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The Evolution of Email Marketing in a Mobile World

Bill Cress, Cobalt Performance Improvement Consultant
by Bill Cress, Performance Improvement Consultant

Is Your Email Campaign Optimized for Mobile?

According to the Movable Ink US Consumer Device Preference Report: Q1 2014, as of April, 2014, 47.2% of all emails are read on a smartphone and 18.5% are read on a tablet.  In other words, about 66% of emails are read on a mobile device. What this means for car dealers is quite simple. The email you just sent was probably not viewed on a PC or laptop--- it was probably read on a mobile device.  

With that in mind, there are some questions you need to ask yourself about your current email content:

  • Are your emails too long? Based on the same study, only 38% of iPhone users and 34% of Android users spend more than 15 seconds reading an email on their smart phone. When responding to customer inquiries, do you have a lot of unnecessary verbiage before you get started answering the customer’s questions?  On a smart phone, how far do you have to scroll to see the information?
  • Do your emails contain graphics?  If so, how do they look on a small screen? Does the consumer need to stretch or pinch the email to read the message? Also, do they load automatically, or does the receiver have to give permission for the graphic to load? If the graphic does not load (or the receiver does not give permission), does your message still get through?
  • Do your emails include properly formatted phone numbers?  If so, do they show as click-to-call on a smart phone screen?

According to BlueHornet “Consumer Views of Email Marketing” (2014), these difficult to read emails will probably get deleted.

BlueHornet - Consumer Views of Email Marketing - 2014[/caption] What the BlueHornet study shows is that less than one in four of these hard to read emails will actually get read!

How Dealers Can Respond in a Mobile World

So, understanding that our message may be received very differently on a small screen than it is on a big screen, what are some specific actions that dealers can take to make sure that their message gets through and is understood by their prospective customer?  Here are a few best practices I’ve learned from working with different dealers that can help you reach your mobile email customers:

  • Test all emails before sending - Not just on one mobile phone, but across various different platforms. According to, as of January, 2014, 51.7% of all smart phones are on the Android platform.  Make sure you test on one of these.  Android phones really struggle with tables, and customers frequently have to scroll from left to right to see the entire table.  iPhones represent 41.6% of all smart phones, so test on these too. There are 3rd party resources such as ReturnPath that can generate accurate previews of how your email will display across multiple 
  • Shorten your emails – Cut out all unnecessary verbiage.  Customers don’t want long, drawn out emails anyway. But on a mobile device, longer emails are even more aggravating.  Get to the point and answer the questions – especially regarding price and availability.  Keep everything left-hand justified, and it will be more friendly to mobile devices.
  • Design some of your follow-up messaging primarily for mobile – Use very short messages that almost look like texts.  For example, ask a brief question, such as, How is your car shopping going?  If the purpose of an email is to start a conversation, these short messages often inspire responses when longer messages or offers do not.
  • When using graphics in emails, include more than just the graphic. Remember... images alone are unreliable. They may or may not load. If your offer is buried inside a graphic that never loads, your recipient will never see it. Make sure you display that same offer within an html text format that will be seen regardless of whether or not images are loaded.

This is also a great opportunity to include a message below an image offering assistance. Type beneath the graphic. Having trouble reading this? Please call Mary Jones at 555-555-1314 for details. You'll be surprised how many people who cannot see the graphic wind up calling the number and asking for the details. These are wonderful opportunities!

  • Test all three phone number formats on the two major smart phone platforms to see which works best for click-to-call.  In other words, send an email with 3 phone numbers to an Android, and iPhone account.  Have one phone number be set up as 555.555.1213, one as 555-555-1213, and one as (555) 555-1213.  Check to see if one or all of them are set up so that you can click on the phone number to call.  Click-to-call is critical with smart phones, as customers are just as likely to call you as email you – provided you make it convenient.
  • Make sure your dealer website is optimized for mobile This will allow those who are reading your emails from smart phones to better utilize the links you might send them. Mobile phones require mobile sites, and you stand to receive better quality phone calls and leads if mobile customers land on a mobile-optimized site.

Mobile phones are a fact of life, and are growing fast. A 2014 Pew Research Center study found that smartphone use among US adults grew from 35% to 56% from May 2011 to May 2013. With growth that fast, dealers need to think mobile – it is definitely the future of our business!

About the Author


Bill Cress is a Performance Improvement Consultant with CDK Global. Since 2010, he has served as a Social Media and Reputation Management Consultant, and then as a Digital Marketing Consultant for Ford Motor Company with ADP. He has been working in the automotive space in various dealership capacities since 1981, and has been in the consulting and training field since 1994. Email him at

Learn more about CDK Global’s suite of dealer email marketing.

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Tags: email, marketing, mobile, smartphone


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Comment by Alexander Lau on December 29, 2014 at 7:17am

There is a compulsory need / requirement for E-mails to be designed in code that will react and display properly on every viewer / recipient resolution, which will work on all devices / OSs.

Responsively designed E-mails will allow you to do it. You're risking much with what is known as "Adaptive." Have fun trying to test "adaptive" on all devices = major pain.

Here are some links to help you. Open up the E-mail in a browser (most CRMs will allow for it).


Emulators / Simulators (etc.)

Comment by William F. Cress on December 27, 2014 at 6:45pm

As a follow up to this article, I would like to make one issue clear - this article is about email being read on mobile devices and not mobile websites.  Most dealers use some type of CRM.  They send emails from their CRM tool.  Many of these tools allow images, frames, HTML messages and tables.  We don't need to debate responsive vs adaptive.  We strictly need to talk about what comes out of the CRM tool.  Dealers today need to make sure that they test what they are sending on both an Apple platform and an Android platform.  Make sure that they are easily readable.  If they are not, your message is not going through.

Comment by Alexander Lau on December 27, 2014 at 1:21pm

I've posted a load on this already, but Cobalt doesn't want to reply. Let's try here.


Good data, however, no where did you use the word Responsive for your E-mail designs. Just like Responsive Web Design, there is a compulsory need / requirement for E-mails to be designed in code that will react and display properly on every viewer / recipient resolution.

The majority of the themes / templates over at Envato / ThemeForest / CodeCanyon are responsive. Cake and cheap!


Responsive Email Design

If you read your email regularly using an Internet-enabled phone, you probably know that it's an experience that can swing from awesome to awful. While an email newsletter can look superb in the inbox, when squeezed onto a small screen, it can become absolutely unusable, with small fonts, narrow columns and broken layouts being common issues.

Why optimize your email for mobile? 
If you send email newsletters, it's likely that a growing percentage of your subscribers are reading your messages on an iPhone, tablet or similar. When we last surveyed email client popularity in 2011, we found that almost 20% of email opens occurred on a mobile device, rising dramatically from a mere 4% of the market when we last ran the numbers in 2009. iOS devices accounted for over 90% of these reported opens. 

What this means for designers is that getting your email newsletter to display optimally on mobile devices is just as important as ensuring it can be read in long-standing email clients like Outlook and Gmail. In fact, mobile email client usage is soon set to eclipse both that of webmail and desktop clients, meaning that providing a less-than-optimal reading experience on the small screen may not only inconvenience a few recipients, but eventually the majority. This could lead to diminished response rates, or as Return Path summarized in a recent report: 

"...those that aren't tracking which device their subscribers are reading their emails on, or optimizing their emails or websites for mobile devices stand to lose out. A poor user experience could mean no response, no action, or plainly put, no ROI."

I think my company still ranks #1 for 'Automotive Responsive Websites' @ My SEO work... :-)


We could also get into usability studies and testing, etc.on responsively designed / coded layouts, etc.

As far as usability / behavioral science, I've been interested in 'Instructional Design:'for some time and before I left working for Carnegie Mellon University, I was taking classes on it, one of the first universities in the world to teach the concept. In other words, how do we create interfaces that lead to better user experiences in order to promote conversions. I can tell you, there are very few automotive website providers / automotive E-mail designers taking this into consideration:

Instructional Design (also called Instructional Systems Design (ISD)) is the practice of creating "instructional experiences which make the acquisition of knowledge and skill more efficient, effective, and appealing." The process consists broadly of determining the current state and needs of the learner, defining the end goal of instruction, and creating some "intervention" to assist in the transition. Ideally the process is informed by pedagogically (process of teaching) and andragogically (adult learning) tested theories of learning and may take place in student-only, teacher-led or community-based settings. The outcome of this instruction may be directly observable and scientifically measured or completely hidden and assumed. There are many instructional design models but many are based on the ADDIE model with the five phases: analysis, design, development, implementation, and evaluation. As a field, instructional design is historically and traditionally rooted in cognitive and behavioral psychology, though recently Constructivism (learning theory) has influenced thinking in the field.

Comment by Ralph Paglia on December 26, 2014 at 8:01pm

In 1999 Bill Cress was my supervisor at Cyber Car... He taught me a lot about making improvements in a car dealership that would stick after the consultant leaves the store. Bill has far more insight, savvy and know-how when it comes to selling more cars using various digital marketing tactics than most other ten members of ADM combined... His articles are well worth reading and learning from.

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