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B2B marketers have tons of upside opportunities to improve their email marketing programs.

That's the positive spin on one of the central findings of the inaugural State of Email Trends report from Litmus and Oracle Digital Experience Agency. The study found that B2B brands have adopted a wide range of email marketing trends at substantially lower rates than B2C brands.

I know B2B brands don't like to be compared with B2C brands. Some think it's unfair, whereas others think it's just inappropriate: apples and oranges.

I'll confess I think the differences are more like apples and pears at this point.

For example, B2B brands used to have very different deliverability circumstances because most businesses ran their own email servers. Today, lots of businesses use G Suite or Office 365, which use the same spam filtering algorithms and email rendering engines as consumer inboxes and

Plus, lots of employees access their work email via Apple Mail and other mobile email apps that consumers use, too. And because every B2B customer and prospect is also a consumer, the experiences they have with B2C brands affect their expectations for how B2B brands should treat them.

I'm not denying there aren't significant differences between B2B and B2C businesses, but they have shrunk over time and don't justify the differences in adoption of email marketing elements, tactics, and technologies we found in our research.

Again, that means B2B brands that take advantage of the opportunities of the current reality can boost the performance of their programs.

Trends B2B Brands Lead On

Based on a survey of nearly 500 email marketers, the State of Email Trends covered 38 email marketing elements, tactics, and technologies. Of those 38, B2B brands used only three at least 25% more than B2C brands:

  1. Account-based marketing ( ABM) (206% more likely to use than B2C brands)
  2. Video (76% more likely)
  3. Sentiment trackers (26% more likely)

ABM isn't a surprise, but it was great to see B2B marketers using video in email at higher rates. And sentiment trackers... sure.

Trends B2B Brands Lag On

On the other hand, B2C brands were at least 25% more likely than B2B brands to use 21 of the 38 tactics and technologies:

  1. Loyalty and rewards programs (288% more likely to use than B2B brands)
  2. AI-powered product and content recommendations (286% more likely)
  3. Machine-triggered emails (174% more likely)
  4. Operations-triggered emails (157% more likely)
  5. Date-triggered emails (124% more likely)
  6. Universal holdout groups (119% more likely)
  7. Multivariate testing (102% more likely)
  8. Interactivity powered by HTML or CSS (101% more likely)
  9. Live or real-time content (101% more likely)
  10. Email annotations and schema (96% more likely)
  11. Website popups for subscriber acquisition (75% more likely)
  12. Dark-mode optimization (61% more likely)
  13. Inaction-triggered emails (50% more likely)
  14. Send-time optimization (45% more likely)
  15. Action-triggered emails (42% more likely)
  16. Emoji in subject lines (40% more likely)
  17. Animation (35% more likely)
  18. Personalization using dynamic content (33% more likely)
  19. Subscriber re-engagement programs and inactivity management (33% more likely)
  20. Modular email architecture (32% more likely)
  21. Inclusive and/or accessible coding techniques (25% more likely)

That's a long list, with some strong differences. And if you're thinking they're the result of variances in the average company size among B2C and B2B brands, the data didn't bear that out.

Even so, it's reasonable to dismiss some of those email elements, tactics, and technologies as fundamentally less applicable to the majority of B2B brands. And some others have either relatively low adoption or relatively low impact.

With that in mind, here are the email trends I see as...

The Biggest Opportunities for B2B Brands

To state the obvious: all of the trends listed above are potential opportunities, depending on your vertical, audience, and business model. But let me call out four you should look at if you haven't already.

1. Loyalty and Rewards Programs

Old-school transaction-oriented loyalty programs reward members for additional purchases. Those make little sense for most B2B brands. However, modern loyalty programs are engagement-oriented, rewarding customers for engaging with the brand in ways that make them more loyal customers and stronger brand advocates.

It's this modern-style loyalty program that many B2B brands should be exploring.

For example, are your customers more loyal and stronger evangelists when they read your blog posts, attend your webinars, engage with your newsletter, watch your how-to videos, become certified users, and attend your user conference?

If so, you should be incentivizing those behaviors via a loyalty program—and being creative with your rewards so you don't cheapen your brand with discounts.

2. Triggered Emails of All Types

Whether triggered by an action, inactivity, a date, an operations update, or a machine, automated emails are the most productive emails you'll ever send. Every brand should be routinely exploring opportunities to address the moments that matter in their customers' journeys.

Any point in the journey that has friction is a chance to use automation. The possibilities are vast. (Oracle's Automated Campaign Ideas checklist (no-form download) contains more than 110 events that could trigger an email.)

Set yourself a goal of launching, expanding, or reimagining at least four automated campaigns this year.

3. Website Popups for Subscriber Acquisition

There are two key truths to recognize about popups: (1) Consumers hate them; and (2) they're highly effective.

The good news is consumers won't hate yours if you make your popups respectful and user-friendly. That starts with setting generous limits on how often a signup popup can be served to the same visitor.

It also entails making your popups easy to dismiss for those who aren't interested in signing up.

4. Dark-Mode Optimization

About 35% of emails are viewed in dark mode, according to Litmus research. Considering that most corporate apps have supported dark mode for some time now, it's safe to assume that corporate emails are viewed in dark mode at roughly the same percentage. That's far too many subscriber experiences to leave unoptimized, especially considering that dark mode can leave text and other content illegible or unintelligible.

Like so many other aspects of email marketing, dark mode isn't implemented the same way across inbox providers. Because of that, optimizing for dark mode is tricky. A few tips:

  • Add strokes to logos and icons.
  • Watch you background images and colors.
  • Stick to black and white as text colors, so contrast is maximized on inversion.

* * *

Again, plenty of other trends on that 21-item list are also worthy of more investment by B2B brands as well. But the above four have the biggest potential to move the needle for B2B marketers.

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The Biggest Email Marketing Opportunities for B2B Brands

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image of Chad S. White

Chad S. White is the head of research for Oracle Digital Experience Agency and author of four editions of Email Marketing Rules, as well as nearly 4,000 posts about digital and email marketing.

LinkedIn: Chad S. White

Mastodon: @chadswhite

Twitter: @chadswhite