Digital Anthropology: Adapt your email messaging for a smartphone society

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Anyone who made the leap from Windows 3.x to Windows 95 knows that the installation experience could be as frustrating as trying to assemble a bike for your kid at 2:00 a.m. on Christmas morning.

Understanding they had some work to do, Microsoft set out to try and make the process more intuitive and less painful.

Microsoft did a very smart thing and hired an anthropologist (yes, an anthropologist, not another engineer) to observe people in the real world as they installed Windows, documenting the pain points along the way. Microsoft then used that data to improve the installation process for their customers.

Microsoft realized that the important thing was to focus not on what their product could do (or was supposed to do), but what people were doing with it. The truth is, it doesn’t matter what technology can do, it matters what people do with it.

Smartphones and emails

Which brings me to the subject at hand, and one of today’s hottest technology trends: smartphones.

I don’t know about you, but my smartphone arrived with a couple of dozen apps installed, but I only use a handful on a regular basis: phone, email, GPS and SMS, in that order.

Those four apps make my smartphone absolutely indispensable for me. What all four of those apps have in common is connectivity (even the GPS is employed to connect me with people – it gets me to where they are).

Recently, the team at GetResponse looked at 17 million emails and we found that 41% of opens were from mobile devices. Other research has even pegged that percentage as being over 50%.

What’s really surprising is that, according to Econsultancy, only 25% of email marketers are optimizing their newsletters for mobile.

That’s rather important, because the same GetResponse study revealed that 42% of recipients will delete an email that does not display correctly on their mobile device.

The momentum of mobile marketing is clearly increasing. According to a 2012 report from IDC, 34% of consumers have made a purchase on their smartphone at least once.

Another recently released study by eMarketer projects that retail mobile commerce sales this year will reach $42 billion and more than $100 billion within four years.

While enterprise operations may have dedicated design teams to optimize for mobile email marketing, most SMBs don’t have that luxury. They have to rely on their email marketing service provider to offer the tools for this.

GetResponse has just released the first automatic responsive design editor, which allows the marketer to focus on the message and not worry about how their content will render on different devices.

Marketers spend a great deal of time trying to figure out the channels and devices and not enough time thinking about how people are using them. It’s just not important what technology can do, it’s important what people do with it.

The new reality means your message has to evolve from what you may be used to.

Smartphones are a “now technology” and this requires marketers to change their approach and think about the moment rather than wider scope timeframes: seasonal or event marketing, for example. People live in the moment with their smartphones and we have to be there with them.

What can you do?

I would suggest developing a persona calendar. It’s similar to an editorial calendar, but it focuses on your subscribers, who they are, what they want and what they may likely be doing at any given time.

How do you do that?

Step 1: Use the data and experience you have to create a sketch of who your subscribers are.

Step 2: Involve your frontline people, such as customer service and sales. They know who your clients are, what questions they are asking, what they are talking about and what they want.

Step 3: You can also run focus groups via online webinar apps, Skype or even Google+. The sample group and the expense does not have to be large in order to gain insight about your subscribers.

Step 4: Understand that regardless of whether you are the CMO or even the CEO, you are not one of your subscribers – keep an open mind and perspective, and look at things from their point of view.

So, sling your virtual binoculars around your neck, setup a digital duck blind, and start to observe people. Learn how they are using the technology and channels and change your message and your methods to suit.

The medium may be the message, but the medium should never be more important than the conversation.

Jim Ducharme, Community Director, GetResponse, will be addressing this, and other topics, at EmailWorld 2013. The conference will be held September 24-25, 2013 in San Diego, California. To find out more and to register to attend, go here.

About Jim Ducharme

Jim Ducharme is the Community Director with GetResponse, where he's both brand ambassador and customer advocate. He's a veteran broadcaster and editor, having launched such brands as PC World Canada and The eMail Guide as editor. His traditional and new media experience provide him a unique perspective and insight regarding integrated email and multichannel marketing. Jim's a story teller who's well known for his ability to use analogies to put things in a familiar frame of reference. You'll find Jim writing for numerous blogs and speaking at events around the world.
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  • Jim Ducharme says:

    Hi Michael,

    Considering your background, I take your comments as high praise. You’re right about perceptions! Perception is nine tenths of the law! :)


  • Nice post – as a former professional anthropologist turned internet marketer and consultant – the message here is so right. I speak to so many businesses who are obsessed with what they do and sell but have very little interest in the perception of their prospects and customers. One of the principles of anthropology (which is all about understanding human cultures and interaction) is that people have multiple perceptions of the same thing! So unless you are engaging and understanding your audience you have no idea whether your audience is understanding you or your offer. It may be obvious to you but never assume it is obvious to them … sorry, rant over!!!

  • Sean says:

    Recognizing today that more and more people are using cell phones as their primary Internet device can give businesses a huge advantage over their competitors. Not only do our emails need to read properly on cell phones, but so does the content that we link to in those messages: offers, surveys, etc. Great article!

  • Jim Ducharme says:

    Hi Sue,

    Thanks! As I like to say: When technology travels, every thing changes! I hope I’ll see you at Email World later this month!


  • Sue says:

    I think Jim makes a powerful statement here by conveying that we’re quickly entering a new phase whereby a vast majority of people are relying heavily on their “smartphones” to keep them connected. If I read correctly, 50% is a sizable number. The point being, that they want to be able to read what you are sending them without any problems. I think that’s a reasonable request since most people are busy and want to get the gist of the message on the go.

    Great post.