Published October 8-12, 2022
The Email Footer hasn’t changed much in many years. It has a link to “Unsubscribe” and some combination of disclosure, disclaimer, copyright and contact info. We ignore it – unless the incoming email is spam and we don’t want any more. The Email Footer is just that: something at the bottom of every email, unworthy of attention and action.
But what if that were not the case? What if Email Footers could be made more interesting and exciting? In emails, there is no constraint on length – unlike SMS and Push Notifications. There are also no cost implications for sending a longer email. The Email Footer does not impact the message in the Email Body. Can we rethink the Email Footer like the Sunday Comics (also termed as the Sunday Funnies) section of a newspaper?
During my US stay in the late 1980s, I remember looking forward to opening the 8-page all-colour comics section before going to the news headlines. That was the world before the Internet. Calvin and Hobbes, Peanuts, Hagar the Horrible, Garfield, Doonesbury, The Far Side – these were some of my favourites. In the words of Charles Apple: “The first newspaper comic strips developed about 124 years ago — give or take a couple of voice balloons — but, why? Not to make readers smile — although that’s a good reason to have them. Not to sell plush animals and calendars and paperback book reprints. Not to give artists something to do. No, newspapers created comic strips in the 1890s for one main purpose: To sell newspapers, of course. They’ve done a pretty good job of that for more than a century.” Even now, many daily papers have a page dedicated to comics and puzzles. They work as an attractor to get people to open the newspaper. Can the Email Footer become the magnet for recipients to open more emails?
Email needs help. Just 10% of marketing emails are opened; that means 90% of the emails are being ignored. Brands need a hotline to engage with their customers and email can be the best channel given. But if the Subject and Email Body are not persuading people to open emails, can something else do that job? That alternative can only be the Email Footer (with an indicator in the Subject). In which case, there is a need to reimagine it. This is where Email 2.0 comes in.
As I wrote in “Hotline: The Crux of the Brand-Customer Relationship”: “Email 2.0 offers interactivity in emails via AMP, daily habit-forming content via Ems, micro-incentives in the form of Mu tokens as Atomic Rewards, a new metric to track engagement intensity via Hooked Score, and a new type of product-led agency (Progency) to do it all. Email 2.0 is the best way to build the hotline – better than 2-way SMS or even WhatsApp. Everything that can be done in other push channels can be done via Email 2.0 – and at a fraction of the price. The good news is that marketers are already sending out emails daily to their customers. What needs to change is the underlying tech and the mindset.”
So: how can we reimagine the Email Footer and reshape the brand-customer relationship from “delete” to “delight”, from “ignore” to “interact”?
AMP and Atomic Rewards are the two foundational ideas that can help reinvent the Email Footer.
This is what I had written on AMP in my recent Email 2.0 series (part 7): “[AMP] enables the creation of microsites in emails. Think of AMP as enabling email apps. AMP is a big leap forward. It eliminates a click to the website or app for a wide range of use cases: filling a form, gathering feedback, scheduling appointments, showing live content, creating interactive games and collecting zero-party data. AMP makes email a two-way channel … AMPlets which can be easily inserted into emails are another innovative solution. In fact, brands should consider creating an AMP-based interactive footer with multiple AMPlets … Whether it is 50% or 90% of their base, brands should make use of it because the benefits in terms of attention and engagement are big.”
In “Building the Hotline Right”, I had termed the idea “Living Email.”
Let’s consider the possibilities of an idea I call “All in Email” – search, browse, chat, cart, rate, review – many of the verbs we associate with actions on websites or apps can now be done in emails. Instead of a customer going to the brand property (website or app), what if the property came to the customer?!
… A Living Email could have a search box embedded in it. I could then search in the email itself and see the results right there. Popular categories could be listed for me to browse inside the email itself. In both cases, even the addition to the cart could be done within the AMP email. Since an AMP email does not retain its “AMP nature” when forwarded, the checkout process too can be done right inside the email. No click throughs, no landing pages! A Living Email could lead to the initiation of a chat session from inside the email. I see a product I like in the email, and I could initiate a conversation with a chatbot or a human for resolving my queries. The context-specificity of the chat could lead to faster closures. Features like search, browse and chat could be standard components in every AMP email – so all I have to do is to go to my inbox and open any email from a brand and get started.
A Living Email can show news and stock quotes in real-time – every time I open the email, I would get the latest info. In fact, take this idea to its logical extreme, and all a media brand would need to do is to just have a single email ever in the inbox. Think WhatsApp – we have a single conversation thread with an individual or a brand. A Living Email would be the only email a media entity would need to send.
… A Living Email could have changing questions for collecting zero-party data. Depending on what the brand knows about me, it could throw up a different question each time I opened the same email. A Living Email therefore is just a placeholder in the inbox – with each side (brand or customer) having the ability to initiate a conversation.
AMP is what makes the Living Email possible. Atomic Rewards is what provides the micro-incentives needed to nudge the customer to the desired actions.
While many of these ideas can work in the Email Body, they can truly come into their own as part of the Email Footer. The key to reimagining the Email Footer is to split it into three sections of AMPlets: Brand Footer, MuCo Footer and Ads Footer.
The first of the Email Footer sections is the Brand Footer. In contrast to the Email Body which is crafted as a campaign and can change with every message, the Brand Footer is a constant. It can thus be a part of every email. The AMPlets in it enable recipients to share data, earn Mu, and engage better with the brand. Here are some ideas for the AMPlets that can comprise the Brand Footer.
Ratings / Feedback: The 11-point Net Promoter or a 5-point scale or simply “thumbs up/down” – whatever be the preference, brands can get the feedback in-place without asking customers to clickthrough to a web page. Better still, they can attach a micro-incentive (in the form of Mu) to the expected action.
Zero-Party Data: Brands can personalise emails if they have more data about their customers. While clickstream actions can be analysed to craft better emails, an alternate approach is to just ask the customers. What is your age? What is your gender? What is your PIN code? What are your interests? How many members in your family? Where did you take your last vacation? What is your income range? Which car do you own? What is your profession? And so on. This can be a “journey” in its own right, with each email showing the next unanswered question. Answers are collected in place, and Mu can offer a nudge for the customer to provide the info. The motivation can be that the more the info provided, the better will be the recommendations.
Search, Chat, Cart: All of these three complement the brand’s website/app. A user can do all these actions on the brand’s properties; so why not extend them to the email? Search can show a limited set of results in the email itself with a single click to “Add to Cart.” For offline brands, there could also be a “Store Search.” Chat can initiate a conversation with a human agent or a chatbot – akin to the WhatsApp conversational messaging that we have begun to see. The Cart option can show the shopping cart in the email.
Payments: Completing the transaction within the email itself would be a big breakthrough. In India, the challenge is the need for an OTP for credit/debit card transactions which needs to come in via a bank pop-up. Given that an AMP email is secure (and if forwarded loses its AMP nature), the brand (or bank) can be sure that the customer’s identity is not being compromised. A Payments AMPlet would do wonders for the completion rates of transactions.
Content: AMPlets could provide the brand news updates (dynamically accessed when the email is opened rather than when the email is sent), or the most recent social content (from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and the likes).
Ems: Brands could also create useful daily content (tips, for example) which can be appended in the footer. These could even tell a continuing story, thus creating a desire to ensure every email is opened.
Taken together, these AMPlets (with Atomic Rewards, where needed) can provide the right mix of content and utility to ensure the email is opened and scrolled – thus also ensuring visibility for the main message in the Email Body.
The MuCo Footer follows the Brand Footer and provides opportunities to redeem the Mu earned through actions in the Email Body or Brand Footer. These AMPlets may not have any linkage to the brand, and yet offer enough exciting options to ensure the email is opened and scrolled through. Here are some examples. One caveat to keep in mind is this: no MuCo Footer AMPlet should involve a clickthrough out of the email.
MuCount: This shows the updated Mu total, with details of most recent transactions (earning or redemption) and an option to redeem Mu for selected products. (For users who have not yet activated their Mu account, an AMPlet should let them verify their mobile number and do so in-place.)
Casual Games: We all like a bit of diversion in our busy days. This typically involves opening an app or going to a website. What if some of these games came to us in our emails? Imagine playing Wordle or mini-versions of Scrabble (7 letters to make a word) or Chess (endgames) in the email itself. There could also be “casino” type games like Roulette, Blackjack or Poker. Or maybe Teen Patti! There could also be KBC-style “Double or Quits” quizzes or puzzles. Word games and solving cryptic crossword clues could educate. Each of these would just take a few seconds. They would involve using Mu to play – thus creating an incentive to earn Mu in the Brand Footer.
Content Subscriptions: Imagine getting RK Laxman cartoons, or one’s favourite comic strip in the email – not as a separate email, but in the footer. News, stock or weather updates would be done in real-time – when the email is opened. Even the latest tweets from selected handles could be shown. The key is to think “microcontent” – which can be consumed in seconds and doesn’t need a click out of the email.
Sweepstakes and Lottery: For the betting types, the Footer could offer contests where a certain quantum of Mu could be bet to see if the kitty can be grown.
Serials: There could be continuity across brand emails – for example, a short story in bite-sized chunks. Given that a typical email user gets tens of emails a day, there would then be an incentive to engage with many or all of the emails to make sure that nothing is missed.
The key thinking behind the MuCo Footer is to provide value and utility for Mu. Users will only be interested in earning Mu if there are ways to redeem it. (This is where most loyalty programs err; while earning is easy, they make redemption of points very difficult.) What better approach than enabling it right in the same email. This creates the necessary “hook” for ensuring each email has some surprises and therefore is like a gift that must be opened.
There have been many efforts to put ads in emails; after all, billions of emails are sent each day and every opened email can be considered as a pageview. An ad click takes the reader to a different brand page, but this is no different from brands showing ads on their transaction completion pages. These initiatives help the brands earn extra revenue from their customers.
Ad AMPlets could maintain that revenue stream but do it much better by eliminating the need for the click. They could offer a form fill for additional information in-place and thus improve the efficacy of lead generation.
There are two additional advantages with AMP ads in the Email Footer: a page view in email is generated because of a ‘push’ (campaign) from a brand, and the identity of the recipient is known. Both these can help with sharper targeting. This could be taken even further. If brands are willing to cooperate with each other, a neutral third party could offer a “confidential data clean room” service where databases from both parties could be matched and ads would only be shown to non-customers of a brand.
Let’s say I am viewing an email from an electronics store. The Ad AMPlet could show me an offer to apply for a new credit card and ask me whether I am interested or not. If I show interest, then it would open up a form in-place with my email address pre-filled in and ask for one additional piece of info, with a “Submit” button. No need to click through to a landing page and fill in my email address once again, thus removing two friction points and a few seconds from the process.
Examples of other types of ads could include getting consent for event registration with a simple Yes/No option (or just a Yes option). The focus should be on new customer acquisition because that is one of the biggest heads for brand spends. Another category which could do well is reactivation of dormant customers.
The Ads Footer is thus a win-win for both brands: the cost of an ad via Big Tech platforms is reduced and the brand whose email carries the ad makes some additional revenue (which could potentially be reinvested for providing additional Mu).
The time has come to reinvent email. The only real innovation in the past 10-15 years has been the conversion of text emails to HTML. While email continues to be the channel delivering the highest RoI, it can be made even better without compromising the user experience. In fact, the trio of footers (Brand, MuCo, Ads) can help make emails more fun, bringing convenience, information and gamification right into the inbox. Email 2.0 combined with a reimagining of the Email Footer can create a powerful hotline that can help create better brand-customer relationships.