Mobile Email Marketing: The Coming Revolution

It's funny how in the early stages of a major paradigm shift we rarely see where the road will eventually lead us. Few notice when a major game-changing event takes place until months or years later. I doubt anyone at the time would have believed the effect the Boston Tea Party would have as a catalyst to the American Revolution. Today we understand it was a monumental tipping-point in history.

That's my setup for this week's article; while certainly a far cry from such drama and sweeping historical significance, I believe we are currently on the brink of a major shift in mobile email marketing.

We've been in the early stages of a consumer shift to smart phones for some time now. The current leaders here in the states are RIM with its multiple business-friendly BlackBerry models, and Apple with the highly popular iPhone, which has been on a red-hot tear digging into RIM's market share, leapfrogging over rival smartphone manufacturers HTC and Palm along the way.

Tomorrow, T-Mobile and Google team up to give device manufacture HTC another shot at glory with the launch of the highly anticipated G1 smart phone. This will be the first phone to hit the market with Google's much-hyped and long-awaited mobile operating system, Android.

As an email marketer and former tech geek, the main reason I find this so exciting is because the G1 Web browser is built on top of WebKit, the same rendering engine underlying the Safari browser on the iPhone. In addition, rumors abound that several other carriers will be releasing phones running Google's Android platform in the coming months. This signals a "serious" new entrant in the mobile space with the ability to properly display HTML emails.

Earlier in the year, fellow Email Insider columnist Morgan Stewart wrote an article about the competition between iPhone and BlackBerry platforms, stating that email marketers stood to gain, as both players would be upping the ante in both features and ease of use. I couldn't agree more, and with the entry of Google into the mobile industry the pace of innovation can only accelerate from here. As Morgan aptly put it, "we are nearing the end of the dark days of mobile email."

What do I think this means for the email industry in general?

Email design and coding best practices will change. For example, we may see page widths decrease in order to find a happy ground between mobile and desktop email programs, and I think we'll see a renewed emphasis on reducing file sizes to improve loading times for mobile recipients.

Text preheaders -- those short bits of teaser text with calls-to-action at the very top of HTML messages -- will get more focus from marketers. On some of the newer smart phones, emails are displayed in the inbox list with the first line or two of text from the message, making text in the preheader section almost as important as the subject line in helping to generate opens.

The most exciting changes I expect to see are innovative campaigns geared specifically to the mobile market. Once marketers are no longer constrained by the concern that mobile recipients either cannot read their messages or only receive them in garbled formats, they'll be able to focus on creative methods of engaging their mobile subscribers.

The best news is that consistent and proper rendering of email for the majority of recipients in the mobile space is one step closer to being the standard, not the exception. While we're still not out of the woods with older versions of BlackBerry and Palm phones, 2008 has seen a consistent trend of full HTML email support in new entrants to the marketplace.

We still have a ways to go, but I think by this time next year we'll have seen some very compelling and rewarding mobile campaigns from adventurous email marketers. I'm looking forward to seeing what people come up with.

Tags: email
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