Successfully making the move into responsive design takes more than just redesigning a few templates. It requires close collaboration with colleagues within the marketing department and beyond — and sometimes a reimagining of the email sector of your digital marketing program.
Carolyn Nye of USADATA is in a unique position to know what's involved, both in the process of revamping email for responsive design and the behind-the-scenes work it takes to make sure your new emails deliver the most benefit from the new format. As head of USADATA's Digital Interactive Group, Nye works with company clients from preliminary discussion to final execution.
In my interview with her, she outlines the necessary steps for success when transitioning to responsive design and details a few notable pitfalls to avoid.
What's motivating your clients to make the move to responsive design?
More marketing team members can see where people are opening email. They're also mimicking their own behavior. If they're using smartphones more to look at email, they're naturally assuming their customers are, too.
The prevailing thought had been, "It's not worth our time to make our email look good on mobile devices if only 10 percent to 15 percent are looking at it there." Now a lot more email service providers have tools that enable clients to see the breakdown of opens and clicks on mobile and desktops.
They're seeing how big the percentages of opens on mobile are, and they're getting scared. The numbers have caught up a lot faster than that they thought. (Note: According to recent data from Litmus, 48 percent of all emails are now opened on a mobile device.)
What are your clients looking for when they come to your group for help with responsive design?
They want their broadcast emails to look how they usually look, but they want a new template designed so they render better on mobile. They also want a template that's built so any marketing person can plug in changes without getting the creative team involved.
We’re currently working with a Silverpop client to incorporate responsive design on a number of different emails it sends, such as a weekly newsletter and a welcome series. The only type of triggered email we haven't had anyone ask for is a purchase confirmation. It's kind of surprising given that these emails are often the most effective. You’d think a marketer would want to hit those first.
We've also seen that with a lot of clients, the team doing promotional emails is different from the team doing order notifications. Those frequently originate from the IT department. The marketing team might have had an initial say in the design, but then they go on autopilot.
Do clients prefer to take a phased-in approach, or do they want to leap from desktop to responsive?
Most of them take a step-by-step approach. We see clients who have done some things to make their emails more mobile-friendly before coming to us for a redesign.
They're using bigger buttons, reducing the screen width, using fewer images and going about as far as they can, so they're pretty aware of what it takes to make the email render well on mobile devices as well as the desktop.
What process do you go through when working with a client to move into responsive design?
We usually start with a call or an email exchange. The client might supply email templates they’re currently using as well as information about what they’re looking for with the responsive design.
The first step is to put together a proposal based on information we've gathered. We lay out all the steps, price out the project and send the proposal to the client.
Once approved, we create mock-ups of the responsive design templates. We're usually pretty close because we've had those preliminary discussions. We typically take two to three hours per template to determine what it will look like and send it back to the client. Once finalized, we'll code it into each email.
It gets a little more complicated than doing a normal template because we have to figure out what the iPad version will look like, what the mobile Android version will look like, etc. Because we are, in essence, creating different emails for each screen size, we have to design it in such a way that the elements flow downward.
The finished product is the coded files, along with instructions so the marketer can just plug in the content, such as the image size or blocks to replace with copy.
For clients that use Silverpop, we can simply load the coded templates into the editor in Silverpop, so that the marketer can just go into Silverpop and make the changes.
What strategic discussions do you have with your clients as part of the design process?
One of the most important points to remember is that you're not just cloning your emails for responsive design, you're actually changing your strategy to create the best possible mobile experience. You need to think through how your strategy will differ on mobile versus a desktop, and make it easy for the consumer to take the desired action.
We ask our clients to open their own emails on a smartphone and experience what they are asking the subscriber to do. Are there too many options? What is the one thing we want a mobile reader to do? How easy is if for them to take that desired action?
A lot of marketers think subscribers will look at an email on their mobiles and then go to their desktops to click again on the email and shop. More and more, though, we’re finding people are shopping all the way through on their mobile devices.
What if a client's website or landing pages aren’t mobile friendly?
We're making sure the landing pages and the site itself are mobile-friendly, so customers can load their shopping cart and complete the purchase process easily.
We’ve had to turn down clients when we've tried explaining that there's no point in viewing a responsive design email for the customer if you're sending them to a site they can't effectively view on their phones.
We don't want to invest effort developing new templates for a client and then see that the changes didn't positively affect the conversion rates. The best responsive design emails will go to waste if the landing page or site provides a horrible experience on a mobile device.
But isn't it still important to create a great mobile email experience?
Absolutely. Ideally, in a perfect experience, we want an optimized email sending a visitor to a site that’s functional and easy to navigate given the device they are using. If the site itself isn't quite there yet in terms of mobile usability, there’s still value in ensuring the email is optimized for those who go back through their desktops or who are simply viewing the email and haven't clicked.
What role does testing play in the redesign process?
We conduct a lot of testing, using Litmus during the first round. We send a link to the client so they can view how the templates will look on all kinds of browsers and devices.
Then, we start testing to a seed list for accuracy. From there we turn the work over to the client, and if they want to do additional testing on their end, we encourage that.
What kinds of results are clients seeing once they put their new email designs to work?
Here's one example: Before a redesign, a news website was seeing 70 percent of opens on mobile devices but getting click-throughs from only 13.5 percent of those opens.
After redesign, the click-to-open ratio nearly doubled, to 21.5 percent. By comparison, the click-to-open ratio on desktop was 43 percent. Most of those addresses are business email addresses, whereas the mobile opens were more likely to come from consumer services like Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail and AOL.
Some clients thought their open rates weren't registering correctly on mobile, that perhaps they were artificially low because people weren't downloading images.
Once they moved to responsive design, they saw open rates increasing. They weren't sure if it was because the nature of the redesigned templates was more mobile-friendly and people were more likely to download images. But we’ve had no negative feedback that the responsive design was hurting open rates.
What should clients keep in mind as they move through the redesign process?
First, it's a lot easier, quicker and more streamlined than many marketers anticipate. They imagine it's a long process involving a lot of people and multiple back and forth conversations and reviews. However, the process can actually be simple and quick to complete.
It also seems to be an easier process when you're working with an agency, because you're paying them to get the work done within a specific budget and timeline. Internal resources are often pulled in other directions and can get mired in internal politics. Sometimes an objective third-party can break down these barriers.
Further, there’s often a natural disconnect between marketers and IT. Marketers know what they want their emails to do, but they might not be familiar with what IT needs to do on their end to bring a project to life.
So, you need to ramp up collaboration among teams?
Collaboration is so important in a project like this. Involve your IT team from the beginning. There could be things in place in other systems that marketing isn't aware of.
This is true with all the departments involved in email at your company. Reach out and collaborate instead of cultivating an "us versus them" attitude. This includes thinking ahead about your campaigns and promotions and having good open relationships with your product managers and merchandisers.
More responsive design advice from Carolyn:
- Consider the exceptions to your standard email messages. Many clients start out thinking about their broadcast templates but don't think about special emails (e.g. Black Friday) and how that might differ from standard emails.
- Put together a wish list before you work with an outside agency. That way, you won't miss something important and then have to go back and start over.
- Benchmark your statistics before you start the project, as well as once you launch. Look at open, click and conversion rates. Understand how to track and calculate them. If you need to prove something to upper management, these benchmarking statistics will help you do it.
1) White Paper: “Multiscreen Maturation: Email Design Strategies and Tips for Connecting Across Devices”
2) Video: “Mobile Context: What to Consider When Optimizing the Mobile Experience”
3) Blog: “3 Questions to Drive Your Multiscreen Email Design Decisions”