The Enduring Power of Email Marketing
Marketing ROI

The Top Email Marketing ROI Trends to Watch in 2017

5 Minute Read

Email marketing may not have the sex appeal of Instagram or Snapchat, but research continues to show its ROI prowess—even among smartphone-tethered Millennials.

According to research, email remains the most effective channel for building brand awareness, converting customers, and retaining them over the long haul. Its effectiveness shines across demographics and devices. In short: If you want to get a message out to your audience, email remains an incredibly good way to do so.

However, marketers should be careful not to rest on their laurels when it comes to this “oldie but goodie” marketing tool. The emergence of mobile in particular has made it imperative for marketers to keep up with changing trends. Email may be a long-established communication format, but today’s email marketing strategies can’t afford to be old-fashioned. The most successful marketers are on a continual quest to understand their audience and their needs—and devise an email strategy to reflect that.

Why Brands Love Email

Research shows that marketers rank email as the most effective channel for acquisition and retention, according to a survey from WBR Digital reported by eMarketer. In fact, email is the fastest-growing channel for marketing ROI, according to a report from Econsultancy and Adestra. Their research showed that 73 percent of marketers rank email as “excellent” or “good” when it comes to ROI, an increase of 66 percent from 2015. Moreover, companies that invest at least a fifth of their marketing budgets on email tend to reap the rewards; such companies are eight times as likely to see a 50 percent boost in sales, attributable to email. This momentum is likely to continue in 2017.

Email marketing effectiveness

As a long-established marketing tool, email also offers brands a host of data and reporting metrics they can analyze to refine and optimize their campaigns. Testing subject lines and content, personalizing messages based on audience demographic, or using behavioral triggers like cart abandonment—all can be automated at scale via email.

The Millennial Twist

Conventional wisdom might suggest that tech-savvy Millennials would prefer newer communication tools versus more established channels like email. But it’s Millennials who are leading the charge when it comes to responding to email marketing.

According to Epsilon, 43 percent of Millennials say they have been opening retailer’s emails more often in the past six months, compared to 32 percent of other shoppers, Adweek reported. Millennials also lead the pack on checking emails from mobile devices. Among users ages 18 to 64, pretty much everyone checks email on laptops or desktops, and 72 percent check email their smartphones, a Mapp Digital survey found. But if you look at the 18- to 24-year-old age group, the figure rises to 91 percent who check email on their phone. Among 25- to 34-year-olds, 83 percent use their phones for email.

In addition, a majority of Millennials actually prefer interacting with brands on email. According to Adobe, 58 percent of Millennials report that email is their preferred method of communication with brands. Another report pegs the preference for email even higher. Adestra found that about 68 percent of teenagers and 73 percent of 19- to 34-year-olds want businesses to communicate with them via email, as reported by BizReport.

Millennials report that they frequently share content for marketing emails on social media—44 percent said they were likely to do so, up from 19 percent in 2015, Mapp Digital found.

In another interesting twist, Mapp Digital found that Millennials tend to subscribe to fewer brand emails than their older counterparts. That could signify that Millennials want a closer relationship with brands, albeit with a smaller subset of them, Mapp Digital argues.

Taken together, the research signifies that email remains a powerful tool for the Millennial demographic, with mobile playing an important role in how emails are consumed.

Email Marketing Trends for 2017

Despite cries of “email is dying,” the reality is that the trusty format isn’t going anywhere. However, email is changing, and marketers don’t get a free pass when it comes to optimizing for mobile or providing relevant, timely content. Consider these ideas to boost ROI on your next email campaign, particularly those targeting Millennials.

Mobile Optimization

The rise of mobile has meant people across age demographics are using their smartphones to check email, with Millennials leading the charge. Across all age groups, 42 percent will delete an email immediately if it doesn’t display properly on their smartphone, BlueHornet found. Brands absolutely must think mobile-first or risk alienating the growing group of users that live and breathe with mobile.

Mobile has also shifted when people consume emails. Millennials are the most likely age group to check email while in bed, according to Adobe. Marketers should experiment with sending emails early in the morning or late at night for this audience subset.


Email marketing can work in tandem with larger campaigns across channels. If you’ve got a great campaign happening on social channels like Facebook or Instagram, email can further describe the campaign with supplemental, relevant details. Email can also foster further sharing via social media, amplifying social sharing efforts. Consider REI’s #OptOutside campaign, which encourages brand fans to spend Black Friday outdoors instead of shopping (and post a photo tagging REI on social media, naturally). Consumers can learn about the campaign via email, social media channels and a dedicated landing page.

REI OptOutside email marketing

Visual Impact

When targeting email for Millennials especially, brands should take their cues from social. Optimizing emails for great visuals and using emojis strategically will appeal to an age group that increasingly relies on visuals to communicate. Moreover, marketers can personalize the emails they send based off the referral source for new subscribers. If a segment of your list came to you via Instagram or Pinterest, offer those subscribers image-laden email content. Similarly, marketers might incorporate video content into subscribers referred from YouTube.

Email is just one tool in the proverbial marketing toolbox, and it continues to play an important role, including among the Millennial set. It seems that email is here to stay, but marketers need to continue to evolve their email tricks to cater to a mobile-first audience in 2017 and beyond.

Subscribe to the Content Standard

Register for Forward 2019!

Krystal Overmyer is a freelance journalist specializing in digital marketing trends. Her experience spans over a decade in journalism, public relations, and digital communications.

Recommended for you