Mobile Email Design Presentation

Email in an Increasingly Mobile & Social World

Last week I had the great opportunity to present to the Arizona Interactive Marketing Association (AZIMA). They had asked me to talk about the implications of mobile marketing and social media on email marketing and discuss what lies ahead for 2014. Here is what I provided them with notes to follow.

Thank you kindly to all of my friends, old and new, who attended. I hope you had as much fun as I did. If you were not able to make it, you can see some of their comments below the notes within this post.

Slide 3 – Subscribe to The Email Email. It’s an email newsletter about … ya know … email. Most of the content is derived from this list on Twitter.

Slide 4 – I recently heard marketing strategists referred to as coloring book designers as they lay the groundwork and devise the marketing plan of attack. Meanwhile, marketing practitioners are the crayon artists. Their job is to follow the strategists’ lead and color within the lines. I provide information for both parties within the presentation and call out which content is meant for each audience.

Slide 5 – I am often asked which is my favorite email marketing service provider or email delivery tool. I don’t have one. There is one that is right for your company. Just select it based on who will be using it, what other tools need to integrate with the tool, and your budget.

Slide 6 – The acronym here stands for, “I don’t know, but I can find out.” I don’t know what subject line, from name or layout you should utilize. Always be testing to find out.

Slides 7-18 – Based on a few questions I had received prior to the presentation and a few emails from my personal inbox, I wanted to point out a few things that can be prevented and other practices that should be repeated specifically with images in mind. The Arizona Cardinals (while I am a big fan) failed to design a customer-friendly email, and Frederick’s of Hollywood sent an email to my beautiful wife with a dead image. This latter instance was upsetting on many levels. However, Blue Nile does a great job of adding ALT tags for images and using text as much as possible. Finally, Playstation does a great job on Slide 18 of anticipating that most email clients (85% to be exact) block images by default.

Slides 19-22 – Our mobile marketing challenge defined by the growth of mobile email opens and the displeasure so many recipients experience when an email does not “look good” on their mobile devices.

Slides 23-24 – A poor example of mobile optimization from The North Face, who provides a link the the “mobile version” of their email, which is actually all heavy text. This is neither friendly to recipients with mobile devices or any other device.

Slide 25 – I have seen several different posts that explain the many flavors of mobile email. I’ve simplified those to three: Skinny, Scaleable and Responsive. Skinny and Scaleable designs do not adapt to the screen at all, but Responsive designs change to fit the recipient’s screen.

Slide 26-27 – Two skinny designs from Daily Candy and Swell as defined by their single column approach and small text links.

Slide 28-29 – Two scaleable designs from Lowe’s and Victoria Secret as defined by their large images, sizable text, and easily tappable links. I love the Lowe’s approach to spacious design.

Slide 30JPEGmini allows you to take your beautiful, large-scale images and convert them to a file size that will work for mobile email without compromising graphic quality.

Slide 31 – A slide from Knotice’s Mobile Email Opens report the demystifies the notion that email is commonly read on multiple devices. If you see an email on your mobile that doesn’t look right and save it for later to be read on your desktop, you are the 2%.

Slides 32-35 – Four responsive email examples from Campaign Monitor, Travel Oregon, Xbox and REI.

Slides 36-39 – Here I discussed the @media query which makes responsive email design possible. The query is merely a snippet of code that lives in the <head> area of your email’s HTML code. While the @media query may appear to work like a diet pill as it forces emails to appear more slender, it’s actually more like an If/Then statement. If your recipient’s screen is thin and narrow, Then your email will modify itself to a thin and narrow appearance. I updated the code for an AZIMA email and showed the live audience how it responds to a mobile screen. You can see the code and play with the responsive email for AZIMA on your own screen by forcing your browser window into a narrow layout.

Note: I’m not a developer and this little case study project took me about 30 minutes to complete. If you are a professional developer, hopefully you can make it happen faster, and you may also find some efficiency issues with my code.

Slides 40-41 – If you do not have a developer on staff, don’t worry. Many email service providers like MailChimp, CampaignMonitor and MailUp (pictured on Slide 40) offer pre-coded templates that are already responsive. If you do not use one of those tools, you can also buy your own responsive template from a resource like

Slides 42-45 – Responsive design is not for everyone as not every mobile email app will allow it to work properly. Traditional web developers have it kind of easy. They have to conduct browser testing for four to eight browsers before launching a new site, blog or web page. To design email is to live in constant email client testing hell. We have 18+ email clients to accommodate, and they are all a little different in what features they allow and what kind of code can function.

On Slides 44 and 45, I make an analogy about how email design is kind of like planning a party or a fun outing for a very diverse group of family and friends. Let’s say you plan a girls weekend in Las Vegas complete with dancing, drinks, shows, gambling, etc. Everyone is having a terrific time, but then Grandma shows up. Maybe your Grandma can hang – I don’t know. But when one of your friends fervently suggests a trip to the Thunder Down Under, are you really going to take Grandma?! Two potential problems with the Grandma-TDU combination: a) she gets very uncomfortable, and b) she gets way too comfortable. Scenario B would likely conjure a few horrid images that will never stay in Vegas.

To draw a very shaky parallel, let’s say we are planning to send an email with a video embedded. Some people on our list will receive it just fine as they are working with Apple, Android, and other email clients. However, what about the people still using Lotus Notes (and yes, to the heckler in attendance, they still exist)? Will they see our thought-provoking and potentially earth-shattering video? No. You want to know why? I’ll tell you—because Lotus Notes is old…just like Grandma.

Side Note: LiveClicker does provide a product that you can use to include video in email. It auto-detects the recipient’s browser and shows a video, an animated gif or a flat image depending upon what your subscribers use to open emails.

Slide 47 – In the instance where your email will not show up the same for all recipients, separate your list and send dedicated messages based on email client type. I strongly recommend using a design preview tool like Email on Acid or Litmus.

Slides 48-49 – Email and social have a very Simon and Garfukel relationship. They complement each other nicely to nurture prospects, retain customers and help us learn more about our audience’s interests and preferences. There are three ways that email and social media work together:

  1. Email can be used to garner a greater social following.
  2. Social can be used to generate more email subscribers.
  3. The two can work together to improve customer experiences and relationships.

Slides 50-53 – Here are three examples of how brands can include social invitations within messages from email from Shutterfly, Sports Authority and PiperLime. The positioning of these icons depends upon their priority to your business. If building a social following is just as, if not more, important than the email message, place them high in the email in a prominent, visible position. If the priority of the email is the message and acquiring a few more social followers is a secondary goal, place the icons low in the email. PiperLime does an excellent job of offering an a social invitation on the confirmation page subsequent to sign-up.

Slides 54-55 – Both Marketing Profs and Valley of the Sun United Way provide examples of how to encourage sharing within a message. United Way’s Hunger Action Month messaging allows advocates to share their message/activity on Facebook, Twitter and via email.

Slides 56-57ContentCtrl provides a way to include social posts in email marketing messages from venues like Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr and others. Lookbook HQ is a newer content marketing product in which a user can create and curate content into a pin board-like collection, which can then be embedded on a site, blog or email.

Slides 58-62 – These are examples for encouraging email subscriptions from Facebook by Arizona Office of Tourism, Postino’s WineCafe in Phoenix, Kroger and Talking Rock, a golf community in Prescott. I also discussed how more and more bloggers are eliciting email sign-ups from pop-up widgets on their sites.

Slide 63 – I describe here how my pal, DJ Waldow, uses Twitter to promote his email newsletter, The Waldow Social Weekly. If your content is included in his weekly message, he wisely sends you a message as he did with me. This simple (and brilliant) social action motivates bloggers and influencers to spread the word about his email program. And I did—to all those in attendance at AZIMA.

Slides 64-65 – ExactTarget uses Twitter Lead Generation Cards to extract email data from Twitter users in exchange for valuable content.

Slide 66SocialToaster, Addvocate and GaggleAMP are social advocacy programs that allow businesses to encourage their most loyal fans and advocates to spread their message for a special incentive. Where is a good place to find these superfans? How about examining those who open and click every email you send as a start?

Slide 67 – By monitoring customer behavior patterns throughout the day and week, we can learn about the best times to send images. If your Facebook audience responds during a certain time of day and day of week, that might be a good time to send email (and vice versa).

Slide 68 – Tools like Zuum Social and RivalIQ can be utilized to analyze popularity and effectiveness of brand and competitor content on social networks. Use findings from this data to educate your email and content marketing editorial calendar.

Slides 69-73 – Here we discussed several advantages to using social sign-in tools like Janrain and Gigya. These tools make it easy on the customer to provide their information in exchange for something valuable from the business. Beyond the email address, they provide businesses with information (if provided with permission) they can use to deliver more compelling and relevant messages. The primary drawback to using social sign-in centers around privacy concerns as seen on Slide 73.

Slide 74 – To close out the Social-Email portion of the presentation, I discussed the merits of FullContact, which helps businesses identify which of their email recipients also is active in social media. A few important points about the service: a) it relies upon publicly available information, b) it does not utilize the Facebook API, and c) customers only pay for matches. I’m giving it a try for at least one client soon.

Slides 75-78 – I may or may not have gone on a little rant here about what makes a good email program. With the help of Waylon Jennings, I talked about how we pay way too much attention to our competitors and are not committing enough to loving our customers. I discussed the lack of a sound strategic approach with clear business goals for email marketing with an assist from Honest Abe. Finally, I channeled my inner Bob Ross to help the audience know that it is OK to make happy little accidents. And if failure (or rather thoughtful experimentation) is not an option within your organization, the get the hell out.

If you want to hear me rant speak at your place about email, search, analytics or other digital marketing disciplines, please contact me.

If you’d like to read more from me about email marketing specifically, here are a few of my personal favorites from the vault:

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