We know that Smartphone use is on the rise and with it comes more people reading emails on their mobile. Market research firm Nielsen condensed all time spent on the mobile internet into one hour and found nearly half of it was spent on email. This is a very telling statistic because it goes beyond corporate, Blackberry-centric, email use to include consumers accessing Hotmail, Yahoo and Gmail via their devices.
That’s important as Blackberries, despite their generally justified status as a workplace productivity hero, are hopeless at handling the sort of HTML emails that marketers deploy. Images are off, links are exposed and the whole point of creating email eye-candy is defeated. I’m confident this will be sorted out shortly but it’s the current reality. And it’s one that has driven the existing mobile email paradigm.
The Current State of Mobile Email
Marketers that do created ‘mobile friendly’ versions of their emails (and, if we’re being candid, most still don’t) typically take the following approach: In the pre-header of the email there’s a link saying something like ‘On a mobile device? Click here’. Clicking on that link will do one of two things – take the recipient to a text only version or take them to a mobile web page recreating the richer HTML experience. The latter is clearly more favourable from a branding + presentation POV.
iPhones and Android devices do a much better job handling HTML emails. Images are displayed, for starters. But email design is web-centric. Multi-column emails are common and with mobile’s smaller screen sizes lead to tiresome side to side scrolling. It’s a cumbersome reading experience.
According to the PEW Internet & American Life Project, 34% of all cell phone owners have sent or received an email on their device. This number is slightly higher than the percentage of cell phone owners that have Smartphones but is conclusive enough to confidently say, at a minimum, “Smartphone users = mobile email user.”
With Smartphone penetration set to overtake feature phones in the next year or two and only continue upward, the implication should be clear: The approach to email marketing needs to evolve to account for changing consumer consumption patterns and expectations.
Your emails are being viewed on devices you haven’t designed and tested for and in contexts than a web-centric email approach simply doesn’t account for leading to lost opportunities to capture interest.
Making Email Work for the Mobile Consumer
To make your email marketing programs work harder and extract more value out of each interaction with a mobile consumer, there are three dimensions to address: Design, Content, and Destinations.
Consider a design template that’s if not mobile-first, than at least mobile-sensitive. Employ a single column layout consistent with mobile screen dimensions to remove unnecessary pinching, zooming and scrolling and to focus reader attention. A vertical scroll motion allows for a more natural email reading experience, especially on a mobile device.
Think about larger fonts, bigger call to action button, and more minimalist colour palettes with high contrast between design elements. Your design should make it extremely easy for recipients to differentiate content elements and provide intuitive, obvious action elements that account for a user who will be grazing information rather than reading deeply.
I’d also recommend keeping a text only or mobile web optimized version linked from the pre-header. Many Blackberry users will still need this and it’s good practice to be inclusive of all customers in your design (that’s why you’re looking at a mobile-centric design in the first place, after all).
Mobile email readers will be looking for focussed, attention grabbing content. Consumption will most likely happen during brief moments of downtime.
Combine on-the-go relevance with actionable information with a very sharp editing pencil. Clear but attention grabbing calls to action are at an even greater premium in a mobile context. This may involve rethinking your content organization as the mobile consumer is best served by information that satisfies moments of inspiration or need vs. contemplation. The best advice is “don’t overdo it”. Information overload will lead to session abandonment as quickly as a poorly designed email. Brevity and clarity will show you’re sensitive to demands on a recipient’s time and attention.
There’s a lot to be gained from allowing recipients to specify ‘web’ or ‘mobile’ versions as well. Knowledge of how they’ll be viewing your emails can give you a glimpse into how content should be prioritized.
This is the most important piece. There is no point optimizing design and content for mobile consumption if someone clicks on a link (that’s what you likely want them to do, right?) only to end up on a desktop web experience. All your hard work will be lost.
Building your mobile web destination involves the same content and design sensibilities you’ve applied to your emails. There’s a lot to be said on this topic and I outlined a foundational lens in a previous post, “Making the Mobile Web a Friendlier Place”. [Stay tuned for a follow up piece on content approaches to your mobile web presence...]
Once you’ve locked down a mobile friendly design, content and destination approach, there are a couple other considerations that can impact your open and engagement rates:
- Send times: Mobile email consumption is more likely going to be in snatched moments of downtime or media multi-tasking. Consider when those are going to be for your customer. Better yet, allow customers to state when they would like to receive your emails.
- Cross-channel opt-ins: Mobile email can be a great way to nurture customers into mobile CRM extensions. Provide mechanisms for users to opt-in to SMS programming. Enable coupon redemption by having device ‘show and save’ or ‘show and scan’ capabilities. Push customers to your mobile apps or other content downloads such as videos or wallpapers.
Now, rather than being a ‘blinders on’ promoter of mobile, I’m realistic in that not all marketers need a mobile friendly email program. You may be able to survive without it depending on your audience demographics. Teen and Older demographics are probably not a mobile email/Smartphone sweet spot. But if your customer base includes urban consumers, 18-45, there’s a good chance you have a growing segment that will expect a tailored, even optimized, experience no matter when or how they happen to view your emails.
Possibly Related Posts:
- 5 Steps To Address Mobile Customer Fragmentation
- Recent @JCDunn Work Blog Posts
- Brother, Can you spare a text?
- Earning Share of Mobile