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Shock Study Reveals 69 Percent Email Opens On Mobile

4/23/13

By Ken Magill

Almost 70 percent of emails in a March study of big-brand, business-to-consumer messages were opened on smart phones or tablets, according to just-released figures by Movable Ink.

Close to 60 percent of big-brand emails were opened on smart phones, according to Movable Ink.

Just as stunning, the study of 100 brand marketers’ messages found that less than a third of their emails sent in March were opened on desktops.

Movable Ink’s study would seem to contradict every other study in the marketplace.

For example, a recent study by digital messaging solutions provider Knotice found that 41 percent of emails were opened on mobile devices in the second half of 2012. The company predicted more than half of all commercial emails will be opened on mobile devices by the end of 2013.

According to Jordan Cohen, vice president of marketing for dynamic content enabler Movable Ink, the difference between his company’s study and the others is its sole focus on enterprise business-to-consumer messages.

“Other vendors who have reported on these types of numbers like Litmus and Knotice haven't been breaking out enterprise vs. small businesses and B2C versus B2B,” he said. “Nobody has reported numbers this skewed toward smart phones and tablets before. The difference is the data set. Movable Ink works exclusively with enterprise B2C brands.”

It should be noted that Movable Ink isn’t privy to its clients open rates. An “open” is recorded when the receiving machine calls for graphics from the sender. Industry average open rates tend to be around 20 percent.

Movable Ink’s study found that 58.12 percent of the emails that recorded an open were opened on smart phones, 30.83 percent were opened on desktops and 11.05 percent were opened on tablets.

iPhones led the smart phone category, accounting for 34.19 percent of all opens in March. Android phones accounted 23.75 percent.

iPads led the tablet category, accounting for 10.52 percent of overall opens. Android tablets accounted for 0.42 percent. The Kindle Fire accounted for 0.11 percent. Windows phones accounted for 0.14 percent.

BlackBerries accounted for 0.03 percent.

If this study is an accurate portrayal of big-brand email marketing, it means that most consumers aren’t sitting at home in front of their computers when they open commercial messages.

“They’re on the road, they might be in your store, they might be in bed,” said Cohen. “They could be anywhere. The urgency around having a multi-screen strategy has never been greater and what marketers need to realize is that most of their email is being opened on the small screen.”

This development calls for what Cohen calls “next click optimization.”

Designing email with mobile devices in mind “doesn’t just mean just having bigger buttons,” he said. “It means leading a user to a mobile website or a mobile app if you have one.”

Cohen also recommends “deep linking or taking someone to a specific page or environment right away.”

If a marketer has an app and can detect that a certain user has the app installed and is interacting with their message on that mobile device, “the preferable next step is launching that app as opposed to taking them to a website,” said Cohen.

The reason: The app will already contain the consumer’s information.

“You want to eliminate as many clicks as possible,” Cohen said. “The more clicks you put in between a user and what you want them to do, the less likely they are to do it.”

Cohen said he also believes the prevalence of mobile opens presents an email-related social-marketing opportunity.

“If you have good engagement with a particular user, there’s a decent chance they’ll have your app on their phone,” he said. “But there are really two or three apps beyond Angry Birds that everybody has on their phone. They’re Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.”

As a result, he said, one big opportunity in mobile is to make the primary call to action in email marketing messages social-interaction related.

“When the customer clicks on that call to action, it launches Twitter or Facebook, which in all likelihood is already on their phone, and prepopulates the status field with the message the marketer wants to promote,” he said. You could do all that. No one’s doing it, but you could do all those things and the smart phone environment allows it. The key is to have a call to action that is truly sharable, isn’t cheesy and provides real value.”

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Terms: Feel free to be as big a jerk as you want, but don't attack anyone other than me personally. And don't criticize people or companies other than me anonymously. Got something crappy to say? Say it under your real name. Anonymous potshots and personal attacks aimed at me, however, are fine.

Posted by: Brandon Erhart
Date: 2013-05-10 18:23:51
Subject: Re: Image pre-fetching

To Paul Farnell:

What iOS versions have you tested this on? We have a division of mailing that focuses specifically on certain, hard-to-reach mailboxes (such as Hotmail, Mac.com, etc) and have found time-and-time again that the iCloud, Mac and Me.com users are the first to register an "open" when sending (aside from content crawlers/filters); this, combined with our tests against our iOS devices, have shown that some kind of pre-fetching must be occurring. Unfortunately I can't get anyone at Apple to confirm nor deny anything :D.

Maybe further testing is in order?

- Brandon
Posted by: Paul Farnell
Date: 2013-04-30 16:47:43
Subject: Image pre-fetching

While pre-fetching may happen elsewhere, it doesn't happen on iOS. Brandon Erhart's comment below is incorrect.

We have tested this extensively across different iOS versions, and with different mailbox configurations here at Litmus.

What definitely does happen is that images are loaded automatically, by default, when you open the message. That's why you'll see higher iOS opens in stats like these (and our own).
Posted by: Jordan Cohen
Date: 2013-04-25 11:12:57
Subject: Clarification (again)

Hey @Ken & @Brandon -- I hope you noticed my earlier comments below re: the disclaimer we included when we published the data: "Because determining email opens requires images to load, the percentages for some device-types and platforms might be over or underrepresented."

We detect and describe opens the same way that everyone else in the industry does, and it is nothing new. In 2005 DoubleClick's DARTmail (now part of Epsilon) became the first ESP to change the labeling in its interface from "Opens" to "HTML Opens" and it is widely understood that open measurements are dependent on image loading. Our study was not flawed -- it was an accurate reporting of Opens with Images loaded, and is a 100% apples to apples comparison with the data reported by the other vendors that were mentioned in the article.

Lastly, I want to re-emphasize that image loading does matter! Especially for enterprise B2C marketers. It is fairly common to see retail, apparel, travel brands etc send emails that are entirely composed of images. When images aren't loaded, these emails are far less impactful and are less likely to achieve the desired outcome (a click-through and conversion).
Posted by: Ken Magill
Date: 2013-04-25 10:53:24
Subject: Prefetching

Hey Brandon:

Thanks for commenting. I think I should point out what you're saying to readers next week.

Would you please email me at Kenmagill_at_gmail.com?
Posted by: Brandon Erhart
Date: 2013-04-25 02:51:53
Subject: The Movable Ink "study" is flawed.

I'm surprised nobody mentioned specifically this yet.

The reason why this study seemed to "contradict every other study in the marketplace", and both iPhone and iPad lead other devices in opens, is because these devices (iOS) overwhelmingly have image "pre-fetching"/caching on; this is, they both retrieve remote images before the e-mail is opened so that the user-experience is fast like every other action. There is a configurable interval for the fetch.

Any mailer can tell you that immediately after starting their mail campaign, the first opens (aside from content spam filtering devices) are from iPhone and iPad devices because these devices are downloading per their fetch schedule.

If anyone doubts this, watch your raw access logs for image loads as your mail flows out. Immediately after delivery, you'll see image fetching from clients identifying themselves as iOS.

Normally we take the results with a grain of salt, and only pay attention to opens that happen more than 15 minutes after delivery of our e-mail, but this skews our real results. But it's how we cut out the clutter.

Justin is right in wondering about the click rate, as this would provide a much better reference, but this would be much more subjective because of the relevancy of the e-mail to the receiver.

That being said, mobile devices DO constitute a very large number of opens, and are increasing by the week, but the numbers reported are based on a significant over-sight.
Posted by: Justin Khoo
Date: 2013-04-24 01:59:02
Subject: Clicks

I'd be interested on the clicks and conversions numbers. Ie. whether there were 60% more clicks on smart phones also or not.

A similar/different click/conversion number does not necessarily indicate whether the opens were skewed by image display settings but it would help paint a fuller picture.
Posted by: Jordan Cohen
Date: 2013-04-23 18:13:18
Subject: Notes

The charts referenced in this article are accessible at: http://blog.movableink.com/post/48714862937

@Terry: more info on how deep linking in email works here: http://blog.movableink.com/post/47485125665 ... it's really not too complicated, marketers just need to know it's possible, it's out there, and then go ahead and use it!

@Casey: Your comments are accurate. We noted in our publication of the data that: "Because determining email opens requires images to load, the percentages for some device-types and platforms might be over or underrepresented."

That said, other reports examining email opens have used the same methodology -- i.e. they are reliant on images being turned on -- so its an apples to apples comparison, with the exception being the enterprise B2C marketer focused data set, as I noted in my conversation with Ken.

Lastly, I'd add that many if not the vast majority of B2C marketers are reliant on images being visible in order to achieve greater campaign results.
Posted by: Terry Nugent
Date: 2013-04-23 16:07:21
Subject: Mobile next click optimization

Great piece. Particularly like the idea of linking to app if available on smartphone if appropriate, but at least every marketer should have a mobile-friendly, offer-specific landing page.
Posted by: Casey
Date: 2013-04-23 15:50:28
Subject: Default settings

Let's not overlook that iOS devices default setting is "Load Remote Images" to ON. I can't tell you how many emails I skim on a desktop device without loading images. Leads me to believe desktop stats are skewed to lower than the actual open rate.