A quick note on responsive email at Hacker Agency.
Responsive email is relatively new to the market, having been largely impossible before the iPhone debut in 2007. Prior to that time, emails were sent as standard multipart, where recipients that had phones supporting html would get html emails and those who didn’t would receive a text only email. For marketers, this was less than ideal for a few reasons. Device capabilities, user preferences and bandwidth often determined what exactly would arrive in the inbox and often, due to poor html support, it was a bad experience for the recipient. In addition, a fair amount of recipients received text only emails and the CTRs were painfully low.
Its hard to say when the first responsive emails were in the market, but they did not gain popularity and acceptance on any scale until 2007. Now, iOS and Android email clients dominate the mobile email client landscape and their support of html, html 5 and CSS3 has enabled email that is responsive and interactive. As a UX Designer/Developer, I saw mobile email as the next untapped (or poorly tapped) frontier in UX/UI.
I arrived at Hacker Agency in 2010 and we were still developing standard and text only emails using best practices that were quickly becoming outdated. Though I was a UX professional, I had significant html email design and development experience and I saw an opportunity to make immediate impact. I began working to develop rapid functional prototypes that I could use to evangelize responsive email, not only within the agency but also to our largest telecommunications client. I also introduced interactivity and beautiful animations using the power of CSS 3, while demonstrating a default state for email clients that do not support CSS 3.
AT&T, the agencies largest client, had adopted a “mobile first” strategy for its creative execution across its customer acquisition, regional and lifecycle management teams. These teams send a significant amount of marketing emails and newsletters, but none were responsive. Introducing cutting edge responsive email was a great opportunity to help AT&T bolster their mobile first philosophy, while fostering in an agency wide shift in how we design and develop emails for not only AT&T, but across our client roster.
I began by creating working prototypes in html and CSS to test across devices in our device lab. I was able to identify and fix bugs until I had a bulletproof framework on which to build bulletbroof, responsive html emails. Internally, I evangelized this new direction to the account teams, CEO and other executive teams. I wanted to get everyone excited about it before going to the client(s) with responsive email. After internal demonstrations and presentations, I attended several client meetings where I introduced the “mobile first” concept as it applies to html emails and the UX benefits thereof. I also demonstrated that interactivity could be introduced using CSS 3. As this began to excite clients, I created an email team within the agency that would handle design and development as well as further push the limits of CSS 3.
Since 2010, all emails at the agency are now responsive. For AT&T, there was a 300% increase in click-through-rates, largely due to a significantly better user experience for mobile users. The agency and my team remain a high volume provider and email innovation leader for AT&T.