The major changes in email marketing and where they leave us (Guest Post)

In this guest post, Elizabeth Carter, e-communications manager at Tech Trust, looks at how email marketing has evolved over the years and suggests ways that charities can keep up.

| 4th Nov 14
Email marketing

In this guest post, Elizabeth Carter, E-Communications Manager at Tech Trust looks at how email marketing has evolved over the years and suggests ways that charities can keep up.

It’s been 42 years since Ray Tomlinson sent the first ever email. Whilst the format of an email (html or plain text) has remained the same, we’ve seen constant and fast-paced evolution in email marketing, particularly with regards to email design.

What was initially a case of simple text and links became elaborate, colourful designs, before switching back again to simpler, more straightforward emails that stimulate a better response.

What were the reasons behind this?


Partly, changes were driven by evolving legislative rules and regulations. Two examples of this are the 1998 Data Protection Act (ensuring all emails carry an opt-out) and the 2004 Sender Policy Framework (providing an email validation system to help prevent spam by verifying a sender IP address), both of which directly affected the practice of email marketing.

Aside from this, changes in the way we access emails have been a driving force for changes to email marketing.

Mobile workingMobile devices

Five years ago, Outlook dominated the email landscape in the charity sector as they had the lion’s share of users. Now, however, people can view their Microsoft Exchange accounts on a range of other devices with different interfaces.

Recently, Gmail has developed into one of the largest email providers, and now plays a larger role in the evolution of email marketing than it once did.

From the recent B2B stats from DotMailer (right), you can see the fundamental shift in the last five years in the email client open rates by device.

In 2012, it was reported over 40% of marketing emails were opened on a mobile device. This year, that figure has already increased to 67%.

With so much emphasis put on consumers reading emails through a mobile, private marketers and also charities were forced to consider how their emails were displayed on mobile devices and make appropriate rendering changes.

Social media

With the digital explosion through both social media and mobile, supporters of charities started to engage more. The inclusion of social media sharing links within emails has come to be expected and anticipated.

Awareness of charities’ missions is no longer limited to reading an email, but is instead linked to exciting YouTube clips and more. In this way, emails have become more like launch pads for charity content than before, when they were packed more with text.


In recent years the importance of donor data collection/management and behavioural analysis has become essential. Five years ago, charities limited their “stalking” by using ‘open-and-click’ to enhance their email marketing. Today, tracking behaviours and engaging with clients using dynamic content and triggered campaigns has led to more advanced and intelligent email marketing strategies.

Charities are no longer mass emailing their subscribers but are instead using a more strategic approach by way of segmented data based on historical behaviours.

The rise of third-party tracking services like Google Analytics have proved to be vital among charities, and in the last two years, more emphasis than ever has been placed on marketing automation platforms that attract, personalise, engage and retain clients by delivering inbound experiences.

Where that leaves us

Thanks to the changes listed above, we’re at a point where the below is expected:

  • Emails follow legislative rules to ensure they make it into to inboxes of people who want to receive correspondence, but not by those who don’t.
  • Emails are designed to look good when opened on a number of platforms, and importantly should work well on mobile devices as well as desktops.
  • They include social media links to all your charity’s sites. This includes links to visual content like video and strong imagery.
  • Tracking is used intelligently so that emails can be tailored to the individuals receiving them.
  • Rather than mass emailing, subscriber groups are segmented by demographic, behaviour and/or geography to make them more relevant and to recipients.

So we’ve seen an evolution in email marketing that has been challenging to keep up with, but one that is proving to be beneficial to charities that stay up-to-date. Making sure your charity stays at the cutting edge of technology can really keep your mission alive, as it lets you communicate better with the people who matter most.