Pocket Change: How Mobile Is Changing Email

Email marketers know the numbers — how many people are opening their email on their phone, how fast this number is growing — and they are trying to adapt.

As one example of this adaptation, the Wall Street Journal reported in July that mobile advertising spend this year will surpass the spend on newspapers and radio. Another example is the way website design is changing. Your key email metrics are depressed unless your website and the email communications themselves are built using responsive design, so users can navigate with a minimum of panning, scrolling, or paging across a range of devices.

But responsive design, however important, is about the mechanics of handling different size screens. The deeper implications of mobile communications go far beyond managing a smaller screen for email reading.

Here are some ways that smartphones in pockets (and tablets) are changing how you need to interact with customers:

  • How that first look happens: It’s messaging first, and in-app communications are growing rapidly, too. Messaging, not email is the primary channel for many mobile users. What is the best media to use to get in front of your customers? Are you able to send messages to customers, and will they accept them?
  • Location factors: Where do your interactions with your customers happen? If they walk into a Timberland outlet and get an iBeacon message, that’s a really different situation than an email to their desk. When they are not tethered to a laptop and you know their location, the possibilities for richer communications expand. What you offer can depend on where the customer is.
  • Timing: Having a mobile device definitely affects when the message is received, and can affect the immediacy of the response. The communications day expands because mobile users are connected for a greater portion of the day than customers in the past.
  • Payment options: More and more smartphone users are making payments with their phone, whether by having a QR code scanned at Starbucks or using Near Field Communications and Google Wallet. Ease of payment affects rate of conversion, regardless of whether the customer is on a laptop or mobile device. Conversion rates are still higher on a traditional devices compared to tablets or phones, but greater use of responsive design will cut into this advantage.
  • Push vs. pull: Traditional email is mostly a push process, with companies pushing emails at customers. A user who notices the badge on an app icon and clicks to see the offer waiting underneath is using a process with more pull elements, though push was used to get the badge showing. Regardless of how the process is labeled, getting a user to interact is good.
  • Individualization: Too many companies are still unable to send individualized emails to their customers and rely instead on dying methods like spray-and-pray. While I might have your personal or business email address, none of your connected devices is as personal as your phone or tablet. If a company uses your transaction history with them to predict your purchase propensities, makes offers to you based on those propensities, and is able to send those offers to you personally on your personal device, response rates go up. That rise is more likely due to personalization, which in turn is enabled by the device.



Somewhere, each of these elements is currently influencing email communications, and that influence will certainly grow rapidly. Each one needs to be included in your email strategy today. Because of them, email in the near future will be substantially different from email today.

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