In 2016 we saw email marketing evolve to become an even more effective marketing channel. From greater personalisation to a sharper focus on email data analytics, email marketers have been forced to adapt their email marketing strategies to ensure they stand out from the crowd. As we enter a new year, the big question is: what’s next for email?

Email continues to be one of the most widely used methods of communication, which means businesses are under pressure to improve engagement and interactions with their subscribers. Here are our top four ways marketers can improve their email marketing strategies in 2017.

Combine segmentation and split testing

Email marketing segmentation – the art of splitting your email lists into different groups based on similar characteristics – can help marketers create more targeted campaigns, which, in turn, increases open and click rates. Segmenting is becoming more important for email marketers as recipients increasingly demand more relevant, personalised communications with brands.

Implementing split testing alongside email segmentation is also important when attempting to optimise an email campaign. By taking a random sample to test the success rate of specific email features; for example subject lines, marketers can identify those that have the best results before pushing these emails out to their wider lists.

Segmenting and testing allows businesses to continuously understand and target audiences on a more granular level. For example, businesses can identify target groups based on email activity, engagement rates, demographic data, subscriber preferences etc, and conduct sample tests to gauge what works and what doesn’t so that they are constantly pushing their ROI higher.

Personalise, personalise, personalise

We’ve heard for a while that a one-size fits-all approach to marketing no longer works. Customers want to feel as though a company or brand truly understands them and that means that marketers need to go above and beyond with personalisation. Modern-day marketing is about focusing on each customer as an individual instead of just another email address, and designing a programme that enables brand to get closer to marketing to their customers as individuals with every email. This requires an insight into subscriber and personal preferences around the types and frequency of communication.

The ultimate goal of personalisation is true 1:1 communications where every recipient receives emails that are specifically tailored to reflect their individual needs and interests. A basic starting point would be email subject line personalisation, however, other factors, such as personalising content, recognising the reader’s choice of device, adapting the tone of voice to their preference, considering the emotional impact of each email and knowing the right time and frequency to send emails are key in helping businesses tailor each message to increase engagement and help craft long-lasting relationships.

Harness external factors

While there are ways to optimise businesses’ chances of emails landing safely in a consumer’s inbox and catching their attention, there are less controllable external factors that can affect the success of an email programme. Taking into account elements such as economy and season can make the difference between an ignored email and a boost in read rates and deliverability.

Take the weather, for example. Research has shown that there is often an interesting correlation between the weather and spam rates. When there are periods of warm weather and other activities competing for attention, user-marked spam rates increase. Landmark events, such as Brexit, the presidential elections, the Olympics and London tube strikes, are all affecting consumers’ life, which can have a significant impact on their email habits.

It’s also worth noting that external factors can have a negative impact on subscriber engagement. DMA research has shown that one in six respondents would register a spam complaint against an email if they had a negative in-store experience or if the brand had recently suffered negative press.

Brands that understand how these events can impact email engagement and adapt their email strategy accordingly, using the right keywords and timing, will see their deliverability and read rates increase substantially.

Use AI to automate processes

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning aren’t often associated with email marketing, mainly because email marketers’ skills in creativity and strategy are often integral to a campaign’s success. An AI system simply can’t emulate human creativity and social perceptiveness.

However, well-known email and marketing service providers are starting to incorporate AI into their platforms to analyse data more efficiently and identify trends; something that businesses currently do manually. AI should start to play an even bigger role in the campaign execution process by helping to automate segmentation and match subscribers with the most appropriate content for them. Long term, this automation would take the hassle out of time-consuming tasks and allow marketers to focus on more innovative aspects of marketing.

Ultimately, marketers need to ensure that their email marketing strategies are aligned with recipients’ current and future demands. As more people read on-the-go, emails need to stand out and build engagement straightaway, and the best way to do this is to add context, personalise where possible, and consider external factors. Combine this with the use of tools that can automate a lot of the time-consuming targeting and marketers will find that they have an efficient, successful strategy that recipients will respond to.