Are apps the next big thing for mobile email?

Increasingly, we're seeing brands funnel their customers directly to mobile apps in order to provide an optimized experience on their platform of choice. So, will we eventually see native mobile apps trump web landing pages as the preferred post-tap experience?

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Across our resources, we've canvassed a variety of techniques for improving the usability of email campaigns, both when viewed in the inbox and after. Some of our most popular guides have covered topics such as initiating calls from messages and of course, how to design responsive email. This popularity comes without surprise - the other night, an Email Manager for a popular travel brand mentioned that 50% of their marketing emails were being opened on mobile devices. This is consistent with Litmus' 48% figure in October, not to mention plenty of anecdote along these lines.

Given that we've already got techniques for displaying content on mobile devices only (not to mention, dynamic content), the mobile game is on for young and old. But perhaps we should not only be looking into optimising the email-to-web experience, but taking advantage of the subscriber's mobile device in more engaging ways.

Using email as the funnel into apps

What currently connects the web and email with mobile apps are URL schemes (or 'hooks'), which are URLs that can not only launch native apps on a mobile device, but also execute an action within the app. These URL schemes can either use a http:// schema name, or a schema name that's unique to the app. For example, here's the URL scheme for launching driving directions in iOS Maps:

<a href="http://maps.apple.com/?daddr=Cupertino,+CA&saddr=Current+Location">Driving directions to Cupertino</a>

Or alternately, here's the scheme for opening a location in the Foursquare app on iOS devices:

<a href="foursquare://venues/523bae8011d2c59b54eb85cc>Check in to our office</a>

There are thousands of unique app URL schemes, many of which you'll find documented within app developer pages, or in directories like handleOpenURL. Despite no lack of information, what we're yet to see more of are these URLs being used in marketing scenarios, like:

  • Following a visit to a restaurant, a feedback email is sent, encouraging diners to write a Yelp review of the venue (Yelp's docs)
  • A competition egging on recipients to upload photos to Instagram, tagged with a brand's account (Instagram's docs)
  • The distribution of a product demo video via YouTube (YouTube's docs)
  • Leading up to a sale, driving directions to a customers' closest store (pictured, Apple Maps' docs)

All these tasks can be reasonably performed on a mobile device - the advantage of skipping straight to a native app from the inbox is an experience that's optimized for the user's device and is devoid of the visual clutter that can come with a mobile browser. Plus, it also encourages further interaction with the app… Which is especially great if it's your app.

Some examples of brands that are already launching apps from email include:

  • Eventbrite, who display an "add to Passbook" link when an event confirmation email is viewed on a mobile device (find out how to deliver Passbook passes via email)
  • Our Enlist app, which was offered for download to subscribers using iOS Mail, using a button that launches the App Store

It's worth mentioning that for app developers, there are fairly straightforward upsides to directing email subscribers to an app. First of all, you can encourage usage - and measure resulting activations, re-engagement and events like a profile being set up. You can also link directly to new functionality that you've introduced to subscribers via an campaign. Email doesn't just have to be used to send notifications - it can also be used to drive people to an app, time and time again.

But isn't this a device-specific solution?

Predictably, there are a couple of issues with using the app-specific schemes from email. For starters, the URL to a specific app and action may not be static, whereas once sent, a link in an email campaign is forever. Secondly, URL schemes for multi-platform apps may vary by platform (ie. what works on an iPhone may not work on Android), so the chance of failure can be high.

Fokke Zandbergen proposed a solution, which is to link through to a website. The benefit is that:

A website is dynamic. You can use information on the user’s device and browser to provide information and actions that closely match the users environment.'URL schemes for iOS and Android (2/2)', Fokke Zandbergen

The website is a blip, serving to rapidly redirect the user to the app on their platform. In many cases, a prompt doesn't need to be displayed (as in the Maps example above). For an insightful (if not rather technical) overview on how to use URL schemes, I highly recommend Fokke's series on URL schemes for IOS and Android - here's Part 1 and Part 2.

While we are still a ways off replacing the landing page, it's likely that we'll see an increasing number of mobile app developers, e-commerce brands, social platforms and more forgoing the browser for a more seamless email-to-app experience. Now, it's over to you - do you have an example of a URL scheme at work, or know of an email campaign that uses the subscriber's mobile device to its advantage? Or do you think the mobile browser will lose its popularity as the place that people go to interact with brands? Let us know in the comments below.

Posted by Ros Hodgekiss

5 Comments

  • Ben Carver
    19th November

    I usually link map items using google maps.  It’s my experience that google maps gives the best overall experience for multiple devices on mobile.

  • Nick Stokoe
    19th November

    I think this is a wonderful idea that can only inspire innovative ways of driving traffic. I do have one question–if anybody could answer it I’d be very happy. If a link were to drive recipients to an app they don’t have on their smartphone, is there a ‘plan b’ or are they doomed to receive an error message or dead link?

  • Ros Hodgekiss
    20th November

    Hi there Nick, great question! There’s a good Plan B suggested on Stack Overflow, which may be able to help in situations like this. Keen to hear your thoughts :)

  • Jim Caralis
    22nd November

    I’m surprised by how many companies don’t funnel email clicks into their own app. I know Fab and a few others do a good job of this but most don’t.

  • Ashley
    24th November

    Hi Nick
    Interesting and topical issue.
    I must say as a web developer I still see apps as a passing trend.
    I think in the end there will be one system, probably browser based that allows cross platform solutions to prevail.
    Although companies like Apple like to keep their hands on the reins!
    time will tell
    ashley

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