These days, seems like most everyone is perplexed over the mobile email user experience. I recently received a year-end survey on industry trends from a leading email supplier. One question asked if companies were planning on optimizing their email programs for "handheld phones, such as for the iPhone?" Had the question been phrased "such as Windows Mobile or BlackBerry?" this ESP could have kept its expert facade intact. The simple inclusion of iPhone into the mobile email "rendering-challenged" mix illustrates the prevailing confusion our industry is in.
First, all mobile is not created equal. To start, there are currently three leading mobile platforms: iPhone, BlackBerry, and Windows Mobile, and each present unique user experiences. And with the recent launch of Google's Android and the pending release of IE Mobile 6 from Microsoft, the landscape will likely change, and hopefully simplify -- although it's premature to predict how things will evolve. So with the market transforming at warp speed, defining an efficient mobile email strategy seems equivalent to chasing a moving target.
You should first consider whether the mobile email world is simply a world of email triage -- or are users really looking for optimized HTML email for full viewing/scanning purposes? In a perfect world, implementing a scalable mobile email strategy for each of the mobile platforms seems logical and straightforward. But from a practical perspective, it is cumbersome and a trade-off for some other personalization or segment exercise that could likely move the needle better than optimizing to a mobile experience where users simply scan email.
Here's the challenge: Even the traditional approach of sending multipart emails (HTML/Text) does not address the inherent limitations of both BlackBerry and Windows Mobile devices. For example, a Windows Mobile device will accept the HTML format, but render as gibberish! Your production team should evaluate how your emails render within the various mobile platforms to understand how it impacts your program.
The real question marketers should be asking is "What are the implications of developing (or not) an optimized mobile email experience?"
When I am consulting with clients on this topic, I always go back to the basics. Here are some points to consider when defining your mobile email strategy:
Does it make sense to target your mobile email customer from an ROI perspective?
If the answers are no, then you should likely keep to what you are doing and spend the time implementing to your known audiences and experiences. If you do have some insight, it'll be a good investment to begin to segment these consumers over time.
Does your company already have a mobile Web user strategy in place?
Think about it. Before you go to the time and expense to deliver an email that is optimized for the small screen, shouldn't the entire mobile experience be in alignment?
If your company already has a robust mobile Web strategy in place, it may make sense to dovetail your email efforts to enhance the overall brand experience while leveraging every opportunity to maximize sales.
Alternatively, the way the mobile industry is rapidly evolving, unless there is a clear benefit to implementing a program today, for now, the best mobile strategy may be to use this time to enhance your knowledge of your customer's mobile habits and preferences. By the time the market sorts itself out within the upcoming months/years, you will be ripe to release an optimized mobile email program that hits the target dead-on.