Right-Sized Communications


Thinking ‘mobile’ for customer emails will ensure the message gets through

By Elizabeth Judd

Roughly half of all emails sent to consumers are now being opened on a mobile device, according to projections by Knotice Inc., an advanced data management company in Akron, Ohio, that periodically studies how companies’ emails are read.

Patti Renner, Knotice’s director of marketing, points out that this news should concern any community bank that is not sending out mobile optimized emails, or emails that “render well on a mobile device.” Knotice found that 41 percent of all emails generated by businesses in the second half of 2012 were opened on mobile devices—and given the steep growth curve for mobile devices in general, this number should continue to climb.

Most community bankers realize that consumers grow impatient if an email message is poorly formatted, but the statistics suggest that the situation is truly dire. Knotice found only 2 percent of people who open an email that doesn’t render properly on one device will bother to open that same email later on a personal computer. “If you don’t optimize email for mobile, it’s almost like throwing away half your marketing list,” Renner maintains.

Optimizing Email Tips

Look at your subject lines. Patti Renner, director of marketing for the email marketing firm Knotice Inc. in Akron, Ohio, advises keeping subject lines short (some cell phones truncate subject lines at 31 characters).

Favor text over pictures. Photos can consume the whole viewport of a conventional cell or smartphone—and often frustrate users by taking longer to load.

Rethink the use of icons and emoticons. Some typographical symbols don’t render the same across all devices and should be avoided, Renner says.

Revisit buttons. Try having larger buttons for mobile messages so users “don’t keep fat-fingering when they attempt to click,” says Kara Trivunovic, vice president of strategic services at BlueHornet Inc., an email service provider in San Diego, Calif.

Provide links. Even when design is flawless, readers tend to like messages on mobile devices to be short and sweet. Renner therefore advises providing a link to an external website if greater detail is necessary.

Think a few steps ahead. When a company links to a website, that too should be optimized for mobile viewers. These sites should avoid using Adobe Flash or JavaScript elements that may not display on handheld devices. “The entire experience has to be optimized,” emphasizes Trivunovic.

Email Open Rates—by Devices

The computing devices people use can significantly change the rates for which they will be inclined to open emails from companies, according to Knotice Inc. The following percentages show the emails opened that were sent by financial services firms in the first half of 2013, according to research by the Akron, Ohio, email marketing company.

48% – Emails opened on desktop computers
37% – Emails opened on mobile phones
11% – Emails opened on mobile tablets

Rethinking email

Sarah Goliger, head of paid marketing for HubSpot Inc., an Internet marketing company in Cambridge, Mass., says the biggest benefit of mobile optimizing emails is providing customers a positive experience. She encourages community bankers to think back to their own email-reading preferences: “How many times have you gotten an email that you’ve opened on your phone, and the text was either too big or too small or you had to scroll sideways to read it? And was that a pleasant experience for you? Did you even get through the whole email?”

When marketers discuss mobile-optimized email, they’re not necessarily referring to a single technique. Today’s marketing emails exist along a continuum from messages designed with little regard to the reader at one extreme, to responsive design at the other extreme, explains Kara Trivunovic, vice president of strategic services at BlueHornet Inc., an email service provider in San Diego, Calif.

Many companies are treading the middle ground, creating emails with fewer words per line so the message looks good on a mobile device and is also readable (if a little oddly formatted) on a desktop computer screen.

“If you don’t optimize email for mobile, it’s almost like throwing away half your marketing list.”
—Patti Renner, email marketing expert

Renner considers these one-size-fits-all solutions a form of “cheating.” She maintains that a far better option is responsive design, or actually drafting separate versions of an email message for different audiences based on the viewports of their individual devices. In other words, recipients on a Samsung tablet will get one version of an email, while those on an iPhone will get a different version. The images might vary, and so might the navigation.

A moving target

Optimizing emails has become more complicated over the past months because of the proliferation of device types and screen sizes, Trivunovic says. What’s more, she points out that inbox servers don’t operate according to a standardized set of rules.
On the other hand, companies know more about customers’ email viewing habits than ever before, thanks to a few recent studies. Knotice, which monitored 500 million emails sent across 11 industries, has, for instance, found that more marketing emails were being opened by smartphones (29 percent) than by tablets (12 percent) in late 2012.

Knotice also uncovered some differences in the rate of mobile opens depending on which type of company sent the email. For instance, in late 2012, more than half of all emails from consumer-service companies were opened on phones or tablets, versus one-third of financial-service company emails. Knotice has yet to release its updated survey, but say that financial-service email open rates had climbed steeply in 2013 to 46 percent.

Fortunately, mobile email optimization is not rocket science. Renner advises community bankers to get a feel for how their emails are coming across to consumers by running their own tests. “Look at your emails using many different devices, and continue to spot check,” she advises.

Renner points out that mobile optimization will be a more pressing concern for those community banks targeting demographics that rely heavily on mobile devices. “If you’re trying to capture college kids or you’re in a campus environment, you won’t be reaching people very easily unless you have a mobile-first mentality,” she says.

For community banks seeking help optimizing their email, there are plenty of options. Renner points out that certain platforms, such as Lotus, have begun to create built-in capabilities that allow users to click and see a simulation of what a given email message will look like on different devices. And Goliger notes that HubSpot’s email tool has a built-in optimization feature that adapts emails to whatever device a viewer is using.

Finally, community banks can partner with companies that specialize in mobile email optimization to handle the niceties of responsive design.

“Look at your emails using many different devices, and continue to spot check.”
—Patti Renner, email marketing expert

In the end, the best reason to optimize emails for mobile devices isn’t necessarily to get a higher responsive rate, but to create a positive experience for all customers. “You don’t want to give the impression that you don’t care enough about your customers to address their needs for receiving information the way they want to receive it,” Renner concludes. “You want to make sure that every touch and every communication will be the best possible experience for each customer.”

Elizabeth Judd is a writer in Maryland.