Email: The Gateway Drug to Mobile

Now is the time to be creating and changing your web properties for the mobile user experience. Starting with your own email marketing or website is likely the lowest hanging fruit, but never skip strategy.

Mobile Madness

Mobile MadnessA couple years ago, Shiv Singh, who was participating on a social media panel at South by Southwest, boldly stated, “if you are not in mobile, you are not in social.” 

As one who runs a social media agency, that statement struck hard. For one, we weren’t doing anything in mobile at that time – and almost none of our customers were approaching us with specifics about what they needed in this space. I suppose that was our job, right?

Apps Withdrawal: Focus First On Strategy

I like to interchange the word “apps” in this context with “tactics” to make the point that many entering the mobile space are approaching it incorrectly with an apps feature-centric perspective. 

I saw this firsthand at last month’s second annual AppNation conference, where my key takeaways boiled down to:

  • Search engines suck at indexing mobile apps.
  • As a developer, the iPhone platform is my best shot at making any money, but the average app gets less than 1,000 downloads and the majority in the app store gross no more than $700/year.
  • And my favorite: “for every ‘Angry Birds,’ there are 1,000 angry developers.” 

Granted, AppNation is carving out its own developer/marketing conference niche, but what I was really looking for (strategy) came a week later at the Mobile Marketing Strategies Summit. 

As always, Jeremiah Owyang’s perspective puts strategy as the first order of business. So should yours. See the video and slides from his keynote there on how to develop a mobile marketing strategy

Dealing with Addiction: Where Email Comes In

At WOMMA’s School of WOM event last month, a simple question was asked within a large room packed full of people: “How many of you grab your phone first thing in the morning to either check email before you get out of bed or just before going to work?” 

Not surprisingly, the vast majority of people in the room raised their hands. I cringe to think of all the emails people are reading on their phones, and how many contain links to web properties that are barely readable on those tiny screens. 

As you review the following, consider why our email habits and smartphone usage will get and keep businesses hooked on mobile in the months and years to come:

  1. Return Path’s recent research shows 81 percent growth in the accessing of email via mobile devices from October 2010 to March 2011. 
  2. Nielsen’s research from October 2010 points to nearly 30 percent of U.S. mobile subscribers having smartphones. This number is expected to exceed 50 percent by end of 2011.
  3. Morgan Stanley’s research from February 2011 shows this year as the first year smartphones and tablets (combined) will outsell PCs.
  4. For those on the bandwagon of calling email dead “because the kids don’t use it,” please check Auren Hoffman’s recent post on just how alive email is. Fact: the Email Service Provider (ESP) space is growing consistently at 30 percent per year – and it’s not because email is getting read less. 
  5. Companies like Gilt Groupe and Groupon have re-proven email is a preferable delivery system. Facebook has made some pretty recent investments in this space as well.

Step 1: Admit You Have a Problem (Then Get to Fixing it)

Here are a few tactical guidelines you’ll want to look into:

  • Thin is in for email: Single-column formats with a width of around 600 pixels is a safe bet, but design optimized for 320 pixels will just about guarantee your stuff will look good on all smartphones. 
  • Don’t make me squint: Marketing Sherpa’s 2011 Email Marketing Advanced Practices Handbook makes references to font sizes no smaller than 14 – and points to the Apple Style Guide as a good reference for spacing.
  • Go liquid: A great degree of control for different screen sizes is realized through the combination of style sheets and browser window size detection. Check out SimpleBits as a great example: go to their site, then start decreasing the size of your browser window to watch how the columns and navigation change on the fly to support all screen sizes.

Be prepared to test as you experiment with different formats to accommodate your mobile audience. Always watch the analytics, and consider polling your customers to determine how to best serve them with phone in hand. 

Finally, if you find your co-workers still questioning the validity of a mobile strategy for your organization… I hope you’ll deal this article to them via email from your cell ;-).

About the author

Jason Cormier is co-founder of Room 214, an award-winning social media agency focused on providing business intelligence, social program management, and application development for large and emerging brands.

Jason serves as chief strategist to the "214 Apps" team, providing guidance on custom Facebook applications development, mobile, and marketing dashboard products.

His career on the web began in 1996 when he launched the web development firm, Flash Internet, out of a computer lab at Santa Barbara City College. Gaining recognition as an expert in web usability and information architecture, he sold his firm to public company, NetLojix, in 2000.

In 2003, Jason partnered with former high-school friend and hi-tech public relations owner, James Clark to develop marketing systems strategically combining SEO, SEM, blog and content syndication.

Room 214 was born the following year, with Jason eventually helping to pioneer social media efforts for companies including Travel Channel, SmartyPig, Qwest and Sanrio/Hello Kitty.