Interactive Email: The Future of Email Marketing?

Interactive elements within an email can allow for fun new experiences and increase engagement with your message but when and where should you invest in them?

When trying to push the limits of what can be accomplished within Email many marketers are gradually starting to include interactive elements within their campaigns. If you’re new to interactive emails, this is your guide to what defines them, what can be accomplished by its use and how you can introduce interactivity to your existing emails.

What do we mean by interactive?

At TMW Unlimited we define interactivity within email as anything that allows us to alter content or provide animations within an email based upon a user clicking an element within the design. Crucially this all happens within the email itself and not off on a landing page.

Broadly this can include anything from carousels, accordion menus, popup content, conversational design elements, in email shopping baskets or any other type of interface that presents the user with a simple click option to cause an effect.

Check out the below examples of some recent interactive emails:

Halloween proof of concept 
for Vodafone

Nissan GB Carousel

Conversational Design Experiment

Infiniti — Mobile Colour Changer

The Potential

All of this interactivity within email is possible due to the capabilities of CSS and modern platforms. CSS is the code used within emails to apply styling to elements like text and images. However, CSS is capable of much more and because of greater support offered by mobiles like iPhones and Android devices we can now use advanced features on these devices.

This means that any device or email client that supports modern CSS standards can potentially display and initiate animation effects usually reserved for web browsers. For other platforms (mainly desktop clients) we will need to support alternative options.

Anything we can style within an email (e.g. Text and Images) can effectively be transitioned between two different states. As a very simple example, we could create a button to toggle the visibility of an image within an email. We can then setup an animation effect for the transition between the two states e.g. fading or zooming etc. that can then be triggered by the user clicking the defined button.

In the examples above we’re effectively changing the on screen visibility of elements in order to show and hide content creating the effect of carousels, accordions and other user interfaces.

You can then get even more detailed by effectively tracking multiple clicks / states at the same time and using them to increment and decrement counters. This allows you to embed even more functionality like shopping baskets or games within the email itself.

Interactivity — Best Practice

Currently we see interactive elements as primarily mobile enhancements. This is due to the fact that there is still limited support for interactivity on desktop and web based email clients. When designing new campaigns it is important to review both your objective and available content in order to assess how interactivity could be creatively applied.

Wherever possible it is important to use this functionality to enhance user engagement rather than just aiding in the display of more content on a smaller screen.

Ensure your message is clear and relevant to the user before hand. Never add interactivity just for the sake of aiding poor content. Use it to enhance your proposition to the user.

It is also important to keep in mind the additional development and testing time required for these campaigns. Naturally this makes interactivity more suited to one off emails than a regular feature within your email templates.

You will also need to make sure to implement fallback versions of your design for the desktop and anywhere else the interactivity is not supported. In the carousel examples linked above we generally stack the different slide content on top of one another or design a completely different desktop version. Alternatively you can choose to completely hide the interactive content and present static alternatives.

Emails no longer have to look the same on every device.

There is also no need to worry about interactivity affecting the deliverability of your campaigns as the code required is nothing more than standard HTML and CSS. If you already have good deliverability and sender reputation then this should not impact you*.

Do keep an eye on the amount of code used within your email though as the extra weight caused by the interactivity could cause some email clients to clip or trim your content and break your design.

As with everything in email marketing make sure to QA thoroughly and A/B test your results.

In Summary

Is interactivity the future of email marketing? Possibly but first it needs much greater support particularly with desktop email clients. Right now it should be an option you explore for use within your campaigns but only to enhance the message and improve user engagement.

I would recommend prioritizing its use in email only where you want to attract attention to a unique program e.g. product launch or announcement email.

Due to the time and cost involved in development and testing we would not normally recommend it’s use in regular communications.


P.S. Thanks for reading this far! If you found value in this, I’d really appreciate it if you recommend this post (by clicking the 💚 button) so other people can see it! Don’t forget to follow the Interactive team on Medium and on Twitter (@TMWInteractive). Also feel free to contact me directly on Twitter @hickling for more advice.


* Content filters that refuse to like large amounts of code could be an exception so make sure to test!