B2b marketers that aren't optimizing their email efforts for mobile devices will regret their inaction sooner rather than later, experts say.
A report from email certification and reputation monitoring company Return Path released in December found that email opens on mobile devices increased 34% from April through September of last year when compared with the prior six months. The use of the iPad to view email jumped significantly during that time frame, with a 73% increase in email opens.
The message to marketers is clear: Consumers and businesspeople alike are increasingly checking email on the go, and messages that don't render properly on mobile devices may be summarily deleted.
“We know that the majority of recipients out there both in b2b or b-to-c environments are using mobile devices to read emails,” said Ari Osur, principal analyst at Forrester Research. “If you're not optimizing your email communications for customers to read on a mobile device, you're really doing yourself a disservice.”
Unfortunately, many b2b marketers aren't thinking about mobile yet, said Tom Sather, director of professional services at Return Path. “It's going to be very important for them to do that in the next year or two as more people adopt these devices,” he said.
Getting it right the first time is important, especially for b2b marketers, Osur said. Recipients who can't read a marketing message on their mobile device aren't likely to keep that email, he said. “With many of your email recipients, you'll really only get one bite of the apple,” he said.
The proliferation of smartphones and tablets is proving to be a blessing and a curse for marketers. On the plus side, emails that render properly offer a richer user experience that mimics the sharp, colorful look of a Web page. At the same time, however, such devices have added another layer of complexity to email marketing, with marketers finding they need to do more testing to make sure messages are rendering as intended on different devices.
To brave this still relatively new world, experts say marketers must simplify their messages—shortening subject lines, scaling back on content, cutting down on the number of fields they require recipients to fill out and, as a stopgap solution, making a text-only version available.
They must also be aware of the way email usage is changing, said Kara Trivunovic, global director-strategy and market innovation at StrongMail Systems, a provider of email marketing and social media solutions. “Business professionals are probably triaging on their handheld device and going back to their desktop at a later time to review that message in more detail—if they've chosen to keep it,” she said.
The goal for marketers, Trivunovic said, is to provide succinct information to recipients for mobile triaging purposes but also provide additional information when they view the message later on their desktops.
To accomplish this, some marketers are beginning to use so-called “responsive email templates” that include code to detect the type of device the message is being rendered on and then to adjust the content (expanding or contracting it as necessary) and features (such as button resizing) or even hiding certain content.
Creating such templates requires input from coders upfront but is worth any extra effort and expense, said Andrea Fishman, a partner and VP-global strategy at interactive agency BGT Partners. “Once you get it right, it's a lot cheaper to scale,” she said. “Our clients are seeing it's a worthwhile investment to get that technical signoff on the design.”
Marketers should also be aware of the different sensory experience that touch-based mobile devices provide, Fishman said. On such devices, users navigate a Web page or email with a finger rather than a cursor—a difference that is forcing marketers to reconsider how they present information.
“You don't really want [recipients] typing much; you want them to be able to touch and go,” Fishman said.
From a design standpoint, marketers are finding they need to add space around buttons and links to account for “fat fingers.”
“Everyone has fat fingers when it comes to mobile devices,” Osur said. “If you have a link, we recommend putting padding [in the form of] white space around each link so people don't click on the wrong link or activate a link when they don't mean to.”
Touch-based mobile devices are even changing the lexicon of email marketing, Fishman said. “Even the wording of "click here' needs to change,” she said. “You can't "click' anymore. People may be pushing or touching something, but they're not clicking.”
While the shift toward mobile-friendly emails may be difficult for marketers at first, any growing pains should benefit them in the end, Return Path's Sather said. In the past, many b2b marketers required too much information of their email recipients when it came to filling out forms, forcing them to fill out numerous fields to download a white paper, for instance.
“We've always shown that the less information you require, the better the chance you have of getting that person as a subscriber or prospect,” he said. “This will force marketers into that mindset. They'll probably see higher list growth and more engaged subscribers on their file as a result.