May 12, 2016 4:00 PM, EDT

Mobile E-Mail is King

How Trucking Can Optimize Customer and Driver Communications

This story appears in the May 9 print edition of iTECH, a supplement to Transport Topics.

A new report has uncovered a startling statistic with enormous implications for the way trucking companies communicate electronically with customers and drivers: More than two-thirds of all e-mails — 68% — now are opened on mobile devices. Moreover, the study by e-mail marketing firm Movable Ink, which tracked 6 billion e-mails sent in 2015, also found that among mobiles, the smartphone is king. Just 16% of that overwhelming majority of e-mails were opened on tablets, according to the study.

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The takeaway from Movable Ink’s “U.S. Consumer Device Preference Report” is clear. Every trucking firm marketing via e-mail needs to be sure those e-mails are optimized for mobile.

The same holds true for trucking firms using e-mail as their go-to tool for recruiting drivers, or staying in touch with drivers who already haul for them. Without mobile optimization, those firms are simply sending e-mails designed to fail.

“Because of the popularity and reach of mobile devices, e-mails are often read for the first and only time on a tablet or phone,” said Joe White, owner of CostDown Consulting, a trucking consulting firm. “If the text and images are not mobile-friendly, there is less chance the desired conversion will take place.”

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Eddie Hightower, president of The Hightower Agency, a truck driver recruiting firm, agrees: “The world has gone mobile, and who’s more mobile than drivers?”

Hightower said, “A truck driver’s smartphone is your biggest advocate and greatest tool for attracting drivers to your company — but your message must be quick and concise. So adapting your message to the smaller-screen environment is essential for enjoying good recruiting results.”

Brian Helton, marketing and media relations manager at specialized and dry van carrier Mercer Transportation, also said drivers are increasingly gravitating toward mobile devices.

“More and more, we are seeing guys who aren’t buying computers/laptops anymore,” he said. “The phones and tablets make communication and acquiring information easy to access and are extremely portable — it’s really the ideal device for a trucker.”

Mercer, based in Louisville, Kentucky, ranks No. 53 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest for-hire carriers in the United States and Canada.

Hightower and others who take great pains to ensure their e-mails render properly — no matter what size screen they’re being viewed on — say ensuring your e-mail design is “responsive” is crucial.

Responsive e-mails matter, they say, because they are designed to automatically render optimally on any screen, given that they’re imbued with special programming that “sense” the size of a screen and adapt accordingly.

“Responsiveness is the most critical design feature right now,” Hightower said. “Nobody enjoys doing the ‘pinch and zoom’ on their phone. If your e-mails aren’t being optimized for mobile users, your message will probably not be fully read.”

Eric Burney, supervisor of marketing communications at USA Truck, agrees.

“In terms of marketing, anything less than an easy-to-read, easy-to-manipulate e-mail defeats the purpose and is ultimately a waste of time,” Burney said. “If a company is going to utilize e-mail marketing, it has to be user-friendly first.”

USA Truck, based in Van Buren, Arkansas, ranks No. 50 on the for-hire TT100.

However, one of the pitfalls of responsive e-mail design is that many digital content designers operate with the mindset that it is nothing more than a design that looks good on a smartphone.

These designers — and there are a lot of them — have become so focused on ensuring their content looks great on a smartphone, they’ve abandoned all responsibility for ensuring that same content also looks good on laptops and desktops.

For these designers, it’s not a “mobile first” world, it’s a “mobile only” world.

This is why the web is littered with e-mails and web pages sporting images that look bloated on desktop computers. It’s also why desktop users increasingly find themselves scrolling through acres and acres of blank white space in some e-mails.

Essentially, the designers behind those experiences couldn’t care less if their content looks good on a desktop.

And such designers should be avoided like the plague.

Instead, trucking firms need to ensure that their in-house designer — or the designer they contract — realizes that the world is filled with computer devices of many screen sizes. Yes, we all agree smartphones are hot. And yes, we all agree that most people who love mobile are using smartphones to open e-mails.

But it’s equally true that nearly one-third of people still prefer laptops and desktops. And there’s no reason to leave that desktop and laptop money on the table simply because your digital content designer thinks big screens aren’t cool.

Indeed, according to the same Movable Ink study that found mobile is the overwhelmingly popular screen size for messaging, the desktop still remains the most popular place where real money gets exchanged. Specifically, more than half of the 1.4 million e-mail conversions Movable Ink tracked in 2015 — sales, responses to calls to action and the like — occurred on desktops.

Of course, besides having a long talk with your designer, another way to ensure your marketing e-mails — and those you send to your drivers — are optimized for all screens is to farm out the work to a top-notch, third-party service provider.

All of the top five e-mail service providers revealed in a 2015 Capterra study — MailChimp, Constant Contact, Vertical Response, Campaign Monitor and Get Response — offer responsive design to their clients.

Even so, no matter how you solve your e-mail design challenge, the only way you will really know whether your e-mails are rendering properly on mobiles and all other devices is to run tests. Fortunately, services such as Email on Acid, Litmus and EmailReach will do that for you, and they’ll serve as a nice double-check to ensure designers are doing what they say they’re doing.

“With so many different phones and tablets with different screen sizes, you have to make sure your e-mail will look good, no matter the device,” said Chris Halvachs, digital marketing representative at Superior Bulk Logistics, a liquid and dry bulk carrier and transloading provider.

The company, based in Oak Brook, Illinois, ranks No. 85 on the for-hire TT100.

Meanwhile, while you’re revamping or tweaking your e-mail messaging technique, here are some other design suggestions from trucking industry insiders that will help ensure your e-mails hit home:

• Keep it simple:

“Simplify the message and make it desirable at a quick glance,” said Fred Thayer, director of corporate communications at Werner Enterprises. “Stand out from the clutter and don’t overdo it. Keep the viewer’s interest level high by only communicating when you have something of real value and not a lot of fluff.”

Werner, based in Omaha, Nebraska, ranks No. 16 on the for-hire TT100.

Mercer’s Helton agrees: Your e-mail “should be brief and informative in as little text as possible and adaptable to be viewed on multiple devices.”

Also, a call to action, such as a “click for more information,” should be highly visible.

• Keep in mind that mobile users, by definition, are on the go.

“Most people are using mobile devices for speed and convenience,” Helton said. “Be accommodating to that, and keep your message brief and to the point.”

• Agonize over the efficacy of your subject line.

“You have two seconds in which the driver decides whether your e-mail is intriguing or valuable enough to open,” Hightower said. “You’ve got to create subject lines that produce high open rates.”

He added, “Generic and irrelevant subject lines will result in low open rates and high unsubscribes. Overusing exclamation points, or words like ‘free,’ can get your e-mail sent into the spam folder.”

• Craft your e-mails to arrive when they’ll be most likely read.

“It’s important to understand your audience,” said Halvachs, of Superior Bulk Logistics. “If that’s truck drivers, it’s understanding that their hours are different than other industry professionals. Learning the patterns of your target audience will help with your open and click-through rates. Send those e-mails when they are on their breaks. Our drivers have enough distractions on the road. Let’s not let e-mails be another one.”

• Remember, words count, too.

“Design is secondary to content,” said CostDown’s White. “E-mails should educate on the event, service or product being promoted in terms of the value offered to the recipient. Once the content is defined, develop a design that best delivers the intended message.”

• Don’t forget to leverage e-mail as a driver-retention tool.

“Because of the driver shortage, trucking companies are increasingly reinforcing their value as an employer to current driver employees through regular e-mail marketing campaigns,” White said. “E-mail retention campaigns in device-friendly format are an effective way to keep a company’s unique employment advantages in front of their drivers.”

Joe Dysart is an Internet speaker and business consultant based in Manhattan. Voice: (646) 233-4089. E-mail: