We’ve all heard the stats – mobile will again see significant growth in 2011.  As digital marketers and technologists we certainly don’t need to be convinced.  Just observe the plethora of smart phones at use during meetings, at lunch, in line at a store and (gasp!) behind the wheel.

Given all this data, it’s a bit surprising that mobile email has yet to hit prime time.

Is Email Really a Mobile Player?

Absolutely!  Look at these stats:

  • From the Pew Research Center’s Mobile Access 2010 report:
    • 34% of cell phone owners access email from their phones – a 36% increase over last year
    • Minorities – Hispanics and African Americans – continue to lead cell phone usage with 41% of African Americans and 47% of Hispanics using mobile for email
  • From ComScore’s Email Evolution
    • Web-based email decreased 6% last year
    • Conversely, daily mobile email usage increased 40%
  • 13% of all email opens were via a mobile device – Mobile Email Opens Q4 2010 Report by Knotice

Do you want to ignore 1 in 3 of your recipients?  I didn’t think so.

There are a few best practices – and by best practices I mean “things you need to do to communicate effectively with one third of your audience”.

Trend #1 – Preheader as a continuation of the subject line

Although the most common use for the preheader is to link to a web version, some marketers are taking advantage of this space in more creative ways. Mobile devices – even smartphones with larger screens – show a smaller portion of each email in the preview pane. With preview’s lack of images and snazzy fonts, engaging the reader and creating calls to action are even more challenging.

So why not pair the preheader with the subject line? Use it as a continuation of the subject line.

Instead of:

Subject: 20% off all workout gear – sweats, yoga pants, t-shirts and more < Some portion of this will get cut off!
Preheader: View in a browser


Subject: 20% off all workout gear < Only 25 characters!
Preheader: Sweats, yoga pants, t-shirts and more. View in a browser.

Trend #2 – View on a mobile device


view on a mobile device preheader

This is a good addition to the preheader that’s getting more play.

Why is it?   Take a look at how few characters are shown in the subject on my iPhone – 29 measly characters.

The good news here is that your mobile version can have a bit more jazz than the text version – not much in the way of images, but you can use fonts, links via text calls to action, background colors to draw attention. Simple html formatting that’s still lightweight and easy on the eyes.

And by that I mean not following Old Navy’s lead. While I love that they added a link to the mobile version in their preheader, their mobile version has much room for improvement.

mobile version

Old Navy's mobile version

Things I would do differently:

  • Format for readability – use bold, larger font sizes (sparingly, of course) and dividers.  Make it easy for readers to, well, read.
  • Don’t write the copy as if it’s a text version.  They used short sentences and paragraphs – good – but could have improved the flow.  Those last few sentences are direct pulls from original email but without any formatting they don’t read as smoothly.
  • Link to the full online version closer to the top.  They’ve buried it under all the legalese.  How many people do you think will scroll all the way down under all that small print to see if you’ve buried anything good?
  • Test on several mobile devices – more on this in Trend #3 below.

Trend #3 – Test

OK, I’ll admit that this one isn’t much of a trend, but it really needs to be.

Not convinced?  Here are a couple examples of what can go wrong:


Aetna mobile email gone wrong

Here's what happens when your mobile email and mobile web site don't play well together


  • I received an email from Aetna alerting me to a “new communication”.  Never having received one before I wanted to access it right away.
  • I wasn’t home so I used my iPhone but couldn’t remember my username.  Fortuantely Aetna gives you a way to get your username.
  • I followed the instructions and it worked flawlessly.
  • I logged in to the site and got the welcome screen on the right of the image above.  No access to my online communication!
  • I called them to find out what my “new communication” was.  The representative explained that she can’t access them.  Awesome.
  • In a span of 10 minutes I went from being impressed by Aetna to being completely frustrated.

Old Navy

old navy mobile site

a savings so secret I can't even access it :(

Back to the Secret Savings email from Trends #1 and #2 above.  After reading the email I was curious what my secret savings would be so I clicked on the link.

Instead of finding out my secret savings I was brought to Old Navy’s mobile site, with no way to get to the full site.  I couldn’t figure out a way to get my secret savings from my phone.

Old Navy – you came close!  I was willing to forgive the formatting issues but I draw the line at clicking on a link in a mobile email that doesn’t work on a mobile device!  You had a customer engaged enough to:

  • open your email
  • click on the mobile version
  • click on a link

And then frustrated her by not giving her what you promised in the link.

If this example doesn’t convince you of the importance of mobile testing, I’m not sure what will.

Additional Reading

Here are some great companion articles for mobile email

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  3. Is Your Site Mobile Friendly?
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