The Evolution of Email Marketing

evolution of email

When Ray Tomlinson sent the first email in 1971, who could have known how much email would change and evolve in 45 years. While it’s rumored that the first email was a simple text saying only “QWERTYUIOP,” the evolution of email has led to images, videos, animation, and even more in the world of ecommerce email marketing. To understand the way marketers need to use design to their advantage in email marketing today, let’s take a dive into the evolution of email and how it changes marketing tactics in 2016.

evolution of email

The Evolution of Email: The Big Changes

1970s: Email Marketing is Born

While 1971 was the launch of email as we know it, the 70s were also the beginning of what we now term mass mailing. In 1978, Gary Thuerk was the first to harness the power of email marketing and send a mass email (a few hundred people) to promote machines for Digital Equipment Corp.

1990s: Email Reaches the People

The early 90s really blew the door wide open for mass email marketing. Hotmail launched in 1991 making email accessible to everyday customers by creating personal email addresses. During this time ecommerce email marketing was, according to Gary Lee, “a blast all mass marketing solution; the days of spray and pray email marketing began.”

One of the biggest evolutions of email came in the late 90s when HTML email was introduced. In 1991 astronauts were sending text only emails from the International Space Station. By the end of the decade rich formatting starts to open up opportunities for more creative design.

2000s and on: Mobile Matters

As with all technology, the evolution of email made leaps and bounds in the 2000s and onwards. There were three big changes that effected ecommerce email marketing the most. First, the very first behavioral email was sent in 2001. This did away with “spray and pray” methods and led businesses to focus on segmentation. Second, push email functionality was introduced. By 2012 over 40% of marketing emails were opened on a mobile device. Email design now had to catch attention on the go and be responsive to different formats. Third, social media was born. When Facebook was opened to the public in 2006, businesses now had to learn to juggle multiple channels of communication that worked in tandem with their ecommerce email marketing.

Email in 2016: How to make it work for you

In a world where you are competing for screen time in the inboxes of your customers and prospects, how do you harness the lessons of the evolution of email to work for your email marketing? The two major concepts to embrace are simplicity and personalization when conducting email marketing in 2016.

1. Streamline your copy and creative.

In your own email inbox, think about how often you read the subject of an email and send it straight to the trash. Today if an email is opened, on average readers spend 15-20 seconds viewing it because of the increase in competition with other email marketers. Therefore you need to have clear, concise copy and enticing visual elements to grab your reader’s attention and call them to action. Some strategies include:

  • Cutting out any extraneous information. If you only have 15-20 seconds, don’t let readers spend it anywhere you don’t want them to. Put your logo down at the bottom of the email. Then get rid of any navigational links such as “About Us,” etc., unless they have performed well in past email marketing efforts.
  • Sending one-topic messages. Pick just one of your articles or products to promote. Even if you haven’t sent an email in months, that doesn’t mean you’re going to get more screen time with your audience. Tell your readers exactly what it is you want them to do and show them exactly how to do that whether it is buying a product, downloading an ebook or reading an article.

2. Segment your email list.

You get upwards of hundreds of emails in a day, is a one size fits all email going to tempt you to dig deeper for more? Likely not. That’s why it is increasingly more important to segment your customers and send different versions of your emails to different groups. The evolution of email led to a hyper-consciousness of avoiding being labeled as SPAM. Segmenting is one way of making sure your emails are reaching the right people.

Take your new one-topic messages and tailor them to your different groups. You probably won’t even be creating more content than you have in the past, but it will be more effective because of its targeted nature and simplicity. Even better, experiment with using job titles or industries in your segmented emails. The more they see themselves in your emails the more positively they will react.


As email continues to change, so will the successful strategies needed to keep up with it. What are the ways in which you have seen email evolve and how do you make sure to stay ahead of the changes it brings?

If you’re looking for help staying ahead of the ecommerce email marketing trends, we are here to help. Contact us today to get started.

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