The New Digital Inbox – Is Your Email Program Ready?

The ways in which we access and read email – via smart phones, tablets, and social networks, for example – are evolving rapidly. Most email applications are not very forward thinking, using outdated templates and former best practices. Today, email may not be a standalone digital conduit for brands to pipe through deals, offers, and newsletters. The game-changing opportunity is at our front door. (I encourage you to watch the presentation, “The New Inbox: Email + Social + Mobile,” by my colleague Ryan Tuttle. It doesn’t sugarcoat the changes in how people are consuming messaging from their favorite brands.)

Trends in Mobile

While things like daily deals and social networks are creating a new type of inbox, mobile devices and technologies are also shaping the ways in which people digest content. Smartphone and tablet users are being conditioned to access a unified inbox for all digital messaging communication. The home screens of most smartphones are becoming the starting point for decision-making when a new message arrives. Facebook updates, tweets, email, and more are all arriving on the home screen, with little discernable difference.


Honeycomb, Google’s tablet version of Android, is pushing the centralized notification even further with its notification icon bar and enhanced widgets. Apple’s mobile operating system, iOS, is continuing to centralize the digital messaging stream as well; iOS 5 will include a notification center that goes beyond the current push notices and icons in iOS 4. This means that texts, social requests, email, and more will all be in once place, and the user may not even be aware of the distinctions. Your competitors’ tweets and SMS messages may be right next to your email campaign.


5 Tips for Creating Better Emails

In light of these trends, what do you need to know and do in order to transition and succeed?

  1. From and subject lines are growing in importance. They decide whether your email is immediately deleted, read, or saved for another time. Your subject line is now competing side-by-side with tweets and posts.
  2. Brevity wins. It doesn’t matter whether it’s an email to your boss or to your five million subscribers – the future of digital messaging is about succinct and valuable content. If you have a killer offer and wait until the fifth paragraph to provide the link and call to action, forget about it. You just lost millions in potential sales because you failed to adapt to what people want and how they read messages. Remember that smartphone users may only see half (or less) of the content of your email when reading on their mobile device versus their desktop.
  3. Use alt text and pre-headers. Sure, killer creative still has a place in the next generation of email, but don’t force your customer to click on “view image” or enlarge the email to see the entire HTML version as that is an added step for them and another to delete. This means that the intro copy and the text that you provide when images are not displayed need to be snappy, to the point, and able to sell the email all by themselves.
  4. Move beyond “looks good on mobile.” Most email programs design email for the desktop while ensuring that the email looks good on mobile devices, making them “degrade gracefully.” Tuttle speaks to this point in his presentation, asking, “Is this the standard? That we design email for mobile devices that just doesn’t look bad?” We should design mobile-enabled email that not only is optimized for the device, but also has content relevant to the mobile user. It’s not good enough to just make an email passable for the smartphone user; the campaign should be optimized for the device in both content and layout regardless if that user opens the email on their smartphone, tablet, or desktop.
  5. Create a deeper relevance. Relevance has been a hallmark of email marketing for quite some time, but in the age of the new inbox, relevance is even more important. Give me the right offer/content at the right time, or else. Think about users dismissing a text from their boss while dining with their spouse, or that same self-promotional tweet from the latest social media charlatan. It’s about basics: the right offer and content when the user wants it. Otherwise, you are just a deleted message, no matter how you sit on the device.

What do you think the new inbox is going to look like, and what tips can you share with fellow marketers? Let us know in the comments section below.

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