July 2019 - Email | Future of Email | Email Marketing

Interactive Email

Mark Robbins from Salesforce explains how interactivity is breathing new life into email, and its impact on conversions, spend, & customer relationships.

Interactive Email

© Marcus Millo | istockphoto.com

Watch the 9-minute video above or on YouTube, or read the transcript below.


DOTMAGAZINE: Let’s start by imagining somebody who is new to the entire scene of interactive email; could you provide us with a brief description and give a few examples of interactive email? 

MARK ROBBINS: The definition which I use is: It’s an action taken in an email that triggers an event without leaving that email. So what that really means is, traditionally in email marketing, you’re sending images – and that could be some text and some images and well-written copy – and a link, with the main goal of getting a user to click on that link and go to the landing page to complete an action. 

So, an example of that could be: Instead of giving the user a link to fill out a review for a product they’ve just bought, you could give them the review form directly in the email. Another option could be if you’re sending information about new products: instead of linking them straight through, they could have a look at a bit more, have an image gallery, have some drop downs with a bit more information, so they make a more informed choice before clicking through to the landing page.

DOTMAGAZINE: So you’re really breathing life into the email. 

ROBBINS: Yeah. So the idea is bringing the landing page into the email. We won’t need websites anymore!

DOTMAGAZINE: And then how do you measure that interaction that takes place within an email? 

ROBBINS: A number of things are the same as you would have traditionally: so you’re measuring your deliverability, your open rates, and on the other hand you’ve got your conversion. It’s the bit in between though – the main thing people look at currently is looking at your click through rates – people clicking on the email through to the websites. With interactive email, we can also track every click that happens inside the email – so, every interaction the user makes, every button they click on – we can track that as well.

One of the interesting things that we have seen is sometimes the actual click through rate might drop a little bit for an interactive email. But the conversion rates will be higher because the user is getting more information out of the email. When they click through, they are more qualified users so they convert higher – maybe a few less might click through, but these are people we would expect to drop off anyway.

DOTMAGAZINE: So the KPIs are evolving

ROBBINS: They’re evolving slightly and it’s a case of, instead of looking just at your click through to websites, you’re looking at click through to websites plus your clicks and interactions. So you can combine those two statistics if you want, or look at them individually too.

DOTMAGAZINE: What impact then do you see or do you predict for customer relationships and for purchasing behavior? 

ROBBINS: As a general statistic, we’ve seen people converting higher, buying more stuff. But also one that was interesting particularly with luxury brands is that we’re seeing users spend more money. The conversion rate might not change too much, but the average spend is going up. Don’t know why! Perhaps the users are feeling a bit more engaged with this new technology and the advancements that have been made. 

DOTMAGAZINE: Well, speaking of conversion rates: if I was a brand I think you would have converted me! So, if I was a brand and now choose to use interactive email, what would be the infrastructure requirements that I would need to consider? 

ROBBINS: First of all, you need to create the email. You can do that in-house, you can get an agency to do it. But creating the interactive code is different to creating regular HTML code. It’s quite a specialist area and it can be very tricky. But you can build on that, train the team up to work with that. Also there’s this new AMP for Email format that’s come out, which is a bit of an easier way of coding the emails, but that has a little bit less support currently.

Then once you’ve got your code, you then need an ESP that will support it as well. In terms of sending it, every time you upload email code into an ESP: every ESP works slightly differently, but they will all change that code a small amount. Some more than others. And some of them, in the ways they change the code, will break the interactivity. Others don’t.

So that’s something you’ll need to test just to make sure that the ESP is supporting it as well. And with AMP for Email, that requires a separate MIME type, which is a more complex thing that the ESP needs to support – that separate MIME type.

DOTMAGAZINE: And have we come to the point yet where all email clients are supporting interactive email? 

ROBBINS: The email client support for interactive email is a bit varied still. The way the email clients handle code is very different with all of them, and we are seeing support growing. Recently Outlook.com made some changes so now they’re supporting interactive email. And now with AMP coming in, that’s bringing interactivity into Gmail where it wasn’t there before, and some more features into Yahoo and at Outlook.com as well.

But there are still a few where it’s not working. The big one being Outlook desktop on Windows – the Outlook desktop app on Mac is interactive, and the Outlook webmails are interactive, but it’s the desktop Outlook on Windows, which is based off the Microsoft Word rendering, and that doesn’t support interactivity still.

DOTMAGAZINE: What’s the resistance there? When is that leap forward going to happen?

ROBBINS: I don’t know. It was in 2007 that Outlook switched from using HTML rendering to Word rendering, and since then people have been campaigning to try and make them change back. By using that Word format, it’s causing a lot of issues with design and layout and a lot of issues with accessibility as well. And not having interactive email is only a small part. I think they need to address the other issues first.

DOTMAGAZINE: To wrap up with a rather broad question: What is your vision for interactive email? What do you think is next? 

ROBBINS: Well there is so much that is currently possible with interactive email that hasn’t been fully explored yet. This is a new take on the way we code emails. Actually, there has been support for interactive email for quite a few years before anybody was doing it, and we’re only just discovering what’s possible now.

So I think there is a huge, huge range of possibility. It’s limited by your ideas really. If you can think of it, try it. And a lot of people are doing some very creative things with it.

I think we’ll see more brands embracing it. A lot of the early interactive email things – particularly things that I worked on and people I know have worked on – are more fun things, more like seeing what’s possible and it’s not so much a campaign, it’s just an experiment. But now we’re starting to see more brands using it properly and I think as brands start to embrace it more, we’ll see more email developers getting into the area, and that brings more ideas, which then leads to more possibilities.

DOTMAGAZINE: So a new lease of life for email awaits us. 

ROBBINS: Indeed yes.

DOTMAGAZINE: Thank you very much for some really good insights. I think there’s very exciting times ahead of us.


Mark Robbins is Software Engineering LMTS with Salesforce. Mark is trying to change the way we think about email marketing. With the team at REBEL, he is creating templates that can be engaged with directly in the inbox rather than the traditional idea of sending people away to a website. This leads to increasing conversions rates with a strong focus on user experience, cross client support and accessibility. He has also worked directly with some of the major email clients on improving code standards and accessibility in email.


Please note: The opinions expressed in Industry Insights published by dotmagazine are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of the publisher, eco – Association of the Internet Industry.