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Are You Ready for the Mobile Revolution?

  |  May 17, 2010   |  Comments

More than 1 billion consumers are expected to access their e-mail on mobile phones by 2013, up from 200 million last year. Here's how e-mail marketers can prepare for that increase.

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,

Jeanne

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jeanne Jennings

Jeanne Jennings is a recognized expert in the email marketing industry and managing director of digital marketing for Digital Prism Advisors. She has more than 20 years of experience in the email and online marketing and product development world. Jeanne's direct-response approach to digital strategy, tactics, and creative direction helps organizations make their online marketing initiatives more effective and more profitable. Digital Prism Advisors helps established businesses unlock significant growth and revenue opportunities in the digital marketplace; our clients learn to develop and implement successful digital strategies, leveraging data and technology to better meet bottom line goals. Want to learn more? Check out Jeanne's blog and Digital Prisim Advisors.

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