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Is email marketing still relevant in the post-mobile world?


At DSA we do a lot of email marketing and spend a good portion of our days agonising over things like email copy or open rates of subject line variations. In a conversation I had recently a question came up regarding Thai email usage. After a quick ask-around, we worked out that not one Thai we knew had an email account other than their work one, yet every single one had a smart phone. So this got me to thinking, is email marketing viable in Asia or should we be looking elsewhere?


Thai mobile usage is insane, with over 97 Million active mobile plans for the 64 million population, and of that 75% of them are 3G or 4G-enabled. This means that almost every person in Thailand owns a mobile device or a large portion of mobile users are on multi-sim devices. If we look at the number of desktop sales over the last few years however, we will see a steady 7% drop in sales year-on-year, with 2014 desktop sales being only 13% of smart phone sales. I think that we can see a trend that users are not going for the expensive, space-taking desktops and laptops in preference of pocket-size devices.


So, we know that phones are owning the market here, but what about where it counts? The average Thai spends up to 4 hours a day on their smart phone (pretty low?) and of that 4 hours almost 3.75 hours are taken up with social media use, so that isn’t leaving much time for research and emails! It’s also 2 hours less than how long the average Thai watches TV as well, however that may be made up with the time on YouTube and Facebook video.

In addition to the social media use, Thailand is one of the biggest users of non-SMS instant messengers in Asia, with almost 24 million Line users and 30 million on Facebook.


We’re now left with a sinking feeling that maybe, in Thailand, there’s not a lot of call for email, as most communication channels are social and direct messaging with little regard for traditional B2C communications. However, 19% of all online Thais research purchases via desktop in any given month, with 18% buying desktop. That 1% difference between researchers and purchasers also applies to mobile, with 12% researching and 11% purchasing. Email is starting to look promising again but are these figures stable?

Probably not. In the next year or so we’re going to almost certainly be seeing a predictable upswing of Line, Facebook and Google app users and a decline in email, judging from historical performance. Right now, however, email still converts well, with an average of 51% of all emails being opened on a mobile device, and the average Gmail conversion rate being 10%. Bear in mind these are averages and we can always do better!


For our continued success with email, we must consider how to increase our database, open rates and also mobile email optimisation. Firstly you need to hit the nail on the head with the subject line and pre-header text if you want to succeed with email for mobile. You have few words on the mobile notification pop up to elicit an action response from a user on mobile so choose your words carefully. That subject line needs to be the best pick-up line in the universe.

Say that subject line out loud; would it work on a stranger at a bar? Well, maybe a networking event then. Let’s take two examples and see which you prefer: “I have an amazing deal for you that you just can’t pass up” or “I will sell you my services at X amount”. Which is best? Also, think about the search intent of a user when they receive your email. Unless you’re using marketing automation, there is no way to tell if that user is even remotely interested in your product, so if you go in there offering your services to someone that has no interest, the response is going to be “I don’t need what you’re selling”, but if you start that line with “I have something exciting to tell you” then you’re going to get a far better reaction from someone. Now that may not convert to a sale, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Now take that last paragraph and think about the fact you have only 5 words to grab someone via a mobile email. “This Will Blow Your Mind” compared to “Marketing Services For Small Business” is a no-brainer.

Real estate, or screen space, is limited on mobile. Also mobiles don’t get images on first download; they will render text fine, but most users need to actually click to download images, so you need to include a text call to action first, like a second subject line. You will want to give some information to what you’re saying in the rest of the email, but you also want to still have some mystery. “This month’s email is packed full of awesome stuff about widgets, scroll to see more!’ may get a better response than “Hi { Firstname }, I want to talk to you about the wonderful world of widgets and how we now have red and blue widgets in stock”.

That call to action is going to define if it’s an instant back and delete or a linger and read action, so be bold, be to the point and for Buddha’s sake, be exciting!

Lastly we will need to talk about mobile responsiveness in your emails, as people have been designing responsive websites for a number of years now. It’s basically a no-brainer, the idea that people need to design responsive emails seems to have been forgotten. Designing lightweight, well-designed emails that will look great on a small rectangular screen is going to make your users experience far greater and more memorable than a slab of text.


Getting that email to load fast and look good on mobile will do wonders for your readership and open rates, so just like the web, when you’re designing your emails, design for the mobile at the same time!

After all that, I hope that you see that there is still life in mobile email, but marketers are going to have to think more strategically about what they send and how they send it, as the numbers don’t lie. 50% of your emails are opened on a mobile device and I bet 90% of those emails look bad too.

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Benjamin S Powell

CEO & founder at DSA global
A Digital Marketing expert and CEO & founder of DSA Global. Ben has over 10 years experience solving complex business problems in both client and agency-side roles.

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