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From September 25th, 2020

AMP for Email: The 411 with April Mullen and Jen Capstraw

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April: "Welcome to AMP for Email: The 411", everything you've been dying to know. I am April Mullen and the director of strategic insights at Sparkpost, and I'm one of the co-founders of Women of Email.

Jen: I'm Jen Capstraw, president and co-founder of Women of Email. If you're not familiar with us, we're a 501c3 nonprofit association for women whose careers touch the email marketing niche. Many of you are here right now, any members here? We have stickers in the back and we're going to take a group picture at the very beginning of the lunch break in front of the "step and repeat" so please join us for that. Also, we want to give a special shout out to our friend John Harmer. He's a product manager at Google. A lot of this content and a lot of these insights came directly from him. However, he couldn't join us here today, so he has permitted us to share this with you. 

So what are we going to be talking about today? So the first thing we're going to do is to bring some context to the history of email, and where AMP fits into that. Then, we're going to explain what is AMP for email, as there does seem to be some confusion among some folks who are a little bit less technical. Then, we've got some cool examples of AMP in action. We're excited about AMP. We're freakishly excited about AMP, that's no surprise, and that's why we're up here talking about it. So, we're going to explain why we're so excited and what we think it means for the future of email, but also we hear many concerns, not everyone is as stoked as we are. So, we're going to address those concerns as well. We can debunk some of them, some of them are very valid, and then we're going to talk about what you can do now if you're interested in AMP for email. 

All right, so join us in our time machine. All right, there was a little hint about this guy in yesterday's presentation, but this guy, Gary, we can't figure out how to pronounce his last name. Maybe "The-uk" or "Thirk".

April: I think it's Turk. 

Jen: He is my LinkedIn connection, I did send him a connection, and he accepted, so we are very close friends now. He sent the world's first email marketing message in 1978 to 400 people. It produced $13 million in computer equipment sales.

April: Gangbuster RP, right? 

Jen: Right from the get-go, our ROI was unmatched. Then, fast forward to 1996, Hotmail was introduced. Notice the HTML is capitalized in Hotmail. So before Hotmail was introduced, the only folks who had email were people who were using it for work or you had a dial-up connection at home, and you were using your ISP. Hotmail was the great democratizer, we all had access to email, and that's really when email marketing as we know it today was born. Now I dug back into my old Yahoo account, which I got after my Hotmail account, to 2006. This is the oldest email marketing message I could find that still had live image links. Thank you for never turning off that's server. So that's what email looked like in 2006, and this is what it looks like today. So you can see, we've advanced a little bit right. The original one seems a little bit like a website and a flyer smooshed together. We've made some advances, and I can scroll down show you what the rest of this message looks like. Pretty simple, straightforward.

So we've had a lot of advances in email since 1996, since 2006. Mobile technology has driven us forward over the last, say like 7-8 years. We've got technology that enables cool automation and personalization. We see some experimentation with interactive email and kinetic email, but here's where the fonts go completely wonky, and you can't even see what they say. You will get a copy of this, and you'll see exactly what it says, but it essentially talks about how far have we've come. 

Are we using all of these innovations all the time? No, in many ways, our email strategies are kind of the same.

April: It's been different when you look at what's happened with the web and mobile apps, or what we traditionally think as mobile apps. Here is the shiny thing that I want us all to keep in mind, and that is that email is the universal mobile app. We don't typically think about it that way, but it's preloaded on your smartphone, all you have to do is enter your credentials, and all of the nice emails come flowing through. We are actually app managers or app developers here, and we have a ton of users, so the adoption is there. Many app creators have a situation where they don't have enough people using their apps or engaging with their apps. We have 3.8 billion email users. Yeah, and almost 300 million emails are sent daily, which my company sends 40% of those. 

We don't have this issue where we don't have people in our app using our app; they are using our app, called email. The other thing that has plagued traditional mobile apps, not the email app, but conventional mobile apps, is that many of them are used only once, and then they're deleted off the device when the activity goes away. Someone will decide, "I don't use this app anymore," and they delete it off their phone. No one's deleting their email app, people are checking email, and the app remains on the device. I wanted to kind of give that mind shift to all of us that we're more elevated than we think.

Jen: Does anyone remember when Gmail introduced tabs and email died? It was rapture. Yes, everyone was freaking out, but then Gmail introduced GridView. If you were around as an email marketer in 2014, you were probably interested in this and played around with it. I was. GridView was a way for our promotional emails, in that tab, to look very visual. It was exciting that Gmail was giving us some love because we are convinced that all of the email clients, all the ESPs hate our guts. This made us think, well, they're interested in us. However, GridView was kind of wonky, and it never came out of beta. It never looked this good. No one ever quite got it right, and it was not easy to adopt. Because of that, it died just as quickly as it was born. It died in 2015 and lasted less than a year. 

The following year, I wrote an article about it for MediaPost titled, "Why GridView is Good For Us Even Though It's Dead," and I want to highlight some of the points I made there. First of all, it was evidence that Gmail cared about promotional messages. Gmail users care about our promotional messages, and that's why Google is caring about promotional messages; the connection has been made. Even though this has gone away, I thought something good will happen when it comes to Gmail and possibly other email clients, and we should be optimistic about that. What it is, I wasn't sure, but it was clear to me that Google has a sincere interest in delivering email users the most useful experience possible. Commercial messages are part of that, and Google takes their time figuring out what that is, and our years later, y'all, AMP is it. 

April: It's the micro apps, were micro app developers. It’s AMP.

Jen: It is. If you're unfamiliar with AMP for email, you want to know what it is? People tend to get it confused with AMP or accelerated mobile pages, and folks get it confused with AMPscript. Salesforce's Marketing Cloud AMPscript has absolutely nothing to do with AMP for email. That's just a proprietary coding language. It's irrelevant. AMP, accelerated mobile pages, was introduced in 2016, and it was a stripped-down HTML framework to help content load fast on mobile devices. AMP has expanded into a much larger framework that includes AMP for email, making things like this possible. It just launched last year, and this is an actual AMP message. What's going on here is it's a calculator. You click on what you want to finance, you pop in how much money you're looking to finance, and it gives you instant calculations based on that. This is cool, right? AMP for email brings engaging experiences to email, up to date information can be called at the moment of open, and you can interact and take action on those emails. By the way, this particular example that Google was lovely enough to share with us more than doubled the click rate on here. Engagement spikes when you have excellent use cases for AMP for email.

April: There are quite a few email clients that support AMP for email today. There is this idea that Gmail is hoarding the knowledge, and we don't trust them, but they've opened the conversation with their competitor. We have Mail.Ru, Outlook, which includes Live and Hotmail. There is also MSN (but it excludes the desktop client, although that will probably follow at some point) and then Yahoo and the domains that they have, which those are coming soon. Gmail has opened a dialog. They want to see standardization happen across the various environments because they want this to be used by everyone, not just at Gmail. I think that kind of hints to us that maybe we might want to trust them on this. 

Jen: This is revolutionary. These are direct competitors working with one another. We've never seen anything like that in our industry before. 

April: We also have quite a few email solutions that support AMP for email. I said I work for Sparkpost, and we send 40% of the world's email. We also have all these other providers thrown in there. We're halfway there to the volume of email happening daily is enabled via these solutions. Technology providers are starting to catch on that this is something that people want. They're starting to get this built into their platforms, and I know several others are in the works with it. I think Salesforce is considering it.

Jen: That's top-secret information you didn't hear it here.

April: We don't know anything.

Jen: Also, there's much concern that AMP is tough to do. It's another coding language, and that's true for very sophisticated use cases, but there are email building solutions with cool WYSIWYG that already exist with drag and drop AMP functionality. You can use Stripo right now to build AMP emails. BEE Editor, they're also going to have it very, very soon. I'm not familiar with Express Pigeon, but the good folks at Google say they've got it as well. Is anyone using Express Pigeon? 

Okay, you haven't heard of it either. It's not just me, but I'm going to check them out. 

Are you ready for some hella cool examples of AMP for email in action? **cheering**

I love this conference, I know.

April: They’re your people.

This is the one example that probably a lot of you have already experienced firsthand. Once upon a time, you created a Google Doc, and when somebody commented on it, you got an email, and the call to action would drive you back to Google Docs, and you could see the comment, or the comment with your name tagged, you would be driven back to Google Docs to look at it. Now, those comments are in-line right inside of Gmail, or any of those other solutions that support AMP for email, and you can reply. What's interesting is this decreased visits to the Docs application, but they considered it a good thing that wasn't a KPI for success in this context. As AMP applications become more widespread, your success metrics might change. Here's an example of AMP for Email Accordion, and I have to shout out to Eric Lepetit. I don't know if any of you know him, but his team developed this. What I love about this email is we try to say let's not make emails too heavy, let's not make people scroll too much, and they've built out this accordion feature whereas you're scrolling, you can tap to continue to load the images and expand this email as you go. Also, the word from the Google team is that this email performed very, very well. They had a high number of people that scrolled through the whole email, and they were able to tap the accordion buttons all the way down, so super high engagement. I think there were good sales from it too. 

Jen: This is one of those drag and drop functions that you can use right in one of those WYSIWYG editors right now. Also, important to note that this is a different MIME type. Currently, we send a text version and an HTML version, and this is the third one. Now there's three, and there's also the AMP version. The beauty of this is very different from an interactive email where you have to create that graceful degradation. It's challenging to do with AMP if there is no AMP support within the email client that's being used by your subscriber, it's going to fall back to HTML automatically. This is another one of those really easy WYSIWYG type functions; it's the carousel. We're all familiar with these; we see these on websites all the time, so it's an intuitive thing, people know that we can just click and we're going to see more images. Your HTML backup can be whatever you want it to be, either one of those images or all of those images, it's up to you. 

April: This is an example that many have probably seen, Seth Weisfeld at Pinterest. He created this email and basically what it does is it allows you to see your email, which was highly personal and dynamic by the way, and you can go into the email, and instead of having to go into Pinterest to add things to your pinboard there, you can do that right from the email. Seth and his team were early adopters of this, and we think this example still shines as a really good one. 

Then LendingTree, I love this one, and it would have been terrific when I was in financial services. It's a "choose your adventure kind of thing." It's a quiz built right into the email where it's asking if you're trying to buy a home, or you're currently a homeowner, or you want to refinance. Then, based on how you answer the question, it might ask you more questions after that or give you a recommendation on screen. It's this kind of dynamic profiling that happens right within the email that's exciting. 

Jen: Order confirmation. People are always referring back to order confirmation emails, and we've been able to use solutions like movable ink and open-time personalization, where an image changes to give you an update on an order status, but this enables live text in real-time. So, at the moment of open, you can know the status of your order. 

April: Then, this is a great abandoned cart example where they're sending the follow-up, but then they have the product details right within the email. Being able to give your consumers an idea of the closer look and the more detailed views to help them decide to convert. Also, you can convert right within the email. Now, email is not a secure communication channel, and no, and they will not be entering credit card information into a form in the email. However, if they have their profile set up where it can submit back to the profile that's hosting the credit card behind a secure login, it's just very seamless, easy, one-click ordering that's enabled by this. This particular example increased sales by 30% for Ecwid, and Google told us that they had another partner that they worked with on a similar strategy that saw about an 80% lift in conversions, using this type of strategy. 

Jen: Could you imagine a single email changing your sales on that level? Superheroes!

April: Gangbuster.

Jen: All right, so we were brainstorming what else you could do with AMP, and these are some of the ideas that we came up with over the course of about two minutes. We don't have time to talk through all of them, but we're going to highlight a few. Firstly, unsubscribes and opt down. This is an idea that every single one of your brands can use. If you click on unsubscribe, and it says, "Hey, we can unsubscribe you from everything, or maybe you just want these few categories." Then, there's a chance to retain them and give them control over their communication relationship with you. If that's happening right within the email client, there's a higher chance for you to retain, keep them on the list, and keep them happy with your brand. 

April: For those of you following GDPR and CCPA, if you have customers receiving transactional emails from you, but you don't have permission to mail them anything promotional, then put a sign up in your transactional messages. You can have a form right there within the email to collect their permission on the spot without them ever having to leave the inbox. 

Jen: Next, progressive profiling. Marketers complain all the time, "I don't have the data I need for segmentation and personalization." It can be a part of your onboarding campaign, make it easy to figure out your basic criteria for simple segmentation. Let us know what products you're interested in, let us know who you are, your location, boom, boom, boom. All of that can happen right within the email client.

April: I'm a big fan of the idea of user-generated personalization. If you show a t-shirt within the email, maybe they want to see handbags, giving them the ability to kind of toggle and see different things would be really interesting, similar to the LendingTree example. Let them choose their own adventure. I think this would be so empowering to consumers. 

Jen: As you can tell, we're pretty amped for AMP y'all.

April: We’re stoked, so stoked.

Getting to the frothy layer of being a strategist, here's why I'm most excited about AMP. It's going to change the way we think about the email conversion funnel. This is a very simplified funnel, I get it, but every touchpoint within the funnel is an opportunity for your subscribers to either move forward or to fall out. AMP's idea is that clicks and conversions will combine, and they're going to flatten, causing this conversion funnel to collapse a bit. We're going to reduce that friction, and we're going to have a tighter conversion funnel that will, as the use cases that we shared showed, actually drive more engagement and conversion. I think this is probably the single biggest reason why I'm excited about AMP. That frictionless, getting them right to what they want to buy or do. 

Jen: So April, would you like to know the single reason that I'm most excited for AMP?

April: I'm so ready for this. 

Jen: Would you like to know?

Crowd: Yes

Jen: Movement toward email client standardization. Can I get an amen?

This is what drives us most crazy as email marketers. Our good friends at Email on Acid provided us with some fun screenshots of the pain that we all endure. There are approximately 1.6 bajillion different email clients out there; they all render differently. Standards exist for browsers, but they don't exist for email, and that's why we're using solutions like Email on Acid to see how they look. 

We're going through, "oh, let's see how my creative looks, oh it looks good" and "this Gmail application for Android or iOS." Then, you see this. We have this crazy background image that popped out, it's all wonky, the width is wrong, and there is a broken image link.

April: So much, FML. 

Jen: Exactly. We have all experienced this, and it is maddening. This is what makes email hard. We are all big-time problem solvers, and it's complicated. Now, imagine it looked the same in every email client, and that's what's happening as those amp MIME types are becoming supported by email clients. It seems the same everywhere. It functions the same everywhere. Is it going to get harder before it gets easier? Yes, it will be, until we have that full adoption, which we're feeling confident might happen because of the amount of progress we've seen already in less than a year.

April: I wanted to inspire you on one last point. How many of you feel like the people in your company treat you like you're a button pusher, but you're very operational?

I saw my tweet got shared this morning about "just send an email," and I'm like, oh no, you didn't. I've got a 21 step process to share with you that gets stuck in these approval processes along the way. Anyway, you get it.

So, no more button-pusher, enough already. We're now going to be leaders of strategy and experience. A lot of these capabilities, your counterparts on the marketing roster or the product team, will not know how to do this. They're not even going to know it exists. That opens it up for you to start to be the orchestrator of some great, frictionless customer experiences in ways that your counterparts cannot. 

Jen: AMP for email is "the biggest thing happening to email, since the creation of email." Since our friend Gary spammed 400 of his nearest and dearest friends. 

April: It's like the bread is finally getting sliced. 

Jen: We have heard that some of you just are not as amped for AMP as we are. Does anyone want to call themselves out at this moment? All right, I see you. No judgment here. 

We're going to address a few of these concerns. We only have a few minutes left, so we can't go through this entire list. We are more than happy to chat with any of you one on one. I'm going to be writing about this in the future so look for those articles somewhere if anyone would like to publish them. 

Let's address a couple of these concerns. Firstly, added complication to already complicated codebases increases production time. That's true, so you have to choose your use cases wisely. However, if you're using an ESP with a very complicated code base (like Salesforce Marketing Cloud), ask yourself why it's so hard. New technology exists that is just as powerful, if not more powerful. That does not make it that hard, and it frees you up to do more cool shit. 

April: Another concern is that iOS doesn't support it, sadly, but I'm an Apple user. We don't know if this list of mail clients that will support it will expand beyond the ones that we showed earlier. However, I hope that as more marketers start to use it and more engagement, we'll see other providers begin to offer it. 

Jen: Yeah, Google says it's kind of the chicken or the egg situation. If some companies say, hey, we want to see more senders sending it out, and some are saying we want our users demanding it. I think they're going to get there. I mean they're Google, and they're driving this. They're very powerful, influential, and they're already making headway with Microsoft. Why wouldn't they make headway with Apple as well? I believe in them.

Here are some other concerns: if AMP is always updating, why would anyone continue to send email? It's kind of like a website inside of the email client. I learned that an AMP email is only good for 30 days, so we still have reasons to keep sending email out regularly. 

Also, I don't trust Google; we just had this conversation. I get it. I feel the pain. There's concern that there's a single company controlling this and taking ownership of something that will change our industry. That's scary, but the conversations I've had with them I find very heartening. The gentleman that I've been talking to expressed a sincere desire to collaborate with the email community with the other email clients, and we all have a shared goal, which is an excellent experience for our shared users and our subscribers. We have the same audience as them, so they want to come together and make that happen. Many people feel very suspicious about that.

I understand, but I would urge you to go to this idea with an open heart as they have. If you're interested in asking them questions, we're not super technical people, we know what we know, and we know what we don't know. These guys are the pros, and they are accessible to you. This is unparalleled. We've never had an email client say, we want to help you, we want to communicate with you, we want to address and alleviate your concerns, and we want you to tell us how to do it better. We can all be a part of this, and they are available to you to communicate with. 

So, what can you do right now? Well, we are out of time, but you are going to get these slides. We do want to quickly tell you that it doesn't matter what your job is.

April: It doesn't matter what your job is. You're now going to be in the UX business now due to some of these changes. It's happening. We want you all to be the early adopters, to share your cool use cases, and realize the benefits of it early on. 

Jen: We know that the folks who come to a conference like UNSPAM, you are the innovators in this space. If you want to be considering AMP for email, here are some questions you might want to ask yourself. We don't have time to talk through them, but you're going to get these slides, so if you're going to evaluate whether it's a good idea now in the short term or the long term, these are some starting points for that conversation with your internal leadership. This is all the documentation that you need to learn AMP. Even if you're not a super technical person, I urge you to try it out. If you know just enough about HTML and CSS to be dangerous, check it out. You can go and play on the AMP playground at amp.gmail.dev/playground and start building AMP emails right now. 

April: Stripo has a playground as well with some cool WYSIWYG tools that they just put on their open website. There are lots of fun places to go and explore.

Jen: One fun fact though, is if you want to send an AMP email, you need to get whitelisted by each of those email clients supporting it. You need to go back to the documentation for information on where to send those, and depending on how good your AMP is, it could be a speedy process, or it could take a few weeks. That's what we got to tell you about AMP for email, thanks for being awesome. 

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