What to Include: What Consumers Want, According to Email Marketing Trends

Melanie Balke
April 3, 2024

It may seem as if consumer behavior is an enigma, but there’s plenty of science to support the facts.

The world is more connected than ever. Today, you can track a user’s activity from halfway around the world, monitor the progress of your email campaigns from your living room, and tweak your marketing strategy as you lounge on the beach. Technology has put the world at our fingertips, and it’s having a substantial impact on marketing trends.

The digital landscape of 2024 is nothing like its predecessor. As smartphone users continue to dominate online shopping, brands must adapt to the times. Those that do not are bound to fail.

But what do consumers want?

I’ve done my research and compiled a must-know list of essentials. Get your email marketing teams ready to take notes as I dive into the fascinating world of this year’s email marketing trends.

Must-Know Facts About Email Marketing

The rumors of email marketing’s death were greatly exaggerated. While some “experts” waxed poetic about the impending “end” of the marketing channel, consumer behavior proved otherwise.

In 2020, as a handful of forecasts foresaw an Aztec-style death of the medium, the international value of email marketing reached US$17.9 billion. Of course, the investment is not without equal success.

If you want the specifics, look no further than the most modern studies on the marketing channel’s impact. Numbers don’t lie, and they show that…

  • 55% of businesses increased their email marketing budgets in 2023.
  • A majority of business owners specifically, 87% — cite email marketing as a superior source of revenue compared to other marketing channels.
  • Email marketing remains a lucrative enterprise. The average ROI for email campaigns remains 3,600%, with higher estimates landing closer to 4,200%.
  • Globally, email marketing generated US$10 billion in revenue for its countless users.
  • Many businesses reported double the usual ROI from email marketing in 2022.
  • Massive monetary success aside, a mere 7.2% of email marketing campaigns are purely transactional. Interestingly, the most common business goal was brand awareness, which accounted for over 70% of all campaigning in 2023.

So, with those remarkable statistics in mind, what are 2024’s most important email marketing trends? Well…

1. Accessibility Is Always Trendy

A pickleball court. "Trend #1: Make Content Accessible."

Despite being the first entry on my email marketing trends list, accessibility shouldn’t be viewed as a “trendy” addition to your marketing efforts; it’s a necessity!

The problem is that far too many people see accessibility as a “nice-to-have.” There’s a misplaced notion that few users need accessibility features, and that misconception exists across the internet. However, the reality is that 15% of the global population has a disability. The number is even higher in the United States, where roughly 26% of the population uses accessibility tools.

Many brands ignore that massive audience segment. Most do so inadvertently. In the hustle and bustle of web development and branding, it’s easy to forget those fine-tuned accessibility features. A small minority do so intentionally, deeming the effort disproportionate to the potential payoff.

You can break the cycle of apathy!

Be Upfront and Transparent

Developing a fully accessible website is hard; fortunately, incorporating accessibility into your email marketing strategy is easier!

On the surface, you want to focus on clarity. Write subject lines that entertain and inform consumers. Even the first email marketing campaign understood this.

Catchy subject lines are great, but they must convey your core message. Overly “cutesy” or overt introductions lower consumer interest. Use those one-liners as the header, not the first impression.

Make Use of Alt Text and Plain Text Alternatives

Next, you’ll want to polish your skills. More precisely, you want to hone two specific writing skills:

  • Alt Text: Alternative text (often shortened to “alt text”) displays whenever a user cannot load a graphical asset. Its utility extends beyond screen readers. Users with poor connection (e.g., hikers on mobile devices and rural readers) often fail to receive those flashy interactive elements. Alt text ensures they still understand what’s happening in your email.
  • Plain Text Emails: A plain text email is a backup version of your content. They’re often used by screen readers, but they may also appear when your content is otherwise inaccessible. A proper plain text alternative will describe the content clearly and succinctly.

When properly employed, both skills will increase your click-through rate and customer experience.

Know, too, that these email tools are not limited to “fancy” content. Even simple campaigns and long-form emails require backdoor support.

I can’t overstate the functionality of a plain-text version! Email recipients enjoy a less cumbersome experience, of course. However, the email senders also enjoy benefits, as ESPs often prioritize content with well-implemented plain-text support. Thus, companies enjoy improved email deliverability.

2. Create Interactive Emails

An archival photo of a production of the musical "Oklahoma," courtesy of NARA. "Trend #2: Interactive Content."

Often built from Google’s AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) framework, interactive emails are a must-have addition to any modern marketing strategy.

Now, don’t think of an interactive email as a gargantuan undertaking. Large-scale interactive campaigns may be rare, but small touches are often enough to woo your target audience. In fact, many of the most popular forms of interactive marketing are easily implemented gizmos!

Some examples of commonplace interactive content include:

  • Embedded Shopping Carts: An embedded shopping cart greases the sales funnel by removing barriers. Users can skip the landing page and buy items directly from their email inbox!
  • Image Carousels: These elements are used across the web. You’ve probably seen one! With the swipe of a finger (or mouse), subscribers can scroll through a selection of gorgeous photos and content.
  • Surveys: Traditionally, email marketing surveys utilized off-site hosting services. However, AMP emails support the addition of embedded surveys. Like a built-in shopping cart, a native poll makes it easier to engage users.
  • Videos: Embedded videos may be the easiest way to add some flashy content to your email campaigns. Unlike images and graphical elements, most videos are conveniently hosted on third-party websites. Vimeo and YouTube are the most popular picks.

The Benefits of Interactive Emails

In today’s mobile-first environment, many brands are turning to minimalism. Most automated emails contain little more than a single splash image, a call-to-action, and the legally required unsubscribe link.

Interactive elements set your email campaigns apart. They breathe life into otherwise monotonous inboxes, giving readers a chance to directly interact with your content. Think of them as mini websites. They mimic the functionality and depth of a full landing page without the necessary offloading.

Most interactive email content focuses on improving the customer journey. These engaging emails are the difference between mashing potatoes by hand and using a mixer. Both will ultimately lead to the same outcome, but the tech-assisted route is faster.

Again, you want consumers to have the most direct path to that conversion button. An interactive image, video, or embedded element serves that purpose splendidly!

A Few Cautionary Tidbits

Nonetheless, you must use interactive content with care.

Remember what I said about AMP? Well, despite being the most popular method of adding interactive content to an email campaign, AMP content expires after thirty days. That’s quite the unfortunate fact for Ms. Opens-Her-Emails-Thirty-One-Days-Later, isn’t it?

At that point, you won’t get a reliable metric from the email recipients. Still, you want them to see your content. Using a plain-text fallback will prop up the longevity of your email campaign, although it won’t replace the functionality.

3. Invest in Personalized Emails

A metal tip jar. "Trend #3: Personalize and Segment."

The personalized email remains one of the trendiest ways to attract attention.

Alone, personalization supports your content. It adds touches of personality to your emails by filling dynamic content blocks with a user’s information. In doing so, your email marketing gains a sense of warmth and depth.

The most common examples of personalized content are simple substitutions. Marketers work around programmable textual elements to produce content that feels like a one-on-one interaction. These content blocks are often designated by bookended symbols — often block parentheses, curly quotes, or percentage signs. Some of the most common personalized elements include:

  • Honorifics (i.e., Ms., Mr., Mrs., Mx., etc.)
  • Names and usernames (often first name only)
  • Personal preferences
  • Professions and job titles

The Red String of Marketing Trends: Personalization and Segmentation

Personalization is rarely seen without its cousin, email segmentation. Both tactics focus on improving the customer journey through the practical use of customer data.

Email personalization is a more granular application. It parses that customer information and inserts unique information throughout your content. Behind the scenes, it works a bit like that old fill-in-the-blank Mad Libs game. (Think: “Hello, [Name]. We are so happy to announce the release of our new [Style] products!”)

Segmentation works on a larger scale. Instead of filling in the blanks, it populates your lists for marketing emails. Most segments are based on inferred data (e.g., demographic information, geographic location, or personal preferences); others are based on user preferences.

Artificial Intelligence and Advanced Segmentation

Interestingly, recent developments have birthed the rise of artificial intelligence in segmentation. Now, few “AI” marketing trends are true AI. Most use machine learning to recognize recurring patterns and match that information to an analytical database.

For example, assume that some customer engagement data shows a user frequently browsing the men’s clothing section. That same user also embarks on infrequent sojourns to the women’s section, where they sometimes buy pricey perfume and fashionable shoes. Machine learning will likely match this profile to something akin to a “young adult male with a girlfriend or wife.”

Those extrapolated data points will then be used to select the best email campaigns to send. Advanced users may even use that information to deploy hyper-personalization!

4. Improve Your Data Privacy

A plastic anime figurine; depicted is Neon Genesis Evangelion's Asuka Langley Soryu. "Trend #5: Invest in Data Protection."

It’s not a shocker, but it’s an oft-overlooked aspect of modern marketing.

Data privacy is an increasing concern. It’s influencing legislative decisions and impacting your marketing metrics.

As privacy concerns grow, more consumers are asking for increased oversight. They want their customer data protected, and it’s not an unreasonable ask! It’s entirely possible to have successful email campaigns without invasive data scraping. You just need to know the tricks of the trade.

Can Users Easily Unsubscribe?

A GIF of an episode of The Office. A character is saying, "Identity theft isn't a joke, Jim!"
This joke. I am referencing this joke.

We all know that joke from The Office. “Identity theft is not a joke, Jim!”

Well, neither is data privacy. It’s not just a hot topic on my list of email marketing trends. Consumer privacy is a legal obligation and a moral advantage.

All this technology — the predictive personalization, subject line optimization, and testing — must be purposeful and prudent. Otherwise, you risk a mob of angry customers and a knock on the door from some nice folks in black suits. (And you do not want that second thing.)

Data protection must be one of your top priorities. For global brands, it already is, and the European Union’s GDPR ensures this.

Email Marketing Trends and Data Privacy

Now, that doesn’t make American brands part of the equation. America has relatively lax data protection legislation. But that doesn’t mean you can rest on your ill-begotten laurels. You’re still tied to the tech companies’ preemptive privacy protection measures, including Apple Mail Privacy Protection and the downfall of third-party cookies.

So, what can you do?

I suggest following the crowd.

First-party data is all the rage. It’s a fancy way of saying you get your user information from explicitly provided email preferences.

With enough time and click-through activity, you’ll have ample information to use those hyper-personalization techniques. Your automated emails are also allowed to use some machine learning and informational extrapolation. However, the bulk of your information must come from your users.

The Perks of Data Protection in Email Marketing

Like user-generated content, first-party information is explicitly and freely given. It relies on inherent trust and mutual respect.

In that sense, it’s an extension of a much more established email marketing trend — that of trust-building. It extends the concept of mailing list building to include the concerns and fears of modern audiences. More importantly, it conveys your brand’s dedication to your users.

You’ll also have built-in protection from overstepping! While there’s nothing inherently wrong with using past purchases to encourage future activity, the act is an oft-bemoaned facet of modern consumerism. Everyone knows that data is out there, but nobody wants to be reminded of it.

5. Use Mission-Driven Marketing

A person holds loose change. "Trend $5: Focus on Your Brand Values."

Finally, consumers want to make a difference.

Purpose-driven marketing is on the rise. More companies than ever are trying to boost customer engagement by highlighting their values.

Certainly, you can think of some mission-driven brands. If not, allow me to jog your memory! Some of today’s hottest brands tout their ideological goals, including:

  • Ben & Jerry’s has been a long-time proponent of social causes.
  • Bombas, perhaps most famous for its 2014 Shark Tank appearance, donates one article of clothing to homeless shelters with every purchase.
  • Two Blind Brothers, another clothing brand, donates a large cut of its profits to eye disease research.

These brands masterfully utilize brand storytelling to entice consumers.

However, there’s a catch. Consumers are unforgiving. Inauthentic promises of charitable outreach have a proportionally negative impact on a brand’s public image.

Boost Your Email Marketing Strategy With a Professional Team

These five email marketing trends are just the tip of the iceberg!

I didn’t even cover the intricacies of email design and click-through rate optimization. So, it’s safe to say your email marketing journey has only just begun.

But you’re already busy running a business. How can you possibly have time to stay on top of these email marketing trends, investigate the email marketing industry, design email templates, and schedule automated transactional emails!?

The answer is surprisingly simple.

My company, The Email Marketers, is dedicated to providing every business the marketing support it needs. When you join us, you’ll gain access to a team of hand-picked, on-demand pros to handle your email marketing strategies. You’ll never have to worry about email automation or subject line work again!

Schedule a free strategy session to see how you can make every email campaign shine.