Mobile Mobile Everywhere

In her excellent recent blog post, my colleague Stephanie Colleton delved into the findings of Return Path’s recently released mobile email viewership infographic. With almost 1/3 of marketing emails now being viewed on a mobile device, the key implication for marketers is to optimise their for these smaller, more portable environments, and Stephanie offered some great tips for how to achieve this for today’s campaigns.

I found myself thinking about tomorrow. Since the previous report was published in Q1 2011, mobile opens of marketing emails have almost doubled, increasing from 15% to 29% of the total. This is a global number – I would be confident that for territories such as the US, and possibly the EU, mobile has already taken the lead, and the rest of the world will be catching up fast. This means that it’s not only the format of the emails that is changing – the audience is adjusting too, both in terms of reach, composition, and technology.

A recent article published by Business Insider carried the remarkable statistic that more people around the globe have access to a mobile device than to drinking water or electicity. This is actually not that surprising – in developing countries, infrastructure for more traditional communication channels such as post and fixed line is typically poor. Nature abhors a vacuum, and mobile communications has moved in rapidly to fill the gap. Lower costs of production mean that even the most rural populations are now getting access to cheap solar-generated power. Off the back of this, some surprising new territories are now starting to lead the technology charge. According to the BBC, Angola, in south western Africa, will beat most of Europe in introducing 4G mobile services!

That includes the UK, where the long awaited analogue to digital switchover is finally complete, and the UK government is finally ready to start auctioning off the newly available band-width to mobile operators. Vendors such as O2 are already running 4G trials in London, with a full-scale rollout being predicted for late 2013/early 2014. Countries like Germany, Italy, Spain, and Sweden are already further down this road, and “Gloriously fast, high-bandwidth 4G data” will be a reality for these markets even sooner. This will have a positive impact for email marketers, with the opportunity to serve more content at faster rates.

Apple’s dominance of the smart phone market is also being challenged. Return Path’s infographic shows Apple devices recording 85% of all mobile email opens. Stephanie Colleton’s blog referred to the fact that market share between Apple and Android is currently a dead heat. Recent research by Strategy Analytics shows that during Q1 2012 Samsung alone sold 44.5 million smart phones compared with Apple’s 35.1 million. This is reflected in the massive growth of smart phone ownership in territories such as Brazil, a trend that I would expect to see replicated across Africa and Asia too. Samsung’s Galaxy device runs Ice Cream Sandwich, the latest version of Google’s Android operating system, so we can expect to see that 85% number eroding rapidly as the Android land grab continues.

This also implies a change in the demographic of mobile users – the Galaxy typically sells for the less than half the price of the iPhones, and marketers can probably start making some broad inferences about financial status based on device ownership. Tools such as Return Path’s Campaign Insight will play an increasingly important role in identifying these devices, so that marketers can apply this level of targeting.

So while getting marketing emails optimised for mobile devices is very much the immediate take-out from Return Path’s research, email marketers also need to be rapidly equipping themselves for a broader range of challenges and opportunities. These will take the form of new territories, greater reach, more band-width, changes in profile of device ownership, and evolving demographics. Email marketers who move quickest to harness this shift in the mobile tide will be rewarded handsomely, and to paraphrase Winston Churchill “History is written by the victors!"