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Image issues thwart mobile e-mail plans

Marketers continue to struggle to ensure their e-mail marketing messages, images in particular, display accurately on mobile devices. As consumers worldwide rely on their mobile devices more and more each day, it’s a challenge that shouldn’t be ignored. 

According to November 2010 research from The Relevancy Group, an e-mail consultancy firm, 39% of consumers currently access one or more of their personal e-mail accounts on a mobile device.

“Mobile is becoming a bigger channel for customers to come through,” says Neha Parikh, director of global customer marketing for Hotels.com. “We are seeing more people opening up their Hotels.com e-mail reservations on their phones when they are on the go. A customer may be at the airport and wanting to open their hotel reservation on their iPhone.”

Hotels.com, which works with ExactTarget, is revamping its e-mail program to account for consumers reading by mobile. For example, it includes important marketing messages as text, rather than image files, in order to ensure customers don’t miss the call-to-action.

Not only are there a plethora of de-vices for marketers to contend with — Droid, Blackberry, iPad — but consumers can also pick from a variety of e-mail clients, including Hotmail, Yahoo Mail, Outlook and Gmail. The mobile e-mail juggernaut is further compounded by the varying mobile Web browsers and apps that a customer might use to check e-mail from a mobile device. 

Hotels.com will begin render testing, in which it will test how its e-mails appear in different e-mail servers and on different mobile phones, because it too, continues to face issues. For example, images in a Hotels.com e-mail opened on an iPhone in Hotmail did not show up but the text did. In January 2011, it will add a link in each e-mail to view a “mobile-friendly version.”

Cosmetic retailer Kiehl’s also recently began optimizing its e-mails for mobile, but challenges remain. When Direct Marketing News viewed a Kiehl’s e-mail in Hotmail from an iPhone, empty boxes appeared in place of images. Clicking a ‘View All’ button at the top of the e-mail did solve the problem but this requires the customer to take that additional action.

“We became aware of these challenges in October and realized that we needed to find a solution,” says Rob Imig, VP of PR at Kiehl’s, via e-mail. “Mobile devices are ever-changing, and we wanted to ensure that our patrons are receiving the best customer service and communication from Kiehl’s, even if they are not ‘viewing’ our communications in its intended form. We now ensure that every mobile version of our communication to our customers is accompanied by a text version.” 

Loren McDonald, VP of industry relations at Silverpop, recommends that marketers look at which phones and e-mail clients their subscriber base uses most and optimize for these conditions. “A b-to-b company might optimize for Blackberry and Microsoft Outlook, whereas a music site might optimize for Gmail and Yahoo on iPhones and Android phones,” says McDonald. “Designers should be coding images with fluid design, so that they scale correctly. An image should decrease in scale to fit the size of a small screen and increase if they are opened on a larger screen.”

Miles Media, a tourism publisher in Florida that sends e-mail marketing messages for state tourism boards and travel associations within the state of Florida, also takes a text approach to ensure their e-mails render properly. Users can click to view a full version of an e-mail, which will include images, on a website. Miles Media also designs e-mail subject lines and layouts that will show up well on a 3-inch to 4-inch screen. 

“You have to think about what is going to engage people on their mobile screen,” says Sue Harper, e-publications developer at Miles Media, which is a Silverpop client. 

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