Subscribers expect email content to cater to their individual needs and circumstances. They have the same expectations of email design, which is why we’ve spent the better part of the past decade making our emails mobile-friendly.
Email interactivity and now AMP for Email are the next waves in this tidal trend of creating individually compelling email experiences based on each subscriber’s behavior and email reading environment.
AMP for Email is a set of open standards created by Google for creating what they call “dynamic emails,” which allow marketers to bring functionality that’s common on the web into their email designs.
AMP for Email elements allow email marketers to create:
For instance, in this email, Pinterest uses AMP for Email to allow subscribers to add pins from the email directly to their boards without leaving the email.
While AMP for Email is new—announced in early 2018 and officially rolling out in March of 2019—much of the functionality it allows has already appeared in inboxes around the world in the form of interactive emails or kinetic emails. These emails rely on HTML and CSS hacks that are best supported in Apple email clients.
Among the first interactive emails were emails from UK home improvement retailer B&Q in mid 2014 and toymaker LEGO in early 2015 that used email carousels. These emails—both of which Oracle Marketing Cloud Consulting designed and coded—helped spark adoption of interactive emails and made it a top email design trend over the past couple of years.
The other critical functionality that AMP for Email allows is live content. While most email content is determined at the time that the email is sent, live content populates email content at the time that the email is opened by the individual subscriber. This enables marketers to update content to ensure that it’s relevant at the time that the subscriber reads the email.
Since it is a standard created by Google, you’d expect it to work in Gmail and it does. As of December 2019, AMP for Email is supported in Gmail, can be enabled in G Suite, and is supported in Gmail on Android and iOS devices.
However, Yahoo Mail supports AMP for Email, Russian email client Mail.ru does as well, and Outlook.com is supporting AMP for Email as a preview. Because Yahoo Mail is operated by Verizon Media Group, we may see AMP for Email support at other VMG email clients like AOL and Verizon.net.
For the average US brand, those inbox providers account for about 35% of email opens, according to Litmus data. For comparison, interactive emails are best supported in Apple’s various email clients, which account for about 46% of email opens.
However, this can vary wildly from brand to brand. For instance, many retailers and other B2C brands have the majority of their emails opened in email clients like Gmail, Yahoo Mail, and Outlook.com that support AMP for Email. Meanwhile, many B2B brands see their emails opened in email clients that don’t support it, thanks to heavy use of desktop Outlook in many businesses.
Let’s start the downside of AMP for Email, since the requirements may put it out of reach for some marketers:
1. Marketers need to learn the AMP for Email coding language.
In order to create a message that makes use of these capabilities, email marketers must learn the AMP for Email coding specification and markup language. AMP for Email has its own unique content, layout, and media tags, all of which are well documented.
Of course, interactive emails have required marketers to learn additional HTML and CSS to create effects and functionality. So, this is less a strike against AMP as it is a downside of doing any kind of interactivity.
“But even if you do that have that know-how, be prepared to spend a lot of extra time coding and testing, especially with your first AMP for Email message,” he says. “It definitely involved some trial and error when I coded my first AMP email.”
Check out the AMP Playground for testing your AMP code separate from your regular email code to make sure your syntax is correct.
2. AMP for Email requires a new MIME type to be written and QAed.
Currently, marketing emails consist of two MIME type parts: plain text and HTML. Essentially, it’s two separate emails that are bundled together. When an email client can’t read the HTML part of a message, it then renders the plain text part.
AMP for Email requires that marketers write a separate, third MIME type part for an email. When an email client can’t read the AMP MIME part, then it will fall back to the HTML part—and, if necessary, then the plain text part.
This is a major difference between AMP for Email emails and interactive emails, which have the interactivity coded into the HTML part of the email. In addition to needing to write and QA a third MIME part.
3. AMP for Email requires email service providers to support the new MIME type.
It’s not enough for marketers to write a new AMP for Email MIME part for their emails. Their email service provider (ESP) has to be able to accept and send that new MIME part. Otherwise, you can’t use AMP for Email.
Currently, very few ESPs support AMP for Email, but that may change in the months ahead. For instance, Oracle is currently evaluating whether we can add support for AMP for Email in Oracle Responsys, Eloqua, and Bronto without compromising the security of our customers.
“We have to make sure this doesn’t affect our clients’ security in any way,” says Alva.
If ESPs—especially the largest ones—don’t eventually support AMP for Email, then it will likely fade away into obscurity, just like the watch-html MIME part that Apple created for its Apple Watch.
4. AMP for Email requires that senders maintain a positive Gmail sending reputation.
To help keep malicious senders from using AMP for Email to trick email users into handing over passwords and other sensitive information using AMP forms and others methods, Google requires a sender to an established and positive Gmail sender reputation before it will render the AMP MIME part.
Along with Brand Indicators for Message Identification (BIMI) and Gmail’s Email Annotations, AMP for Email is part of a trend of inbox providers giving marketers more rewards for good behavior, in addition to the traditional punishments for bad behavior. But to avoid tipping their hand to spammers, inbox providers are understandably cagy about giving too many details about what good behavior actually looks like. That leaves marketers to make educated guesses.
“Inbox providers won’t tell us anything about their algorithms for staying in compliance,” says Heather Goff, Director of Deliverability Strategy at Oracle Marketing Cloud Consulting. “That has some brands worried they won’t be able to maintain a good enough reputation to make it worthwhile. Imagine spending weeks developing an AMP email and then it not rendering because of a sudden reputation problem.”
5. AMP for Email will change subscriber behavior and metrics.
The interactivity enabled by AMP for Email will have the effect of bringing some engagement that would otherwise happen on the landing page into the email. So, email engagement will rise and landing page engagement will fall.
Done well, the increase in email engagement should more than compensate for the fall in landing page engagement, with subscribers becoming more engaged overall and with landing page visitors having higher intent than before.
Even so, marketers will need to change their mindset about email metrics, placing more emphasis on bottom-of-the-funnel metrics like conversations and revenue, as well as more focus on subscriber health metrics like open reach and click reach that measure subscriber engagement.
“Marketers need to ensure that it drives meaningful lagging indicators like revenue per email, conversion rates and lifetime value, as well as leading indicators like responder rate and responder-to-open rate,” says Goff. “Let’s not get fancy for fancy’s sake.”
6. AMP for Email may fail.
In part because of unhappiness over the AMP standard for the web and mobile, there’s a considerable amount of whispering that the AMP for Email standard might not garner enough adoption and ultimately cease to be used. That is a possibility, but one that we think is shrinking at this point.
AMP for Email has a critical mass of support from inbox providers, and given the growing adoption of interactive emails, we think it has a critical mass of support from marketers. The last hurdle is whether it will garner enough support from ESPs.
If brands can overcome all of those issues, AMP for Email offers several advantages for marketers:
1. Standards-based email interactivity.
AMP for Email lets marketers create interactive email experiences with the backing of a code standard. This stands in sharp contrast to HTML- and CSS-based email interactivity, which is done through hacks that don’t have the official backing of inbox providers. This support isn’t touted as a feature of these email clients and is subject to change without notice.
2. Engagement metrics for interactivity.
With interactive emails, measuring engagement can be difficult. Google promises that it will be able to deliver engagement metrics for messages that use AMP for Email.
“Since AMP for Email will take more time for both coding and quality assurance checks, it will be important for us to measure the return on the higher level of effort,” says Jennifer Lancaster Dana, VP of Oracle Marketing Cloud and CX Consulting.
3. AMP for Email also does live content.
The interactivity enabled by AMP for Email gets all the attention, but it also allows marketers to update email content post-send so that it’s the most relevant at the time of open. For some brands, this alone may be a reason to adopt AMP for Email.
For brands that currently pay third-party vendors for live content, it could make a lot of sense to relocate that funding to AMP for Email training or to consultants with AMP for Email experience.
Some email marketers are frustrated that Google decided to create AMP for Email rather than simply support HTML- and CSS-based email interactivity. Many of us share your sentiment, but unfortunately they didn’t. Rather than engaging in wishful thinking, let’s pay attention to the opportunity at hand.
This is how we’re thinking about AMP for Email here within Oracle Marketing Cloud Consulting:
If your ESP supports the AMP MIME type and you have a significant portion of your subscribers read your emails in inboxes that support it, then your brand should seriously explore use cases where AMP would allow you to create more compelling email experiences.
“It may not be for all brands,” says Alva, “but there are definitely industries like travel, hospitality, retail, and ecommerce that would benefit right away.”
The decision to explore AMP for Email becomes even easier if your brand has already experimented with interactive emails and seen positive results. If interactive emails are worth the effort, then AMP for Email likely is, too, if you’ve got a significant percentage of subscribers using inboxes that support it.
It’s worth pointing out that it’s okay to create emails that utilize both AMP and email interactivity. Doing so would allow the average brand to create microsite-like emails for approximately 81% of their subscribers. That would enable you to create some truly special email experiences for the vast majority of your subscribers.
Need help with your email creative? Oracle Marketing Cloud Consulting has more than 500 of the leading marketing minds ready to help you to achieve more with the leading marketing cloud, including a Creative Services team that can handle any aspect of email design, coding, testing, and copywriting.
Chad S. White is the Head of Research at Oracle Digital Experience Agency and the author of four editions of Email Marketing Rules and nearly 4,000 posts about digital and email marketing. A former journalist, he’s been featured in more than 100 publications, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Advertising Age. Chad was named the ANA's 2018 Email Marketer Thought Leader of the Year. Follow him on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Mastodon.