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Article first published April 2015, updated March 2019

A few years back, right before the Apple Watch was set to be released, we sat down and put together a list of predictions we thought this emergence of wearable technology would have on the world of email marketing. We had a lot of ideas about how reading email on Apple Watches would affect the digital marketing world overall.

Some of our predictions were right and some were not, and it’s important to look back on evolving trends in the market to see how marketers were able to grow and adapt.

The Apple Watch and the future of email marketing

Following a late night spent preordering the Watch (38mm stainless-steel with classic buckle), 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 seems evident that all those devices are going to change how we see people reading and reacting to email marketing messages.

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

1. Wearables will become a new category

Until 2012, desktop and webmail email clients were how everyone would read their emails. 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.

wearables to become a new category

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 was before we 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 are comfortable using. 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. They’ll be invisible to all of us.

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

At some point in the last year, I grew complacent when dealing with the plain-text versions of my email campaigns because 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 they do a great job of it. If all you want is a carbon-copy of your email content (minus images) for accessibility purposes and the benefit of more traditional 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. 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. I will discuss 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.

Since 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 waiting 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 virtually email marketing service uses to track opens (and 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”

This may sound grim, but 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 calls to action (CTAs). I look forward to receiving 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 opposed to most marketing emails, as far as language and content go; in Apple’s world, you receive an email from your friends, then marketing content via brand-specific apps.

This begs the questions: Will email marketers try to emulate the language and interactions of personal emails closely 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 gives any indication, 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.

A look back

Wearable technology radically transformed how the digital marketing world engaged with consumers. Especially in the form of email marketing, this wearable tech sent shockwaves upon the first release.

Questions swirled as to how marketers would shift campaigns and strategies to keep up with this innovative technology.

But, while there were some changes felt throughout the world, wearable technology didn’t have as big of an impact on email marketing as expected.

Looking back at these predictions, we have a lot to say about our previous thoughts and expectations. Some of our predictions came true, while others failed to come to fruition.

The results of the predictions are probably a good thing for us email marketers—with all the other rapid developments in technology in such forms as artificial intelligence, virtual reality, voice search, and more, adding another obstacle to overcome like Apple Watch email formatting might have sent us spiraling.

Can you get email on the Apple Watch?

Users can use the Mail app to read email on the Apple Watch, but, while there are people that turn to their wrist to read mail, it’s just not as prevalent as we expected. The digital marketing world was buzzing about the future of wearable technology and its impact on email marketing, but it’s still a relatively under-explored world.

Read on to look at all the predictions we made—what we got right and what we didn’t.

What we got right: Consumers want short emails

80% of users are only skimming your emails.

This means that, as an effective email marketer, you need to give your audience messages that are short, sweet, and to the point. Don’t waste time with unnecessary fillers if just the facts will suffice.

Here’s an example of an incredibly short email that still drives action.

This means that, as an effective email marketer, you need to give your audience messages that are short, sweet, and to the point.

Source: Really Good Emails

What we got wrong: Emails reverting to plain-text formats

Some brands still use a hybrid of plain-text and HTML emails, but the future of email marketing is not in plain text, as we can see demonstrated in the new trends in design, technology, and information that revolutionize digital marketing campaigns every day.

What we got right: Consumers want personalization

Consumers want personalized content, with 79% of consumers citing they only engage with content if it’s customizable to their experiences.

Below is an example of a personalized email that makes users feel like a brand appreciates them.

Consumers want personalized content, with 79% of consumers citing they only engage with content if it’s customizable to their experiences.

Source: Really Good Emails

What we got right and wrong: Engagement rates will go down in general

This prediction is one we got both right and wrong. Engagement rates, when it comes to email, do seem to be falling, as year over year statistics show a downward trend. This trend is a result of the influx in emails being sent in general—not because an Apple Watch email would prevent users from interacting.

What we got right: Mobile is now a separate marketing category

Email and Gmail on Apple Watch devices didn’t take off, but what has continued to grow is the importance of mobile in the email marketing world.

Mobile users check their email 3x more than desktop users, giving good cause to invest in mobile optimizations.

It’s important that brands are creating responsive emails that morph and adapt based on the device. Otherwise, they’ll turn users away.

Wrap up

Wearable technology like the Apple Watch and other fitness trackers weren’t made with web browsing in mind. That’s both a blessing and a curse for digital marketers because there are still ample opportunities to market to audiences using these devices.

Consumers are still turning to their smartphones, tablets, and desktop devices to read emails and interact with brands.

There is still a lot to learn from consumer behaviors on these devices. Digital marketing strategies won’t make as big of an impact in this sphere as they will on mobile and desktop, so marketers can continue implementing their current strategies.

Innovation is always around the corner. There are new trends in the market every day, so email marketers need to stay on their toes to prepare for the next big changes.

Prepare for even more progress with future-oriented analytics. Learn about it here!

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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