Email has been around since 1971 and email marketing was born just a few years later, in 1978 (SmartInsights). As with any technology that has been in use for over 40 years, email has evolved over time, with new features and capabilities being added (interactivity, graphics, HTML content, etc.), while the channel is still largely recognizable when compared to those original emails from the 1970s. The email has experienced many changes through its first few decades of existence, one particular technological development largely revolutionized the channel – the advent of the smartphone.
The first smartphone was launched in 1992 (Simon Personal Communicator), but these devices really began to gain widespread popularity when the iPhone was introduced in 2007. In 2020, approximately 3.5 billion people (Statista) accounting for roughly 45% of the world’s population own a smartphone (Bank My Cell). This massive growth in the use of smart mobile devices has made these tools the prominent screen for users to access the Internet (StatCounter). That trend has followed email, where some reports suggest that mobile devices accounted for as many as 62% of email opens in 2019 (Adestra).
Here are just a few ways that our mobile-first world has impacted the email marketing channel.
Access Anywhere and Anytime
When email was accessed only on the desktop, you could be fairly confident that your email recipients were all opening their email on either their work or home desktop computer. Laptops began to add some portability, but it wasn’t until smartphones took off that email truly broke free of the desktop. Now, users regularly check their email accounts from anywhere they happen to be. This has a huge impact on email marketing. Knowing where your audience is when they receive your marketing message can have a big impact on that messaging.
When marketers could assume that email recipients were either at work or at home, that provided a framework for those messages, their structure, the call-to-action, the likely timing, etc. Today, marketers have no idea where a recipient might be when they open an email, what kind of social setting it might be, or what other things may be attracting their attention. Additionally, recipients will check their email at all hours of the day, rather than simply the times they are typically in front of a computer.
Like many changes in technology, this presents marketers with various challenges and opportunities.
When email inboxes were virtually guaranteed to be seen on at least relatively large desktop computer screens, marketers knew the landscape they were playing on. An email recipient would likely open their inbox and see a long list of emails scrolling down the screen, with each one’s From Address and Subject Line easily rendered and easily read. Once a user opened the email, they likely saw most of or all of the email content show up on the screen – in fact many marketers worked to ensure that the email didn’t scroll.
All that changes on the smaller mobile device screen. Suddenly, the amount of text or image content that can easily be depicted on the screen is reduced dramatically. Now scrolling to view all the content is the norm, rather than an example of potentially poor design.
How do your emails look on a smartphone screen? Is it easy for recipients to quickly get the gist of your message in the first few lines? If not, you may lose their interest before they have the chance to scroll down to reach the rest of your email and hopefully engage by clicking a link, etc.
Once smartphones and other handheld devices adopted highly functional touch screens, the way that people interacted with websites, apps, and email changed dramatically. Early mobile devices were sometimes challenging to use, with various types of cursor movement buttons and ways to select a highlighted option. While mobile users got used to these user interfaces, they were still somewhat unfriendly. That changed with the touch screen.
Suddenly, just tapping, sliding, or brushing a finder on the screen gave users simple ways to interact with their mobile devices and the content delivered to their screens. For email, this meant that scrolling through an inbox, selecting an email to read, and clicking on a link or other call-to-action in the message was incredibly easy. Today’s typical mobile device UI is often considered more user-friendly than their desktop counterparts.
When used properly, this ease of use offers email marketers the ability to make their emails highly interactive, which can lead to higher engagement, more responses, and higher conversion rates.
Email continues to evolve in 2020, with different apps and tools focused on improving the user experience. However these new tools develop over time, it is safe to say that the future of email will be increasingly mobile. So, if you aren’t already approaching your email marketing strategy with a mobile-first mindset, now would be a good time to consider making that shift.