If social media is just reaching the tipping point as an important channel for retail marketers, the mobile channel has moved past that point and shows every sign of becoming more pivotal in the years to come. That has big implications
for e-mail marketing. A recent study revealed that 20% of marketing e-mails are opened on a mobile device. While
retailers are always glad to see their e-mail opened, the fact that consumers are reading marketing e-mail on the small
screens of mobile phones poses significant challenges. The most obvious is how to format e-mail so that it can be comfortably read on those smaller mobile screens. Some retailers create e-mail messages formatted specifically for mobile phones, which can be a time-consuming and expensive approach because there is no sure-fire way to tell whether a consumer will first view the message on her mobile phone or personal computer.
A more practical solution is to find a format that will ensure e-mail messages render properly on a mobile phone and a PC. The standard width for desktop e-mails is 600 pixels and the standard for smartphones is 300 pixels. Creating an e-mail that splits the difference to between 400 and 450 pixels is a good compromise.
No one can predict the device on which a consumer will view their e-mail, but e-mail marketers can create messages to be viewed on narrower screens, such as a mobile phone, that will look fine on a personal computer. The main thing to
remember is that most consumers perform e-mail triage on their phone, so there is no guarantee they will scroll to read the entire message. That means the most important information has to be above the fold.
Other tips for creating e-mails that can properly format on mobile phones include using blocky text links that are easier to see and push on a touch screen, and reducing and eliminating graphics embedded in the message. Retailers can also employ technology that automatically formats an e-mail message to the mobile device, such as an iPhone.
Formatting to mobile devices is a strategic challenge for e-mail marketers, but also a necessity because more consumers are opening their mail on their smartphone. It’s important that retailers take the time to understand this challenge to create a smoother e-mail marketing experience for mobile users.
E-mail marketing software offers retailers a choice of ready-made e-mail templates and the option of creating customized templates. Retailers can place logos and images in the e-mail. Retailers can monitor open rates, click-throughs and forwarded e-mails in real time and compare the results of current e-mail campaigns with previous campaigns.
While formatting e-mails for mobile phones imposes new requirements on retailers, they also have new opportunities
because consumers carry their mobile phones with them all the time, wherever they go.
Retailers seeking to capture new e-mail addresses should hang signs in their stores urging consumers to opt in to their e-mail lists by entering a mobile code or scanning a QR code to receive a discount coupon for that day’s purchase.
(A QR code is a two-dimensional bar code consumers can scan with their phone cameras to obtain information or link to a retailer’s web site.)
Once the consumer enters or scans the code, the retailer can immediately respond with a text message asking for the shopper’s e-mail address; upon receiving that address, the retailer can then send a welcome e-mail containing a scannable electronic coupon, along with other promotional information.
The same concept can be used in store by retailers to promote their mobile apps or a rewards program. When consumers are in the store they are already engaged with the retailer and are more receptive to e-mail marketing.
While text messaging can be a useful complement to e-mail marketing, especially for reaching mobile consumers, retailers must also keep in mind its drawbacks. For one thing, it costs considerably more than e-mail and it is harder to track whether the message has been opened.
Text messaging is great for time-sensitive campaigns, such as sending a reminder to consumers that opened an e-mail about a four-hour sale that only an hour is left, but we are not seeing widespread use of text messaging campaigns.
Some retailers send text messages to consumers whose location indicates they are close to one of the retailer’s stores. For example, the merchant can promote limited-time incentives to encourage a shopper to walk into a nearby store.
While the mobile channel and social media represents new and sexy ways to reach consumers through e-mail, retailers should not forget the fundamental blocking and tackling techniques that have made e-mail one of the most reliable forms of marketing.
Creating lifecycle campaigns that maintain steady contact with consumers is a core strategy. Starting with welcome
messages when a consumer opts in to a retailer’s e-mail list and continuing with birthday greetings, post-sale follow-up
and product care tips, there is no shortage of messages that can be sent to customers over the course of the relationship.
Lifecycle campaigns are set up according to specific triggers, so opportunities are not missed. Lifecycle messages speak directly to the consumer in very targeted and timely ways so the open rates tend to be in the 30% to 80% range, usually significantly higher than regular broadcast sends.
Another basic of e-mail marketing is to use images wisely. While images can sometimes slow downloads, a few wellplaced images can greatly enhance an e-mail’s effectiveness. In terms of placement, images put off to one side allow for text and image to share the prime space above the fold. There has to be a good balance between HTML text and images so that consumers scanning their e-mail understand what you’re trying to convey—even with images off.
Personalization is another critical element of e-mail marketing, and one that offers even more potential today because consumers reveal more information about themselves via social networks. Retailers have more opportunities than ever to accumulate information about consumers to segment their e-mail marketing lists. Two key segments include their best customers, those that represent the greatest lifetime value, and evangelists, shoppers who are anxious to proclaim their appreciation of the retailer’s merchandise.
Thanking high-value customers and brand evangelists for their loyalty by offering exclusive deals or sneak previews of incoming merchandise speaks to them on a personal level and can significantly increase future open and click-through rates for a retailer’s e-mail.
Once the decision to segment the list is made, retailers need to decide how finely they want to slice and dice it. The goal is to identify segments that retailers know the most about, and express that knowledge in a way that creates a very personalized experience. The more personal the e-mail the better the response to it will be.
Better segmentation not only leads to higher open rates, it can open the door to more opportunities to communicate
with consumers through e-mail. “A lot of retailers don’t e-mail with enough frequency because they overlook opportunities to send an e-mail. Using customer intelligence applications can help them unearth new up-sell and cross-sell opportunities.
Customer intelligence is a segmentation practice based on consumer behavior. For example, a retailer of outdoor apparel and gear might want to reach out to customers that have purchased hiking boots in order to offer them related
accessories, such as socks, rain gear and water bottles. The retailer can filter out those consumers who purchased their boots at least six months ago, then segment by gender, in order to send out well-targeted e-mail offers that will not seem overly intrusive.
Customer intelligence used to be for identifying which customers not to (snail) mail to, but by reversing its use for e-mail, retailers can identify new opportunities to reach out to customers. Customer intelligence is bringing more of the discipline used in traditional direct marketing to e-mail.
One fundamental that should not be forgotten is the need to test all aspects of an e-mail campaign. Everything from what’s in the subject line and its length to layout and timing of the message should be tested. E-mail best practices evolve, so retailers need to constantly test to find out what is working now for their customers.