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How to make mobile email shine this holiday season

Despite the fact that emails are increasingly being opened on a mobile device, marketers are still slow to keep up with this growth.

According to Return Path data, 44 percent of emails were opened on a mobile device in June, but only one in four marketers are optimizing emails for mobile devices. With mobile email expected to play a bigger role than ever in the upcoming holiday season, marketers should be taking the time now to ensure their email delivers a strong mobile experience.

?While emails optimized for mobile may have increased from previous years, marketers aren't keeping up with mobile growth,? said Tom Sather, senior director of email research at Return Path, New York.

?However, for those that are optimizing for mobile email, marketers are doing a better job and are seeing more engagement and revenue as a result,? he said.

Holiday mobile email
According to Peter Flink, group director at Ryan Partnership, Wilton, CT, mobile email is more important than ever in this year?s holiday marketing plans.

?We know that one of the key benefits smartphone users cite is the ability to keep their ?whole life? and all their activities organized in one place,? he said. ?It?s one of the reasons this tool is the shopping tool of choice for busy moms. This is even more important for people during the incredibly busy and stressful holiday season."

Dan Roche, vice president of marketing at TalkPoint, New York, agrees that mobile emails are incredibly important for the holiday season.

?Mobile offers will make it easier and easier to purchase holiday presents early,? Mr. Roche said.

?Additionally, you have more vendors out there able to help buyers by offering mobile coupons, utilizing purchase histories, wish lists and specials to make holiday buying go smoothly,? he said.

Mobile email tips
Return Path data shows that consumers read more emails on their mobile devices on the weekends, so marketers may want to offer deals specifically on the weekends when their emails are most likely being read.

Since consumers are not restricted to checking their email on a desktop, they can access their email at any time in the day, so marketers do not necessarily need to worry about getting out their emails first thing in the morning when a consumer may be at an office desktop, for example.

Beyond the time of the email, the content is obviously equally as important, if not more important.

Marketers should focus less on copy and more on images in mobile emails. They should also optimize for larger CTAs.

Images must be optimized for mobile screens in a clean, easily-scrollable format.

Dave Lawson, director of mobile and digital unification at Knotice, Akron, OH, points out another interesting technique: increasing the frequency of email sends based on behavior. As opposed to sending large email blasts, marketers can send one-off messages to individuals based on their behavior.

Mr. Lawson also advised that marketers focus on filling mobile emails with ?snackable? content that is easier to digest on mobile devices.

Marketers should also make sure to use concise subject lines and time-based offers in mobile emails.

"There is an obvious mobile intention with the very deliberate subject lines that tell me what deal, etc. is inside so I can read it in my inbox preview,? said TalkPoint's Mr. Roche.

?Time-targeted emails that only offer five hours for a particular deal or the even more targeted bar code coupons that work straight from your phone are definitely playing off the fact that a lot of these purchases are being made on a smartphone,? he said.

Another technique that marketers are already using is updating mobile email content once it is in the inbox, according to Ryan Partnership's Mr. Flink.  

"For example, if there is a one-day sale and the user does not open the email on that day, the retailer will update content in that email to give the consumer some other form of value exchange like 10 percent off on their next purchase,? Mr. Flink said.

Email role models
According to Mr. Sather, Gilt Groupe is an example of a marketer that is getting mobile email right.

Gilt Groupe uses responsive design in its emails in addition to targeting mobile users with exclusive offers using a cross channel campaign on their main site, daily emails and mobile application push notifications.

This past holiday season, Gilt Groupe saw a lot of success in its mobile efforts, with mobile accounting for 40 percent of total orders (see story).

Knotice's Mr. Lawson pointed to real estate database Trulia as a role model for mobile email.

Trulia uses informative subject lines in its mobile emails to encourage readers to open. The email itself includes a thumbnail and basic information, which when clicked leads to a mobile website or app.

The real estate company has put a lot of effort into mobile in more than just email. Last year Trulia focused on mobile for its advertising campaigns (see story).

Whether it?s specifically for the holidays or year-round, marketers must consider mobile email in their future plans.

By the end of 2013, most brands will see at least half of their commercial emails opened via mobile devices (see story).

With a large portion of consumers opening email on mobile devices, marketers owe it to themselves to do better in that area.

"Overall I can?t say that there are a huge number of notably ?better? mobile email experiences from the brands I receive marketing emails from,? said Knotice?s Mr. Lawson said.

?There are more examples of bad behavior or lack of thought than there are good,? he said. ?On the whole, it?s becoming clear that email for mobile is really now just email.

?When the device-driven context of opens equates to nearly 50 percent of your overall email consumption, that?s something to benchmark, plan around, and incorporate into your planning.?

Final Take
Rebecca Borison is editorial assistant on Mobile Marketer, New York