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Following a late night spent pre-ordering the Watch (38mm stainless-steel with classic buckle, for the curious), here’s our take on what email marketing trends we see emerging with the uptake of wearable devices.

If forecasts are correct that over 22 million Apple Watches will ship this calendar year, it goes without saying that all those devices are going to change how we see people reading and reacting to email marketing messages. But what are these changes likely to look like?

Based on early interactions with the Watch and other wearable devices, we’ve compiled 6 predictions that we’ll either go on to live, or laugh at in the months ahead. Let’s get started:

1. Wearables will become a new category

A fancy Apple WatchUntil 2012, desktop and webmail email clients were how everyone read their email. Then, mobile email clients emerged as both data plans became commonplace and smartphones matured, ultimately allowing people to not only read their email on the go, but interact with them, just as they would on their home or work PCs.

Since then, mobile email client usage has skyrocketed, with over 41% of all opens being recorded on a mobile device. In the same period, desktop and webmail email clients have had their market share cannibalized, as email recipients have increasingly taken a mobile-first approach to engagement.

It was back in mid-2010 that I wrote my first article on optimizing email for the new crop of mobile devices, particularly the iPhone. This is before we really understood what impact it would have on email designers and marketers. Now, at what feels like a very similar intersection, we predict that we’ll likely see wearable devices define their own category, complete with their own “email hacks” and optimization techniques. The category is already diversifying too, with email clients like Gmail and the Kickstarter-backed Mail Pilot already jostling to be the top wearable email client.

However, before we all start breathlessly reporting on the “rise” of wearable email client share, it’s worth noting that wearables like the Watch are a completely different beast from the HTML-heavy environments that email designers and marketers have become comfortable with. For reasons that I’ll outline in our next prediction, at least initially, the Watch and others won’t even register as a blip in your email client usage reports. In fact, they’ll be invisible to all of us.

2. Plain-text email will become relevant again

I have to admit that sometime last year, I grew complacent… When dealing with the plain-text versions of my email campaigns. That’s because in email marketing services like Campaign Monitor automatically generate and send a plain-text alternative version of your email campaign with your HTML email newsletters – and generally do a great job of it, too. If all you want is a carbon-copy of your email content (minus images, of course) for accessibility purposes and the benefit of seriously old-school email clients, then these defaults work just fine. However, the Watch is about to shake things up considerably.

Brace yourselves, email designers – plain-text is back. The Watch displays the plain-text alternative supplied with HTML email campaigns, which means that your media queries and pretty images aren’t going to make the cut here. In fact, if your plain-text alternative is audacious enough to feature more than a couple of lines of content, there’s a good chance that it’s just going to be deleted in a quick swipe of the finger. More on that in the next prediction.

3. Super-short content will rule

If you’re less interested in working with the HTML and plain-text versions of your email campaigns separately, your option is this – keep your email marketing campaigns super-short.

Given that you can’t tap on links and browse web content via the Watch interface (you’ll need to Handoff to Mail on your iPhone to do that), it’s important that your email’s plain-text version provides immediate value to the reader and very clear instructions as to what to do next. Again, long-form content is most likely going to get your email deleted if a Watch wearer is skimming their email while in line for coffee.

4. Open rates and engagement will go down

After the rationale in our last prediction, you might think this point has been resolutely explained. However, the reasons we predict engagement will drop extend simply beyond emails becoming that much harder to navigate.

As mentioned, the Watch relies on HTML email newsletters featuring a solid plain-text alternative. This plain-text version is devoid of images… And images are what every pretty much email marketing service uses to track opens (and no, silent sounds won’t load either).

Combined with an inability to click or tap on links unless you Handoff to another device, we’re likely going to see engagement drop as people choose to delete their email immediately, instead of opening it (and thus loading images) first.

5. “View on your iPhone” will become the new “View in your browser”

Does this all sound grim? Well, remember what email marketers did when the perils of images not displaying became apparent – they prompted people to view them in their web browsers. We predict that similar messages may start to appear in the plain-text versions of email campaigns, to encourage Handoff for easier reading and interaction.

The same may also happen with call-to-actions (CTAs). I’ll smile when I finally receive a message on my (future) Watch, pleading for me to “RSVP on my iPhone”, or to visit an e-commerce site “on another device”.

6. Personal messages will rule the day

Finally, one thing that stuck out to me in the Mail demos is how “normal” the Apple-provided demo emails have been. The personal messages and party invites featured are diametrically opposed to most marketing emails as far as language and content goes; in Apple’s world, you receive email from your friends, then marketing content via brand-specific apps.

So, will email marketers try to closely emulate the language and interactions of personal emails, but within their email newsletters? Instead of asking people to “click here to find out more”, will we start to see prompts to “come by our store tomorrow for a chat”? Time will tell if softer messaging and offline interactions will take on greater importance amongst brick-and-mortar brands in particular.

Wearable devices have been gaining acceptance steadily over the years, so at this stage, it’s hard to tell how close we are to the “tipping point” popularized by Malcolm Gladwell. However, if history is anything to go by, we may quickly find ourselves amidst both a behavioral and technological shift, reminiscing about that first-penned article on wearable devices when on the cusp of an even newer trend.

Finally, we are sure that the wearables space is going to launch marketing trends that we’ve totally overlooked here, so be sure to let us know in the comments if you have a prediction of your own. We’ll have the pleasure of seeing if they come true or not when the Watch ships on 24 April!

This blog provides general information and discussion about email marketing and related subjects. The content provided in this blog ("Content”), should not be construed as and is not intended to constitute financial, legal or tax advice. You should seek the advice of professionals prior to acting upon any information contained in the Content. All Content is provided strictly “as is” and we make no warranty or representation of any kind regarding the Content.
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