2015: The Year Email Goes Mobile-Only?

Last month I wrote an article about how it’s time to drop the text version of multipart HTML emails. It created a fair amount of interest and some (not unexpected) disagreement. This time I’m going to take it a step further.

In 2010 I wrote, “(In 2012) mobile will not be the dominant target platform, most email will still be read on non- or less-mobile devices and the user experience will need to reflect that.” Now it’s 2015 and mobile is the dominant platform. That’s not just the privileged view of a tech-savvy early adopter. More than a year ago Litmus reported that mobile opens crossed the 50 percent mark across all Litmus customers worldwide and adoption has only increased since then.

2015 is the year that marketers should start designing not just their emails but their email marketing programs for mobile devices.

I don’t mean retrofitting existing emails or massaging them to make them usable on mobile. I mean creating emails primarily for mobile devices. Much advice tells marketers to adopt scalable, responsive, fluid, or whatever the latest buzz-term is design. That’s all well and good, but all the surveys and data show that mobile isn’t just about screen size and touch.

Don’t get me wrong. It is important that messages are readable and usable on mobile devices. A BlueHornet study last year indicated that more than 70 percent of users will delete a message that doesn’t look good. Incidentally, contrary to what some believe, that doesn’t mean you need to go with text-only. Smartphones and feature phones can all handle HTML. Even wearables will use the HTML and the pre-header.

Mobile, though, impacts email much more fundamentally than just rendering and display. Mobile changes when, where, and how people use email. Creating for mobile therefore means rethinking the programs, both the content and the experience, from end to end.

Users on mobile devices are more inclined to read the content in the email itself rather than follow a link to a Web page. This impacts not only the amount of content but which content you should provide. Mobile users are also even more enamored of transactionally oriented, single-purpose messages than desktop users, and everyone likes discounts, offers, and confirmations!

Mobile devices also impact when and where people read their email, which in turn changes their expectations and requirements. Real-time transactional communications such as confirmations and estimates need to truly be real-time. Paradoxically, however, some behaviorally triggered messages may benefit from an increased delay, as the triggering actions may not correspond to immediate readiness to purchase.

Then there’s the call to action. Though mobile devices support Web browsing and having an effective mobile Web presence is essential, it’s also important to recognize differences in mobile behavior. Unlike on desktop, mobile users spend 80 percent of their time in apps, versus only 20 percent on the mobile Web. Calls to action need to deep link into apps when those apps are present or available, not just rely on the mobile Web.

Email competes with other messaging channels far more in mobile than desktop. Mobile app use also presents opportunities for in-app messaging and of course mobile is the native home of text messaging (SMS). A mobile-oriented strategy needs to be a cross-channel strategy, one that coordinates the messages across mobile channels and speaks to individuals rather than to addresses or phone numbers. Use of asymmetric messaging (different channels for inbound and outbound) is also worthy of careful consideration, especially at point of purchase.

The always connected, always with us nature of mobile devices affects when people read their email, which in turn changes their interest and the nature of the channel itself. The old rules about when to send go out the window in favor of individual time optimization.

And that’s the underlying thread in a nutshell. Mobile devices are extremely personal and though there are patterns to usage, we are all individuals — cue Monty Python quote. Mobile-oriented strategies must be personalized strategies that utilize individual-level data to, as the adage goes, deliver the right product in the right place at the right time.

2015 is the time to make this a reality. In the age of the customer, email programs must be individualized and based around a mobile audience. The desktop may not be dead, but it’s definitely pining for the fjords.

Until next time.

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