Pop quiz: when was the last time you checked your personal email on your laptop or desktop computer? If you answered "don't remember," chances are you're part of a growing trend of email users who are, rather than powering on their old, dusty desktops, using their mobile devices (tablets, smartphones, etc.) more and more to consume email and web content. In truth, as our mobile gadgets become smarter, feature-richer, and enabled to handle our ever-increasing data habit this trend only makes sense. But it also underscores a critical need in the marketing community that's only just now rearing its head: a mobile-friendly email communications plan should be at the top of every marketing & communications professional's marketing strategy.
It's long since been understood that email is the easiest way to reach consumers. We all have email, we use it regularly (even moreso now with the advent of smartphones), and people today seem significantly more willing to give out their email address than, say, their phone number or mailing address (old stand-by's for the marketer of yesterday). But simply reaching them isn't enough - if the user experience is poor or the content doesn't work on the user's device of choice, the user won't feel spurred and your marketing attempt should be considered a failure. Now, more than ever, mobile-specific, device-agnostic user experiences should be considered even when planning for the simplest of marketing messages.
It's a Mobile-First World
Take, for instance, how you use your phone. Any smartphone user, whether they be on an iOS device like a iPhone or an iPod Touch, an Android-powered smartphone, or something similar, knows that things like horizontal scrolling, tiny text, and impossible-to-press buttons or links are annoying. For an increasingly mobile-first world, design elements leading to a poor mobile experience seem to put words in marketers' mouths saying "we don't get you." Sure, in someone's Gmail or Outlook inbox on their widescreen desktop monitor the message may look great. But if it underperforms even the slightest bit on mobile, whether thanks to poorly-adapted layouts or outdated technologies like Flash, your users will feel alienated, disengaged, and unmotivated to take action.
The web design community has long been divided in its approach to this problem with many deeming mobile-first design a wayward concept. And while yes, m-dot sites are awful, smartphones are still underpowered when compared to their big, lap-heating counterparts, and the notion of holding back a site's functions just to make it mobile-friendly seems counterintuitive, mobile-first has evolved since our phones were first able to connect to the internet oh so many years ago.
Mobile-First ≠ "m-dot"
We recently received an email from Brooks Brothers' marketing department that spurred this notion and it quickly became clear that regardless of whether you're marketing clothing, corporate consulting or B2B services, or even home-made wares in your community, how your users interact with your marketing is as important as the quality of the product or service you're marketing in the first place.
Exhibits A & B: two messages from the same email campaign, one viewed on a mobile device and one viewed on a desktop computer. Can you see a difference (beyond content)?
The image on the right is actually a screenshot from the Mail app on iPhone while the the image on the left was taken from Gmail on a desktop computer. By using a finger-friendly, consistent menu structure and bold, image-driven design for their email campaign, Brooks Brothers was able to create marketing that's not only as smart-looking as their clothing line but consistently laid out and device-agnostic. Mobile, tablet, or desktop, this email campaign can be seen, read, and interacted with easily and effectively, meaning less chance users will have a poor experience with the content and (worst case scenario) unsubscribe.
Users > Awesome Features
No website will ever have mass appeal and no email campaign can cater to all users or devices. Look at Internet Explorer's nightmarish history with site rendering or Outlook's handling of background images to know what we're talking about. But everything you do as a marketer should be with the chief goal of making your content effortless and seamless to take in by your audience. Whether using complex, new web design concepts like responsive design or tailoring your layouts to the lowest common denominator without sacrificing style, it's important to keep in mind that no matter how many flashy features, awesome images, amazing callouts, and sprinkles of web development fairy dust you've incorporated into the email (or website, or portal, or app, or...) you've built, if your users feel alienated they won't hesitate to delete, unsubscribe, or unplug from your brand entirely. Remember: on mobile the delete button is just inches away.