Mobile Marketer has re-launched! Click here to learn more!

What is the secret to driving app downloads?

Mobile is increasingly playing a role in email marketing, but brands need to think outside of just optimizing emails for devices with strategic ways to market their mobile efforts.

In particular, promoting a mobile application can be effective for companies looking to bolster downloads. Email can also be used to help mobile marketers capture consumers? habits for future communication.

?Emails can be segmented to reach the population most likely to respond to the call-to-action,? said Manny Ju, director of product management at BlueHornet Networks, San Diego, CA.

?They are a great communication vehicle for cultivating the customer relationship throughout the customer?s engagement lifecycle with the app,? he said.

Open to download
As more brands and companies realize that email marketing always needs to be optimized for mobile, more brands have realized that email can also be a vessel to educate consumers on mobile offerings, including mobile Web sites, apps and SMS programs.

A recent example of a publisher using mobile to up its mobile game is National Geographic, which sent out an email blast to its subscribers to promote its National Geographic Traveler magazine for the iPad.

The email placed a large picture of the app on an iPad device in the middle of the screen. Once tapped on, users were taken directly to Apple?s App Store where they could download the app.

Below the app screenshot, another large button was used that users could click on to view the app as well as promote a subscription deal for the monthly magazine app.

By making the app the centerpiece of the email with large buttons that will not accidentally be tapped on by mobile users, National Geographic is able to use email marketing to its advantage to advertise its mobile app.

Promoting an app in an email that users are reading on their mobile device gives users instant gratification to download and use an app while on the go.

?Recipients read the email on the mobile device and immediately download the app on the same device at a single touch,? Mr. Ju said.

?This offers a superior user experience rather than reading the email on the desktop, clicking through to the app store, downloading the app to the desktop and then synching the mobile device with the desktop to install the app on the mobile device.?

Direct link
In addition to pushing mobile products in email, companies need to think about the different user habits that mobile consumers have while on the go.

For example, an email that advertises a company?s mobile services should be able to take a user directly to what is being promoted.

Online travel booking site Kayak recently sent out an email blast over the holidays that promoted its apps and mobile sites as a free way for its users to find last-minute travel deals.

When mobile users tapped on the link, they were taken to Kayak?s mobile site that showed all of Kayak?s apps and sites. Users then had to tap through two landing pages before they were directed to an App Store.

The point of promoting an app inside an email is so that users can quickly download it while on the go and away from their desktop, so in the Kayak example, the company missed the mark.

Instead, the Kayak email should have detected a user?s device from inside the email and directly linked users to the correct app store.

?If a brand has invested in developing an understanding of their customers by drilling into and segmenting their audiences by behavior, preferences, activities or best-case-scenario by what devices they use to open and act on previous emails, you can really send the right message to the right people when the time is right,? said Dave Lawson, director of mobile engagement at Knotice, Akron, OH.

?This is highly efficient on the send as we as in delivering relevancy,? he said.

Keep it simple
Similar to other email marketing best practices, the key to mobile email messages is to keep messages clear and simple.

When promoting an app specifically, marketers need to makes it obvious that mobile is the focal point of the email with pictures of the app and direct links that users can access in one tap on their device.

For example, Fresh Direct recently sent out an email blast that promoted its Android, iPhone and iPad apps (see story).

Although the email was not tailored specifically for the reader?s device, it did include large buttons that let users directly download the app from either Apple?s App Store or Google?s Android Market.

According to an executive at email marketing company Real Magnet, mobile open rates can reach 30 ? 40 percent for some clients, showing how mobile has already gained traction and needs to be built on with specific, targeted messages.

?Apps reside on mobile devices, so getting a link onto that same device is the quickest path to adoption,? said Mike May, head of insights at Real Magnet, Bethesda, MD.

?Fortunately for app marketers, checking email remains one of the top mobile activities,? he said.

?Normally marketers optimize around the desktop with mobile the afterthought, but priorities need to be reversed here.?

Final Take
Lauren Johnson is editorial assistant on Mobile Marketer, New York