Exploring Kinetic Email: Part Three

For part three of our Exploring Kinetic Email series, I had a chance to interview our Co-Founder and VP of Market Development, Justin Foster. We discussed how Liveclicker approaches kinetic email design, where contextual email and kinetic design work together, and how kinetic email usage will change the inbox experience for all involved.

Rory: Today I’m interviewing Justin Foster of Liveclicker to talk about kinetic email design. Big thanks to Justin for taking the time out for the interview and speaking with me.

Alright. Starting off, my first question would be; who is Liveclicker? What do you do at Liveclicker?

Justin: Liveclicker is a technology company focused on contextual marketing within the email industry. At Liveclicker, I’m Vice President of Market Development, and one of the founders of the company. I’ve been involved in email marketing for a long time, since 2002. I’ve done everything that a person in the email industry could do. I’m really excited about the future of email. There are a lot of amazing things happening in the email space – and I’m excited to talk about kinetic email today.

Rory: Absolutely. I’m excited to hear your perspective. Getting a little deeper into the email side of things. Why is Liveclicker interested in kinetic email?

Justin: I think, first and foremost, Liveclicker is interested in driving innovation in the email channel. The way that we’ve driven innovation is through the use of our contextual email technology. This is technology that personalizes content in an email – the instant the email is opened – even if the sender might not know anything about the recipient in advance. “Kinetic email” or “kinetic design” is a relatively recent development in the email space that enables emails to take on interactive qualities. For example, using embedded video in an email, or creating dynamic menus inside of an email, or making an email expand and collapse based on user interaction. In many cases, these innovations can be paired with Liveclicker’s contextual technology.  We’re always looking to bring innovation to our clients, so expanding into the kinetic email space made sense.

Rory: That’s great. You spoke of “kinetic design,” which I think is important. How does “kinetic design” differ from a contextual approach?

Justin: Kinetic design is basically a catch-all word that’s applied to using different CSS3 techniques and HTML5 support in various mail clients to drive an interactive inbox experience. Importantly, a lot of, if not all, kinetic design techniques can be accomplished by anyone that’s coding an email. You don’t need any sort of special technology to use kinetic design methods. But, you do need to have a very thorough understanding of what works and what doesn’t work in various mail clients. Contextual technology, on the other hand, is a bit different. With contextual technology, you have to be able to detect certain characteristics about the recipient when they open a message. That requires server-side technology and can’t be accomplished with client-side code.

Rory: Now that we’ve identified what kinetic design is and how it can produce interaction within the inbox, can you share what makes this interaction so significant for marketers?

Justin: I believe when a lot of CMOs think about email marketing, they see a channel that’s important to revenue production and audience development yet is nevertheless stuck in the Stone Age. Due to security concerns unique to the channel and a plethora of mail clients with non-standardized HTML support, designers haven’t been able to create lot of the cool experiences that we’ve become accustomed to seeing on the web. There’s been this idea that interaction in email – say, video, slideshows, gamification – that these simply don’t work.  Kinetic design helps turn this perception on its head.  In my view, it’s a significant step toward bringing email closer to that web-like experience that consumers know and love. Granted, there are still significant limitations, but email marketers are always looking for a way to drive higher engagement. Kinetic design helps make this a reality.

Rory: Being around the industry for a while myself, it’s good to hear that that email is surging forward. Speaking of surging forward, has there been anything recently that has surprised you in the industry? Maybe an application of kinetic design in an email or something about kinetic that has been very surprising to you?

Justin: Well, I think email marketers in general tend to be a pretty jaded bunch – especially email developers. We’ve grown to know as an email community that there are many limitations in various email clients and this has created a bit of a culture in the industry of creating email messages that are designed for the lowest common denominator of HTML support. We work in an industry where it’s not uncommon to hear people say, “Hey, you shouldn’t use an animated GIF in an email because Outlook does not support animated GIFs.” Or “Hey, you know, you shouldn’t try to use video in email because certain Android clients don’t support it.” I think, as marketers and developers, we need to infuse a new sense of optimism around the possibilities of what can be achieved rather than focus only on those mail clients that don’t support all the cool bells and whistles.  Justine Jordan at Litmus said it best, I think, when she referred to the need for developers to think more about progressively enhancing messages vs. designing for the mail clients that are the most limited.  By investing a little bit of time and energy into understanding kinetic design techniques, we can push the industry forward and really bring email into the future.

Rory: My following question is actually is right in line with that. The simple question of who will benefit the most from kinetic email design?

Justin: Any sender that’s trying to make messages engaging, any sender that’s trying to support interaction within email messages, can benefit from kinetic design. Having said that, I think marketers in certain verticals will be quicker to adopt some of these techniques.  These are the folks in verticals that value engagement as an important customer success metric. The travel industry is a definitely a big one. Apparel is a huge one. Hospitality, a subset of the travel industry, is another big one. But, in general, if you’re coding any emails and you’re trying to present a beautiful design to your recipients, you can benefit from kinetic email design.

Rory: Perfect. To reap those benefits, is there a best time to use kinetic design in email? Is it something that can stand alone? Or is it something that needs pairing with other approaches?

Justin: I think some of the best practices that apply to email template design also apply to using kinetic design principles: creating standardized templates, creating reusable resources. Especially if you’re going to bring kinetic techniques to spplications like navigation within an email message. Now, this was a bit of a softball, but I do think that there are some really cool things that you can do when you pair kinetic design with contextual email technology.

For example, one thing that marketers can do is have a live image slideshow inside of an email. Using a kinetic design technique, it’s possible to create scrolling animations of images in email, each linked to a separate destination. By pairing with contextual technology, the pictures in the slide show can render based on open-time characteristics of the recipient. For example, geolocation. Based on someone’s geolocation, you might have a slideshow of feature offers that are unique to where someone is located at the time-of-open. Embedded video is another important one. Aspects of an embedded video can be controlled by using media queries inside the email. Things like varying the size or the frame rate of the video, personalizing imagery, or identifying mail clients that you can’t detect thru CSS alone require contextual technology to function properly.

Rory: Right. So, kinetic design can be used in tandem with other approaches as well as stand alone in the inbox?

Justin: Absolutely.


Rory: Final question to wrap up. Where do you see kinetic email in, let’s just say, 3 – 5 years?

Justin: Well, I’m very excited about Litmus’ new partnership with Microsoft.  Like many of my fellow compatriots in the email industry, I’m waiting with bated breath to see if there are any changes in the Outlook mail client. You know, there are particular concerns that developers have to deal with in email around security. It is the reason why interactive email has been so slow in taking off. With the rise of the HTML5, some of these new CSS3 approaches, and with a strong push from those in the industry to advance mail clients, I can only assume we are at the very beginning of what will be a much more interactive inbox in the future. It may be some time in the future, but someday, we will have fully interactive email, and it will be just as good in the inbox as it is in the browser.