By Chad White, Salesforce ExactTarget Marketing Cloud’s lead research analyst,

Email marketing remains one of the most popular and effective marketing tools today because of its high adoption rate amongst consumers. Customers often prefer email as a communication channel when receiving commercial messages, which is likely why the 2014 State of Marketing report from the Salesforce ExactTarget Marketing Cloud revealed that 68 per cent of marketers view email as a core function to their business, and that 58 per cent also plan to increase their email spend this year.

Email marketing is a dynamic channel which has kept pace with consumer behaviour changes over the years. New functionality has been introduced and new devices have come and gone, but email marketing has remained one of the most constant and popular marketing tools to date. Enhancements made to marketing technologies have proved that email marketing today continues to empower businesses to better personalise and target their email messaging.

With this in mind, here are four examples that, based on my experience, demonstrate how companies can use emails as a key marketing tool. The examples I’ll draw upon are largely consumer based, but B2B marketers can learn a lot from these innovative approaches.

1. Advanced Personalisation
In the era of email engagement, greater relevancy is critical. Personalisation that goes far beyond first-name merges is one way that marketers can make messages more relevant to individual subscribers.

For instance, global beauty retailer Sephora has iPads in its stores where shoppers use an app that determines the best products for their skin colour and type. Shoppers can then select to have that personalised product assortment emailed to them. Not only is that email likely to be opened multiple times, but recipients are also likely to purchase from the company. In fact, adding personalised recommendations in emails can lead to a 25 per cent increase in sales conversion rates and a 35 per cent increase in click-through rates.

2. Triggered sophistication
Sent to subscribers based on an event or occurrence, trigger-based emails are among the most effective email tactics available to businesses. Their high ROI has driven marketers to explore ways to make them even better–with longer campaigns, smarter content, and more effective triggers. Companies today can use triggered emails to advance their interactions with their target audiences.

For instance, only a quarter of B2C brands send a welcome email series and those that send a series of three emails on average, according to the 2013 State of Welcome Emails. However, Pinterest welcomes new Pinterest for Business users with a six-email welcome series over six days. Each cleanly designed email in the nicely paced series focuses on one or two activities, with an image and a call-to-action button associated with each one, plus a preview of what to expect in the next email.

3. Smart Rendering
Emails must adapt to thrive in a variety of environments. Rendering tactics can ensure that messages are optimised for the platform, situation, person, and the device used to open the email.

For example, U.K. contest organiser Best of the Best sent an email where its content changeddepending on whether it was opened on the first, second, third, fourth day of the campaign. By using live content, where the messaging of the email is determined by the time of open, not the time it was sent, Best of the Best was essentially able to pack multiple campaigns into a single email.

The tactic spurred 23per cent of the subscribers who opened the email on the first day to open it again on the second day and 7per cent to reopen on the third day. That extended engagement led to strong revenue increases.

4. Unique Voice
Influenced by content marketing and the more informal tone of social media, marketing communication is shifting away from anonymous, corporate, promotional messages and becoming more conversational, topical, and helpful.

Boden UK’s Christmas Day email is a great example. While plenty of brands send season’s greetings emails, this company did something the others don’t: It chose to commiserate. With some witty, engaging copywriting, Boden assumed that not all of its recipients would be enjoying their Christmas, so it sent messages with encouraging words to cheer them up, and, of course, a free shipping deal.

And Cross-Channel Ties It All Together
Underlying these four trends is a continued emphasis on cross-channel marketing. Email often works best when it connects with another channel, whether it’s:

• an email triggered by a subscriber having not used a brand’s mobile app in the past 3 months;
• an email sent in response to interactions a customer has had in-store; or
• an email that sells indirectly by engaging subscribers with great non-promotional content on a corporate blog.

The possibilities are almost endless. And with customer journey continuing to evolve, new opportunities are on the horizon. But for the time being, businesses need to ensure that they’re maximising their email marketing opportunities by embracing these critical trends.

To find out more about how companies are revolutionising email marketing, click here to view The 2014 Best of the Email Swipe File report by Salesforce ExactTarget Marketing Cloud.