Email Power to the People?

Imagine that the Starship Enterprise buzzed the Mayo Clinic and Bones dropped a Tricorder on the roof. The esteemed doctors in attendance would be falling all over themselves to take advantage of the instantaneous diagnostic and healing powers of the slim handheld device. It’s just that their eagerness to use it would far exceed their knowledge of how to make it work.

That’s a fair analogy of where marketers are with mobile marketing, as further evidenced by a new study out this week. BlueHornet, the email marketing unit of Digital River, surveyed 1,002 Americans representing a diverse demographic sample and found that while more of them are apt to screen emails and make purchases directly from their mobile devices, more are also likely to delete emails on cell phones without opening them. The diagnosis has been made, but the cure remains elusive.

Forty-three percent of consumers, according to BlueHornet, say they read most of their emails on mobile devices these days. Furthermore, nearly two thirds (63%) say they’re likely to make a purchase through a mobile email and three quarters (74%) are ready and willing to use their phones as a way of presenting a discount to a store cashier. And while 75% of respondents both this year and last said they expected promotional offers from companies they’ve bought from in the past, 80% said they are likely to immediately delete an email that “doesn’t look good.” That’s up from 70% last year.

“The keys to the kingdom lie in the mobile device, but maybe not necessarily in mobile email,” says Julie Wittes Schlack, SVP of innovation and design at Communispace, a customer insights provider. “Email is really relevant when people are shopping online, but it’s not location-based. That’s the power of the mobile device, user interactions such as check-ins with Foursquare or scanning QR codes.”

The takeaway for marketers, according to BlueHornet, is to immediately optimize all emails for mobile viewing, keeping subject lines focused on consumer value, and making coupon redemption from devices easy. But Schlack is of the opinion that the special challenges presented by mobile integration should spur marketers to consider the radical notion of ceding more control to consumers.

“People are more protective of their phones; it’s a more intimate relationship. So anything a brand can do to expand and reinforce a user’s control, probably the higher the conversion rate is going to be,” she says. “While that may be frightening to marketers, it will have them interacting more with people in a frame of mind to buy.”

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