Mobile’s Pending Revolution of the Inbox

I talked with two of the nation’s foremost experts recently about a topic that I think has the potential to have the most significant impact to digital marketers in the past 10 years: mobile.

Justine Jordan, marketing director at Litmus and Jay Jhun, director of strategic services at BrightWave Marketing (my company) discuss in a two-part series about how email marketers need to adapt to mobile and provide insight on how savvy marketers can make the leap and embrace subscribers’ changing email consumption habits.

In a two-part discussion, Justine, Jay, and I discuss what mobile means for email marketers, smartphone trends, and ways to ensure your email stays relevant for the mobile generation.

Simms Jenkins: Why should a digital marketer care about mobile email as opposed to sexier mobile topics like apps, display, and the like?

Justine Jordan: Maybe they should, maybe they shouldn’t! Like so many things in digital marketing, deciding to spend time and resources on mobile email should factor in your goals, product, service, and audience preferences. Ignore media hype and look at your metrics. I’m a big fan of making decisions based on data (although a few people have gotten lucky on hunches, I’m not yet one of them).

Look at your web analytics, email analytics, and any other dashboards at your disposal to make a smart decision around where to invest. If email makes up a significant chunk of your revenue or you already have a mobile app, chances are that there’s an opportunity in taking a closer look at making your emails mobile-friendly. Design is sexy, and creating beautiful and usable email experiences can pay dividends over more intensive projects.

Jay Jhun: As more and more people engage with digital communications and media via smartphones, marketing decision-makers need to at least start planning to invest in mobile email templates, landing pages, and websites and including mobile interactions and conversions into their campaign plans. Nobody is technically “late to the dance” when it comes to mobile-optimized emails but, to Justine’s point, now is the time to be studying your customers’ mobile behavior through web and email analytics. Your email program is one of the best places to begin your mobile discovery agenda because of the ability to strategically tag and test content.

SJ: Well said. Do you think the trend that email consumption is making up about almost half of every hour of smartphone usage will continue with email being the dominant thing consumers are doing on these devices? Or shrink? Why?

Jordan: Once again, I take these surveys and stats with a grain of salt. What is your audience doing for every hour they spend on a smartphone? Instead of speculating, find out. If they are spending half of that hour in your app, then do you care about what they are spending the other half doing?

That said, I don’t expect email usage on smartphones to shrink any time soon.

Jhun: If there’s any competition to be had in where people spend time on mobile devices, it looks like it should come from social media, photography, and game apps. That being said, as more mobile web experiences come online to support mobile email interactions, there’s no question in my mind that email apps will carry a big percentage of that hour.

SJ: What are the top five recommendations you would provide to anyone looking to ensure their email program adapts to the mobile world?


  1. Learn how your subscribers/customers are interacting with your brand in a mobile world. Are they visiting your site? Trying to buy from you? Reading your emails? Let this data be your guide.
  2. Modify designs to be finger-friendly and readable on small screens. Even your existing content can be made more presentable and usable by enlarging fonts, introducing whitespace, and increasing contrast.
  3. Simplify and prioritize. Cut down extraneous content, links, navigation, and information.
  4. If you’re going to optimize your emails for mobile devices, here are a couple things you shouldn’t do:
    • Forget about your landing pages. The worst thing about finding a gorgeous mobile-friendly email in my inbox is clicking through to an unusable website or landing page.
    • Segment by mobile device. Instead of creating device-specific versions of your email, send one email that works well in all viewing environments and devices. An exception to this rule is if you’re sending emails about OS-specific mobile apps.
  5. Read “Mobile First” by Luke Wroblewski. It might change your life.

Jhun: Another thing I love about the emerging mobile age is that it is bringing fresh attention to the same questions about best practices in email campaign design and execution. More marketers could do better in these areas. Fact of the matter is that the “age old” fundamentals hold true, regardless of environment:

  1. Subject lines are really important
  2. Your primary call-to-action should be a button
  3. Deliver value
  4. Talk to your audience as if you know something about them (i.e., be relevant)
  5. Test and learn

Great advice Justine and Jay. In Part 2, we will talk about what mobile email trends are on the horizon and how our behavior is changing.

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