover products by using a mouse over effect. A web experience, but in the inbox. By using advanced CSS coding techniques and more and more ISPs supporting new elements in their inboxes, 2019 will bring new ways of using interactivity in an email.

Predictive automation

The predictive campaigns are a “smart” way to build retention & reactivation campaigns based on customers behaviour. With the help of collected data & some analytics tools, the next steps of a user can be predicted. The purpose is to set up automated campaigns which can slow down the churn rate or increase conversions. Started already in 2018, predictive automation will continue be a major focus in 2019.”

Alice Li, principal email engineer at Litmus App

“We’ve got big plans for our email program in 2019: We’re aiming to refactor our existing code base––that means restructuring, updating, and improving every template we use to achieve a modern baseline for accessibility and interactivity. We’ll also translate our existing design guidelines into a design system for the email channel.

With these strong foundations in place, we’ll be set up to do more of what’s truly exciting: Iterating, experimenting, and exploring new innovative email techniques.”

Melanie Graham, content manager at Email on Acid

“As for the future of email, our CEO, John Thies, predicts 2019 will be the year of auditory calls-to-action (ACTAs): “Smart speakers are the fastest growing consumer product in the world. Alexa recently released an update that can read and reply to email and Google Home is on its heels. Marketers will need to improve their skills in creating CTAs that don’t need images to back up or strengthen their message, as more users will be listening to their emails rather than looking at them on a device.”

Ian Brodie, Consultant, Author of “Email Persuasion”

“Firstly I think we’re going to see the continuation of existing trends rather than anything really disruptive.

So email will continue to dominate as the medium of choice for business and the biggest source of sales for most online businesses by far.

And of course, we’ll continue to hear that “email is dead” from people with an axe to grind and an alternative tool to sell.

For me, what will be exciting in 2019 is the continued convergence of media.

We already saw in 2017 and more so in 2018 that tools using messaging platforms like Facebook Messenger began to take on some of the functionality of email-based marketing automation and CRM systems such as autoresponders and flowchart-based automations.

In 2019 I’m half expecting and half hoping that we’ll see marketing automation platforms more able to integrate messaging. And messaging platforms able to integrate email. So that we have one view of a customer and the ability to use one system to manage our automated and manual communications with our customers and prospects without having to glue different systems together and/or duplicate communications across platforms.”

Jordie van Rijn, Email Marketing Consultant

“Every year I gather the predictions on email marketing and automation. But nobody ever talks about the mega trend of adoption in SMB. There was a time that advanced triggered mails were only for the big companies and B2B. The fields of email marketing and marketing automation are coming together. A major driver in this is that the email software providers are making Marketing Automation available, easier and very affordable.

Just think about it. Even in the affordable email software segment (you know, even cheaper than cheap – sometimes even free for smaller senders) that we’ve reviewed now allow marketers access to:

  • Automated engagement scoring
  • Website behavior tracking of email subscribers
  • Deadline campaigns, counters
  • A/B testing, send time optimization

And most importantly, if you select the right tools you will have all the essentials for advanced email targeting.”

Heidi Olsen, senior front end engineer at Bumped, Inc.

“We all know the value of personalization and dynamic content, but what I’ve enjoyed seeing recently is the emergence of data visualization, specifically data that has been gathered about the subscriber. I’m talking beyond product recommendations, but sharing how the subscriber has engaged with your brand or product.

“Many subscribers have grown weary about the amount of data brands collect about them, so it’s a smart strategy to lean into the concerns and share with the consumer the data you have about them. It helps build trust between the subscriber and the brand, and can show a different perspective where data gathering isn’t always detrimental or invasive, but can be used to create a brand experience that is more akin to the consumers interests, behaviors and motivations.

A brand that I think does this really well is OrangeTheory Fitness. After a workout, an email is triggered to show you some stats about how you did during the class. As a consumer, I prefer a triggered email to a dashboard I would have to log into to view my results. It can help me feel a sense of accomplishment and make me look forward to my next workout. As a developer, I appreciate the use of HTML and CSS to create the bar graph and stats instead of a static image.”

Are there any email campaigns that were memorable or that you were particularly proud of or 2018?

2018 was a successful year for these experts.Refreshing campaigns, addressing subscriber needs and prioritizing email personalization were some of the successes they plan to carry over into the new year.

Melanie Kinney, email marketing manager

“I’m looking forward to a resurgence of interest in implicit/explicit data and respecting subscriber’s needs. In 2018, we took a deeper look at our subscribers and how they were interacting with specific content. If they were considered an engaged user but hadn’t opened a certain type of email in months, we removed them from that list. This resulted in better engagement rates for us, and a better, more streamlined experience for the user.”

Radu Neag, email marketing and CRM manager

“We are far beyond just making our emails responsive and nice-looking for our clients. Hyper-segmentation and email personalization were seen more and more in 2018 and for sure will dominate in 2019 as well. Everyone survived beyond the GDPR era. Well, not everyone, if we talk about subscribers, but now the segments are (or should be) clean and contacting the users is safe, which means the marketers can plan their next actions more strategically.

What worked well for us in 2018? Here are our top 3 new approaches:

1. Storytelling approach in email

We transformed an email into a player experience for the launch of a mobile racing game. You can meet the instructor (a real Formula E racing driver) after opening the email and learn the first steps of the game directly in your inbox. In the end, the player is invited to “continue the game” by installing the app. Results: 70% increase in conversion

2. Personalization using user data

One of our email personalization examples contain not only a nice bonus (thanks to the anniversary), but the user can also see what he/she achieved during the year by populating the email with dynamic data. Results: 40% increase in reactivation

3. Web-like UX in email (interactive emails)

Before & after effect (+ image carousel) and Mouse over effect. Results: 85% increase in click rate.”

Melanie Graham, content manager

“For Email on Acid, 2018 was all about refreshing our automated campaigns. We took a close look at ALL of our automated email series, including our welcome/onboarding series, win-back campaigns, abandoned cart campaigns etc. It’s a bit too soon to share official results, but we’re excited about the early numbers. As we move into the new year, we’ll continue to adjust our automated campaigns and look at new opportunities to better segment and personalize these workflows.”

The takeaway

We know the importance of personalization and understanding your audience to target them efficiently, so these are two topics that marketers will continue to address in 2019. There’s also a focus on creating an experience that readers have never had via email. Auditory calls-to-action and other interactive features like games and quizzes will help you push marketing boundaries in the new year.

Remember: Trust the expert opinion when it comes to email marketing, but don’t be afraid to go with your gut and go above and beyond with your own ideas based on your past successes. There’s nothing wrong with continuing a strategy from 2018, just as long as it can remain fun and fresh over the next 12 months.

Chelsey Church is a senior writer and editor at Brafton. When she's not turning her thoughts into copy, she's enjoying a craft beer, playing with her dogs or listening to her favorite metal tunes. A Cleveland native, she'll never let you forget that the Golden State Warriors blew a 3-1 lead.