the future of email is polarized - personalization vs. privacy

Erin | 06.11.19

Interactive email has been "trending" the last couple years as the next big thing in digital marketing. In March, Google officially brought us closer to this reality by rolling out AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) for Email (available to the general public on July 2nd). In short, AMP for Email allows marketers and developers to create a lightweight system that enables interactivity from the broader web, right into inboxes. This would include actions such as appointment scheduling, event RSVPing, pinning or liking social content, etc. A more detailed explanation can be found here.

When thinking of today's most typical way of adding interactivity to email, you'll likely refer to the use of HTML. This allows for things like hover over effects on buttons or images and animations. The limitation here is that the interactivity is fixed in time - within the email's elements. The beauty of AMP is that it brings tasks that are typically reserved for web pages to the inbox. So, the objective of the interactivity is less about "catching the user's eye" and more about creating actionable experiences.

Here are the basics on how AMP for Email works:

  1. An organization sends a user an email that includes an AMP for Email code
  2. That user's email software supports AMP for Email formatting
  3. That user has allowed their email client to show AMP formatting

Without these three layers the email client will simply show the HTML or plain text version of the email. Keep in mind that Gmail is the only inbox provider that currently supports AMP. YAHOO! Mail, and have also announced upcoming support.

While this all sounds promising, there are sure to be some development and QA hurdles to clear (namely the design and build of three email versions - plain text, HTML and AMP). But is there anything else to consider? The end user's privacy and security, of course.

AMP for Email allows applications to load inside the inbox, essentially bringing in "live" information. This could be in the form of real-time shipment tracking of an order, updates on poll or petition, or even post comments on a Facebook thread, all leaving the user's inbox vulnerable to hacking/phishing. It is worth noting that in order for a company to use AMP for Email they must get whitelisted by Google first.

Apart from the security risk, there is the question of what AMP for Email is really trying to solve. Inbox users do not expect this level of dynamic content and the email marketing community is already struggling with email client CSS support as it is today. Not to mention that HubSpot famously disputed with statistical significance the belief that HTML emails outperform plain-text with their release of their study. Additionally, the benefit of AMP for mobile web browsing is that it improves download speeds resulting in a better end-user experience. The same will not be true with email as the extra code will increase load time, resulting in a negative end-user experience.

I suspect that marketer adoption will be slow, as most email marketing is done via enterprise level ESP's such as SharpSpring, HubSpot, MailChimp, etc. none of which currently have a way to add AMP versions of an email. Nevertheless, action-oriented interactivity and personalization is where all of digital marketing is headed, regardless of where it takes place on the web. At the end of the day you will have to know how your subscribers prefer to receive your message(s) in order to determine if AMP for Email will be worth the added investment and potential risks.