The Top Email Marketing Trends for 2021

Industry experts explore the email marketing trends set to impact your strategy in 2021 and consider how COVID-19 has permanently and positively changed email marketing.

In 2020, developments in email marketing had to undergo a rapid transition, like so many aspects of our work and personal lives. Email marketers have adapted to the new year in many creative and motivating ways, as the pandemic continues to lead to wide-ranging improvements to the way customers view products and consider purchases. Five of the brightest minds from the email marketing world include their main email marketing trends for 2021 in this blog. It’s time to discover the possibilities that lie ahead, with email continuing to play a critical role in nurturing, acquiring and keeping clients.

Email marketing through the K-shaped COVID-19 recovery

COVID-19 continues to influence marketing campaigns and budgets within companies of all sizes and sectors as we move into 2021.

Its effect on various countries and populations has been extremely varied. This has also been the case in the marketing world – while some COVID-proof companies have prospered, others have been forced to close their doors, slash budgets dramatically and enter survival mode because of the constraints placed in place.

With this knowledge in mind, it’s clear that when it comes to handling your email marketing in 2021, there is no longer a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach.

Yeah, all around us, there are creative email marketing strategies and tools, bringing us ever closer to being able to provide 1-to-1 personalization through the use of AI across our digital marketing.

However, investment in these types of technology may not be possible for all of you right now (nor was it on the cards pre-COVID). You need to look for strategies that are right for your business.

Chad S. White is Oracle CX Marketing Consulting’s Head of Research and the author of’ Email Marketing Rules’ and 3,000+ digital marketing posts and papers.

“Email marketing trends in 2021 will be driven by the K-shaped recovery from the pandemic that has seen some companies excel while others struggle. 

Grocers, e-tailers, digital entertainment providers, tech providers, and other companies that have done well will focus on better personalization, segmentation, and automation as they inch closer to achieving the 1-to-1 marketing paradigm. 

Some of those improvements will come from advanced analytics, while others come from artificial intelligence and machine learning, which they’ll also use for send-time optimization and RFM- and activity-based modeling.

Meanwhile, airlines, hotels, cruise lines, traditional retailers, and other companies that have been hurt by the pandemic will focus on improvements to efficiency, essential optimizations, and A/B testing and analytics to try to adapt to the changing customer behaviors. 

They’ll invest in switching from traditional email templates to modular email architectures to reduce production times, improving the inclusiveness and usability of their designs to increase engagement and widen their audience, and enhanced omnichannel experiences like curbside pickup to better leverage their physical real estate. 

This group will use less live content and CSS-based interactivity, and actively avoid unproven and time-intensive technologies like AMP for Email, which balloons production cycles and complicates quality assurance efforts.”

Strategy first, solution second

Your business size, market and digital sophistication have all played a role in deciding how to change your email strategy over the course of 2020. 

As we aim to emerge from COVID and enter into the recovery process, that will hold true in 2021. When that happens, it’s critical that plans are planned out appropriately. Businesses will then begin to explore investing in emerging technology and strategies that will help them meet particular objectives.

Although AI is a hot topic in the discussion about email marketing trends at the moment, don’t be fooled into thinking it’s a must-have if it’s not really needed by your strategy. Of course, AI is already making major changes for some firms. As Tim Watson states, whether you’re in a position to invest in AI technology or not, the concepts behind email marketing will remain constant.

Tim is the founder of Zettasphere and EOS Implementer, an email marketing consultancy at Traction Six. Experience includes Email Reaction and Marketing Director (fractional) Operations Director in the US, providing a 310 percent boost in sales to $5 m. With a highly analytical approach to strategic decisions, Tim has 15 years of email marketing experience.

“The fundamental principle behind email marketing will never change. Send the right message, to the right person at the right time. No brand marketer sets out to send an unwanted email. The difficulty is; to know what the right message is, for whom and when.

“Right message, right person, right time” is a theoretical concept that can never be achieved – humans are too unpredictable, when even partners can’t predict what their other half will do. But technology is continuing to help edge us closer.

The AI hype is now being replaced by a quieter AI revolution. AI technology is a very long way from “do it all and do anything” intelligence – so called “general AI”.

Try asking amazing AI self-driving car technology a basic email marketing question. It won’t have a clue. AI solutions can only perform specific niche tasks for which they have been created. But in those niches, they can be very powerful.

After the AI hype, the trend is back to strategy first and then finding the right solution fit, rather than buying something because it has an AI technology sticker.

Existing, proven email marketing solutions are being upgraded under the hood to add or replace older algorithms with AI based methods.”

Marketers can focus on better marketing, picking solutions based on strategy fit. When the solution has AI under the hood it’s at most nice to know rather than a core driving factor.”

Bringing customer experience into email marketing

As a vital part of the overall digital marketing mix, customer experience (CX) is now widely recognized. HubSpot describes it as being as follows:

“Customer experience is the impression your customers have of your brand as a whole throughout all aspects of the buyer’s journey. It results in their view of your brand and impacts factors related to your bottom line including revenue.”

It is important to combine smooth user journeys with the kind of experience a customer might expect face-to-face. The days of cold, hard selling are long gone: much like website tourists, email users expect to be viewed from the start as a trusted contact.

Again, the need for considered messaging and digital interactions has intensified COVID-19, placing the interests of the consumer at the core of your plan. Digital demand also soared in 2021, fuelled by the spread of the coronavirus. According to studies by McKinsey carried out just a few months into the pandemic, this, in fact, led to a huge rise in digital adoption.