March 23, 2011, 4:16 PM

How smartphones change the rules of e-mail marketing

Marketers must pay heed to the varying ways consumers check their e-mail.

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13% of consumers used their smartphones to check e-mails in December, a 116.7% jump from 6% the previous year, according to a new report from integrated e-mail marketing company Informz.

And, because e-mail renders differently on a mobile device than it does on a computer, and mobile phones differ from each other in how they render e-mail, there’s added pressure on e-mail marketers to ensure that their messages render well on all devices, says the report “Email Marketing in a Mobile World.”

“This leaves marketers without a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution,” says the report. “In order to keep subscribers interested and engaged in your e-mails it is imperative that you understand how your audience is using mobile and then create a plan to match.”

To develop their e-mail marketing strategy, retailers need to dig into their data to see how consumers are viewing their messages. For instance, they should examine how many view the e-mail in the HTML message format, which enables retailers to use more graphical elements than simpler text versions. Some consumers receive a text version of an e-mail because they indicated that was their preference. However, others see text e-mail only because their smartphone only receives the text version of an e-mail. If a retailer’s program can’t determine whether consumers’ smartphones can render an HTML e-mail, retailers can simply ask their customers what their e-mail reading habits are, including an option for a “mobile-friendly” or text version of the messages.

Once a retailer knows how its consumers are viewing its messages it can decide whether to create a web version, a mobile-only version or a design that will render well on both a PC and mobile device. 

A web version, which is typically used by retailers with limited resources, features a link to an online version of the message. While that ensures the message renders properly, it also requires an extra step for consumers to view the e-mail.

A mobile-only layout features a simpler layout than a typical web e-mail designed for a PC screen. The mobile layout typically has a banner height of 125 pixels or fewer, images less than 480 pixels and brief copy

An e-mail aimed at rendering well on both a computer and mobile device requires the marketer to pay heed to the proportions of everything in the message by, for instance, setting alignment to the left. “Doing this will ensure that the copy doesn’t get pushed to the center or right of the phone, forcing the reader to have to scroll horizontally in order to read your e-mail,” says the report.

However marketers approach their efforts, they have to realize that the number of mobile e-mail users is going to rise, says the report.

“Even if you don’t have many mobile readers now, chances are you will soon,” it says. “Don’t wait for them to jump on the bandwagon; start creating designs that stand the test of digital devices and you won’t be left behind.”

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