Email Marketing, the Apple Watch, and... 1978?

Email newsletters can be beautiful, thought-provoking, completely customized and align with your brand strategies and core values. The point of email newsletters is to keep your audience connected, engaged, and informed about what’s new with your organization or business - and they're often used to drive sales.

But, if you have been in the email space for any length of time, you have probably encountered your fair share of plain text versions of email as well. For those who have not, let me give you a quick debrief.

When the first email marketing message was sent out in 1978, it was written in plain text with a CTA that resembles nothing like the beautiful marketing emails we receive today - or does it?

A plain text version of an email is nothing more than simple text that includes the summary of your email and its call(s) to action. So then what is the point of the email you want your audience to engage with if they can't see anything other than text? With no images, no image URLs or buttons but instead the fully written-out ugly URLs, it’s the most basic form of email communication that exists.

The point is to appeal to the part of your audience who does not accept HTML email, as a way of ensuring that your communication is being read and acted upon no matter what email client your individual subscribers are using. Although this may sound outdated and like extra work, it's vital to include a stripped-down version of your email for a number of different reasons:

  • Appealing to older email clients. Technically they aren’t referred to as "old", but considering the ever-decreasing minority of email clients that don’t support or display HTML, this is good practice for those email clients that will only render the plain text version.

  • You’ll increase deliverability. If you are sending a plain text version along with your HTML email (a so-called "multi-part MIME format" email) it will have a much greater chance at arriving in your subscribers inbox. The thought here is that only spammers wouldn’t take the time to create a plain text version. If you consider yourself a "legit" sender, it's important to include a plain text version as well.

  • User preference. Sometimes it comes down to subscribers who simply prefer the text version instead of a beautifully customized HTML campaign.

  • The Apple Watch. Now at its 5th generation. This impressive little device combines some of the functionality of other Apple Devices - as well as a watch. Recently I've been curious as to the impacts this device has had for email...

I use my Apple Watch every single day as a fitness tracker, as an authenticator to unlock my MacBook, to change songs on Spotify, to quickly reply to messages, and so on. But, as a fully fledged email client, the Apple Watch does have a few kinks that email marketers need to pay special attention to:

  • The Apple Watch only recognizes plain text. This one surprised me a little bit, as the Apple Watch is, well, an Apple product after all. But, as Apple's latest Watch ad suggests, "This watch tells time", we need to remember is that this is a watch first and a cool distraction second.

  • If you send an HTML version only, you do not get the full user experience. If you’re still on the fence about whether you should include plain text in your emails, the Apple Watch warning message may help you: This message contains elements Apple Watch can't display. This is why including a plain text version is so important - as you will be able to reach a larger part of your audience. You should also consider where the call to action will be, as most Apple Watch users will only see the subject line and pre-header before switching to their iPhone.

  • Prepare for disabled links. Don’t expect to know what the CTR is for the Apple Watch as the device does not enable links. Since there is no browser on the Apple Watch, your subscriber will only see greyed out text where the URLs are. The only exception to this is in regards to addresses and phone numbers. Similar to any other iOS device, tapping on a phone number will make a call by connecting to your iPhone, and tapping on an address will launch in Maps.

  • Engagement and tracking. Open tracking and click-through tracking isn’t yet possible on the watch since tracking pixels are only included in HTML emails. It is therefore not possible to know what part of your audience is opening on the watch, and since URLs are disabled, this removes the option for any kind of click-through engagement tracking.

So are we back in 1978? Well, no. The Apple Watch is still evolving, and I'm looking forward to the update that allows me to view a fully customized HTML email on my wrist. For now, we will have to enjoy the plain text. Besides, my boss told me to start wearing a real watch anyway.

Do you need help with your email marketing efforts? Shoot me a message, I'd love to chat!

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