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3 Questions to Drive Your Multiscreen Email Design Decisions

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by: Loren McDonald (@LorenMcDonald)
13 February 2013

If you’re like most marketers these days, you’re spending a lot of time thinking about your company’s mobile strategy. Part of this strategic thinking is probably focused on how to address the growing number of email subscribers who read your company’s emails on their mobile devices.

According to research from Litmus, an email analytics provider, in September 2012 38 percent of all emails across its client base were opened on mobile devices. This is up from 17 percent in July of 2011 — a 124 percent increase.

With this explosion in mobile email readership, marketers around the world are scrambling, if not running, to their designers and coders to come up with a magic solution to ensure a great email experience, regardless of device.

But before you decide to adopt a responsive, screen-agnostic or other design approach, it’s important to have a deep understanding of what’s actually going on with your multiscreen-using subscribers. Following are three analytics questions to consider:

Question 1: Which devices are our readers using to read our email now, and how will that change in the next few years?

It's absolutely critical to know where your readers are checking email now. Perhaps 30 percent of your readers read messages on their smartphones, but only a small percentage of them click to your website to convert or take another action from your message.

That doesn't mean you should abandon a multiscreen approach. Rather, it means you don't have to scrap an email template that works well for you in favor of one that looks better on a 2x4-inch screen than a 19-inch monitor.

"If you throw all your resources into optimizing for mobile, you might be optimizing for your less valuable people," says Dela Quist, CEO of the UK-based email agency Alchemy Worx, a Silverpop partner.

Most research and discussion of mobile or multiscreen strategy are directed toward retailers, who are concerned with conversions that lead to purchases, Quist says. However, publishers or B2B emailers, who use email mainly to inform rather than to generate sales, might be better off to optimize for multiple screens instead.

"If you're in B2B, you're primarily concerned with having your content seen, not with having people buy from your emails,” says Quist. “You want them to read your white papers and your articles, so it makes a lot of sense to optimize for mobile.”

Conversely, most purchases are considered. “If you're buying anything of any expense, you won't necessarily see it in an email and buy right from there,” Quist says. “You'll probably buy at a later date. Why would you buy that pair of pants you saw and liked in an email while you're on a crowded train? You'll probably wait until a later date and use another device, like a tablet or desktop."

How to find out: Use an analytics tool that can detect how many of your readers are reading emails on mobile and other devices as well as which operating systems they're using.

This is critical to know because mobile operating systems, such as iOS, Android and Windows Mobile, render email differently. This information can guide message content design down the road.

The data generated by services such as Litmus, IBM Email Optimization (formerly Unica/Pivotal Veracity) Return Path and Email on Acid will help you understand not just how mobile your readership is but what they are doing with the email besides reading it.

Question 2: How are readers interacting with messages on different screens, and are they taking the actions we want them to take?

Once you find out which devices your readers are using to read your email, you’ll need to know what they are doing with the emails.

For example, your mobile readership likely is growing rapidly, but perhaps most continue to click and convert from the desktop. That information can guide the decisions you make about allocating resources into an all-out mobile/small-screen push.

You might find, for example, that triggered emails, such as service alerts and flash-sale notices, get opened more often on mobile because people are closer to their phones during the day than to their desktop or laptop computers.

Here are a few types of analysis to consider to help you determine where to focus your design and optimization efforts:

  • Which device types are emails being opened on most frequently (e.g., iPhone, Android-based smartphone, iPad, etc)?
  • Are subscribers that are engaging on mobile devices low or high-value customers?
  • Are mobile openers converting more, less or the same as desktop users?
  • Are mobile openers clicking more, less or the same as desktop users?

Question 3: Does our entire conversion path from email to landing page provide a good mobile experience, and are we prepared to fix it if it isn't?

A well-executed multiscreen approach doesn't begin and end with the email itself. No matter how well you optimize the message itself for viewing on a mobile screen, the whole process could break down if you send the customer to a clunky landing page or one that renders poorly on a major operating system.

Aligning your website/landing pages and email messages adds time and expense to your multiscreen makeover project. It is, however, absolutely necessary.

If your analytics show a sizable percentage of readers click on your mobile emails but a smaller than typical percentage converts from them, you'll have to rethink the amount of effort you put into your mobile and Web efforts.

A key challenge in this email/website alignment is often the huge effort of making the company site mobile-friendly. One email marketer redesigned the company’s emails using responsive design techniques, but was then told they couldn’t use the new designs because the website experience was not conducive to mobile users.

For more mobile tips, register for Loren’s upcoming Webinar, “Multiscreen Email Design: Lessons from the Pros.”

More on Mobile:
1) Video: “Mobile Context: What to consider when optimizing the mobile experience
2) Blog: “Beyond Mobile-First: Think ‘Multiscreen’
3) White Paper: “6 Key Marketing Trends – and Tips for Succeeding in the Year of the Customer

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