Email Goes Mobile

It’s been an autumn of innovation in the mobile sector. Apple launched the iPad Mini and iPhone 5 within weeks of each other, Google’s new Nexus 7 has hit the shops, and the list of new handsets and tablets arriving on the market is endless.

As device makers release new devices and update operating systems, the challenge for email marketers is to ensure that their campaigns render correctly on whichever device the consumer uses to open their email. In this wave of mobile innovation, how can marketers conquer this complex and confusing medium? 

Why one-size-fits-all won’t work
It’s no surprise to see that mobile growth, and alongside this, mobile innovation, is a hugely important trend. The real value for marketers lies in the varying capabilities and design of the different handsets, and what this allows us to do from a creative perspective.

Put simply, all emails should not be created equally. Organisations need to adopt a mobile mindset from the very early stages of a campaign if they are to capitalise on these trends. The key to achieving success through the mobile channel is to use data to understand your customers and how they are opening and engaging with your emails on the go.

According to recent research by digital agency Steel, 36 per cent of consumers read marketing emails on their mobile, rising to 55 per cent among 18-34 year olds – a high proportion of many marketers’ customer base.

Best practice in email marketing needs to involve tracking of user engagement in order to refine targeting, and make it more tailored and useful to the recipient. Mobile platforms are diverse, so in order to truly deliver effective campaigns, a greater degree of granularity is required. Marketers should really be tracking behaviour down to a device and OS level to develop a more accurate profile of the user. Once they have this, marketers can then look at the technical aspects and tailor the email format and function accordingly.

Progressive enhancement – what to consider
From a design perspective, we live in a very unforgiving world. Anything less than a perfect user experience could result in customer frustration, a loss on ROI, or, at worst, the loss of a customer. Psychology and ergonomics play a significant role within the design process for mobile email, contributing to the user experience and ensuring that your message is not only seen, but also, that it is persuasive enough to be engaging. 

This means that during the design process for mobile email, you must carefully consider how your message will function and display in all situations, ensure that messaging is concise and relevant, and that all potential frustrations are removed.
The most fundamental part of an email is its call to action, and how this is presented to a user is particularly important. Key things to consider are:

  • Prominent messaging, with positioning optimised for the device used
  • Content crafted using  key words that will trigger an action
  • Size and positioning – your call to action needs to be large enough to be clickable with consideration for touch screen and finger/thumb interaction. Using iPhone as an example, the bottom third of the screen is the optimal place for engagement, so marketers need to ensure that their call to action is prominent in this space
  • Hierarchy of content – on smaller screens, content can become cluttered, so ensure you have a clear hierarchy of importance
  • Layout – for mobile devices, introducing a concise single column layout gives the user a greater experience without the need to pinch or zoom

What about 4G?
The recent launch of 4G is by far the biggest development in the mobile space in recent years. Traditionally, restrictions around 3G networks, most notably concerned with speed and efficiency, have limited the ways in which consumers interact with marketing on their smartphones. Activity tends to be limited to linear, task-based steps – for example, checking the local cinema site for screening times. Speed constraints across networks mean that consumers tend to focus solely on the task at hand.

The increase in speed that accompanies the move to 4G results in a net increase in the amount of time that users have when browsing on their mobile, offering a seamless experience, and giving users more time to engage with rich content. So in the case of the local cinema, as well as checking cinema times, 4G users will also now be able to view the latest trailers for film releases. This transition empowers marketers, allowing them to converse with consumers in a way that is far more compelling than traditional techniques, using rich content.

User control
But marketers must also remain conscious of when and how they contact their customers in this always-on world. We predict that as technology continues to advance and 4G penetration becomes widespread, consumers will be given the control to classify their time differently. Similar to the ‘Work’ and ‘Silent’ modes we see on current handsets that allow users to control when they are alerted to calls or texts, users will start to set stricter permissions on their time, indicating to brands when they can or cannot market to them.

Clearly, the coming few months will be a crucial for mobile marketers, with new technologies coming thick and fast. To stay on top of these developments, marketers must ensure that they remain abreast of the possibilities that these technologies offer, and more importantly, how their customer base is interacting with them. Effective tracking of customer activity is the key to harnessing new technologies to communicate efficiently and in a fashion that is welcomed.

Matt Potter is director of products and propositions at Experian Digital Marketing Services