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The Top 7 Email Marketing Trends of 2021

Here are the 7 fastest-growing email marketing trends of 2021. And the technology, companies and forces behind them.

Whether email marketing has always been a part of your brand or is new to your strategy, these are the top trends to follow.

1. traditional newsletters add modern features

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Searches for “The Athletic” exploded before COVID closures shut down professional sports - and picked up again after the restart.

Newsletters are making a huge comeback.

But unlike email newsletters from the 90s, today's newsletters have modern-day features, like content customization.

For example, The Athletic's newsletter measures user behavior and location data. And uses that data to send their subscribers customized content.

And that same tech is now largely available to small businesses too. Most (if not all) email service providers now allow for some level of customization and segmenting. Which makes it easy to send subscribers targeted content that they want.

There's also software like Mailbrew that offers subscribers an email digest of content from Twitter, Reddit, blogs and more.

For The Athletic and Mailbrew, the newsletter is the product.

But email marketers are using targeted newsletters as a way to keep in touch with customers.

Plus, people want to get emails from brands.  Around 72% of subscribers listed either staying up to date with a company or learning about a topic of interest as their reason for subscribing to a particular newsletter.


A Disqus online survey asking why people subscribe to newsletters.

And modern-day customers favor email newsletters over other ways of staying connected (like Facebook). When given the option between receiving company updates over social media or email newsletters, 90% of customers chose newsletters.

2. integrations expand email marketing capabilities


Searches for video email service “Bonjoro” are spiking massively into 2021.

The average open for for a marketing email is 17.8%. And businesses are relying on a growing network of email marketing integrations in an effort to increase open rates and engagement.

For example, email marketing heavyweight Mailchimp has over 170+ integrations with apps including ShopSync, Slack, and Canva. These integrations help ecommerce businesses track customer engagement.  Allow teams to automatically share information on email campaigns. And make it simple for bloggers to create professional newsletters.

In return, Mailchimp and other email service providers (ESPs) accelerate the growth of the companies behind the integrations.

Take video email solution Bonjoro.

Bonjoro’s expansion is largely thanks to integrations with tools such as Mailchimp, ConvertKit and Zapier. Integrations make Bonjoro available to Mailchimp’s over 420,000 email marketing clients and 63% market share.

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Bonjoro’s top marketing integrations.

In short, integrations give ESPs superpowers they didn’t have before.

Which is why the number of integrations is growing so quickly.

3. email segmentation becomes the norm

Email segmentation (along with marketing automation) has been one biggest email marketing trends over the last few years.

Which means that segmenting email subscribers into different buckets is nothing new. What's new is how email segmentation has moved from an "advanced feature" to something that most ESPs now provide. And something that more email marketers are using in their campaigns.

In fact, 33% of companies segment their audiences for marketing campaigns and 20% send customer-specific emails.

Plus, email segmentation has moved well beyond "subscriber clicks X, move to list Y".

Services like Mixmax and Instagram Insights make it relatively easy to track customer engagement with across email, social media and more. These analytics tools integrate with many popular ESPs. Which allow marketers to create customer personas and segment their audiences based on data they get from several different platforms.

Besides allowing marketers to call a whole segment of their audience “Karen”, personalizing content can lead to as much as a six-fold increase in transaction rate.

Besides more sales, data suggests that segmentation can boost email engagement too. An industry study by MailChimp found that segmented campaigns lead to an average of 14% greater open rates and 100% greater clickthrough rates.

These impressive results are why Mailchimp, Email Octopus and Active Campaign all highlight personalization as one of the critical features of their platform.

email octopus search volume trend-m...

Search traffic for Email Octopus continues to trend upwards.

4. demand for niche ESPs grows

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Search traffic for ESP Substack is taking off.

Email subscribers aren't the only ones demanding personalization. This trend has also made its way to ESPs themselves.

Mailchimp remains a market-dominating behemoth, setting the standard for ESPs. However, niche ESPs have begun chipping away at its dominance.

As trendy platforms like Flodesk, Substack and ConvertKit have shown, specialization can provide upside over generalist platforms.

Flodesk has sold itself as an ecommerce solution. Substack caters to paid newsletters. And ConvertKit has successfully targeted online content creators.

All three of these niche ESPs seem poised for continued success. And not simply because they have great features. The niche audiences they serve are trending up alongside them.

Largely thanks to Shopify, ecommerce in general has seen a substantial uptick. And Flodesk’s focus on this market should help sustain its growth.

As discussed in trend #1,  paid and free newsletters are also surging in popularity. Substack’s position as a leader in newsletter ESPs means it should benefit from this trend.

Finally, interest in individual creator online content has been soaring as well. And ConvertKit’s relevance as an email marketing platform has moved upward alongside it.

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ConvertKit has positioned itself as the top email solution for content creators.

Targeted ESPs found a competitive foothold. But there's also a heated battle for supremacy between generalized ESPs. Search traffic for Mailchimp has stagnated. And major challenger Active Campaign has seen a huge drop-off at the start of 2021. That leaves room for players like Email Octopus to muscle in. 

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Active Campaign has dropped off sharply into 2021.

5. new email subscriber behavior changes email marketing tactics

Open rates hit a 5 year low last year. Which was their second lowest rate since 2008.

Changes to subscriber behavior are forcing email marketers to rethink how to maintain strong delivery and deliverability for their content.

Because even with double opt-in enabled, 22% of permissioned email fails to reach subscriber inboxes.

To avoid spam filters and improve delivery, companies often ask new subscribers to add them to their trusted contacts.


Subscription landing pages such as Mailbrew’s ask new subscribers to add their email address to their contacts.

Reaching the inbox is only the first step in a marketing email’s journey. Marketers need to also think about how (and where) their email will be received and read.

62% of email is now opened on mobile. And if an email isn’t designed for mobile, nearly 42% of readers will delete it.

Also, only the first 30 characters of a subject line are visible on the iPhone email app.  And marketers need to be very selective with what goes into those 30 characters.

For instance, adding an emoji to subject lines can increase open rate by 56%. And shorter subject lines consistently outperform longer ones.

Deliverability and a strong subject line aren’t everything. Open and click through rates also depend on the context in which email is read.

Searches for telecommuting and remote work exploded in early 2020 and have remained high. Emails previously opened at work are now opened at home (and in the bedroom or bathroom).

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Searches for the term telecommuting have skyrocketed since COVID closures shifted business to work-from-home.

6. free newsletters pioneer a sponsored revenue model

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Searches for daily newsletter “Morning Brew” - Morning Brew mixes sponsorships with inbound and content marketing to generate revenue.

The email newsletter has long been associated with marketers wishing to build customer loyalty. But free newsletters selling themselves as the product are slowly changing this narrative.

Newsletters such as Morning Brew (and Exploding Topics) are popularizing a sponsorship-based business model. By producing superb content and offering it for free to email subscribers, newsletters are able to generate revenue via sponsored content.

Sponsored content in free newsletters is generally ads that are integrated into the newsletter's content. Some even offer special discounts for subscribers of that newsletter.

Like with podcast ads, sponsoring a newsletter is a relatively untapped way to get in front of potential customers. Which is why CPMs tend to be fairly low (approx $15-25).

That said, this model only works if the newsletter is exceptional. 42.3% of Americans subscribe to email lists for savings and sales. And 11.2% sign up because they like a brand.

Morning Brew scratches both of these itches. And they've seen rapid growth as a result - as well as a majority acquisition by Insider, valuing the newsletter at $75 million.

7. funnel software streamlines marketing automation

The average email marketing list size is growing by 40% per year. And 320% more revenue is generated in automated email campaigns.

On the surface, this sounds like great news. And it is. But the downside is that setting up marketing automation campaigns can be tricky. Plus, these automations don't always directly integrate with landing pages. Something that's especially important for Facebook ad campaigns.

That's largely why interest in funnel software has taken off in recent years.

Funnel software adds a user-friendly user interface on top of marketing automation tasks. In fact, the name of the current market leader "ClickFunnels" stems from the fact that their software allows user to "click" together different elements from their funnel.

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Searches for ClickFunnels has seen pretty consistent 5-year growth.

Ease of use is probably why interest in funnels have taken off. Another reason is the fact that funnel software is tailor made for one specific use case: sales funnels that rely on paid traffic.

A closing note

Here you are: the 7 biggest email marketing trends of 2021 (so far).

Email marketers continue to fight for eyeballs, opens and engagement. And new tools and consumer behaviors are forcing marketers to adapt their strategy to remain competitive.

It will be the platforms, companies and technologies that best evolve with these changes that will define the future of the industry.

Last Updated: 
January 4, 2021
Josh Howarth
Co-founder of Exploding Topics.

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