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Why Now Is the Time to Dive into Interactive Email Marketing Campaigns

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“You’ve got mail!”

As a message hits your inbox and you receive another push notification, you see the sender is an email marketing list you’ve signed up for, pushing the latest offer. If you’re like me and have too many messages to keep track of, you skim over it and then delete and/or ignore it. Basically, you’re every email marketer’s worst nightmare.

Recently, however, one email caught my eye. It was an interactive product tour right in the email. A dropdown asked me which of four aspects I wanted to learn about, and then a small video started playing for each one. There was a full-fledged experience right in my inbox, and I had to know more. I set out to learn how interactive emails could play a role in marketing transformation.

email marketing

Image attribution: Christafanny Widjaja

Interactive Emails: An Emerging Format

According to a survey from Litmus of more than 1200 email marketers, 2017 is the year of the interactive email. An interactive email can have different purposes, but generally it brings interactive elements (from clicking to on-page actions like adding a product to a cart or showing a photo gallery) that would normally happen on your website and puts them directly into the email experience. Interactive messages are more engaging than a standard text-based email, stand out in a sea of content, and help draw in busy customers blazing through their inbox.

While the format is still emerging, research suggests that the results are promising in getting people to pay attention and getting them to take action. Business 2 Community reported that interactive emails increase click rates by 18 percent and click-to-open rates by 10 percent.

marketing transformation

Image attribution: Nick Brown

What Does Interactive Email Look Like Today?

In an interview with Rebelmail, the Litmus team offers the following explanation of interactive email: “An action taken in an email that triggers an event within the same email. For example, tapping an arrow on a dropdown to open a dropdown within the email.” The team produced this quick video example of an interactive email that allows users to view a retailer’s products in an email and add them to a cart:

What else are people using interactive emails for?

  • Sliders and carousel experiences
  • Product tours, first-looks, or reveals
  • Quizzes or surveys
  • Fun animations or games
  • Eliminating friction in the checkout process

Gary Ling, a freelance designer who has developed multiple interactive email campaigns, notes that the biggest barrier to interactive email campaigns is many people don’t even know they’re possible. “Because they require more technical capabilities than just sending out an email, many companies haven’t tried them,” says Ling. “To be honest, many consumers haven’t seen them yet, and when they do, there’s an aha moment that makes people realize that while they thought they understood the boundaries of the email experience, it’s just another place where technology is changing what’s possible.”

Getting Started with Interactive Email Marketing

Be Aware of the Limitations of the Format

“There’s no universal email format for interactives,” says Ling. “Some rely on CSS animations and others depend on programming. Different email programs have limitations that prevent certain techniques from working. A user on Outlook might have a great experience, while a Gmail user doesn’t see anything special.” Ling recommends defining your goals and experimenting with different techniques to achieve them, with cross-platform compatibility as a top consideration.

Invest in the Technical Process

There are three elements that marketers need to consider from a technical perspective, Ling notes. “First, determine what your own email provider or distribution system can support. Then, learn the limitations of different email platforms and whether interactives won’t work for certain customers. Second, QA your emails as extensively as possible to determine where there might be a roadblock. Finally, create a fallback design that will display to users who can’t access interactive messages through their client.”

Consider Interactive Emails as an Experiment

With interactive emails, it’s important to determine whether they resonate with your audience. Approaching your work with the perspective of an experiment makes it easier. “I always recommend treating interactive emails through the lens of A/B testing,” says Ling. “Figure out if your audience loves it or whether you should stick to other forms. One client of mine sells toys to collectors, and they absolutely love the fun animations, dropdowns, and other formats we’ve tried. Another company I worked with in a similar space—coin collectors—got very low interest and engagement.” Determine what experiences your customers are looking for, and whether interactive emails best delivers that. As email-based storytellers, there are numerous ways to approach any narrative or conversion goal. Interactives are just another tool in your kit.

Function Before Form

“It’s easy to get caught up in the idea that an in-email video game is cool,” says Ling. “It is, but it all comes back to what you’re trying to accomplish. What do you want people to do after they read the email? That doesn’t change, whether you’re sending a regular email or going full-on interactive. Start with that call to action and then back into what interactive form best conveys your message.” Begin your interactive campaigns with a clear agenda of what you’re planning to accomplish, and let that drive your interactive email efforts.

Adapt Your Success Metrics

Usually, marketers look at a specific subset of metrics to determine if a campaign was successful. Examples include open rates, click-throughs, and whether customers took action on the landing page when they went to your website. “With interactives, your goal is to actually get engagement in the email, as well as potentially on your site. Update your KPIs to reflect that,” advises Ling.

After looking at a variety of campaigns and spending time talking to designers in the space, I was left with big questions. Interactive content is a rising trend across platforms, and email is one area that’s in need of a marketing transformation. The possibility of creating email experiences that more effectively tell a story, delight and engage customers, or make simple processes easier is tempting. For marketers, this format represents a whole new approach to an important channel.

Learning to navigate the technical barriers, finding ways to incorporate interactives that support your campaign goals, and testing how they resonate with your audience are great ways to get started; and as Ling says, “while interactive emails are still pretty new, the payoff of being at the cutting edge of experiences in your industry can be well worth the investment.”

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Featured image attribution: Leo Rivas-Micoud

Liz Alton is a technology and marketing writer, and content strategist, for Fortune 500 brands and creative agencies. Her specialties include marketing, technology, B2B, big data/analytics, cloud, and mobility. She's worked with clients including Adobe, IBM, Hewlett Packard, Twitter, ADP, and Google. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and an MBA. She is currently pursuing a master’s in journalism from Harvard University.

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