Mobile Email: It Ain't What It Used To Be!

Over the past two years we've been asked by almost every client, "Do we need a mobile version of our emails?"  As an interim solution, most major brands host a text version of their email -- and occasionally you'll see some light html formatting or a thumbnail of the email creative, like this.

This strategy was meant to serve as a band-aid approach until there were further developments in technology. Two years ago, only the iPhone could render html in the inbox at all. BlackBerry had been the smartphone of choice for business professionals, leaving folks in the BtoB space to assume that their audience was limited to text-only emails.



In 2009 and 2010 we've seen the emergence of several smartphones, including the BlackBerry and Android, capable of rendering html. As of Q3 2009 there have been 41 million smartphones sold globally, increasing the likelihood that our subscribers in both the BtoB and BtoC space are viewing emails on a mobile device. This leads us to wonder: Should we create a version of our emails that is specifically designed to be viewed on a mobile phone?

Before we all decide to start pouring resources into shiny new mobile designs, we need to think about some key questions.

Does your site offer a good browsing and shopping experience when viewed from a mobile browser?

No matter what, the experience for your subscribers should be consistent. By allowing them to interact with your emails in a mobile-friendly way, you are setting the expectation that once they click through, they'll be able to browse (at least a portion of) your site with ease. At a minimum, make sure the landing page from your mobile email does not include rich-media content (like Flash).

Is your branded content designed to be viewed "on-the-go"?

Whether you're sending articles, products, recipes or travel information, consider your intended audience and how they would engage with these various types of content. If you haven't done so already, it would be good to look at the times of day you're getting the most opens on your emails. You might see that they're in the evening and typically linked to users spending a lot of time on your site while on their computers instead of their mobile devices. For example, if you're expecting users to read articles on their mobile device, consider both the vertical and horizontal width limitations and how they impact the overall readability of your copy when designing.

Do you have the financial and technical resources to create an additional version of every email you send?

Making sure there is room in your budget and your schedule is going to be key. The most efficient approach would be spending time upfront creating a template that is easy to interact with on a phone and can also be easily updated with your content from each send.

How will this version coexist with your regularly scheduled email?

Ideally, we'd love to be able to segment our list and send subscribers the mobile version when they are on their phones and the regular one when they are at their computers. Presently, the only way to do this is by using something like Pivotal Veracity's new tool. For now, we may have to settle with a larger call-out to "view mobile version" until we are able to redefine what that means to our subscribers.

In the immortal words of Bob Dylan, "The Times They Are A-Changing." The same is true in email marketing trends. Knowing that the popularity of mobile devices is only going to increase, it's time to start looking at our email programs and ensuring their ability to evolve with the changing landscape. Maybe now isn't the time to add an additional version to your email program, but it is definitely time to optimize your creative to ensure it's at least mobile-friendly. By building a program with a strong foundation, you'll be poised to grow and take on the current trends as they come along!

1 comment about "Mobile Email: It Ain't What It Used To Be!".
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  1. Chad White from Litmus, March 9, 2010 at 10:39 a.m.

    Because of advances in mobile technology, I bet the conversation in 3 years won't be whether you should have a mobile version of your emails but how to optimize rendering and the landing page experience. Desktop email and mobile email are well on their way to converging in my opinion.

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