SEMA News—September 2012

By Joe Dysart

Game Change

Mobile to Be Most Popular Device for E-mail by Close of 2012

While the tech world is riddled with paradigm shifts, the latest is a doozy: By the close of 2012, mobile devices will overtake PCs as the most popular devices for reading e-mail. That fast-approaching upheaval is expected to be a brain-rattler for marketers who will be forced to reconfigure their marketing e-mails to fit much smaller devices, which take longer to download e-mail—especially when those messages are laden with bloated multimedia.

“The future of computing is mobile,” said Matt Blumberg, CEO of Return Path, an e-mail marketing services company. “More and more people are using smartphones and tablets and are moving away from PCs and desktops.”

Melonie Dodaro agreed with the statement. “Everything in your online marketing should be mobile-friendly,” said the social media specialist for Top Dog Social Media.

Return Path uncovered the coming dominance of mobile after analyzing e-mails from nearly 500 clients from October 2011 to March 2012. Its Campaign Insight tool, which tracks the platforms and e-mail programs that subscribers use to read e-mail, was integral to the projection.

“Marketers that don’t have the basic data they need to figure out their mobile strategy will likely lose out,” Blumberg said.

Driving the change are mobile Apple devices, such as the iPad and iPhone, which accounted for 85% of all e-mail opens on mobile devices during the study period. “E-mail readership on the iPad has increased 53.6% year over year,” Blumberg said.

“Mobile devices offer extreme simplicity: instant on, instant availability and a very common user interface,” said Paul Mansfield, president of Paul Mansfield Consulting, a tech consulting firm.

Said Jennifer Ellis, vice president of Freedman Consulting, another tech consulting firm: “If someone is running late, I don’t have to waste time. I don’t routinely carry my laptop, but I always have my phone.”

Indeed, mobile device penetration in the United States is so pervasive that it’s already at more than 100% of the population, according to an April 2012 report released by eMarketer, a tech market research firm. How can that be? Quite simply, mobile is so popular that many people own more than one mobile computing device.

“This growth is largely thanks to the popularity of tablets,” eMarketer’s researchers wrote.

Smartphones in particular are on a tear. By the close of 2012, 192 million Americans will be using smartphones—100 million more than were using smartphones by the close of 2011, according to eMarketer. Ironically, the continuing rise of mobile will actually signal a step back in e-mail marketing, at least for the short term. Confronted with less digital real estate, marketers will once again need to rely more on text and less on multimedia. And they’ll have to put together messages that are much more concise than those currently being read on 24-in. PC screens. The bonus is that mobile-friendly marketing messages, once reconfigured, will also be a perfect fit for Facebook’s messaging platform, which currently displays the text version of any e-mail by default.

Below are some specific tactics you can use to adapt to the game change, as recommended by e-mail marketing firm Responsys as well as other experts:

Get a Precise Read on the Tech Your Subscribers Are Using: If you’ve outsourced your e-mail distribution, there’s a good chance that your service provider can give you a percentage breakdown on the kind of devices your subscribers use to read e-mail. For those on leaner budgets, a survey of your subscribers might do the trick. SurveyMonkey, for example, offers survey services ranging from free to $780 annually.

Offer a “View on Mobile” Link: Mobile users who are well-acquainted with the agony of attempting to read a “designed-for-PC” e-mail will welcome a link they can click that leads to a text version—or at least a “lite” version—of your e-mail.

  “Everything in your online marketing should be mobile-friendly,” said Melonie Dodaro, social media specialist with Top Dog Social Media.

“Everything in your online marketing should be mobile-friendly,” said Melonie Dodaro, social media specialist with Top Dog Social Media.

Reduce E-mail Width to 640 Pixels or Less: Skinnier margins on e-mails have been shown to increase user interaction and click-throughs on mobile devices, according to Responsys. Moreover, if you can live with a very skinny margin of, say, 320 pixels, you can be assured that your message can also be read on tiny screens held vertically.

Shoot for a 20K File Size: Granted, such austerity will elicit groans from e-marketing staffs. But if you’re at least shooting for a 20K message size, your designers will be forced to focus on the new reality. The old saw, “No one reads a pretty message that takes forever to download,” has never been more true.

Offer a PC-Friendly Version Where Applicable: Many mobile users peek at e-mails they intend to study later, when they’re at their PCs. If you’ve got a feature-rich version of your marketing e-mail for the PC, label it as such, and offer a look-at-it-later link in the mobile version of your message.

Offer Generous-Sized, Call-to-Action Buttons: You should get more click-throughs if the call-to-action button in your e-mail—i.e., “buy this,” “download this report,” “click-to-call,” etc.—is 45 pixels. This size ensures that people can tap your call-to-action buttons with their fingers very easily, even if they’re juggling a Starbucks latté with their other hand.

Reconfigure Website Landing Pages to be Mobile Friendly: Anyone who clicks on your e-mail should be greeted with a mobile-friendly web landing page that downloads like quicksilver. In practice, this means narrowing the widths of such pages and keeping copy and advertising on such pages brief. You’ll also want to remove Flash from designed-for-mobile landing pages, since the iPhone, iPod Touch and BlackBerry do not support Flash. And while Android theoretically supports Flash, the reality is that working with the format on a mobile Android device can be vexing.

Offer Mobile App Links in Your Marketing E-mails: A link to any mobile app related to your marketing e-mail just makes sense.

Use the Migration to Completely Overhaul Your E-Marketing: While you’re at it, you may want to brush up on all the other latest tactics e-mail marketers are using. A good, free 25-page guide is available by Googling: “Email Design & Coding Recommendations.”

Joe Dysart is an Internet speaker and business consultant based in Manhattan.

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