HTML5 Email – Are We Ready?

Is your email performance, opening and click through rates, slowly but surely declining? Do your customers just not seem interested anymore? Has email marketing lost its sparkle? If the answer to some or all of those questions is yes, it might be time to move to HTML5.

What’s that?

Without going into too much detail, HTML5 is latest generation of the language which powers almost every web page on the planet. Like most new things, it offers significant benefits and advantages over its predecessors.

From an email marketing point of view, it offers a significantly richer media experience, video, audio, and greater interaction with the user. In fact, many of the things that Flash does for us, but Flash seems to be permanently in the doghouse with some people and it’s not recommended for email anyway.

HTML5 also partners with CSS3. Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) is a style sheet language used for describing presentation semantics. In more simple language, it’s a standard that defines the look and format of your email or webpage. CSS3 simply being the latest version of this, enabling better and fancier layouts and designs.

What are the benefits?

Imagine opening an email for a beach resort to the sound and sight of waves lapping on a beautiful white sand beach. As you scroll down you’re greeted by the happy sounds of a beachside café, with a full cocktail menu revealed with a single click. Another click shows you the chef in action. At all times a great promotional offer and a call to action floats handily to the right of the screen.

Taken together HTML5 and CSS3 have the capability to transform how we develop and deliver more interactive and more compelling email marketing to customers. Some examples:

  • The ability to stream video or audio directly onto the email once it opens.
  • Far greater direct interaction with the customer and between the customer and the content.
  • Layered content and layouts, with elements able to move or float around page as you scroll.
  • The ability to animate the customer’s experience with step by step animations and reveals
  • New approaches to layout with excessive text being hidden away and accessed on demand by the reader.

If your email marketing performance is starting to wane, with tired and distracted customers this might just be the shot in the arm it needs to re-engage and grab their attention.

With such a rich environment, it also opens up email to delivering a more brand focused marketing message. This is important, as traditionally less targeted brand marketing slowly but surely converges with more promotional and relationship based one to one forms of customer dialogue.

So why has everyone not moved?

This all sounds fantastic! Why has everyone not moved already? Like anything new it takes time to be properly understood and adopted. And putting my agency hat on, marketing clients can be cautious folks sometimes.

But more importantly, there’s an issue with browser/email client compatibility. Some email clients or readers (e.g. Outlook) are still not compatible with HTML5. Whilst around 85 percent of web browsers are now HTML5 compatible, some email service providers are still not. With them re-formatting the code of the email between them receiving it and you viewing it.

Is mobile important?

Critically, HTML5 is more commonly accepted in the mobile world, with it being fully compatible with iOS email clients and good, but not complete coverage, on Android. With the rapid move to mobile email access by consumers, this not only drives more immediate technical acceptance, but it cries out for more creative and engaging formats for email for people on the go or accessing their emails on smaller screens.

Slowly but surely, other clients and email service providers will migrate to more up to date platforms. So it’s only a matter of time before the majority of your customers are ready for HTML5, if not already.

A quick look at your email reporting will tell you what operating systems and platforms they’re currently using.

I’m sold, any tips?

Yes, normal common sense applies:

  • Think about your user experience, packing an email full of bells and whistles (possibly literally) could be annoying and distracting for your customers. Our designers continue to tell me that simplicity and clarity is always best.
  • Things like video can hog a lot of bandwidth and as I discovered on a crowded train yesterday, bandwidth can be in short supply, a slow loading email is pretty much a dead email these days.
  • Animations are great, but just like those annoying PowerPoint presentations that spin and twirl, it can get pretty irritating after a very short while.
  • User layers and content reveals to shorten your email length and optimize navigation.
  • More compelling email is going to be more viral, factor that into your designs, with the careful use of personal information and exclusive content.
  • Think Mobile – much of your readership will be reading on the go. Design and develop with that in mind. For example, compact designs that allows for content reveals without the dreaded Fat Finger Syndrome.
  • Worship your brand and always be true to its values and graphic standards.

Where do I start?

Look at your customers. Your current reporting will tell you how they’re performing and what email clients / browsers they are on. This will tell you how close they’re to being ready for HTML5. When you reach a critical mass, you’re good to go.

Design new HTML5 templates that take advantage of the new capabilities but remain compatible with your brand personality and values. This suggests not too many bells and whistles, unless you’re a bell or whistle manufacturer. This probably needs to be shared with some internal stakeholders, so internal testing might help with buy-in.

Test the new emails to controlled customer groups against traditional email formats. Measure overall performance of the campaign but also how each email element performs. You may need to do this for a few weeks as customers slowly get used to the new formats and features. And be prepared to fine tune.

With reference to previous points on good taste, progressively introduce new features and functions that create greater interaction and engagement with your customers.

And as ever, measure everything!

Good luck.

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