Friday, February 14, 2014

the questions we're asked as email marketers

this week, i was asked an interesting question...what are two emerging trends in email marketing for 2014? it's not an easy to question to answer, but here's what I came up with...
  1. adaptive design for emails 
  2. content being king
but kirk, these aren't so much trends as they are the current mantras and blog topic that we are all reading on a daily basis...they have been drilled into us for the past couple of years. i know that, here's how I defend these two choices...

adaptive design for emails
adaptive design is important, i won't argue that, but i don't think it's the topic of the century for the right reason. everyone is saying we should design emails to be adaptive, and they emphasize this from a design and user experience pov, but i think people should be using adaptive design efficiently and effectively and to do that, the research is missing a key element.

adaptive design isn't cheap, it is a drain on resources - design strategy, design hierarchy, and time are all affected by implementing an adaptive design environment. with all of that said, i don't think there is anyone who would argue that the end result can be stunning...when done right. but the key to research that is missing ,that no one is talking about are the mobile email clients. there are more clients than just the native clients installed on ios and android devices and blanket statements like, "ios devices display images always", and "android doesn't", are necessarily true anymore.

for instance, you could use a gmail account in the android native email client and see the images because gmail now caches the image on their servers and displays them for a faster experience, image rendering is driven by the server not the client in that case. but the point in this is that just like the challenges of desktop clients, there is now a whole universe of choices on mobile device that is exploding...each one of these clients comes with its own abilities and limitations. each of these clients, much like desktop and webmail based clients render emails in different ways - they support different things, like css and adaptive design. as mobile-users become more sophisticated and even more reliant on their device as their primary communication tool these clients are going to play a bigger role. the assumption of ios device=apple mail is quickly become obsolete and i think this point may pass designers and developers by.

if you're coding beautiful adaptive emails for a subscription base that is using a different client than what you are assuming, then you could be wasting valuable resources and delivering a sub-par user experience.

content is king
content as king, this is marketing 101. it's been drilled into our brains and marketing plans for years. it's in everything we do - emails, whitepapers, landing pages, content strategy meetings...but ask yourself, can you look at your email on a mobile device and without reading the content quickly answer these two questions - what and how?

i thought not, now look at that same email and try to do the same thing but with imagine words-with-friends chiming that it's your turn to play, or incoming tweets notifications, or weather alerts, or pop-up notifications, or banner notifications or other emails coming in, or google maps telling you where to go, and that your best friend is at starbucks around the corner and just checked into foursquare....see where I'm going with this? content is king not because it needs to be relevant to the reader, but it needs to be relevant-enough to the reader to distract them from other distractions. who wants to read an email newsletter when they could be playing flappy birds? the content we produce has to be engaging enough, to attract the few moments that we have their attention after their phone buzzes in their pocket until the next tindr notification pops-up. 

our challenge is to not only produce content that a reader wants, but we have to produce it in a format that is highly digestible and can get the user to act on a call-to-action in seconds, not minutes or hours like we used to have. mobile optimization is about more than just optimizing content, images, is about optimizing the readers time, and this is a difficult thing to do when - SQUIRREL

ultimately, the two are connected, but their interdependency is going to come to light this year i think - developers, designers, marketers will realize that just like on the desktop world, mobile readers have choices as to how they view their emails and that experience isn't tied to being a apple-fanboy or an android fan - and because of this choice and our growing dependence on mobile devices to live, communication and be entertained, the value of the "offer to my time" ratio just got that much smaller.


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