Author Archives: Alec Wilcox

Gmail update means email marketers must rethink design, segmentation

Gmail update means email marketers must rethink design, segmentation

Google's introduction of the Promotions tab to the layout of Gmail earlier this year has elicited grumbles of frustration from email marketers across the globe, who are concerned that the new design of the inbox will result in their email contact lists reading marketing messages much less frequently.

The tabbed Gmail design, however, isn't the only update that Google has made this year to the way its email service works. The firm has introduced another change that problematizes both email layouts and list segmentation practices: image caching.

Google's image display protocol disrupts email marketing
In a recent column for ClickZ, Innovyx CEO and founder Derek Harding discussed the impact that Gmail's switch to caching the visual components of emails will have on long-standing marketing practices. The basic principle of the change is that now, instead of downloading the images every time a user opens an email, the graphic files are downloaded once per recipient and stored in the browser.

It may not seem like a major update – but it has important repercussions for several aspects of email marketing, Harding noted. First, and perhaps most expected, are the effects the Gmail change will have on email design itself. Image caching takes some of the sophistication out of what marketing teams can do with email graphics. Specifically, timed image downloads will become impossible to execute for recipients who use Gmail.

"Tools that deliver images dynamically based on time (think time-limited offers) will be negatively impacted. Once the recipient sees the image, it will not be downloaded again and so will not be able to change," Harding wrote.

Another set of impacts that Gmail image caching has on email marketing falls under the umbrella of data collection practices. Harding pointed out that companies will no longer be able to determine the locations of their email list contacts, as the cache hides IP addresses. The update also makes it more difficult for marketers to synchronize cookies, a practice that helps them process reader information for more relevant email content in the future. And email marketing solutions that monitor campaign performance through data analytics won't be able to detect multiple opens by a single user through number of image downloads.

Since image caching limits the data that marketers have access to, it makes it more difficult for them to segment their email marketing lists based on relevant consumer information. Firms can't simply ignore this change in Gmail, one of the most popular email platforms. It's key to find ways to work around the update rather than resign oneself to the negative effects.

When in doubt, return to best practices
Given the reduction in image responsiveness caused by caching, making your written email copy as clean, effective and dynamic as possible is paramount. In an interview with The Next Web, Forward Push Media's Chief Strategist Marc Apple emphasized the importance of content in the current marketing landscape, especially for companies that target millennials.

"Content by far is what a millennial is looking for when a business reaches out to them via email," Apple told the news source. "It's just not any content; it must be relevant and relatable content."

Furthermore, while Gmail image caching may make it more difficult to use the most sophisticated data collection techniques, marketers can return to tried-and-true methods like simple A/B list testing, sending different versions of the same campaign to two customer segments to see how the messages perform. Apple insisted that running basic tests is crucial no matter what other methods a marketer uses.

"Every brand's audience is different, which is why I am a big believer in testing, and then testing again," the Forward Push Media executive remarked, according to The Next Web.

Perhaps the update offers marketers an opportunity for a refreshing return to basics.

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Black Friday, Cyber Monday statistics highlight the importance of mobile marketing

Black Friday, Cyber Monday statistics highlight the importance of mobile marketing

Long before Thanksgiving weekend hit, industry experts were predicting that Black Friday and Cyber Monday would be landmark days for mobile purchases. Now that the kick-off to the holiday shopping season is in the rearview, the statistics have begun to flood in from a variety of sources. And although some of the results vary across different reports, one thing is for certain: The uptick in mobile shopping not only met but exceeded expectations. The trend is so widespread, in fact, that marketers simply can't ignore the need to reach their email marketing list contacts on their mobile devices.

Smartphones, tablets beat out desktop shopping
A recent report by Moveable Ink revealed that mobile devices were more popular than desktops for shoppers who took advantage of this year's Cyber Monday and Black Friday sales. In fact, only 26.5 percent of consumers made their purchases on personal computers the day after Thanksgiving. Meanwhile, smartphones were the device of choice for 57.5 percent, and 16 percent opted to shop on their tablets. 

Perhaps in reflection of the inherently rushed nature of Black Friday, Cyber Monday shopping saw more desktop-based purchases than its counterpart, Moveable Ink found. Yet PCs still didn't account for the majority of transactions, claiming only 40.2 percent. With 45.5 percent of online retail activity, smartphones still beat out laptops and home computers, while 14.3 percent of Cyber Monday shoppers chose tablets to carry out their shopping.

Mobile also won out over personal computers in terms of email opens during the retail-centric holiday. On Thanksgiving Day, smartphones accounted for nearly 60 percent of all opens, according to Moveable Ink. Black Friday wasn't far behind, as 57.5 percent of emails were opened on a smartphone. The weekend between Black Friday and Cyber Monday saw a surge of tablet activity, with slates accounting for 19.3 percent Saturday's email opens and 18.7 percent on Sunday.

Know the mobile marketing best practices
In light of such figures, it's only natural that marketers will want to embrace smartphone and tablet email reading. In an interview with Biz Report, iContact Senior Product Manager Eddie Howard insisted that the mobile craze is great news for those who engineer email campaigns.

"No longer are emails only consumed in front of a computer screen during certain hours. Now consumers are reading emails during the day, when in bed, at bars, while commuting and while watching TV," Howard told the news source.

Of course, marketers have to tailor their strategies to the trend. Howard went on to tell Biz Report that he believes emails have to be able to adapt to different types of viewing environments. As mobile marketing means reaching consumers on the go, firms should also use analytics and take a look at their customers' habits in an effort to create more targeted email lists.

Ride the wave of responsive design
Creating emails that will look good no matter what device a customer opens them on can be tricky, not only because of the variety of mobile operating systems, but also because marketers can't simply ignore desktop viewers, either. Mashable recently highlighted the importance of responsive design as a way of crafting email layouts that can adjust themselves based on the parameters of a variety of screens.

"Understanding devices and associated technology features is necessary for design purposes. We determine what our sites and our emails need to be designed for from a size, browser and operating perspective," Cathy Gribble, TeamOne's associate director of digital analytics, told the news source.

Mashable went on to note that responsive design is particularly vital for firms that use image-heavy layouts. If visuals are a key part of your branding strategy, deploying adaptive design may prove key to your mobile efforts.

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Online, mobile sales prove key to early holiday shopping trends

Online, mobile sales prove key to early holiday shopping trends

The holiday shopping season presents a complex, dynamic challenge for email marketers. While the basic principles remain the same each year – people are out in droves shopping for gifts for their loved ones, and companies must take advantage of the rush by reaching their email marketing list contacts with alluring offers and promotions – many other factors create something of a moving target. For instance, what will the top purchasing trends be? Will consumers increase their spending on tech gadgets relative to clothing? And in an age defined in many ways by the prevalence of smartphones and tablets, will shopping prove more lucrative via digital or in-store channels?

Mobile, ecommerce hit record highs
Marketers who prepared for a shopping season defined by mobile and online sales may already be seeing their efforts pay off. Recent statistics revealed that the Thanksgiving shopping weekend was characterized by purchases made on electronic platforms.

In fact, online sales on Cyber Monday increased by 20.6 percent over last year, thereby setting a new record, according to IBM. Furthermore, the stretch between Thanksgiving Day and Cyber Monday was the most active five-day period to date in terms of digital purchases.

Perhaps even more staggering, however, was the increase in mobile commerce. IBM reported that smartphone and tablet shopping grew at a year-over-year rate of 55.4 percent, accounting for more than 17 percent of all retail transactions.

"The mobile device has become the shopping companion of choice for consumers, driving record mobile sales with 55 percent growth over last year," remarked IBM Smarter Commerce Strategy Director Jay Henderson.

Adapt your holiday campaigns for mobile
In light of these statistics, email marketers simply can't afford not to optimize for mobile when they plan their holiday promotional campaigns. Companies that ignore mobile shoppers risk losing revenue to competitors, as many retailers are already learning to adapt to the smartphone generation. IBM noted that retailers upped their sending of push notifications – which send brief messages about sales or available products directly to customers' mobile devices – by 77 percent during Thanksgiving weekend, in comparison with the previous two months.

One of the key challenges that email marketers face in mobile optimization is how to design their messages' layouts for the different mobile operating systems used by customers on firms' targeted email lists. Android and iOS are the two most popular, of course, but Windows Phone is also the choice of a growing segment of consumers, and Blackberry hasn't totally fallen off the map, either.

To this end, responsive design can be a key asset. Leveraging the adaptability of HTML5 coding, this technique can create layouts that will change based on the specific parameters of each operating system – how large the mobile email viewing window is, for instance, and where images are placed.

If you'd rather focus on one mobile OS, however, consider targeting Apple product users. According to IBM, iOS accounted for 14.5 percent of online purchases compared to Android's 2.6 percent. iPhone and iPad users also seem to be higher spenders than those who prefer the Google platform. iOS purchases averaged $120.29 – considerably higher than Android's $106.70, especially when you take volume into account.

Consider video
Of course, you won't be the only marketer on the block who's set his or her sights on mobile shoppers. As such, you'll need to get creative if your marketing emails are going to stand out in consumers' mobile inboxes.

The holiday crunch might be a great time to consider video, a growing trend in email marketing. According to a study by Reel SEO, 82 percent of marketers found video effective, and 60 percent said it improved conversion rates. Of course, you'll also need to make sure the footage will look good on a mobile screen.

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Study provides holiday email marketing insights

Study provides holiday email marketing insights

The holiday shopping season is vital for email promotions, with marketers filling the inboxes of their email contact lists with news about product releases, last-minute sales and a host of other offers they can take advantage of as they shop for their loved ones. As much stress as consumers find themselves under during this time, marketers are undoubtedly feeling the pressure, too, as they attempt the final, make-or-break push to achieve the return on investment their firms have been seeking.

However, there may be more flexibility when it comes to hitting end-of-year ROIs than many marketers believe. Email marketing solutions firm Custora recently released statistics that help put the holiday promotion rush into perspective.

Holiday customers not as valuable long-term
Don't value those who make purchases during November and December too highly: The Custora report found that holiday customer acquisitions have a lower customer lifetime value (CLV) than customers acquired during the rest of the year.

The drop occurs across marketing channels, the study found. Email had a relatively low 5 percent decrease in holiday CLV, while paid search dropped by 13 percent and display advertising by 12 percent.

Perhaps the decrease in CLV reflects the increase in the volume of marketing efforts over the holidays, with quantity being prioritized over quality. Noting that Forrester recently predicted 838 billion marketing emails would be sent in 2013, the marketing team at McKinsey emphasized in a recent post for Forbes that more personal emails are likely to be the most effective.

"Given this backdrop, it's no wonder why relevancy should be a priority for every marketer," the McKinsey marketers wrote.

Think mobile
On the other hand, failing to prioritize mobile sales may get marketers into trouble this holiday season. Custora found that on Black Friday in 2012, total mobile sales increased by 50 percent in a single day.

As such, it's imperative that marketers make sure their promotional emails and websites are mobile-ready, as customers will surely want to utilize these tools on their smartphones and tablets in order to make purchases.

Don't get stuck on Black Friday
That said, marketers can afford to take a wider-lens approach rather than focus exclusively on the day after Thanksgiving. In 2012, the four-day period between Dec. 1 and Dec. 4 brought in more revenue than Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined, Custora found, while the days between Dec. 10 and Dec. 13 were just shy of the two major shopping days' joint revenue.

Taking these insights into consideration, marketers can feel empowered to target their emails in a more sophisticated manner than they may have in previous years.

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Consumers reading more emails on tablets

Consumers reading more emails on tablets

By now, email marketers know they need to adapt to mobile to keep pace with the competition, as the contacts on their email marketing lists increasingly go to their smartphones not only to read email, but also to check social media, surf the Web and scope out new brands and products. 

Of course, smartphones aren't the only mobile devices on the market: The acclaim and attention that Apple's recent release of the iPad Air garnered demonstrates just how popular tablets have become in recent years. Since these bigger devices resemble small laptops arguably more than their smartphone cousins, many users are going to tablets to perform many of the activities that were previously reserved for desktop computers – and email is no exception.

iPads lead the tablet trend for email
There's no denying the impressive rate at which consumers are turning to their tablets when it comes time to read emails. Movable Ink's recent U.S. Consumer Device Preference Report found more than 15 percent of all email opens occurred on a tablet in the third quarter of 2013, a marked quarter-over-quarter increase from Q2, when tablets made up less than 13 percent of total email reading.

The device that has seen the greatest portion of the growth of tablet-based email reading is the iPad. Apple's popular devices accounted for a stunning 14.29 percent of all email opens, leaving just 0.9 percent to Android tablets, the Movable Ink study found. That dominance stands to reason: iPad use alone grew by 10 percent between the second and third quarters of 2013.

With these statistics in mind, marketers can better focus their efforts. One of the difficulties of crafting mobile-friendly email campaigns is creating layouts that will look good across operating systems. When designing with the tablet in mind, however, prioritizing iOS over Android and other platforms may be an effective strategy.

Emails read on tablets create more conversions
Furthermore, considering how your emails will look on tablets offers rewards that are too great to overlook, as return on investment is particularly high among tablet-based email reads. 

Email marketing solutions provider Yesmail Interactive recently performed a study that revealed 56 percent of all mobile Web-based sales initiated by a marketing email were carried out on an iPad. Compare that to the iPhone's 26 percent and Android's 18 percent of mobile email-driven purchases, and the need for greater focus on how emails look on tablets becomes even clearer. Furthermore, iPads accounted for 25 percent of all mobile click-throughs and email opens, the study found, suggesting that customers may be much more responsive on tablets.

As such, marketers must begin to consider how they are going to take advantage of the convenience and pleasure the devices offer consumers.

"Emails opened on mobile have a better chance of reaching consumers at the right place and right time during the busy holiday shopping season," Yesmail President Michael Fisher noted. "Marketers should recognize that 'mobile' doesn't always equal 'smartphone.'"

Using tablets to increase your exposure
In a post for Tab Times, Softweb Solutions Senior SEO Executive Jagadish Thaker highlighted how marketers can take advantage of tablet technology to generate customers.

"The increased use of tablet devices has greatly transformed the way businesses interact with their customers and with each other. It is necessary to know how consumers leverage their devices in order to deliver a better customer experience," he wrote.

Thaker recommended firms strengthen their mobile presence to make themselves more visible, engaging social media and creating apps. He also pointed out that it's essential for firms to make sure their websites look good on mobile.

Given the high click-through rate among users who read email on tablets, it's particularly important to make sure that the landing pages to which your emails link are mobile-ready.

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