There was a time in the not-too-distant past when e-mail marketing was becoming the aging dinosaur of Internet marketing. Sure, businesses still used it as a marketing tool, but it was much less exciting than the ever-dynamic possibilities social media was offering up and, in many industries, it became background noise – part of the routine mix, but nothing more special than anything else. And then smartphones entered the picture, and all of the sudden e-mail didn’t wait for users to get home and fire up their computers; it tracked them down to wherever they were.
The rise of mobile e-mail
Welcome back to the club, e-mail. Mobile devices (smartphones and tablets) have revived e-mail marketing as a premier channel for quality touches with target audiences. In September 2012, 36% of all e-mail opens occurred on a mobile device, according to statistics from Litmus. That’s up from just 17% eighteen months prior and is a 3% higher rate than desktop opens in that same month (which dropped from 53% to 33% over same 18-month period). Webmail accounted for the remaining 31% of opens. A more recent study by Inbox Marketer has mobile accounting for 44% of opens. Clearly the trend is favoring mobile, and there’s no evidence that trend will be reversing any time soon.
As any marketer knows, however, open rates are just the beginning of the battle. And mobile seems to be giving e-mail a boost beyond the opening click. Adobe’s 2013 Digital Publishing Report cites that mobile purchasing decisions are most influenced by e-mails from companies (71%), which are only surpassed by the influence of friends (87%). In fact, an ExactTarget study found that “more than one-half (56%) of U.S. consumers who have made at least one purchase using their smartphone have done so in response to a marketing message delivered via mobile e-mail.” Text messaging was the next-highest answer at 41%.
Of course, not every industry is created equal when it comes to mobile effectiveness. For the most part, the numbers make sense: Retail and consumer services tend to, on average, have better mobile open rates than other industries. Depending on which set of statistics you look at, financial services have rates of 29-38%. That’s about a 6-10% difference from retail (again, depending on which numbers you look at), so that’s not terribly bad. Health care, however, is sitting in the back of the pack with an open rate of just 16%.
Optimizing for mobile
Setting statistics aside, what does all of this mean to you? Regardless of what industry you’re in, mobile e-mail is playing a bigger role in the sales cycle. Even if you’re in the insurance industry, which can sometimes be slow to adopt, this is a channel you’re going to have to push eventually. Either way, you need to begin optimizing e-mail content for mobile.
This should bring up two very critical questions: How do I optimize for mobile, and how can I be sure they’ll open that adapted e-mail on mobile?
The big key for optimizing content for mobile is to keep it brief. Even if it’s being read on a tablet, the screen size is smaller and people are most likely doing other things in addition to checking their e-mail (“mobile” implies on-the-go, after all). When you combine those two factors, huge blocks of text seem scary to the reader and they won’t even bother. So highlight your key points clearly and concisely. Don’t try to get too cute or clever with your wording. Also (and this is also important for desktop e-mail), Litmus found that an interesting subject line was the top reason people read mobile marketing e-mails.
The second consideration, which Direct Marketing News points out, is to limit your use of images. Mobile apps won’t always load images by default, so don’t include key pieces of information as an image. For example, if your call-to-action is a link to your website, don’t make the URL a giant red button saved as an image. The recipient may not see that call to action-at-all. There are ways to make it stand out as a clickable link in text form.
Finally, to the point of knowing which platform the e-mail will be opened on: There are ways to identify the device opening an e-mail that display the message intended for the format being used. Additionally, a 2011 study by Return Path Inc. (the numbers are certainly a little more in mobile’s favor today than they were then) indicates that on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, people prefer to check e-mail on mobile as opposed to desktop, which has preference on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. So, if you know when your e-mail campaign is being launched, you can optimize based on a best guess.
The emergence of mobile has ushered in a new Golden Age for e-mail marketing. E-mails are more likely than ever to be read on mobile and e-mails read on mobile tend to have a bigger impact on the recipient. Marketers across all industries need to be thinking of ways to optimize their e-mail campaigns to maximize their impact on mobile apps and browsers.