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Mobile 'pandemic' impacts email marketing

Wed 28 November 2012 12:54 GMT
Mobile 'pandemic' impacts email marketing

Anthropologists and psychologists may ultimately rule on whether the rapid adoption of smartphones is to be likened to a disease. But, the evidence of the fundamental changes to human behaviour is undeniable. This 2010 TV ad (below) perfectly encapsulates this shift in the way people are consuming all media especially their email. Mobile usage is happening literally anytime, anywhere.


I’ll go a little further than my colleague Tink Taylor in defining mobile in two areas.

  • Mobile = smartphones; not tablets
  • Mobile is not a channel; it transcends channels 

Does it fit in your pocket/jacket?
I realise this question sounds very male-centric. I revisit this question to be as gender-inclusive as possible, but I would bet that even women that carry moderately sized purses would not pull out a 7” tablet to check their email in a lift, check in on Foursquare at a location to get an American Express offer, or take a picture to post on Instagram or Facebook.  

So much more than a channel
Just look at the apps that are on a smartphone and try to take inventory of the number of web-related activities you can do: making phone calls, sending an SMS, checking the weather, downloading an airline boarding pass, managing your diet, playing games, or composing music. I simply ask that you stand up and correct anyone who refers to mobile as a channel.  

Impact on email marketers
With all of the above in mind, we are witnessing mobile’s disruption of the traditional wisdom used in every marketing channel: TV, print, web, social, direct mail, telemarketing and email. Humanity hasn’t fully realised how radically their behaviour is shifting because of smartphones. When consumers become fully aware, they will begin selecting winners and lesser winners based on which brands and organisations make the adjustment.

One of the ‘symptoms’ of the pandemic in the US that is being more widely tracked is mobile open rates.  One homebuilder that I recently met quoted that its mobile openers grew from 9% to 34% from 2011 to 2012. This rate of growth will obviously vary widely depending on a company’s industry vertical and customer demographics.

Just the tip of the iceberg
However, mobile email engagement is probably being under-reported because images do not render by default in Android for Gmail. Consider the growth of Gmail users and its relation to the rapid growth of the Android universe. International Data Corporation (IDC) recently reported that global market share of Android devices continues to outpace iOS by more than 3-to-1.

At Google I/O 2012, the search giant announced that Gmail now had 425 million users worldwide. According to Google Play’s app download ticker, Gmail for Android has been installed between 100 and 500 million times. Pair 425 million Gmail accounts with a 16 May 2012 press release that touted 331 million Android device activations and suddenly, it looks like three out of four Gmail account holders could be checking their Gmail accounts from an Android device.

As of 1 October 2012, these 331 million all Android user experiences can be further distilled down by version distribution: 56% (185MM) on Gingerbread (2.3.x) and 25% (82MM) are on Ice Cream Sandwich/Jelly Bean (4.x) 

Where responsive design falls short
I applaud the email design community for advancing the cause of the mobile user experience by utilising CSS media queries. However, even these more advanced techniques only address a fraction of our email audiences.  Campaign Monitor’s most recent version of its CSS Support guide for email environments lists 112 different CSS attributes, many of which fail to address a potentially wide swatch of Android users.

 CSS Attribute Support by OS iPhone iOS 4/iPad BlackBerry 6Android 2.3 (default mail)  Android 2.3 (Gmail)Windows Mobile 7  HP web OS2


 98 90 95 35 31


 No11 16 12 75 79 14 



In order to optimise email readability and usability for the entirety of Android mobile users, then the two questions that must be addressed are: 

  • What percentage of Android users check their email in the Gmail app vs the native Android mail app vs an OEM-provided mail client?
  • How will/has CSS support improve(d) for Android Ice Cream Sandwich and Jelly Bean?

If you build it, where will they go?
Assuming we write compelling subject lines, include complementary preview text and even design a sexy mobile-friendly version of an email, does it even matter if a mobile-friendly destination does not exist? Forcing users to pinch and scroll their way around their mobile web browser after they tap on a call to action invalidates all the hard work we put into optimising the mobile inbox experience.

I fear that email marketers are being held hostage to the powers that manage their company’s websites who may be waiting for a critical mass of mobile visits to decide that it’s worth investing in a mobile version of their website.  

One of the ways to help bridge this gap is the use of mobile-friendly landing pages. These pages are typically hosted within your existing email software provider’s environment and require no intervention from your web team.

My advice for email marketers would be to increase the visibility of mobile email engagement statistics throughout their organisation and speak from a position of opportunity cost: How much revenue are we leaving on the table by not providing a mobile-optimised experience?

How to integrate email with mobile apps
While many marketers have invested in mobile applications (both native and html5-based), they’ve largely missed the opportunity to integrate their emails with native apps. YouTube is one of the few examples that I’ve seen where links to YouTube videos in Apple Mail automatically prompt the device to open the native application to show the YouTube video.  Implementing custom url schemes in iOs and Intents for Android is not a big secret. The only way to take advantage of this is to make really awesome friends with the mobile app developer/project manager to include the requirements upfront.  

Additionally, email and mobile app developers need to be conversion-minded in order to prove the value of their programs and products. For as much as email marketers feel like they cannot get more funding for their programs, mobile app product managers are going to run into the same problem as soon as the shiny gloss comes off and someone starts asking how much revenue was driven by the app. 

Bottom line
Now is the time for transformation in marketing from a world of brochure-ware in silos to one of intentionally orchestrated consumer touch points.  The mobile pandemic and the sudden changes in human behaviour require that marketers move to this new paradigm soon. Winners and losers will be decided based on who moves first and fastest.  

Jay Jhun (@emailrocks), Director of Strategic Services, BrightWave Marketing.  


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This article first featured in Infobox, the DMA Email Marketing Council’s free e-newsletter. If you would like to receive Infobox and have articles like this delivered to your inbox, there are two ways to sign up. If you’re already registered on the DMA website, update your preferences here. If you’re not registered on the DMA website, you can subscribe here.

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