Experts Blog

Email micromarketing: what the Apple Watch means for your email marketing campaigns

  • Philippe Surber

Are you one of those people who can’t wait to check your emails on your wrist? Well, now you can. With the Apple Watch. Do you use email as a marketing tool? Then you have some homework to do.

Forecasts suggest that the smartwatch market is set to explode: the market is expected to grow from 3.6 million (2014) to 101 million (2020). Credit Suisse analyst Uwe Neumann estimates in BILANZ that Apple will sell 30 million watches in 2015 alone. That’s 2 million more than the entire Swiss watch industry exported in 2013.

Even if Neumann’s forecast turns out to be somewhat exaggerated, the Apple Watch is sure to become the trailblazing icon of “wearable computing”.

Emails cannot be displayed in a browser

You only have to wear an Apple Watch for a few hours before you accept it for what it’s trying to be: a networked watch.

It redefines your relationship with the closely interconnected iPhone. With the Apple Watch on your wrist, ritual phone-checking almost becomes a thing of the past. Notifications that appear on the watch can essentially be seen out of the corner of your eye.

However, the watch doesn’t have a web browser, which is why Paul Canetti describes the Apple Watch as the last nail in the coffin for web browsers. He believes it signals the end of their slow but steady decline. Smartwatches are also causing a stir in the world of email and prompting changes in the way email marketing is carried out.

Email on the Apple Watch

The Apple Watch email programme only has a single inbox. You can use your linked iPhone to configure which emails are shown. It’s up to you whether you want to see emails from all your email accounts or just certain accounts, only flagged or unread emails, emails from VIPs or just today’s emails. You can also choose whether and how you would like to be informed about the arrival of new emails. Alternatively, the iPhone’s familiar email display can be reproduced on the watch.

If you prefer a more discreet approach, the watch can let you know when you’ve got mail by means of a gentle vibration. Messages can be read, flagged, marked as read or unread and deleted. If you use voice control to ask Siri to answer an email, she politely refers you to the iPhone. It’s not possible to reply using the watch.

Luckily, Handoff enables you to continue whatever you were doing on the watch on your iPhone or desktop computer.

With this previously little-known feature, you can use a new icon on the iPhone’s locked screen or on a desktop computer to directly transfer and edit an email in the respective application. This feature also works for other apps and between other Apple devices. Or to put it in Apple-speak: “Start on the Apple Watch. Continue on the iPhone.” Mark Weiser’s ubiquitous computing concept is becoming a reality.

The way Apple sees it, emails will be read, flagged or deleted on the watch. The latter is a well-known function available on smartphones. Or haven’t you ever cleaned up your inbox with a few swipes while out and about? And what prompted you to not simply delete unread emails? Exactly: well-thought out sender addresses, subject lines and pre-header content. So then we reach the real prize: content. After all, on the Apple Watch, email isn’t just email.

How the Apple Watch handles email

Today, most marketing emails are sent as multi-part emails. They contain both HTML and text versions of the same content, and the email client decides which version to display.

The Apple Watch behaves differently:

  1. it usually displays the text version of the email. If there is one. But not without first pointing out – in full-screen glory – that the message contains (too complex HTML) elements that cannot be shown on the display.
  2. If there is no text version available, the following message appears on the Apple Watch: “The full version of this message is not available on the Apple Watch. But you can read it on your iPhone.”
  3. Links in an email cannot be clicked on when using an Apple Watch. The necessary browser, Safari, does not exist in Watch OS, the watch’s operating system.

These limitations don’t exactly make accessing emails on the watch a first-class user experience. It’s an issue also facing other watches in this category. A few more software updates will be required before emails can be answered using Siri like SMS.

It was the same when the new iPhone was launched in 2007: back then it was websites, this time it’s emails that haven’t yet been adapted to the new format. But Apple wouldn’t be Apple if it didn’t already have a new standard at the ready. The company is launching a new MIME type: “text/watch-html”. This enables a third version of the email to be embedded alongside the classic HTML and text versions, which is capable of being displayed on an Apple Watch. So it will be possible to send a version of the email adapted to this device category and its capabilities. However, even professional email marketing software isn’t yet capable of embedding a third MIME type. Our partner Inxmail hopes to provide information regarding the necessary changes in the next few months.

Are smartwatches the new smartphones?

In Switzerland, currently 53% of all emails are read on mobile devices. Some forecasts suggest that smartwatches will be able to perform the same functions as today’s smartphones in five years’ time. Only time will tell whether this is true, or if the Apple Watch will establish an entirely new class of device with its own specific range of features.

The watch’s limited display options for different kinds of messages mean that the medium takes a back seat. The display is more or less the same, regardless of whether a message is sent to the watch via Facebook Messenger, SMS or email.

3 tips for email marketers

It will take at least a year before smartwatches are broadly established. There is currently no research into the way smartwatch wearers use email.

But one thing is clear: smartwatches represent a new category of email device. The forms, formats and technologies are changing. As is often the case with new technologies, its capabilities are still quite limited. But this won’t last long.

These tips will help you prepare your newsletter for the Apple Watch:

1. Experiment with shorter and more personal messages

Optimised subject line and pre-header in the email preview

Messages on the Apple Watch share a very limited space. Shorter and more personal messages will stand out from the crowd. A direct call to action will become even more important; but to achieve a conversion, it must first prompt a change of device (Handoff).

2. Your text version needs a great design

The characters used in the text version of an email fill the entire screen of an Apple Watch.

The text versions of newsletters today are often left to the automated processes of the mail distribution software. This frequently results in the recipient being faced with text-heavy emails entwined with worm-like targeting URLs. But it doesn’t take much to make a text version look good:

  • Use plenty of white space to avoid the page feeling weighed down by text.
  • Make your text easy to read with structured elements like *headings* with symbols or numbers.
  • Don’t use too much underlined text.
  • Use clean marketing URLs or shortened URLs if you don’t want to miss out on targeting.

3. The pre-header is the new subject line

Don’t use the pre-header to tell your customers what to do if the email cannot be displayed correctly. The Apple Watch gives the pre-header more space than the subject line. People who delete emails directly from their smartwatch may well do so based on the information shown in the pre-header. The same approach that you would use for other device categories also applies here: use a sensible and, if possible, personalised pre-header.

Be aware that your open rates and the engagement of your subscribers will sink as more and more of your customers start to use an Apple Watch. Images in emails can’t be displayed correctly, which is why today’s mass mailing methods won’t be effective. Yet another reason to put more effort into the content of your newsletter.

In short

It will take a few months and a bit of experimenting before we can really judge how much this new device category will influence the effectiveness of email marketing. In the meantime, we’d be happy to personally show you how your newsletter interacts with the Apple Watch in our Unic Device Lab.

We’ll show you what you need to take into account when designing email marketing campaigns for the Apple Watch: Are you interested? Then read more about our offer on our Unic device lab and in email marketing.