The First Mobile Holiday Season Gives Marketers New Audience Segments

  |  December 9, 2013   |  Comments

Return Path compared the volume of mail opened on iPhones to iPads during the holiday weekend to explore the differences between phone and tablet engagement.


Guest column by Tom Sather, Sr.

Just as we all predicted, the first-ever mobile email holiday season is finally here. Thanksgiving weekend and the unofficial holiday shopping kickoff saw nearly 60 percent of marketing messages opened on mobile devices. This is great news for email marketers whose campaigns are poised to become even more effective, but it introduces a new complexity: Mobile devices aren't just different screens to design for - they're the equivalent of distinct audience segments.

As people are increasingly free to open their mail from wherever they are, whenever they choose, their choices become important to marketers. For example, when they saw your Black Friday offers this year, were your customers on the couch, half-watching the Lions game? At the mall, nursing an Orange Julius? One important clue is the device they used to open your message.

Return Path compared the volume of mail opened on iPhones to iPads during the holiday weekend to explore the differences between phone and tablet engagement. The first pattern we found was that the share of iPad opens dipped more than 10 percent on Friday as total mobile opens spiked.

Then, although mobile email engagement remained high throughout the weekend, the percentage of iPad opens jumped back up by more than 20 percent on Sunday. Essentially, people left their tablets at home when they headed to the mall on Black Friday, then relaxed on Sunday, iPads in hand. The same pattern applied to individual days: Email got opened on iPads in the evenings and on iPhones during the day.

This is important because those off-hours email sessions on tablets find your customers only a click away from a purchase, and on Thanksgiving weekend lots of couch-bound consumers had their credit cards out. Your tablet openers are far more likely to be actively shopping than your phone openers, who will probably at least switch devices to place an order. That means your messages to tablet openers can be different because their device allows them to easily "buy now." That's a distinct behavior-and a distinct audience segment.

Your messages to smartphone openers can be distinct, too, because these customers are a step or two - perhaps literally - away from being able to act. They may be out shopping a few blocks or miles from your nearest store, which a huge number of iPhone openers certainly were on Black Friday, actively combing their inboxes for deals. Or they may have been conducting email triage, saving the best offers for later when they had their iPads, or for Cyber Monday when they got back to their desks. (Mobile opens dipped back below 50 percent on Monday, when 33 percent of messages were opened on desktops.)

Ironically you might tell this segment not to buy hold off until they get home, or at least pass by your competitor to get the goods at your retail location. Whatever your message to smartphone openers is, their response patterns - their behavior - is different from tablet openers. Another distinct segment.

Although Thanksgiving weekend officially ushered out the simpler days of worrying only about whether your messages render the same way across a proliferating set of screens, the era of mobile email and device-based segmentation creates an opportunity to make campaigns far more effective. Happy holidays, marketers!

About the columnist:

Email data and deliverability expert Tom Sather has worked with top-tier brands to diagnose and solve inbox placement and sender reputation issues as a strategic consultant with Return Path. As the company's senior director of research, Tom is a frequent speaker and writer on email marketing trends and technology. His most recent analysis of new inbox applications' effects on consumer behavior was widely cited across leading business media outlets including the Financial Times, Ad Age, and Media Post.

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