In this episode of Delivering, host Jason Rodriguez revisits a past episode in light of recent news. Google’s recent announcements around AMP for Email means every email marketer should be revisiting the question, “Should we embrace AMP for Email?”
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Welcome to Delivering, a podcast about the email industry, from strategy to design, code to leadership, and everything in between. I’m your host, Jason Rodriguez. Delivering is brought to you by Litmus—the only platform trusted by professionals to help you send email with confidence, every time. Over 600,000 marketing professionals use Litmus’ tools to build, test, and analyze better email campaigns faster.
Head over to litmus.com to start your free 7-day trial of Litmus, and start sending better emails today.
Nearly one year ago, I recorded an episode of the podcast that tried to answer the question, “Is it time to embrace AMP for Email?” It was episode 12, for anyone keeping track. In that episode, I looked at all of the pros and cons of Google’s Amp for Email initiative, which promised to bring advanced interactivity to the inbox for subscribers around the world.
At the time, my answer to the original question was an unenthusiastic “yeah, if you can.” The “if you can” part was the main point. Sure, AMP for Email had some cool stuff going on, but there were a lot of hurdles to jump over, too.
AMP required a third document to be written beyond the HTML and plain text marketers are used to and most ESPs didn’t even support sending that AMP document. Not to mention the fact that Gmail was really the only email provider supporting AMP, and not even across all of its products, either. The tech behind AMP looked cool but there was just… a lot going against it.
Quite frankly, I wasn’t surprised when most marketers I talked to said they were waiting around to see what happened before investing in AMP at all.
A couple of weeks ago, though, Google held its second annual AMP Fest, during which it laid out the future of the AMP specification and highlighted customer success stories. Keep in mind that AMP is more than just email. Actually, AMP for Email is probably the smallest part of the AMP spec. People are more familiar with AMP as it was originally intended, as Accelerated Mobile Pages. Those stripped down, minimal web pages that publishers and Facebook serve up instead of the original web page. So again, not surprising that AMP Fest only included minimal mention of AMP for Email. But what was there got me reconsidering my original take on AMP from last year.
I guess a quick recap is in order for listeners who may not be familiar with AMP for Email.
AMP for Email is a specification that gives email marketers interactive features inside of email campaigns. It uses proprietary markup that, while similar to HTML and CSS, isn’t HTML and CSS. But it works with HTML and CSS, too. Kind of lives side-by-side in the same document when you’re sending an AMP-based email. That being said, you still have to send your more traditional HTML and CSS email, as well as your plain text version, with your AMP email. Since a lot of email providers don’t support AMP, subscribers using them will just get the default HTML email that they’re used to.
AMP for Email has some interesting features. It allows you to really easily build out things like carousels and sliders or add animation to an email. But you can take campaigns way further by using its data binding features and the ability to interact with servers via your email so that you can dynamically inject content and data into a campaign based on user interactions. An example of that could a store locator email. Imagine a user opening up an email, loving your products, and wanting to go to the store to get them (safely masked up, of course). Instead of visiting your website or hopping on Google Maps to find the closest store, they could do so right in the email. Just pop in an area code in a form, click “find”, and watch as the email updates with the closest locations. AMP allows you to pull that kind of stuff off.
Travel companies like Booking.com are loving AMP, as are folks like Pinterest, who have emails that allow you to interact with and save content to your boards right from an email. One of the better implementations of AMP comes from Google itself. Ever gotten an email with comments on a Google Doc you’re working on? Ever respond directly to those comments from that email notification? That’s AMP at work. Making you more productive (in theory).
So, there’s the interactive stuff that’s awesome. But at AMP Fest, John Harmer from the Gmail team announced that AMP will now start supporting some cool layout stuff, too, that will make designing and building AMP-powered emails even better. The two main additions are CSS grid and flexbox support—two layout methods that have been making web development easier for a while now and something email developers have been craving just as long. On top of that, the AMP team is refining their animation features, adding support for attribute selectors, and introducing additional pseudo-class support, which will go a long way towards making AMP-powered emails more accessible.
The CSS grid and flexbox stuff makes me want to start designing AMP emails. I’ve been using both on the web side of design for a while and it’s ridiculous how much they both improve coding. What took dozens of lines of code with floats and dubious targeting now takes half a dozen lines of code by targeting one or two elements instead. It’s no joke to say that CSS grid and flexbox are both life changers when it comes to web design. Now, at least for AMP-powered campaigns, email designers will get a taste of the good life.
What really has me rethinking my original opinion, though, were two announcements from some Google partners.
First, John talked with Nirmal Thangaraj from Verizon Media. Nirmal happily announced that both AOL Mail and Yahoo! Mail will be adding support for AMP in the near future. Along with Gmail and Mail.ru, the other two major email providers that support AMP, this means that a lot more subscribers will start seeing AMP-powered campaigns relatively soon. And, once they get a taste of what AMP can do, I suspect that those features will become table stakes for most inbox providers. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a bunch of other providers jump on the AMP bandwagon in the next year. Hell, maybe Microsoft will even reverse its decision to wind down their AMP developer preview in Outlook.com.
The second announcement came from Rachel Boyles, a product marketing manager at Salesforce. Rachel announced that Salesforce, one of the—if not the—biggest ESP in the world, will be adding support for building and sending AMP emails in early 2021.
Now, if you’ve been following the email world for a while—which is likely if you’re spending your valuable time listening to a damned podcast about email—then you’ll likely know that Salesforce acquired an agency called Rebel a few years back. Rebel, which used to be called RebelMail, pioneered a lot of the techniques used in traditional interactive email, or any interactive email that doesn’t use AMP. They were the ones that got in-email checkouts working for brands like Burberry. Two of their lead developers, Mark Robbins and Steven Collins, have even spoken at Litmus Live a bunch of times about all of their wildly inventive work. But all of that work was powered by good ol’ HTML and CSS using, what Mark Robbins refers to as, punched card coding.
When they were acquired by Salesforce, it was for both the team and the technology. The Rebel team, which remains largely intact inside of Salesforce, has been working hard to expose their technology to Salesforce Marketing Cloud Customers via Email Studio. Right now, there are a bunch of content blocks marketers can use inside of SFMC to make their emails interactive, thanks to the hard work of the Rebel team.
What struck me, though, is that they’re now announcing support for AMP. Knowing a few Rebel team members relatively well, I never thought I’d see the day that they’d be working with AMP emails. They always seemed opposed at worst, and ambivalent at best, towards AMP and shared a lot of the concerns many of us voiced when AMP was first announced a few years back. Fast forward to today (or, more precisely, early next year) and they’ll be supporting AMP alongside their traditional interactive techniques.
It was kind of stunning to hear, actually.
But it makes sense. Salesforce isn’t directly competing with Gmail, they’re just two sides of the same email marketing coin. Why wouldn’t they want to give their users more options for creating interactive and engaging email campaigns? While us designers and developers can bemoan the adoption of AMP all we want, what it really comes down to is what subscribers want and need from email. And it’s becoming clear that what they want is more interactivity and less friction in getting their work done, whatever that work happens to be in the inbox.
While the details are light on what AMP features will be supported by Salesforce, Rachel did show off a demo with both an appointment scheduler and a store locator, two use cases that will likely see really, really fast adoption among Salesforce customers. She also mentioned that data from AMP campaigns will sync back up to Salesforce Data Extensions, their form of a subscriber database. That means that AMP will likely see wide usage for progressive profiling and collecting more data on subscribers.
The key thing to note, though, is that Salesforce is a HUGE player in the email world. Marketing Cloud is one of the most popular email service providers in the world, especially for the enterprise crowd. Salesforce has some big name customers and influence a lot of the technology and strategies we all talk about throughout the industry. With their approval of AMP, they’re effectively signaling to the world that AMP is here to stay. I don’t expect it will take long for other ESPs to get the message and add support, too. Some already are. But Salesforce is easily the biggest name to do so to date.
If you were to ask me the same question I posed last year, “Is it time to embrace AMP for Email?”, my answer today would be:
Start learning all you can about it now. Because it won’t be long before stakeholders or clients start insisting on AMP-powered campaigns. And if you can’t deliver, they’ll spend their money with someone who can.
That’s it for this week’s edition of Delivering, the podcast about the email marketing industry—from strategy to design, code to leadership, and everything in between. Delivering is brought to you by Litmus. Litmus is the only platform designed by email marketers, for email marketers, to help you plan, design, test, deliver, and analyze campaigns better than ever before. From tools to help you scale production—like our new Design Library and Visual Editor in Builder—to getting feedback and approvals faster than ever with Litmus Proof, it’s the go-to tool for professional email marketers. And our integrations with leading email marketing tools like Salesforce Marketing Cloud mean that your work will never be siloed again.
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Until next time, cheers.