Time to Add Passbook to Your Email Program

  |  June 12, 2013   |  Comments

As Passbook use grows, it could become a great way for email marketers to engage their customers in other digital channels.

We're hearing a lot of discussion about Passbook lately as email marketers explore how to use it as a part of their digital marketing mix. Adding Passbook could make sense because Passbook works a lot like email.

If a high percentage of your subscribers read your messages on iOS devices such as iPhones and iPads, integrating Passbook with your email messages and mobile site could encourage your customers to interact with you across channels and enhance your email program.

Passbook is a new application built into iOS 6. The app allows the user to store physical cards digitally on her phone or tablet. Users can add passes (.pkpass files) via other applications, email, or website links and redeem or use the passes by scanning a 2D code or manual entry.

Some of the top uses include:

  1. Travel
    • Boarding passes
    • Loyalty/rewards cards
    • Vouchers
  2. Entertainment
    • Movie/concert/sporting event tickets
    • Coupons
    • Gift cards
  3. Retail/services
    • Coupons
    • Loyalty/rewards
    • Cards
    • Gift card balance

Passes can be time- and location-based and updated via push alerts or manually by the user. The marketer can push updates via the APN service and trigger an alert to the subscriber on the lock screen when a time-sensitive pass is available. Marketers can also trigger alerts on the lock screen when a user is near a store location.

Email Examples That Promote Passbook Use

Sephora, a Passbook early adopter, uses email to encourage subscribers to shop with the app. The message explains reasons for using Passbook but also includes a secondary CTA for smartphone users who don't have iPhones or iPads. Sephora also has built its loyalty card into the Passbook app, giving users quick access to their cards whenever they shop.


Famous Footwear also sent an email in which the primary call-to-action is an "Add to Passbook" button that uses the Passbook icon for continuity and recognition. The secondary content in the email includes a printable 1D barcode that can be used in-store.

American Airlines incorporates a call-to-action to add the subscriber's AAdvantage Card to Passbook at the bottom of its emails. It also created a comprehensive landing page for desktop users that details the AA mobile options along with a video demo showing the subscriber how to add boarding passes to Passbook.

Mobile Email Examples

Sears has used a targeted SMS message combination that first asks subscribers to reply to a text message and then delivers a personalized link to download a pass.

Walgreens includes a Rewards link from its mobile app main page. This brings users to a Rewards Card screen with an Add to Passbook option. The next screen prompts users to select their preferred store location and then generates a loyalty pass for that location.'s mobile home page prominently promotes adding mobile coupons to Passbook. It also contains a Passbook Coupons page with barcode values for retailers who might not be able to scan a 2D code.

coupons-1   coupons-2

Start Simple to Add Passbook to Your Email Program

Begin by sending generic, multi-use coupons delivered via email and/or a simple member/loyalty card delivered via your mobile site or app. Then, move on to highly personalized passes that are delivered based on the user's location and automatic push updates.

Some of the top Passbook providers include:

They offer customizable templates, APIs for bulk creation and updates, WYSIWYG editors/wizards to create passes, analytics to measure pass use, downloads, removals, and more.

My Last Word

As Passbook use grows, it could become a great way for email marketers to engage their customers in other digital channels. Identify how often your subscribers open their emails on a mobile device and what devices they are using. If you have high opens on iPhones and iPads, you are a great candidate to start using Passbook. Start testing what works for your audience, and continue to integrate Passbook in your email and mobile site.


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Mike Hotz

Mike Hotz is a senior strategic consultant for Responsys, working with clients to design, develop, and execute cross-channel digital marketing strategies that contribute to their cross-channel digital marketing success. As an industry veteran, Mike has worked in e-mail marketing since 1998, designing, building, and executing e-mail and multichannel direct marketing strategies focusing on increasing customer engagement, nurturing leads, supporting sales organizations, and driving revenue for companies such as CDW, OfficeMax, Grant Thornton, and

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