The Radicati Group recently projected that more than 1 billion consumers will be accessing e-mail on their mobile phones by the year 2013. This is compared to fewer than 200 million that did so last year.
If you're like me, you've been using a BlackBerry or other mobile e-mail device for years. But we're the exception, not the rule. And the fact that smartphones that access e-mail are becoming mainstream is a sea change for e-mail marketers.
The same HTML e-mail message can render very differently on different smartphone operating systems. It may show up perfectly on an iPhone but be "all code" when viewed on a BlackBerry. This is similar to when HTML e-mail first became prevalent; standard HTML didn't render properly in AOL inboxes, so we created text, HTML, and AOL versions of every e-mail. Eventually, the AOL inbox technology was upgraded to render standard HTML properly and the need for the AOL version disappeared. I expect the same type of standardization to occur in the mobile market, but not for a few years.
So, what can you do now? If you can identify which operating system the majority of your mobile readers are using, you can optimize your creative for it (and ignore the rest).
In March, Pivotal Veracity released market share figures for mobile e-mail clients. The iPhone (38 percent), BlackBerry (30 percent), and Android (22 percent) operating systems comprise 90 percent of the market, but the differences between how each of these render e-mail still makes it difficult to create one e-mail template that is optimized for all of them.
I anticipate that soon we will be asking people at opt-in whether they plan to use a desktop or mobile device to view e-mail, much as we used to ask subscribers to choose text or HTML. Initially, we'll probably also need to ask which device or operating system they are using. Those with a large mobile audience may end up creating iPhone, BlackBerry, and/or Android versions of e-mail messages to meet the demand.
An ExactTarget survey from 2008 found that 52 percent of mobile phone owners access the same e-mail account across multiple devices (PC, laptop, mobile phone, etc.), while 48 percent have a distinct e-mail account for mobile-only e-mail.
As smartphone usage increases, the number of people accessing e-mail on multiple devices should increase as well; expecting subscribers to maintain two separate e-mail accounts, one for the desktop and one for their smartphone, is not realistic. Therefore, e-mail marketers need to learn to create e-mail messages that are optimized across multiple desktop and mobile operating systems.
Before you expend a lot of resources to optimize your e-mail for both desktop and mobile viewing, you need to do a cost-benefit analysis. How many of your subscribers are viewing your e-mail on mobile devices? Which mobile operating system is most prevalent among your readers? Pivotal Veracity has a tool that allows you to detect both mobile usage and operating systems; you can also just survey your audience and ask.
On a positive note, many of the e-mail issues that plagued early mobile devices have been conquered. For instance, my original BlackBerry (circa 2000) only read e-mail in portrait (not landscape) mode. It offered a single line for each e-mail in the inbox, causing both the sender address and subject line to be severely truncated. On my new BlackBerry Storm, these things are now non-issues. I can read e-mail in portrait or landscape mode and the two-lines-per-e-mail inbox (sender address on the first line, subject on the second) makes the truncation much less severe.
Should everyone reading this jump head first in optimizing e-mail for mobile devices? Not necessarily. But you should begin thinking about it and making plans for 2013.
Until next time,
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Jeanne Jennings is a leading authority and independent consultant with over 15 years of experience in the e-mail and online realm. She specializes in all aspects of e-mail marketing and publishing, from strategy through design and metrics analysis. Jeanne works with medium- to enterprise-sized organizations and is expert at helping her clients become more effective and more profitable online. She is the author of "The Email Marketing Kit: The Ultimate Email Marketer’s Bible" (SitePoint, 2007) and publisher of "The Jennings Report," a free e-mail newsletter for online marketing professionals. Visit her online at JeanneJennings.com.
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