February 13, 2008
How To

Special Report: iPhones & Email Marketing - 10 Pros & Cons

SUMMARY: Everyone seems to have friends who won’t stop talking about their iPhones. Indeed, last year’s white-hot electronic device isn’t simply a fad -- it’s a game-changer for marketers who target wireless users.

In our latest Special Report, we have answers for emailers, including:
- How the iPhone renders email
- Is file size an issue
- How to really get an iPhone user’s attention
It’s clear that the iPhone is more than just another fly-by-night trend. In a little more than six months, 3.7 million Americans and around 400,000 Europeans have purchased an iPhone.

According to Compete Inc., the iPhone’s debut in summer 2007 beat the releases for incredibly popular holidays products like the TMX Elmo, Xbox 360 and Wii.

To find out what email marketers need to know about marketing to an iPhone user, we put one through a series of tests and spoke to a roundtable of marketers who have been using iPhones for several months.

The results:
- The iPhone has 10 big usage pros and cons that are of particular relevance to commercial emailers.
- Our research reinforced what we’ve been telling readers for more than a year: If you haven’t yet, you need to go out and buy all of the widely used mobile devices. If you can’t buy all of them, at least get an iPhone and BlackBerry Curve and Pearl because of their popularity.

Why? You need to be able to see first-hand what you are marketing to when it comes to the mobile demographic, which usually has both disposable income and little time to waste.

Why the iPhone Is Important to Emailers
Emailers are slowly but surely embracing mobile marketing. According to data from MarketingSherpa’s 2008 Email Marketing Benchmark Guide, the number of respondents who reported that mobile wouldn’t apply to them in the *near* future dropped significantly from a year earlier: 63.5% to 39.7%.

The iPhone likely represents phase one in what everyone is predicting to be a smartphone revolution -- with competitors like BlackBerry, Motorola, Nokia, Palm and Windows Mobile already coming out with versions to compare with the Apple product’s versatility.

Compete Inc. surveyed up to 508 consumers last fall for the study, ‘The iPhone’s Impact on Consumers & the Wireless Market.’

The report offers a glimpse into what makes people’s ears perk up when it comes to mobile devices:
o 31% were willing to pay extra for more personal productivity
o 25% were willing to pay extra for more entertainment perks
o 68% of “advanced wireless consumers” considered Internet access the most important feature on a smartphone.

6 iPhone Pros
-> Pro #1. Images render
Emailers are going to absolutely love reading this nugget: the current iPhone accepts HTML images intact, essentially all of the time, unless you are one of the few trying to email Javascript. (Apple has been quiet on whether these technical particulars may ever change, for what it’s worth.)

In almost all cases, the user does not have to turn images on to see your design handiwork, whether they’re using Yahoo!, AOL, Gmail, .mac or any other service.

“The viewing experience for each account is the same,” says Jane Quigley, Senior Director, Social Media, Zeta Interactive, who uses the four email systems named above. “The interface is so clear and the graphics are amazing. You immediately get the full experience that was intended by [the marketer]. It is seamless.”

Quigley’s right -- many of the email messages come in extremely clean (see creative samples below). One of the iPhone’s better traits is how sharp the Graphical User Interface (GUI) is -- even when compared to a laptop or desktop viewing experience. In a nutshell, Web images are rendered while being resized in real time.

And the comparison to other mobile devices -- in terms of viewing HTML emails (especially their landing pages) -- isn’t even worth contrasting. As Sherpa reader knows, however, coding is a problem for regular email messages. So, not all messages are received on iPhones perfectly. Therefore, make sure your IT department tests your messages against the specs used in iPhones. (See useful links below for more specs info.)

-> Pro #2. Overall readability
The iPhone lets readers zoom (enlarge and shrink) in and out of copy and images with the tap of a finger on the screen. Users can also “pinch” the screen with two fingers, maneuvering content to bring nearer what they want to see or read. And, Web surfers can choose between viewing vertically or horizontally on the 5-inch-by-3-inch device, depending on which positioning makes the page easier to see.

It also has fully-enabled hyperlinks to other Web pages. “In terms of functionality, it is like a little Mac computer in your pocket that also works as a cellphone,” says Don Nicholas, Managing Partner, Mequoda Group, who has had an iPhone since they were released.

Marketers and HTML designers will also appreciate the fact that the iPhone auto-sizes landing pages, websites and most emails (more on that below) to fit the screen. When first opened, the pages are very small. But the user just needs to double-tap the screen to immediately enlarge the image or copy.

However, when an email is opened by users who haven't created POP access for their account (whether it's with Yahoo!, Gmail, AOL, etc.) within the iPhone email client, they will only see the upper-left corner of the message until they begin to scroll (see creative samples below).

So, here's another tip: Make sure you put something important there (company logo, a call-to-action, etc.) in order to best use that space.

-> Pro #3. Better segmentation possibilities
As with other mobile devices, specifically targeting iPhone users isn’t easy. However, marketers who put their IT team to work for a few extra hours can deduce who’s reading on the iPhone.

After a campaign, they can check the data in the HTTP logs for the landing page and see who used Apple’s Safari browser on a mobile. Naturally, anybody using that viewing combination to visit your Web pages can only be on an iPhone. (Ask your email service provider if you want to extract this information. They’ll know how to do it.)

However, this still doesn’t answer the question of whether sending them messages for the device makes ROI sense. That’s why you need to test special messages for the iPhone users who you’ve unearthed and segmented. They’ll unknowingly get the special design -- and then an easy comparison of your clickthrough and conversion rates will tell you all you need to know.

Additionally, it may be worth adding an extra line to your subscription or registration form, asking if they regularly view email on mobile devices. Then, have an automated subset that inquires about whether they will be using an iPhone, BlackBerry or “Other.”

Or, you can survey your subscribers to find out. It could be one extra question in your annual customer satisfaction survey. Perhaps one as seen below: “Would you rather receive messages that are designed to be viewed on your mobile device or your laptop/desktop?”

Such ideas are worth testing, especially if you’re targeting a B-to-B sector, says Steve Webster, President, iPost. However, he’s a bit skeptical about the prospect of using surveys to learn about whether they should be getting iPhone-specific message designs.

“By asking the question and getting the response, you are making an implicit promise to your subscribers to do something with that information,” Webster says. “If you do not follow through on that promise, you might actually upset them.”

Yet, as we’ve stated in other articles, marketers with an on-the-go audience can get a great edge on the competition by creating a potential segment in their list (an iPhone file, in this case). So, if you see a large enough contingency of iPhone users, why not also test personalized or prepopulated landing pages for repeat customers (see hotlinks below for pixel specs and other technical details about iPhone email and Web pages).

Anything to make the mobile user’s world easier will help sales conversions. “Amazon and Apple both use a one-click technology that takes the idea a step further,” Nicholas says. “Those are the kinds of [innovations] we’ll be seeing more of down the road to enable mobile sales.”

-> Pro #4. Influence purchasing behavior
Simply put, the iPhone is not just for phoning and email checking.

It’s also a:
o Web browsing device
o Hand-sized jukebox with its iPod
o Video player through its “desktop” YouTube app
o Camera
o Wall Street tracker
o Calendar
o Scheduler
o Text-message manager

People are using it for activities they wouldn’t consider on other mobiles. For instance, they can check their daily and extended weather reports by simply pushing the “Weather” button.

The fact that they can see HTML graphics and landing pages is clearly an advantage to emailers. Nicolas says the device facilitates before-unseen, click-and-point sales chances for email and mobile marketers, especially for:
o Subscriptions - from renewing online ’zines to reordering coffee beans
o Events tickets sales
o Restaurant reservations
o Airline, train or bus tickets
o Hotels, car rentals and other travel or hospitality opportunities

Marketers with a known sizable segment of iPhone subscribers should “absolutely” be able to get sales conversions via mobile like never before, Nicolas says. “I had a friend the other day in Boston get on his iPhone and make a restaurant reservation [using the Web interface]. I think people who own one want to use it for their [consumer] needs.”

-> Pro #5. More clicks on the landing page
This essentially goes back to images being rendered. OK, we admit that there doesn’t seem to be any data out there yet that proves clickthroughs are better for iPhones than other mobile devices.

But it stands to reason that if your subscribers never have to enable images and get to see the full message, even with a little scrolling through the email body, they are more likely to click onto the landing page than someone using another mobile device.

The chance of converting to sale at the first open has to be better than when they get back to the office or home computer and have brand-new emails to open and consider before they revisit what they saw earlier on the mobile -- if they ever do.

-> Pro #6. iPhones work internationally
iPhone users can log onto any allowing local area network (LAN) around the world and check their email via Wi-Fi.

“This was a real eye-opener for me when I was traveling abroad in Germany and the Netherlands only four weeks after the iPhone was released,” Nicholas says. “The normal functions of email and Web access were coming in just fine.”

4 iPhone Cons
-> Con #1. Email access not fastest
BlackBerry users always get alerted when an email arrives; many iPhone users have to tap their “Mail” button to access new email on POP accounts they’ve made accessible there.

And while some people will set their system preferences to check for email and alert them either every 15, 30 or 60 minutes, you have to wonder how many users are going through the trouble when there are so many other features distracting them on the device. In the case of other types of accounts, they have to start up their Safari browser and go into their email client to see if there are new messages.

“I work with BlackBerry users, and their email experience seems to be better than mine because they can see whether they have messages waiting faster than I can,” says Tore Gustafson, Web Development Manager, eROI. “While there are many things to like about the iPhone, having to open up the email client is one of its setbacks.”

-> Con #2. AT&T’s Edge Network is slow
From what we’ve seen in a locale with a strong AT&T signal, the Edge Network can be “just OK,” speed-wise, if you are lucky. However, this is certainly not always the case. In fact, each of the iPhone users we spoke with said tapping an available LAN is the way to use the device at an optimal speed.

Our experiences definitely jibed with theirs. When connecting to a wireless router or a nearby LAN, the speed is on par with any wireless laptop browsing experience.

However, browsing on the Edge Network can be a bummer, especially if you need to quickly get info. “You don’t want your email size to be too large,” says Mark Armstrong, Partner, Technology, MailChimp. “If somebody is on Edge, it will take too long for them to download images and HTML.”

The bright spot here is that the iPhone automatically alerts the user of wi-fi options when he or she begins browsing.

-> Con #3. Finger size matters
The larger your fingers, the harder it is to use the iPhone keypad. The good news is that you aren’t asking your customers to type out long letters with their orders.

Just be sure to make your “Order Now” or “Buy Now” buttons as sizable as possible within the landing page and shopping cart designs.
“Fingers come in all sizes and shapes … [y]et, webpages are designed to receive mouse events, not finger events. Existing pages need to continue to work as expected even with the finger as an input device,” Apple writes on the iPhone page.

-> Con #4. No Flash
Don’t send messages employing Flash in any fashion -- none of it will work on the device. Apple simply didn’t design the iPhone to support Adobe Flash on the Safari browser (we heard it was to save battery life).

If you are using Flash on your landing pages, encode them so people who do not have the plug-in -- specifically, iPhone users in this case -- will see an alternate image.

In addition, MailChimp’s Armstrong ran five email tests and came to other conclusions that may aide the IT team helping with your emailing. For instance, after looking at both simply and complexly structured messages, he saw that normal Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) files always rendered. CSS “hovers” are impossible for iPhone viewers to use, however. “You can't do a ‘hover’ on a touch screen. You are either clicking or dragging.”

Useful links related to this article

Creative samples of iPhone emails and landing pages:

Recent Sherpa exclusive data article on newsletter designs:

Apple’s iPhone specs webpage for your IT department:

A second (and excellent) site for your IT department to use:

List of Web applications for the iPhone:

iPhone Test Simulator - see images on an iPhone:

Compete Inc:



Mequoda Group:

Zeta Interactive:


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