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Oh, 21st century. Look how you’ve grown.

We can remember when you were just a wee thing, setting up your Friendster profile and playing Tetris on your flip phone. And now here you are, ready to take over the world with AI and machine learning.

Maybe. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

It’s impossible to know exactly when the most exciting technologies of the new century will mature and start to make a widespread impact. After all, we thought we’d all be riding hoverboards to work by now (and we’re not talking about the things that spontaneously explode).

But if there is one thing we here at MailChimp can speculate about with some authority, it’s email. We convened 3 of our most (fore)knowledgeable email marketing experts and asked them what they see in their crystal ball for 2018.

The Prognosticators:

Margaret Hamner, Senior Manager, Email Marketing

Jocelyn Hardy, Marketing Associate

Alex Kelly, Frontend Developer (and reformed Email Developer)

The Predictions:

Interactive email won’t be the Next Big Thing.Interactive email is the cool thing to talk about, but I don’t think most marketers are going to be ready to adopt it in 2018. There are a still a lot of people who are sending email right now that isn’t even responsive. I’m not saying interactive email isn’t part of the future, but there are a lot of steps that need to happen before it becomes mainstream.” -AK

Personalization will improve. (We hope.) “Everyone has jumped on the personalization bandwagon in the past couple of years. And for good reason: If you do it right, it’s a big selling point. But in most cases, databases aren’t quite where they need to be for personalization to work as well as it could. Barely a day goes by when I don’t get a ‘personalized’ email with the wrong information. Personalization without diligence—and proper data—is a problem.” -MH

Automation will be easier—especially for small businesses.Automation is more accessible than ever. At MailChimp, we’re not just email anymore. We’re a multi-channel platform—that includes email, Facebook ads, and Google remarketing ads. I think more people are going to dive in and realize how easy it is to automate all of their digital marketing in all areas of the customer lifecycle. Everyone who wants to keep their brand in front of their audience online will need to be doing it.” -JH

Testing will be more critical than ever. “It still holds true that the best way to know what will resonate with your audience is to test. If you want to know what type or length of message will get the best response, run an A/B test; try sending one email that’s long with lots of images, and a second one that’s short with fewer images. The more you test, the better you’ll understand your audience.” -AK

It’ll pay to be prepared for the EU’s new privacy rules (GDPR). “New legislation is coming in May that will require very specific and strict opt-in rules for emails sent to European email addresses. People will be scrambling to make sure their opt-in process is tight. If you have customers in Europe, you will need to send forms to collect information for your lists, and you’ll want make sure you are informing your list that you will be sending those things.” -MH

Note: Check out the MailChimp guide to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

The most successful emails will have one clear goal. “Automation has made it so we don’t have to say everything in a single email anymore. Ideally, an email is part of a larger series of emails, and each will have one clear goal and call to action. You only have a few seconds in an email to engage the reader, so you don’t want to waste their time by making them sort through a bunch of competing messages.” -JH

"Email is scrappy, hacky, and difficult, but the incredible community around it makes life a whole lot easier."

Non-responsive emails will cost marketers. “People are using their phones more than ever; the fact that Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile are all offering unlimited data plans makes that glaringly obvious. Last year, less than 70 percent of marketing emails sent were responsive, and while that’s an improvement from the year before, there’s still work to be done. If you’re not building emails with mobile in mind in 2018, you’ll be leaving a lot of opportunities and money on the table.” -AK

The marketing funnel (as we know it) will cease to be. It’s not even a funnel anymore, it’s morphed into a kind of sideways hourglass. Customers can come in at any position and leave at any position. And because of this, attribution is getting much harder to identify. So now you have multiple touchpoints, and that’s an exciting thing for marketers, but it also means that it’s critical to have brand consistency across all channels. You need to have brand guidelines in place so can make sure you’re presenting a united front. -MH, JH, AK

Develop a style guide so you can stick to your brand. “Strong branding is key when trying to build a loyal audience. And the best way to strengthen it is to figure out your tone and voice, design, and company values, then compile everything into a style guide to make it easier to be consistent. So this isn’t a specific design trend, it’s making sure that instead of copying what others are doing you design and build things that feel like your brand. Being consistent is more important than being trendy.” -AK

Don’t believe the AI hype (yet, anyway). “AI is very interesting, but I don’t feel like many marketers are there yet, or even near there. To be used effectively, it needs perfect databases, and a lot of marketers are still struggling with the basics. It’s a cool toy, but I think very few businesses are actually ready for it. Also, you have to look out for the Uncanny Valley effect, where the more closely a thing resembles a person, but is identifiably not a person, the less people will accept it.” – AK

Email clients will finally arrive to the 21st century. “There have been a lot of really good changes as far as email rendering goes in the past year. Two historically difficult clients to write emails for have stepped up and started making changes: Gmail now supports media queries and Microsoft Outlook has partnered with Litmus to start fixing bugs. Developing for email is still super hacky, but it’s getting easier, and it’s a huge deal that these heavy hitters are coming out and saying they want to make email better.” -AK

Geeks will be your best friends. “Email is scrappy, hacky, and difficult, but the incredible community around it makes life a whole lot easier. The Email Geeks Slack channel is a great place to ask questions, get feedback on design, rant about code frustrations, and generally chat about all things email with actual human beings. The email community is also really active on Twitter—you can find most of them using the #emailgeeks hashtag.” -AK