Microns and AMP: A Powerful Combo

Published May 25-29, 2021


AMP for Email

Email has been around for 50 years. I have been using email for 30+ years. And yet, the first time I actually did something within an email was only a few weeks ago. I received an email with a quiz with multiple options. Ordinarily, one would have to click through to a web page, respond and see the right answer. In this particular instance, I answered in the email and saw the response (right/wrong) right within the email. All in my Gmail inbox. Without clicking and going out of it.

This ‘magic’ is called AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages). It was introduced by Google a few years ago to bring interactivity to emails. Until recently, all I had seen were the demo videos on sites. While Gmail supports it (along with Yahoo Mail), AMP is not yet supported by most other email service providers and mail clients. As a result, its adoption has been very slow. I had first seen AMP as a hot new email technology at a conference in April 2019. Little has changed in the two years since.

AMP gives email marketers the opportunity to transform the user experience. Emails can do so much more – forms, image galleries, product cards, games, dynamic data, and of course, quizzes. One has to really experience it to feel the possibilities and imagine a new future for emails.

As I started thinking about AMP, my focus was on microns. Microns, as I have explained earlier, are short, informational, identified emails – made to fit in a single mobile screen and consumable in a few seconds. Think of them as a new email format – deliberately constrained to drive an increase in open rates from micro-attention consumers.

What if we added AMP to microns and made every short email dynamic and interactive? What if we created AMPlets which could be easily embedded inside every micron to make it interesting and exciting for the recipient? Creating AMP-enabled emails is still a time-consuming process even though there are many sites now that make it easier. What if creating an AMPlet could be as simple as creating regular text and image microns? This could make each micron even more of a delight and take us closer to the goal of driving email open rates from an average of 15% to closer to 100%. For the mission of “No Email Unopened”, AMP-enabled microns can be a huge enabler.


The Excitement

Let’s start by understanding AMP Email.

AMP.dev has the basics: “AMP for email allows senders to include AMP components inside rich engaging emails, making modern app functionality available within email. The AMP email format provides a subset of AMPHTML components for use in email messages, that allows recipients of AMP emails to interact dynamically with content directly in the message. More than 270 billion emails are sent every day, it is the pillar of many consumer and enterprise workflows. However the content that is sent in an email message is still limited – messages are static, can become out of date, and are not actionable without opening a browser. AMP email seeks to enhance and modernize the email experience through added support for dynamic content and interactivity while keeping users safe.”

Amp.dev outlines the benefits: increased in-mail capabilities, increased personalisation, interactive customer experience and improved and smarter services. Pepipost (a Netcore service) adds: “AMP allows you to create website-like experiences in emails by allowing you to use carousels, accordions, and accept recipients’ inputs from the email. For example, it will let your subscribers take actions such as respond to questionnaires, book an appointment, take a survey and RSVP for an event straight from the inbox. They don’t have to leave the email window, click on a link and go to an external website. Which increases the chance of your email recipients interacting with these emails and take action compared to the regular emails. Also, it prevents your emails from getting stale as the content of the email gets updated in real-time.”

Sendpulse makes the case for AMP:

  • Widens the opportunities for email usage. AMP emails provide email subscribers a more web-page-like experience. In other words, email marketers can implement interactive functions that are typically only available on webpages — carousels, forms, confirmations, accordions, event invitations, replying to a comment, etc., directly in the email inbox.
  • Revitalizes email technology. The old technology, email, that started to look a bit outdated has been refreshed to meet modern demands. Email marketing is one of the most effective marketing channels, now more than ever. People continue to use it globally, and have since the early 2000s, not much has changed. AMP email intends to refresh static emails with more dynamic web-page-like content.
  • Offers a new level of personalization. With AMP email, marketers can receive and send more data than ever. This feature allows brands to personalize emails even further. Besides, because AMP emails are dynamic, the message content can update within the email (like weather reports, prices, webinar dates), so subscribers will always receive highly personalized content on demand without even leaving their email client.

But not everyone is thrilled with AMP.


The Criticism

As with every new technology, not everyone is excited. Devin Coldewey offers a counter view on AMP. The main criticism is that it is an attempt by Google to convert what is an open standard (email) into something with a moat. “AMP is, to begin with, Google exerting its market power to extend its control over others’ content. Facebook is doing it, so Google has to. Using its privileged position as the means through which people find a great deal of content, Google is attempting to make it so that the content itself must also be part of a system it has defined.”

Besides, according to Devin, AMP also tampers with the simplicity of email. “This is the great genius and curse of email, that all you can do is send messages back and forth. It’s not always the best option, but it’s rarely the worst. If it’s more complicated than that, you use something other than email: a chat app, a video call, a file host. These useful items are often located adjacent to email, sometimes closely integrated, but they’re never actually part of it. This is a good thing. The closest you get is little things like adding something automatically to your calendar or scraping flight info from an itinerary. Ultimately it’s still just reading something. What Google wants to do is bridge that moat, essentially to allow applications to run inside emails, limited ones to be sure, but by definition the kind of thing that belongs on the other side of the moat.”

Vijith Assar adds: “One of the fundamental miscalculations of AMP for Email is that it degrades the delivery speed of a medium in which nobody really likes rich-message content to begin with. AMP for the web was a faster subset of the standard web, but AMP for Email is a slower superset of standard email. The product name is a misnomer — it’s not accelerated at all!… AMP for Email will probably fail, in part because it is not very good but also because most ideas fail in technology, in business, in the world. But the biggest flaw of AMP for Email is simply that it can’t reasonably be called version two of email.”

For the more technically inclined, there is a 2019 thread about on “AMP for email is bad” at  Hacker News (YCombinator). Chad White and Jason Hall have a good analysis on the pros and cons of AMP emails. Oscar Adika discusses the challenges with AMP, concluding thus: “Whether AMP for email will become more than a trend remains debatable. There are benefits and downsides. Nevertheless, it’s budding technology, and it might be worth checking out, even if just for its immense potential. Hanna Kline has a section covering AMP’s drawbacks, risks, and workarounds. Her suggestion: “Regardless of whether you think it’s a good idea, others will make use of it. Even if you decide to be a last-call adopter, you should keep an eye on the value others get from it.”


AMP Use Cases

There are many excellent examples of what AMP can do. Here are some sites which offer animations and videos to show the power of AMP:

Forms, Carousels and Slideshows, Accordions, Sidebars, Lists, Selectors, Lightbox – these are some of the things that AMP enables in emails.

From these building blocks emerge many ideas for the B2B and B2C world. Ray Schultz has a good summary of the Dyspatch paper: “AMP recipients can interact with live content without clicking through to a web page. They can take a survey, respond to an invite or order merchandise…In B2B, AMP emails can be deployed for events, demos, comments, surveys, onboarding, product feedback and requests for reviews.  In B2C, AMP can drive improved ecommerce shopping, reservation bookings, upsells, recommendations, referral campaigns, product reviews, abandoned cart campaigns and newsletters…Dynamic emails produce 34.64% more opens and 60% more click-throughs than blast emails.” Of course, there are still limitations. “AMP emails have limitations that require having an HTML fallback. For instance, they expire after 30 days: After that, the recipient who opens it will see the HTML or plaintext, fallback, the study notes. In addition, some email providers don’t support AMP, and forwarded emails won’t show AMP.”

Dyspatch calls AMP the future of email. “AMP for email brings new opportunities to stand out in saturated customer inboxes, with few risks. AMP has already been proven to deliver significant ROI as compared to standard HTML emails, and with more adoption coming from various ESPs and marketing automation platforms, we expect that AMP will redefine how marketers build relationships with their customers, both in transactional and marketing emails.”

The summary: AMP for email is new and exciting; it offers marketers many innovative ideas to strengthen the brand-customer relationship; there are still significant challenges in mass adoption; it remains a “technology for the future” (much as it was 2 years ago when it was announced).


The Possibilities

Now that we have understood both sides of the AMP story and seen the possibilities, it is time to look at how microns and AMP can enable some very interesting new use cases and why I believe that microns and AMP are made for each other.

Content Microns

  • The News micron can have just the headlines and choosing a headline can show more details in-place rather than having to click through to a website.
  • It could have a daily quiz to test one’s knowledge about events. This can be linked with a leaderboard.
  • The Word micron can have a “fill in the banks” test to ensure that the meaning and usage has been correctly understood.
  • The Markets micron can offer real-time updates on the stock market – in the same micron.
  • The Cricket micron can provide live scores without having to open the app or visit a website.
  • For students, a micron can have an interactive Q&A AMPlet with immediate feedback on whether one got it right or wrong. Imagine using this for exam preparation. (Of course, this can also be via apps but the push format of scheduled emails makes it especially powerful.)
  • Game microns can offer many interesting timepass moments: word jumbles, hangman, crossword, chess, housie (tambola/bingo) are some examples.

Marketing Microns

  • The content ideas above can be used by marketers to use microns for branding: offer a daily short email which has more than just static content, making it more inviting for consumers to open and interact – thus reinforcing the mental availability of the brand
  • AMP-enabled microns can also be used for reactivation. Since customers don’t seem to be reacting to regular promotional mails, a different approach can be taken with microns which offer interactivity – using carousels, accordions or lists. These microns can be made to stand out in the inbox via the use of BIMI and µ.
  • Brands can also send surveys and interactive forms via microns – they are more likely to generate a response because the hurdle of clicking through and moving to a different page is eliminated.
  • AMP microns can also be used to profile users – every micron can ask them a question which they can answer within the email itself, thus helping brands do better personalisation with information shared voluntarily.

These are just a few ideas to get started. Email’s 4 billion users are ready for an experience upgrade – without having to download another app or leave the email inbox. The power of microns (short, informational) can be combined with AMP (dynamic and interactive) to create new innovations in the most powerful communication channel with the largest reach. A new world awaits – for content consumption and marketing communications. Welcome to the micron-verse – powered by AMP!