Email is NOT Dead. Stop Asking.
Episode #020: Chad White, Head of Research at Oracle Marketing Cloud Consulting
March 25, 2019
How many times have you seen a headline claiming that email is dead? You’ve likely seen this headline countless times and probably have clicked on a few articles about it too. However, the truth of the matter is that email is NOT actually dead and is very much alive. In fact, email is driving a 38 to 1 ROI making it one of the most effective channels available to marketers today. In this episode of Mobile Matters, we talk to the Head of Research at the Oracle Marketing Cloud Consulting, Chad White, about how mobile has transformed email marketing, why email campaign metrics don’t tell the whole story, and so much more.
- Email is NOT dead. It’s merely a clickbait headline. Email is very much alive and driving a 38 to 1 ROI.
- Mobile has truly transformed email marketing, but many marketers aren’t making their emails mobile-friendly.
- It’s time to stop thinking about campaign metrics to measure email marketing effectiveness and looking at individual subscriber lifetime value instead.
Stephanie Cox: I’m Stephanie Cox in this is Mobile Matters. Today I’m joined by Chad White, the Head of Research for Oracle Marketing Cloud and the author of Email Marketing Rules and more than 3,000 posts about email marketing. As a former journalist, he’s been featured in more than a hundred publications including the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Advertising Age. Chad was named the Email Experience Console’s 2018 email marketer thought leader of the year. In this episode, Chad and I talked a lot about how his career in email marketing got started and spoiler alert, it’s not because he sought out to be an email marketer, everyone; why it’s completely ridiculous to keep asking if email is dead, it’s nothing more than a clickbait headline; and how mobile has significantly impacted everything about email marketing. And make sure you stick around until the end where I’ll give my recap and top takeaways so that you can not only think about mobile differently but implemented effectively. Welcome to the show, Chad.
You have an extremely impressive background in email and are really one of the go-to guys for everything about email marketing, so can you tell me how you got started?
Chad White: I think my story is like a lot of people’s stories. Like, very few people set out to have a career in email marketing. I feel pretty strong and safe in saying that most people don’t think, “Oh that’s that’s what I want to do: email”. So, like a lot of people, I sort of fell into it and I started my career. I’m a journalist by training, I have a master’s in journalism from New York University and I was in New York City early in my career working for media companies including Condé Nast and Dow Jones. And we used to cover retail pretty extensively and we would sign up for retailers’ email marketing and use that as a way to generate leads for stories because they would announce, you know, new initiatives and delivery options and new things via their emails to their customers. And so that was my first taste of email, and it was this was sort of early days when blogs were sort of first coming on the scene and they were shiny and new. And I’ll be honest, my brother started a blog, a personal blog, and I saw it and as many younger brothers would have the thought, “Oh well if my older brother is doing this all I could do that better”. And so, I started thinking, “Well what would I start a blog about?” And I decided I didn’t want to do a personal blog but, hey, I see emails all the time–retail emails–I’ll start a blog about that! And so I did! I started the Retail Email blog and I wrote it for six and a half years. Every day, I would blog about what I saw from retailers. I did a lot of observational research where I would track how many emails they were sending, what those emails were about, tracking seasonality–you know, when people would start mentioning Valentine’s Day or the holiday season or back to school–and so I did that for a number of years. And it was after I started that, that I got the attention of the Email Experience Council, which at that point had just started up. I soon joined the EEC as Employee No. 3, and that was really my entry point into the email marketing world. Thank you Jeannie Moen, the founder of the EEC, for hiring me. I went on to join the DMA, Smith Harman, which was an email marketing agency, which they got acquired by Responsus, then all of a sudden, I found myself at one of the top ESPs and from there went on to ExactTarget and Salesforce and Litmus, and now I am at Oracle. So many, many years talking about email! I really love it, and in more recent years, have transitioned from doing a lot of observational research into more survey work. Asking marketers how they do their jobs, what are their priorities, what’s important to them. So it’s been great. As a journalist, I love email. Email is always changing and so there’s always a new story to tell.
Stephanie Cox: Well, speaking of stories, one of the things that I’ve seen in the headlines a lot is this whole concept around, is email really dead? So what is your take? Is email dead? Is it a lie? What’s going on?
Chad White: I think this is the most ridiculous storyline ever and I don’t know why this storyline isn’t dead. You know, this really all started with social media. It started with Facebook, with Sheryl Sandberg and Mark Zuckerberg and them making pretty disparaging comments about email and how email was dying as a way of self-promoting. All right? They were kicking email to make themselves look better. And I think it’s really interesting to me, that this story continues to have traction given what has happened over the years.
So first of all you know social has morphed from earned media very strongly into paid media. So like the whole premise of social media has shifted gears and during this time, email’s value prop is largely the same despite a lot of changes sort of underneath the surface. So, compared to some other channels, email has a lot of really powerful strength and we just prattle off just a few. Which is why I think this conversation is kind of so ridiculous. First of all, ubiquity–everybody has an email account and there are more email accounts than Facebook accounts by a longshot, and there are quite a few Facebook accounts! So ubiquity, it’s the account of record. Everybody has an email account. That’s where all their receipts go. That’s where all their password resets go. It’s the status quo. More importantly, and I think this sometimes gets lost in the conversations about other channels and particular social, email is the channel that consumers want. It’s a channel through which consumers want to engage with brands. Other channels are preferred channels for interpersonal communications, communications with friends, but if you ask people how they want to receive updates, notifications, and other types of messaging from brands, the vast majority of them say email. It has been that way for a decade! It’s undisputed that email is the channel through which brand communications are most welcome.
So while brands have spent a ton of time trying to make themselves welcome on social and other places and tripping over themselves in the process and having some pretty embarrassing moments over the years you know. Email is that place where brands have consistently been welcomed. Where brands have not had to, kind of like, awkwardly kind of shove their foot through the door. The other thing that’s really super powerful about email is that nobody owns it. You know Gmail, you know Apple, you know Yahoo (which is now a part of Verizon). There are a lot of different players–Microsoft–that all have a piece of email and so, no one controls it which means that no one can put up a giant paywall. There’s lots of ways to get to email and so that has kept the costs really low, which means that returns are really high for brands. Research that I did while I was at Litmus Software showed that on average brands are getting a 38:1 ROI on their email marketing. That’s insane! It’s one-to-one channel because of mobile, it’s highly immediate. There’s just so many awesome things about email that other channels can’t really match.
Stephanie Cox: One of the things, I think for me that I really–I’ve loved email for a long time, so you’re preaching to the choir here! But, as a consumer I love when I want to look at something on email and I don’t want to respond to it or I don’t want to buy like an offer from one of my favorite retail brands, I just keep that email in my inbox. On social, if I see it in my Twitter feed or my Facebook feed, it goes away and I swear, I can never find it again!
Chad White: Yeah, yeah. No, and I think this is one of the things that sometimes confuses brands. You know, sometimes they see that like oh my open rate is only, you know, 20 percent! That means a lot of people aren’t aren’t opening that email and that’s and that’s bad. And I think some of these brands don’t fully understand how consumers use email. There is a whole class of consumers who like to stockpile, you know, promotional emails from retailers and other brands. And then when they are in the market to buy, they go and they search their inbox and they look at the latest email from that brand or the latest one or two, and see, you know, what’s on tap, what kind of discounts can I get, what are they promoting. You know, a lot of people use it that way. So, it’s really kind of important to understand, you know, consumer behavior when you’re kind of like setting your goals and expectations.
Stephanie Cox: That’s it. That is exactly how I use it! I literally have a coupon folder in my email inbox. I don’t open them, they all go in there. And then when I’m ready to buy something, I go sort through them.
Chad White: I think this is the genesis of the promotions tab. And Google is really smart about observing user behavior, and I think they saw that–hey, this is how a lot of people are using it, so let’s put all those promotions in their own tab, to make it make it easy for people to be able to see those most recent promotions, you know. And now that Promotions Tab is even a better place to be because of the microdata and the other stuff that they’ve now built in, where you can have really cool stuff show up on the envelope copy.
Stephanie Cox: So, in the last decade, what trends have you seen that have really impacted how brands think about email marketing?
Chad White: So number one is mobile. But I don’t want to talk about that just yet. We’ll come back around to that, but some other really big trends over the last decade have been engagement-based filtering. That’s a real biggie. It used to be that if you were a sender, all you had to do is keep your complaint rate low. And what that incentivized senders to do was to bloat their email lists with a lot of inactive people who didn’t do anything, who didn’t unsubscribe, who didn’t report spam, but just kind of didn’t do anything. And the inbox providers were eventually kind of onto this game and now they are requiring, for quite some time now, have required senders to send e-mails that their subscribers not only tolerate, but engage with and that has really I think then sort of the kind of knife’s edge of the beginning of a trend where we’re becoming more subscriber-centric. And so, I think that that was really a lot of the kind of genesis of that. Where we need to focus on is how are we serving individual subscribers. Are they engaged? What kinds of offers are are they engaging with? What kind of content are they engaging with? And do I need to adjust my behavior accordingly? And so, I think that’s been a very, very painful transition, frankly, for a lot of brands. But I think has been ultimately long term like super positive because that’s what we need to be, we need to be focused on subscribers. Sort of dovetailing with that, you know, we’re seeing stronger permission and privacy laws, GDPR, of course. You can’t talk about email without talking about GDPR. And, of course, the CCPA in California, which is mimicking a lot of this stuff that’s in GDPR.
And because of CCPA we’re now having a national discussion about having a law that would be at least somewhat in line with GDPR, here in the U.S., which I think would be really wonderful. I think that CAN-SPAM is a joke. And the and the joke really is on brand. You know I think that when it was passed I think brands thought, “Awesome! Now we don’t have any cumbersome regulations to worry about”. I think they were all patting themselves on the back. And unfortunately what happened is that the world continued to change because of the weak laws, the inbox providers were driven to be more assertive. And the inbox writers have really changed all the rules, you know, the engagement based filtering is certainly being, you know, one of those things. And so CAN-SPAM has really done brands a huge disservice because they’ve set all the wrong expectations for brands. There are a lot of senators who think you know “Oh this law says I can do X Y and Z and all of those things will get you in trouble”. You know taking 10 days to unsubscribe someone, that’s going to get you in trouble. Sending people, you know, cold emails and not giving them the option to unsubscribe. That’s going to get you in trouble, like it just sets horrible horrible expectation. So I’m I’m thrilled about GDPR and I think again we’re in for a sort of a little bit of a painful transition that’s going to get marketing in a much healthier place, and it’s going to kind of weed out a lot of the bad actors that make the inbox not such a great place to always be and interact. So I think for brands that value email they should all be applauding these changes because it’s going to make the inbox a more pleasurable place to visit and spend time. So, let’s get back to mobile.
So, mobile! Obviously, I can’t go without it, but it’s also been a huge change. I feel like we’re definitely at the back half of mobile’s impact on email. But you know back in 2007, when the iPhone first came out, before that you couldn’t render HTML emails. So it’s had a profound impact on how we design emails. It’s had a profound impact on the context in which people read emails. It’s had a profound impact on how we message in emails because people now can be anywhere at any time, doing anything. So yeah, I definitely don’t want to gloss over mobile as definitely one of those big, big changes too! Along with automation, which I think here, we’re probably maybe only halfway–maybe–through the arc of automation, which is really all about making that one-to-one promise true. And so, I think we’re well on our way there. We’re seeing some really exciting things in terms of what’s possible with triggered messaging and transactional messages.
Stephanie Cox: So, do you think that looking at what Google specifically has done and other email providers and how they’ve kind of had to, to some extent, put restrictions on marketers because we’ve made bad choices, do you think part of the problem is not just the law but also marketers wanting to jump ahead instead of taking a step back and saying, what’s the best customer experience? What’s the best thing that I should be doing? And using that as their guiding light as like what can I legally do.
Chad White: Yes yes absolutely yes. Yes and yes. Yes. Yes. For every brand that laments something that an inbox provider is doing, they should know that we have driven them to it. You know, all the things that Gmail does around deliverability that drive us crazy, we as an industry have driven Gmail to do those things. This is our fault. The reason that, you know, GDPR got passed is because of us. Because we, because self-regulation has failed. And we like to think that we’re good stewards, but all the evidence is to the contrary. And so, you know, tough love for brands, but I mean that’s the truth. It’s that we don’t make the best decisions. We have ignored the norms and now we need firm, legal guide rails to keep us, you know, behaving how consumers and users want us to behave.
And that’s what it all boils down to is, you know, these laws and the behaviors that Gmail and other inbox providers have sort of ensconced, you know, are all in response to what consumers, what subscribers want, and behaviors that they expect. We have ignored what they expect, how they expect us to behave and that’s why all these things have happened. So, that’s kind of why again I’ bullish on GDPR, is because I feel like GDPR is in line with what people want. And when we give people what they want, when we interact with them in ways that they expect us to and are on the up and up, that makes the strong relationship. Which is the whole point of email and the whole point of business is to craft relationships! So I don’t know how if we can craft a good relationship when we’re not aligned with consumer expectations.
Stephanie Cox: That’s a great transition to my next question, around how should you measure the effectiveness of your email marketing programs? Like how do you know what consumers want?
Chad White: Yeah, so this is a little bit of a messy question because I’m sure a lot of people really think of email marketing as being a highly measurable channel. And I think to a certain degree, it’s true certainly relative to some other channels, it’s true. But the more multi-channel you are, the messier this equation gets. And I think this is actually a little bit of a missed opportunity for email, because I think so much of what email does gets measured in an A to B to C fashion. Where people are measuring, oh someone opened an email, Oh oh yeah they’re interacting with the body content, oh they’re clicking through to the landing page, and OK I see them doing stuff on the landing page. All right. That’s my email driven interaction and that’s not how consumers behave. Consumers are weird and they don’t follow the golden path that we lay out for them. They’re constantly wandering off the trail into the woods and then reemerging in some unpredictable place. So they’ll get an email and they’ll see a subject line with something that interests them and they won’t open the email, and instead they’ll tell their spouse about that brand and that deal or that thing and that spouse will go onto their computer, fire up a browser and discover more information or go to a store.
Email is a is a bucket that is just full of holes, and so, you definitely have to kind of try to see where all the holes are and have a little bit of faith when sometimes the metrics don’t match up with what you thought was probably going to happen. But I think, in terms of how we go wrong in measuring things, I think the biggest thing that we do wrong is that we’re still too campaign-centric. We’re still too focused on sending an email looking at the opens from that email, looking at the clicks from that email, looking at the conversions from that email and then calling it a day. We need to look at our metrics from a subscriber point of view. That’s where the future is! The brands you’re going to have the most success with on email are already shifting over to a lifetime value approach where they are all about nurturing an individual subscriber. You know, I mentioned earlier that I played in the retail industry for quite some time covering that. A number of years ago, many years ago, I heard someone talking about how, you know, old time retailers like the retailers of the past, viewed their products as their inventory and the retailers of the future view their customers as their inventory. So it’s not about, “I’ve got some products, let me see who I can sell it too”. It’s, “I have some customers, let me see what they’re interested in buying”. It’s flipping it upside down and I think that we still have a lot of people who are still viewing their businesses managing products instead of managing their customers. And so, the metrics need to be aligned with that way of thinking.
Stephanie Cox: What would be your recommendation for people that need to transition over to managing customers more than just managing products?
Chad White: Well, they need to kind of get everybody in the room. I think part of the reason why we have this kind of behavior, is because a lot of orgs are still really siloed, right? The social team doesn’t work with the email team and the email team doesn’t work with the Web team. Only roughly about half of email marketers have control over landing pages.
Stephanie Cox: That’s crazy, by the way!
Chad White: Which is completely insane! I mean, it’s completely crazy. There should be much more partnerships. Instead, I feel like you know, because of attribution models and like there’s there’s competition between the channels, when really the channels shouldn’t be competing with each other! They should be working collaboratively together to serve, you know, each individual customer. You know, I’m reminded of when I was in Chicago recently and they have a really cool architectural cruise that goes along with the Chicago River and they go by the old Montgomery Ward building there and our tour guide was talking about how Montgomery Ward had a setup just like very sort of adversarial relationship between its various departments and they thought that like, you know, competition would drive them to succeed, and the exact opposite happened! Like the various departments just tore each other apart, they undermined one another and it was to the detriment of the entire business. So, I mean the future of channels within brands is collaboration, because again, you know, it’s all about the customer, all about the subscriber and serving them best and you can’t do that if everybody has their own lens of that subscriber of that customer.
Stephanie Cox: We talked about mobile earlier and you mentioned a couple of things that have changed in the last decade on mobile–specifically, since the iPhone–about thinking differently about how you design for mobile, thinking about how you message. What are the best practices marketers need to think about when they are sending out emails that are primarily consumed on a mobile device?
Chad White: Yes, so let’s ignore some of the cool interactive stuff you can do on mobile platforms for a minute and let’s just kind of go back to basics. I do feel that we still could do better. I feel like this conversation about mobile, I think some people think that like, it’s over. Like, we’ve done this mobile thing. Like we’ve been talking about mobile optimization in a serious way since like 2009, right? So, this is now like a decade of talking about mobile. Surely, we’ve got it all sewn up now and I can’t tell you how many emails I see in my own inbox where the email is responsive but the email isn’t mobile-friendly.
Stephanie Cox: And there’s a difference, people!
Chad White: There is a difference! There is a big difference. Responsive is just a tool, responsive design is just a tool, but mobile friendliness transcends that. Responsive is a means to an end. So, let me just be clear about what I mean by that. I still see in my inbox text that is too small. I still see in my inbox links and buttons that are too close together to be accurately tapped without frustration. I still see in my inbox contrast ratios that are not good enough, especially if I’m reading it outside on a sunny day.
These are all sorts of fundamental issues. There’s too much copy in a lot of emails still. And we’ve had that discussion for quite some time and, you know, when I was with Litmus, we would do these live optimization sessions at Litmus Live, where we would get up on stage and we would, you know, people would submit emails to us and we would show them up on giant screens. Very intimidating! All the people who submitted emails were very brave and very appreciated. And you know when we when we did these last year I think, nearly every single email we brought up, we would talk about all kinds of issues, but I think conciseness and brevity was was a theme that came up. In almost every single email, there were places where you could remove this sentence, where you could smash these two sentences together, you could cut a bunch of words, maybe cut this section. There’s just too many words, too much going on, not tight enough. If you don’t have a good copy editor, try to see if you can invest in one or to, you know, find someone that you can pull a little bit of time off of another team to help, kind of, like just clean that up, squash it down. You know that brevity and being succinct is super, super powerful and so you know, that along with link densities and font sizes and contrast ratios are all like really simple things before you get to, again, more advanced functionality and stuff that you could do on mobile.
Stephanie Cox: But to your point, it’s surprising that even a decade later, how many people aren’t doing that. You’re comment around, like button size, like that’s one of my number one frustration is why do you put your buttons so close together?! I have an adult finger, I cannot tap them!
Chad White: So, I am a very average sized person and I’d like to think actually my fingers, you know for a man are not terribly big, but like I have friends who just have like bear paws and I imagine them trying to navigate through some of these emails where their finger is–if it’s not hitting two buttons or two links to take three. Some people have really big hands, and you know, you’ve got to kind of think about that. I still see like navbars on mobile that are like six links across, like that’s not gonna work. So yeah, and it seems like just really basic but I think that’s where we’re just not putting ourselves in our subscribers’ and our users’ shoes.
Stephanie Cox: Have you seen anyone doing a good job around wearables? I’m thinking about like my Apple Watch as an example. So I can now get obviously email on my Apple Watch, which is another layer to the whole conversation. Have you seen anyone paying attention to that yet?
Chad White: Yeah, so wearables are tricky, right? Because, and again, I’ve talked about how email is not as measurable as we would like to think that it is. And I think that the Apple Watch and other smart watches are a great example of this, because none of them render HTML, we have no idea what the open rates are like on these things, just like no clue. And because we have no clue, because it always turns up a zero because it’s not measurable. I don’t think there’s been a lot of emphasis on it. Now that said, smart watch usage does seem to be relatively low and I think for like, commercial messages, I think it’s mainly just used for triage, right? So, so the focus is, if this is something that people are concerned about and then it’s all about making sure they’re using that recognizable center name, having a clear subject line and some good preview texts. Those are the things you should be focusing on because people are, you know, with these messages from brands for the most part on an Apple Watch, they’re really just deciding, OK, am I deleting this email or not? Or am I saving it for later?
And it’s interesting because I feel it’s a little bit of the same conversation that I would say is happening around voice assistants right now. No, it’s a little bit of a kind of a buzzy area where people are now suddenly concerned about Alexa and how she reads emails and Siri, how she reads emails. And that is also similarly a little bit of a black box because we do not get opens on those either. So it’s really tough outside of like surveys and talking to customer subscriber panels to try to figure out what that usage is like. But I imagine that what’s happening there is it’s very similar to the Apple Watch and that it’s a lot of inbox triaging that’s going on because voice assistants, like the Apple Watch, don’t have a browser, so there’s no way to click through which means for most brands, there’s no way to convert. So people because of the limitations of those platforms have to save those emails for later on, in order to truly engage with them.
Stephanie Cox: So, I’m thinking back in my career so when I’ve run email marketing teams and sent out, you know, hundreds of thousands of emails, you always have that moment of panic right before you send it. Is everything done correctly? I’m gonna send you it, and you kind of like hold your breath. Do you think marketers still experience that today? Or are consumers more understanding if you send something out and there’s a mistake?
Chad White: Yeah, so my old boss Justine Jordan, she calls that “The Fear” and “The Fear” is completely real. I think that’s actually a good thing! Frankly, if you go and you hit the send button and you don’t have the tiniest amount of fear, it probably means you shouldn’t be pressing that button because it means you’re not really respecting what you’re about to do, which is like sending a message to a ton of people. I think that’s good. You know, I do a fair amount of speaking and I get nervous before I speak and I think that’s a good thing. I should be nervous for a speech because it means that I’m taking it seriously and and realize that what I say and how I say it is important. So, you know, a little bit of that fear, I think, is a good thing. It means you still care. But in terms of whether or not people are understanding about mistakes, that’s a little bit of a different topic altogether and it’s actually one that I feel very strongly about. I feel like there’s a little bit of a notion that email should be this mistake-free channel and I feel like that’s an overly high bar. Email is super complicated. It’s got a lot of different moving parts and that’s just on the email side of the house not including how email might interface with merchandising or with other aspects of marketing, where things could get messed up.
There’s just a lot of opportunity both technical and operational, a lot of opportunity for things to go wrong. And I think that I don’t think that there is this expectation on the part of customers for, you know, completely error-free lives from brands. I mean, they’re people, too, they understand that. And I think that as long as there’s not like a pattern of certain kinds of mistakes, you should not be afraid. You have to fess up to a mistake. You know a lot of times corrections and apology emails are kind of superstar emails to send if you’re not sending them very often. And I think another sort of angle to this is that if you’re never making any mistakes there’s evidence to suggest that you’re just not leaning forward enough in terms of personalization or dynamic content.
Stephanie Cox: As you can tell Chad is a true expert in email marketing and has countless insights to share on the subject. If you’re interested in learning more about that, I highly recommend you visit Emailmarketingrules.com to read his latest email marketing advice and research; check out his book, Email Marketing Rules on Amazon; and follow him on Twitter @chadswhite. Now, let’s get to my favorite part of the show where we take the education and apply it to your business. There’s so many great insights to my conversation with Chad that can really help transform how you think about mobile marketing. Let’s dive into my top three takeaways.
First, can we all finally agree that email is not in fact dead and that we’re not going to fall victim anymore to his ridiculous click-bait headlines that just keep saying it over and over again every year? Now trust me I get it. A decade ago, it was a compelling headline that many of us thought might potentially be true, especially given the introduction of the iPhone and the growth of social media. But it’s clear that email is still a major player in driving results for companies today. Let’s take a look at some of the comments said Chad made that I thought were really insightful. First, everyone has email. I’m talking literally everyone even my kids who don’t have social media account have email addresses. Email’s also our account of records. It’s how you create accounts with retailers, you log into things online, and it really honestly so much more. In fact, how many of you actually hate it when you have to create a username online that’s not your email address. I know I do because I never remember what my other username was. It’s also the primary way that consumers want to engage with brands and that’s based on their own feedback. We also can’t forget that email is still driving incredible ROI. In the latest research, email is showing of 38:1 ROI. I don’t know of a single other channel that sees those types of ROI numbers. But most importantly and this is something I think a lot of us don’t think about, nobody owns email and what I mean by that is that there are numerous email providers out there, right Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, your own company email, etc. and none of them control the entire market. This isn’t the case with other channels. Take social media as an example. Do you actually realize that you don’t in fact own your Facebook page or Twitter account? Instead, you kind of lease it from them which means it anytime they could shut down your account, change their functionality, or limit your ability to connect with your consumers. That’s not going to happen on email. So if email’s not a key component of your marketing strategy then you are missing out on using a known channel with huge ROI.
Next, mobile has truly transformed email marketing and made email a highly immediate channel. I know that might sound a little crazy at first, but think about it was just for a second. How many times a day do you grab your mobile phone and check your email?
That should give you a quick answer as to how immediacy is now a factor with email. But even after more than a decade of delivering email on mobile, many marketers are still not getting it right. Now, let’s start with the basics. Mobile responsive is not mobile-friendly. Repeat after me: mobile responsive is not the same as mobile-friendly. I’ve been saying this for such a long time, but so many of us confuse the two. It’s possible for an email to be mobile responsive and not mobile-friendly and we all need to be doing mobile-friendly email. So what do I mean by that? Well, it means that you need to start thinking about mobile email differently, for instance, is your text readable on a mobile device or does the user need to pinch and zoom in order to be able to read it? And you also need to take in consideration the demographics of your readers to make sure that even if you think your text is readable, is it readable to them? And now since we’re talking about text already, let’s talk about the importance of conciseness in your email copy. Now, don’t get me wrong. This is important regardless of where your email is consumed especially even on desktop, but it’s even more important on email. No one wants to scroll and scroll and scroll to read long emails on mobile devices. They what content that’s brief and digestible. You also have to take into consideration contrast ratios in our email designs. Do your contrast ratios work for someone who is in fact outside on a sunny day trying to read your email? That’s not something that you have to usually consider when you’re designing email for the desktop, but it’s an often-overlooked consideration for mobile email. Now, what about your buttons and links? My personal number one pet peeve about mobile email is when an average adult with average fingers cannot easily tab on links and buttons without accidentally hitting something else because you put them too close together. People, please stop putting CTAs so close together. It’s annoying to everyone and it ends up just giving you inaccurate results where you think your click-through rate is higher, and that’s because I actually meant to hit something else clicked on the wrong thing and went to a site and then bounced. And that’s not the results that we want anyways. And let’s not overlook the role wearables are starting to play in email…so good news: people are reading your emails on wearables like their Apple Watch. Bad news: we have absolutely no idea how many. If you’re familiar with how email opens are tracked, then you know, that it’s usually by a hidden image pixel that’s used and images have to be displayed for the email open to be truly tracked. Well, email images aren’t supported on most wearables like the Apple Watch so you’re not getting any of that information and don’t forget that the super-small screen of your wearable like your Apple Watch means that content conciseness is even more important.
Finally, how many of us look at email in terms of campaign results versus individual subscriber engagement? I’ve personally been guilty of doing that in my career when I focus so much on the results from a specific email campaign, obsessing over open rates click-through rates, conversion rates, ROI and I’m not saying that you shouldn’t pay attention to those metrics because you should but we need to stop assuming that they’re an accurate representation of our entire email marketing program and its effectiveness. We should be measuring the effectiveness of nurturing each individual subscriber and driving an increased lifetime value for them. And that’s a fundamentally different approach to email marketing to what I’ve seen for marketers for so many years. And gasp everyone, it doesn’t mean we need to send more email. I know sometimes it feels counter-intuitive. We also need to realize that customers don’t follow this beautifully-designed conversion path that we all as marketers want them to. They kind of wonder in the woods as Chad said and they wander around using other devices talking to other people in their household and sometimes those people on different devices that we never even marketed to are the ones making the purchase based off that initial email that we sent. I personally love Chad’s analogy of how email attribution is a bucket full of holes. It’s so accurate and it’s a real challenge at all of us need to consider.
Now here’s my mobile marketing challenge for the week. Take an hour, grab your phone. Go outside. Hopefully on a sunny day. Look at the last 10 emails you sent subscribers. Is your text readable? Is the content too long? Do you need to scroll? Can you read them outside on a sunny day? Can you easily click on a CTA without hitting something else? If you can’t answer yes to each of these questions, then you need to start the process of improving your email and making it mobile-friendly.
I’m Stephanie Cox and you’ve been listening to Mobile Matters. If you haven’t yet, be sure to subscribe, rate, and review this podcast. Until then be sure to visit Lumavate.com and subscribe to get more access to thought leaders, best practices, and all things mobile.
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