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How email marketing service providers – and their clients – should be tackling mobile

June 27, 2012

Bryce Marshall is director of strategic services at Knotice

Bryce Marshall is director of strategic services at Knotice

By Bryce Marshall

Today’s email service providers (ESPs) may understand the importance of mobile interaction with a fast-growing user base, but often fall short in adapting their capabilities and techniques for mobile engagement with consumers.

Rutted in a desktop-email-centric paradigm, too many ESPs promote the perpetuation of two outdated mobile-engagement tactics :

– Mobile leveraged as a complementary method for growing email lists;
– Email design loosely adapted for better readability on mobile devices;

These ESPs are at arms’ length from true mobile engagement primarily because they do not have the requisite visibility into how and when to optimize experiences for mobile users. Add to that their lack of adequate technology and expertise to support enterprise mobile strategies.

Here is how ESPs and their clients should be tackling mobile:

1. Know which users are doing what
There is tons of research and expert insight telling us mobile users are opening and reading emails, but most marketers still guess at how often and how many of their email subscribers use a mobile device to read which emails.

ESPs need to incorporate device-level information within all email campaign reporting, demonstrating exactly which subscribers opened the email (downloaded images) or clicked on the email from which type of mobile device.

These mobile interactions should be appended to the subscriber’s profile, allowing the marketer to develop more meaningful audience segments and message to those groups uniquely. Or, at the very least, test the effect of mobile-optimized creative when delivered to mobile-engaged subscribers.

Lacking this hard data, ESPs may not be able to make a true business case for investment in mobile optimization of email, and their clients’ programs may suffer.

2. Customize email for unique needs of mobile users
ESPs should be supporting complete customization of the mobile email experience by providing tools for mobile email content delivery which places an emphasis on identifying the mobile users from their subscriber list and delivering transformative mobile experiences – not simply emails with improved rendering or readability.

Motivations of mobile users, and how they prefer to take action, can differ dramatically from desktop email viewers.

Mobile users are more likely to be motivated by the potential to accomplish smaller tasks more quickly than desktop users, more motivated by taking one or two smaller steps in a purchase consideration path.

Email content customized for mobile needs to go beyond simple readability improvements to feature customizations that may include substantial changes in design, content, functionality, time of delivery and the nature of the call-to-action.

Understanding which subscribers are engaging through mobile allows marketers to tailor the email experience for exactly the right users. This frees the marketer from having to weigh and balance the needs of both desktop and mobile viewers, and improves the user experience for both groups.

Perhaps most importantly, allowing subscribers to indicate a preference for receiving mobile-customized email content should be supported by ESPs and embraced by their clients.

3. Go beyond the click and create uniquely mobile experiences – and a new engagement channel
Improving email for mobile users is just a start.

For large consumer brands, their email campaigns may be generating as many or more mobile leads to their Web sites as other tactics such as mobile search engine marketing or mobile display advertising.

If email is generating mobile impressions at this scale, ESPs should be taking more control of the post-click engagement to ensure their clients are supporting a true end-to-end mobile experience for the consumer, from click to conversion – whether that conversion is happening online, in a retail store, or through a call center.

ESPs should deliver the tools, skills and expertise to craft customized and full-feature mobile Web experiences and help their clients develop top-to-bottom mobile engagement strategies that capitalize on the direct response nature of email.

The mobile Web experience must be fully conceived and flawlessly designed with understanding of the unique set of needs and preferences of mobile users.

Not only does a top-to-bottom mobile discipline strengthen the performance of email as a standalone channel, but strengthens email’s position as a cornerstone of maturing and increasingly mobile-centric digital marketing strategies. This provides long-term legitimacy for the email channel and ESPs, and opens new revenue opportunities for ESPs and their clients.

Bryce Marshall is director of strategic services at Knotice, Akron, OH. Reach him at

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