At Infusionsoft we've been delivering email marketing automation to small businesses for well over a decade. As Carl Sagan said, "You have to know the past to understand the present," and you have to understand the present to predict the future. We keep a sharp eye on the trends taking place across the marketing technology landscape - especially email - so we can anticipate where the future of marketing technology is headed and adjust our strategies accordingly.

There have been lots of really exciting happenings in email: beautifully designed mobile-ready email, interactivity, embedded video. There's a lot of progress yet to be realized in these areas, but they are quickly becoming the standard.

I want to talk about what I see as the future of email marketing - what we'll be seeing in 2020.

Here's where we will be in 2020:

  • Email marketing will keep growing. Right now, the number of emails we send on behalf of our customers is growing faster than the growth of our customer base. This means more emails per customer year over year, which reveals a continual high demand for email that we expect only to increase.
  • Bulk email marketing is dead. Over. Goodbye. It's frankly been on its deathbed for far too long. Users are quickly tuning out brands that blast them with generic emails a few times every week and we're seeing that mass emailing does more harm than good.
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) will deliver highly targeted emails, which will make marketing automation and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software required tools for small businesses. AI will make it so that email recipients won't even realize that a non-human entity emailed them.
  • Small businesses won't be able to compete in the email marketing space on their own. Any business that wishes to compete must use automation software.
  • Setting up and executing on marketing automation will take a matter of minutes.
  • Seamless CRM integrations will allow for a sharper focus on personalization, powerful reporting, and improved sales.
  • Email providers will guard inboxes with iron-clad restrictive algorithms, making it exponentially more difficult for marketing emails to make it into inboxes. It's difficult now for businesses to keep up with these changes, and it will only become more challenging. ESP's will battle to keep up; it's how they stay in business. They will be the must-have tool that allows marketers not to have to worry about compliance with new email security updates.
  • ROI on email will go up, not down. ROI on email is already very high: Email has an average ROI of $38 for each $1 spent (DMA National Client Email Report). That's huge, and we don't expect it to drop.
  • With better AI, much more sophisticated personalization and targeting software, and increased ease of ISP use, the cost to businesses will drop, and the conversion rate on the average email will increase. So, with fewer emails sent, we expect businesses will actually see a boost in profit from email marketing.
  • Small businesses will be able to implement highly sophisticated marketing campaigns without having to understand how they work fully. The automation will be that good.

The year 2020 used to sound so distant, but now it is right around the corner. Email marketing will be as important as ever, but it will also become increasingly difficult. Small businesses working with ESPs will be able to take advantage of all the powerful new tools and resources that the future holds.

Published on: Dec 30, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.