July 15, 2007

The Horrible Truth About Mobile Email

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By Anne Holland, Content Director

If you're marketing to high-level decision makers in corporate America, the following data point should make your jaw drop:

64% of decision makers surveyed by MarketingSherpa in partnership with SurveySampling this year said they "regularly view emails using a mobile device."

I'm talking about the BlackBerry crowd and their cohorts. These are the VIPs who are too busy dashing from meeting to meeting to sit at a desk and receive any of your marketing campaigns. They won't answer the phone because they're not in the room. They probably won't reply to postal direct mail because their gatekeeper sorted it out of the incoming pile for them. And when they hit the trade show floor, it's on their way to making a speech behind a podium. They're not idly stopping by to chat at your booth on the way there.

That said, they do sign up for email when it looks useful -- especially if you have offered them a valuable-sounding Webinar (more about that in my next column.)

So, you're probably sending them nurturing or educational emails designed to move a prospect down the buying cycle path. Problem is, 64% of them can't read your email properly.

Have you ever actually looked at your own company email newsletters, email blasts or other emailed letters on a mobile device?

If you use HTML for nearly anything -- especially for graphics, such as your logo and other headers that appear near the top of the email -- then your email message looks AWFUL on a BlackBerry. Why? Because most mobile devices currently read only the text of the HTML. This isn't the text-only version, but rather a text-rendered HTML version. That means ugly codes and meaningless hotlinks probably show up all over the place.

The good news is that 29%, just under a third of businesspeople who contribute to important company buying decisions, also use mobile devices to read emails. But these are the folks who sit at their desks all day, so they probably read your email on their computers. On the other hand, more than 60% of those reportedly block HTML in their Outlook email … so we're right back where we started.

For the next 18 months, your best bet for must-read messages to these audiences may be to mail in true text-only. (No, not multipart MIME.)

Why such a time limit? Well, consider the rise of the iPhone and all its competitors. Someday pretty soon, I predict you'll be able to send HTML again. Then, of course, the design challenge will be how to make the full email look great on the tiny screen.

So, that's something your design department can look forward to. Sort of reminds me of the days when music LP jacket designers had to squish everything for CD-ROMs. Lots of wailing and bemoaning. Now, of course, we're used to it and have plenty of creative solutions around the smaller space.

In the meantime, if you don't have a BlackBerry and iPhone in your graphics department to test creative on, print out this column and try to get the budget to buy one of both from the Powers That Be.

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