According to U.K.-based research from e-Dialog, one in three consumers say they are accessing email more than ever (see infographic) -- in large part because their mobile phones provide them with ever-present access to email accounts. This is consistent with research I have conducted over the years here in the U.S. on behalf of ExactTarget.
Smartphone manufactures have known for some time that email is the key to their success. Email was the driving force behind BlackBerry's early success, and improving on email user interfaces was a major pillar for both iPhone and Android when they launched.
In June, fellow Email Insider Chad White shared that overall mobile penetration is in the teens, but that some brands are seeing 30% or more of their emails accessed on mobile devices (see Critical Trends In Email Design). These numbers are consistent with what we see with clients every day, but these numbers continue to grow as smartphones become ever more accessible.
Given these realities, it is no surprise that the topic of mobile email comes up in nearly every conversation about email marketing strategy and/or design. So I thought it was finally discuss how (or if you should) to mobilize your email program.
1) Know your audience. Determining your mobile readership is simple. At Trendline Interactive, we use Litmus to determine mobile penetration, but other applications like Mailbox IQ from Pivotal Veracity are also available. Once you know how many of your subscribers are reading your emails on mobile devices, it becomes easier to prioritize. In the past few months, we have had clients with less than 5% mobile readership, while others had nearly 40% mobile readership. If your mobile readership is low, then there are probably better ways to invest your resources, but if you are seeing 20% or higher mobile readership, it's time to get moving.
2) Think through the process. Mobile email is not a simple stopgap tactic. It can represent a fundamental shift in your overall marketing strategy. Everything from how the email is triggered to how people are expected to take action on your emails come into play. For example, if you leverage SMS to capture email addresses and follow up with an immediate response, the triggered email response absolutely needs to be optimized for mobile viewing. If providing store locations is part of your strategy, people may actually rely on your email for directions. Make sure the email and the map link are mobile-friendly.
3) Design cross platform. People are reading more email on their smartphones, but nearly half of consumers are still likely to wait to read business email on a computer. The challenge is that sometimes they read your email on their smartphone, sometimes they read it on a computer, and sometimes they read it on both. Trying to determine what device people will use, and taking action on that information, is much more difficult than simply designing emails for cross-platform rendering. However, this area of email design best practices is going through some rapid iterative improvements. Keep an eye out for updates from Anna Yeaman at StyleCampaign and the folks at Campaign Monitor for the latest advances in cross-platform email design.
While some designers are taking an active leadership role in this space, don't wait for others to provide all the answers. Best practices in this area are written in wet cement and are evolving quickly in 2011. You'll want to read up on things like width and scale and @media queries. Good cross-platform email design is part creative design and part hacker territory. Fundamentally sound email designers with an interest in playing with mobile emulators should be encouraged to push mobile designs to the limit. Just make sure they don't break the Outlook, Yahoo, and Gmail versions in the meantime.