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Four ways your inbox is about to get a whole lot smarter

Millennial with mobile phone
Domoyega | Getty Images

The reports of email's death are greatly exaggerated. Email is not only alive and well, it's about to change in dramatic ways that will keep it thriving for years to come.

Alternatives to email are rapidly expanding, to be sure. On the enterprise side, many companies have switched to Slack and similar messaging platforms to communicate internally. And younger people have gravitated to Snapchat, Facebook, and other social sites to stay in touch.

But these aren't email-killers. The good ol' inbox remains a hugely popular communication tool. Today, the average American worker still spends over six hours per day checking email. Six in 10 consumers say email is their preferred way of digitally interacting with brands, according to a survey we conducted last year. Today's email apps are not just work tools, they're our bedfellows and bathroom buddies.

Even the team at Slack considers email indispensable. The company recently unveiled features integrating its messaging platform with inboxes, explicitly acknowledging that Slack was never designed to replace email, only enhance it.

Email is here to stay, but it will evolve, with the most annoying features getting tossed on the junk heap. Here are four predictions about inboxes of the future:

1. The end of spam

Consumers are tired of weeding through flooded inboxes, and worried they'll miss a crucial email if they don't. It's time to get rid of email FOMO (fear of missing out) and fatigue. Inboxes will evolve to incorporate "machine learning," or programs that learn from user behavior. Such dynamic email will ensure that the promotional emails users receive are actually useful. Equipped with data on human preferences, machines will be able to predict optimal email content and context.

Say someone moves to a new city. Based on geolocation data, her inbox will "find out" and alter her daily deal subscriptions to correspond to her new address and account for the weather in her new city. Her inbox will even notify her favorite clothing store to send discounts on apparel. And she'll receive these emails precisely when it's most convenient to reply.

2. Immersive messages

Emails will become like mini-websites, with dynamic, interactive content customized to users' interests. The messages of the future will let people flip through a clothing line's lookbook, browse a gallery of electronics, and stream a concert in real-time — all without leaving their inboxes.

Immersive inboxes will also maximize space — both digital and mental. Rather than attacking inboxes with 20 daily emails, a brand will have one refreshable email slot that simply swaps out old emails for the newest, latest deals.

3. The inbox as a personal assistant

Convenience technology is on the rise. It's already commonplace for people to link their lights, thermostat, TV and alarm system to their phone. With Amazon's Dash Button, consumers can verbally question "smart" fridges about inventory and initiate Amazon detergent shipments instantaneously from their washer.

The same will apply to email. Future inboxes will use data to assist with everyday tasks, serving as connected portals for important information about the products we value most -- and making technology's convenience factor much more universal.

Imagine a fridge that notifies someone that her yogurt supply is running low on the exact day she typically shops at Whole Foods.

And email mediums will become more diverse. Consumers won't only get the messages they want when they want them, but also where they want them — from the oven door to the vacuum cleaner.

Next generation inboxes could even tap into other apps to draft responses and manage calendars. Picture this: Someone's sister proposes weekend plans via email — and his inbox eliminates the painstaking back-and-forth about logistics. After consulting the person's digital calendar, the inbox could schedule lunch after his morning workout, and proactively email his sister with reservation suggestions at three new five-star restaurants. All the person would have to do is approve the preconceived message — saving precious time and mental space.

4. Fewer, better messages

Right now, many companies have a blunt strategy for marketing emails: The more emails they send, the more likely they'll see a return. J. Crew, for instance, sends about 175 to its average subscriber every year.

This flood is drowning consumer attention spans. About 40 percent of consumers told us they want fewer promotional emails. The approach of blasting inboxes doesn't work and the rewards of getting it right, by truly knowing customers and delivering value at the right time, are tremendous.

Machine learning will empower brands to refine their approach. They'll be able to figure out if and when a user clicks and what kind of content they actually interact with, and then incorporate that data to adjust their outreach. Customers will only get emails that are genuinely useful and will stop receiving emails if they're not opening them after several months.

Commentary by Stephan Dietrich is vice president of Adobe Campaign. In this role, he is responsible for driving the strategic development and global business growth of the Campaign product, one of eight solutions that comprise the Adobe Marketing Cloud. Follow him on Twitter @stephanmarkting.

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