Monday, May 6, 2013

the problem with mobile email design

so if you're anything like me, you've seen the latest mind-blowing statistics on how much email is opened in the mobile environment. and if you're anything like me, you've been approached to make your email programs mobile-friendly. but what do those people mean when they say that, and how should you arm yourself to make mobile-friendly campaigns?

data. you should ask yourself how many people are reading your campaigns on mobile devices, some sending platforms can tell you this, others have partnerships with providers like litmus and return path that can embed a pixel into your emails and determine what platform and client your readers are using to open and render your emails. knowing this information is critical in knowing how to mobilize your emails and when.

my current readership is now at the tipping point for mobile optimization and the majority of those readers are using apple devices to read their emails. great, i now know that my readership is a mobile one. now i know from a design and execution point of view that i need to optimize my emails for mobile readers.

but what does mobile optimization mean? does it mean designing for a mobile inbox or does that mean making an adaptive email... well, to me, an optimized email is one that is designed to 640 pixels wide - the apple devices will auto scale them and they'll look good on the limited real estate provided by those devices. but there are design rules that go along with that - minimum font size, maximum font size, white space, graphics, button size, button usage versus links... the list goes on and on.

here is where i get on my soap box.

there are two main strategies, mobile optimization and responsive/adaptive web-design.

when the iphone and android devices hit the market, users had only the stock email clients to look at their emails on. apple got it right, android didn't. but consumers want choice. now we have a whole host of email clients - the stock ones, mailbox, the gmail app, yahoo email app, sparrow (if people even still use it) and the list goes on and on. users now have the option of picking an email client just like they do an email provider. this is a great thing, everyone develops their own habits of using these apps and their way of dealing with inbox overload.

but (soap box continues....) here's the kicker. out of the major email clients out there now, only a handful of them support media queries - meaning only a handful of them support adaptive design.

here's what i mean about adaptive design - it's the counterpart to responsive web design. so why am i not calling it responsive email design? because i believe that as marketers we need to be responsive to the readers not to the platforms - inbox technology isn't keeping pace with the web world.

it's important for a marketer to know the difference and to know their readers. just like we need to know the mobile readers, to successfully make use of our time and limited budgets, we need to know what app our readers are using to open their email in, especially if the majority of them don't support adaptive design.

i've been looking and there isn't a product out there yet (i have a great idea if anyone wants to help - patent pending) to get to the app level. return path can get me the mobile readership, but not the app. i have to make assumptions that my mobile readers may not be tech savvy and therefore are using the stock app to read their emails, which leads me to doing optimization.

so why is this my latest obsession? i'm a one man shop - design, coding, strategy and more. where do i spend my time? how quickly do i need to ramp up my program to use adaptive design and media queries to render "look-a-like" emails, when I can simply continue down the same road now and design the optimal email to be rendered in multiple platforms. without insight i don't know where to turn - argue with the boss of prove to the boss that we're already mobile optimized based on our majority of mobile readers.

i think without the technology in place, on the front end with the clients support adaptive design and the back-end with sending platforms finding this information out, that we as marketers are getting caught up in the hype. i've attended numerous web casts and seminars where mobile is pushed down my throat, but the only supporting stats are that the email is opened on a mobile device. all i want for us as marketers is to know which app they are using now, so that we can either progress the further adoption of adaptive email design or abandon it all together.

so these are the questions to ask yourself when you think about mobile-optimization for your email campaigns:
1. what is my audience make up?
2. do we need to optimize or adapt?
3. are we being asked to do this because the boss has a blackberry and can't read our email or is there a genuine business need?

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