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Latest Email Marketing tends: Interview with Lauren Smith

By Robert Allen 24 Mar, 2016
Email marketing analytics

I interviewed Lauren Smith from Litmus, the email analytics software provider about some of the latest changes in the email marketing industry and what marketers can do to make the most of them

Email is consistently ranked among the most effective forms of digital marketing. The DMA's 2015 national email client report found that email has an average ROI of £38 for each £1 spent, which is spectacularly high. Given its effectiveness, email marketing is used by all kinds of businesses, from micro-businesses to the very biggest. To make the most of it you need to keep up to date with all the latest changes to platforms and tactics, which shift rapidly as ESPs launch new ways to view mail and mobile and desktop operating systems change the ways certain elements are displayed.

To help keep your email marketing efforts up to date, I interviewed Lauren Smith from Litmus, who are experts in all things email, to find out what the latest big changes were and what marketers can do to capitalize on them.

Q. Google launched Postmaster tools last year, can you let us know about some of the opportunities this new platform presents for marketers?

The launch of Postmaster Tools allows email marketers to analyze their email performance like never before. The tool gives marketers access to seven different dashboards, ranging from analysis of reported spam rates to domain reputation to delivery errors. These dashboards allow marketers to identify key trends over time and give insights into what impacts message deliverability, helping marketers ensure their emails reach inboxes instead of spam filters.

Q. Microsoft launched an Outlook app for iOS and Android. What formats (CSS, Divs, HTML etc) does that app support and what formats need to be avoided so they appear correctly in the Outlook app?

Compared to the usual rendering capabilities of Outlook clients, the Outlook app for iOS and Android is a major improvement. The Outlook app has great support from HTML and CSS, giving marketers the opportunity to experiment with CSS animation, animated gifs, media queries, and web fonts. Divs are also supported, which means table-based layouts can now be achieved in an Outlook client. By default, images on the Outlook app are automatically supported, however, HTML5 video is not supported. Instead, marketers can insert animated GIFs or images with play buttons in messages.

Q. Wearable’s were a big trend in 2015. How can marketers optimise emails for display on wearable such as the apple watch?

The launch of the Apple Watch was one of the most exciting email innovations in 2015. The increasing popularity of wearables should signal that email optimization on small screens is essential to avoiding frustration from subscribers. Traditional marketing standards that include HTML design, images, videos, and links will not display on the Apple Watch. Therefore, to get around the Watch’s limited capabilities and avoid warning messages, marketers should instead include simple and short calls to action in plain text.

Q. Windows 10 has a new default email client. Can you tell us about how this client works and the problems it presents for marketers?

Windows 10 comes with a new app, Outlook Mail, as its default email client. This email app is “universal,” meaning that it’s the same app across desktop, smartphones, and tablets. While the app is universal across all platforms, there are several pain points for marketers to be aware of. For example, images do not scale correctly, and there is no support for divs, CSS3, HTML5, or media queries.

To avoid these issues, marketers should take advantage of mobile-friendly layouts that include large text and buttons, and a single-column design to give subscribers the best experience possible.

Q.  The IPhone 6 introduced 3D touch features to its email client. How do you see these kinds of features involving in the coming years? Will they become the industry standard?

The introduction of the 3D touch feature Peek and Pop on the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus is a another step toward more interactive features in the inbox. “Peeking” an email allows subscribers to view a portion of the email without fully opening it. This type of functionality mirrors Gmail’s Quick Actions, which lets users take action on things like restaurant reservations and flight details without leaving the inbox. These features save users time when navigating their inboxes, and I predict that ISPs will continue to invest in these time-saving functionalities.  

Q. What changes to email clients do you think will benefit email marketers most this year? Name your top 3:

( 1 ) Gmail Postmaster Tools: Gmail Postmaster Tools give email marketers a major advantage by allowing them to check on their email performance, monitoring trends over time and ensuring that their messages are hitting their subscribers’ inboxes. This gives marketers insights that they’ve never had before, and should be taken advantage of immediately.

( 2 ) Yahoo! begins supporting media queries: With this update, Yahoo! Mail in the web interface and Yahoo! Mail’s mobile app both support a limited set of media queries, as well as min-width and max-width filters. This is big news to the email community and a major show of support from the team behind Yahoo! Mail. Styles that prevent media queries (commonly seen as a hack using attribute selectors) from activating in Yahoo! Mail are no longer necessary after these updates.

( 3 ) Outlook app for iOS and Android: Catering to those on-the-go, Outlook launched a mobile app for both Android and iOS phones and tablets. With great support for HTML and CSS, the groundwork has been laid for marketers to experiment with animated GIFs, CSS animation, web fonts, and media queries—upping the ante in email design possibilities for Outlook clients. Hopefully this is a sign that desktop apps will soon follow suit.

Q. 26% of all emails were opened over Webmail (Browser) rather than desktop clients for the first time ever in 2015. How might this impact email marketers?

Over time, desktop email has slowly been replaced by mobile and web apps. Businesses are shifting email away from expensive desktop suites and moving to scalable services like Outlook 365 and Google Apps. As a result, email designers will have to shift which email clients they’re focusing their optimization efforts on.

In addition, users of free web-based email service, like Gmail and Yahoo! Mail, typically have IMAP access to their messages, making their email accessible from virtual any email client they choose. For example, Gmail users can easily switch between opening on an iPhone (in a Gmail-specific app, or in the mobile browser), in a web browser, or in a desktop application like Outlook. Email marketers need to keep a close look at their subscriber open data—and how it shifts—to ensure that their emails look great in the email clients that are most popular with their subscribers.

Q. What are the five most annoying changes to email marketing clients from 2015 in your opinion? Are there any ways email marketers can get around them?

( 1 ) Outlook 2016: In September 2015, Microsoft launched the latest version of their Outlook client—Outlook 2016. Unfortunately, it hasn’t changed much from its predecessors. Like Outlook 2007, 2010, and 2013, Outlook 2016 renders emails using Microsoft Word, which has poor support for HTML and CSS and has a ton of frustrating quirks.

Due to its lack of support for many CSS properties, table-based layouts are a necessity for optimization in Outlook 2016. Another way to optimize emails for Outlook 2016 is to target Outlook with specific styles with conditional CSS. In addition, since images are blocked by default, it’s crucial to use lots of HTML text, which is always readable by subscribers, even if images are disabled.

( 2 ) Windows 10’s universal Outlook app: In 2015, Microsoft introduced yet another email app for email marketers and designers to be concerned about. The latest versions of Windows comes equipped with a universal new email app—Outlook Mail. This means that it’s the same app across desktop, smartphones, and tablets.

While this helps maintain consistency across platforms, it comes with many headaches for email designers since it uses Microsoft Word as its rendering engine, even on the Windows Phone. This means Microsoft has brought many of its desktop quirks (like those found in Outlook 2016) to the mobile space. For example, there is no support for media queries, and there are viewport issues on mobile, where content doesn’t scale to the device width.

The combination of viewport issues and a lack of support for media queries means email marketers and designers should use mobile-friendly elements in your emails. Take advantage of large text, touch-friendly buttons, and a single-column design to provide your subscribers with the best experience possible.

( 3 ) iOS 9 rendering quirks: While iOS historically has some of the best HTML and CSS support around, iOS 9 introduced a few quirks. iOS 9 will automatically zoom emails to fit the device’s screen width. While this feature is great in theory, it can have some undesirable effects depending on how your email is built. Using modern, responsive techniques, rather than fix-width emails, will help solve this issue.

( 4 ) Gmail’s ‘block’ functionality: In 2015, Gmail launched a new ‘block’ functionality, giving users yet another way to rid their inboxes of messages they don’t want. When a subscriber “blocks” a sender it means they’ll never see an email from that sender again. While this option appears to be an attempt to give users a more accurate way to express their displeasure with a brand—one that doesn’t rely on the brand to honor an opt-out and doesn’t tarnish the brand’s sender reputation by reporting it as spam or phishing—it is another way for subscribers to never see your emails again.

To prevent getting blocked, email marketers should make their preference centers more visible. Often times, a subscriber would be happy to continue receiving emails if only they could receive messages less often or on different topics. Be proactive with your preference centers. Key moments in the subscriber lifecycle are the perfect time to get your subscribers to update their preferences.

( 5 ) Apple Watch: While the introduction of the Apple Watch was a huge innovation in bringing wearables to the email fleet, it also introduced some major implications for email marketers. Not only is there now another email client to optimize for, but it’s an email client that doesn’t render HTML.

The debut of the Apple Watch makes it absolutely clear that marketers must continue to not only send multi-part MIME messages containing a plain text alternative, but to optimize that plain text alternative for wearables like the Watch.

Q. Plenty of people have predicted the ‘death of email marketing’ over the years, yet email is more effective than ever. Why do you think email is such a powerful marketing platform?

Email is a permission-based marketing channel. In fact, 72% of people say they prefer companies to communicate with them via email over any other channel. Email allows for personalization, dynamic content, and even predictive analysis which can make for a fantastic subscriber experience. Marketers have the ability to fully understand individuals and send the best emails they can based on these capabilities.

Q. If you had your way, what one thing would you get all email marketers to stop doing?

Using someone’s name in an email is not using personalization. Personalization is so much more than including a first name, it’s understanding your subscribers’ behaviors and interests. What are their pain points? What type of content are they interested in receiving? How often do they want to receive communications? Using in-app data, surveys, and preference centers will allow you to tailor your communications and actually create personalized communications.

By Robert Allen

I was the Editor of Smart Insights between 2015-2017. I managed the blog and you will find blog articles on a range of subjects- Marketing Technology trends and latest tech developments are a regular focus, as well as exploring key marketing concepts. You can get in touch with me on Twitter and connect with me on LinkedIn. The new Editor is Carolanne Mangles.

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