Are You Ready for a Mobile Subscriber Base?

Most "mocial" (mobile/social/local) email conversations have been about the impact of social media and networks. Participants range from the misguided, who suggest that social media would kill email, to folks like yours truly, who believe that the two channels actually can support each other and make each other more relevant.

Social networks and media have had little serious impact on email marketing. The mobile aspect of the mocial trifecta, however, looks like it will have a monumental impact on our beloved channel.

First, let's look at the trends driving mobile's impact on email marketing:

1. Smartphone adoption: According to Nielsen research, 49.6% of the U.S. adult population now own smartphones, up from 36% a year earlier. This explosive growth is the driving force behind mobile's impact on email.



2. PC/laptop sales: Forrester says sales of tablets (23%) will actually outpace desktop PCs (18%) and netbook/mini laptops (17%) by 2015 but trail laptops/notebooks (43%). Further, smartphones outsold PCs for the first time in Q4 2010, according to IDC.

3. Tablet sales: Gartner predicted in April 2012 that 119 million tablets would be sold in 2012, and 369 million by 2016.

4. Tablet content activities: A July 2011 study by IDG Global Solutions pegs reading emails (84%) as the second-highest activity on tablets after Web browsing (93%).

5. Platform email access: According to a June 2012 report from Litmus, mobile email opens (36%) passed desktop (33%) and Webmail opens(31%) in April. The number of mobile opens marked an 80% increase over the previous six months.

A recent Return Path report shows lower but similar numbers: Email readership on mobile devices accounted for 30% of all opens, up from 10% a few years ago.

Return Path estimated that mobile opens would reach about 35% by June, eclipsing Webmail services like Yahoo Mail, Hotmail and Gmail and roughly equaling email opens on desktop clients like Outlook.

6. Day of week usage: The Return Path study revealed a big dip in desktop email client usage over the weekend, with a corresponding rise in mobile and webmail use.

7. Specific email client opens: The Litmus study shows email opens doubled or more in the last year on iOS (10% to 20%), Android (2% to 7%) and iPad (3% to 8%), but plummeted 51% on Outlook (from 37% to 18%).

8. Touchscreens: An August 2011 report from ABI Research suggests that 97% of all smartphones will feature touchscreens by 2016, compared to 7% of touchscreen-equipped smartphones in 2006.

9. Multiple device opens: Of all this data, perhaps the most surprising comes from Litmus. It found that just 3.3% of users have viewed a single email on both a mobile device and either a desktop OR a webmail email client.

Not surprisingly, though, someone who opened email on a mobile device at least once in the past will do so again about 45% of the time.

Put Statistics into Action

Some of the statistics above might vary widely from your specific subscriber base. You might even question their validity. The important thing to focus on is simply the general and rapid adoption of mobile usage.

Okay, let's net out all the above statistics:

  • No matter what your subscribers' demographics are, more than half of them either own a smartphone or tablet or likely will within a year.
  • Within a year, potentially one-third to one-half of your subscribers will view your email on a mobile device often or almost exclusively.
  • The finger is the new mouse. When viewed on a mobile device, nearly all interactions will be touch-based.

 Key implications for email marketers include these:

  • It is time to consider taking a "mobile first" design strategy.
  • Assume you have only one shot at persuading your subscribers to click on your CTA, because so few view the same email on different devices.
  • Ensure a consistent, simple and mobile-friendly experience at the destination, whatever device your subscriber takes to get there.
  • Links and calls to action must work easily for the finger.
  • Copy and layout must reflect mobile context. Your users are on the go and short of time.
  • Add mobile to your testing strategy.

While email marketers could have safely ignored the impact of social media over the last few years, the same does not hold true for mobile usage.

In a future column I'll dive deeper into the implications for email marketers and look at some mobile optimization tips.

Until next time, take it up a notch.


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2 comments about "Are You Ready for a Mobile Subscriber Base?".
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  1. Jeff Cloud from GGMI, July 12, 2012 at 10:16 p.m.

    Excellent article Loren! Thanks for compiling all the data in one convenient list. So true about paying attention to mobile, it has been amazing to watch how email and mobile are interacting!

  2. Loren McDonald from IBM Marketing Cloud, July 14, 2012 at 2:17 p.m.

    Thanks Jeff. I hadn't originally planned to include so many stats...but then thought that including as many relevant stats in one place that really painted the mobile and email story - was of great value by itself. The train is moving quickly and simply cannot be ignored.

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