Microsoft launched its new web-based email service Outlook.com on July 31 and within just 6 hours had 1 million users, according to a company Tweet. As this new email service makes its debut, I’ll share a quick look at some of Outlook.com’s benefits for users, as well as predict how it will potentially impact email marketers in the near future.
Outlook.com’s Top User Benefits
Although Microsoft is moving towards replacing its current Hotmail email service with Outlook.com, Hotmail email users can continue to use their accounts on Hotmail.com or switch to the new Outlook.com. So if you already have a Hotmail account, you can log in to Outlook.com with those credentials and see your existing messages with the new layout.
Released as a “preview” version with more features to follow, Outlook.com’s positive improvements and updates to the current Hotmail email service include:
- Cleaner design, with 60% smaller header space compared to Gmail
- Integration with Word, PowerPoint, and Excel
- Integration with social networks and other services, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Yahoo, and Google, with status updates and tweets visible in the side panel
- Downplayed advertisements — Users won’t see display ads when they read their messages from contacts and, unlike Gmail, Microsoft won’t scan the contents of emails to target ads at their users
- Skype calls can be launched from the inbox (not yet available).
What’s New about Outlook.com That May Impact Marketers
As we look at how the new Outlook.com may impact marketers, the folder and sweep features stand out. Outlook.com detects and labels emails as promotional and newsletters, for example, offering an unsubscribe button that allows users to unsubscribe and filter all future advertisements from a company. It also creates “quick view” folders for certain messages and a “sweep” feature that lets users automatically move all messages from certain email addresses to a folder, as well as delete them on a schedule set by the user. These features — especially the scheduled cleanup — could really hurt email marketers who aren’t adequately engaging with their subscribers.
In analyses we’ve done for some clients just over the last 6 months, we’ve seen inactive user levels (defined as no opens or clicks within typically the past 6 months) upwards of over 95%. The addition of the new sweep and foldering features in Outlook.com emphasizes the need for email marketers to proactively manage their relationships and engagement with subscribers. Otherwise, as more of their email subscribers use Outlook.com, they may end up with an email list of 95% inactives. What’s the best approach to deal with inactives? Check out a previous blog, where I talk about that issue.
Another Outlook.com feature marketers will have to be aware of and monitor is the smartphone integration. In this integration, Microsoft is using Exchange ActiveSync — a data-synchronization service that gives users access to their email, contacts, and calendars, as well as provides offline access to their mailboxes. Exchange ActiveSync has been known to modify the sender’s HTML in ways that negatively impact rendering. At FulcrumTech, for instance, we’ve detected this rendering issue in particular with special characters. Here are two examples of some of the discussions relating to this ActiveSync mobile (e.g., iPhone) rendering issue: Apple.com and SmarterTools.com.
As for the new social integration now possible with Outlook.com, we see it as likely opening up some exciting possibilities for marketers as users adopt the new feature.
The Bottom Line on Outlook.com
It’s very early in the release of Microsoft’s free consumer web-based email product that will eventually replace Hotmail. But here are a few of the big issues marketers should be especially aware of as more and more of their subscribers use Outlook.com:
- Outlook.com’s foldering capabilities emphasize, yet again, how important it is for marketers to be relentless in managing their list to develop relationships and engagement with subscribers; we have seen similar capabilities in Yahoo, Gmail, and Facebook.
- Track the growth of inactive users among your Outlook.com addresses versus users with other email addresses. If you see a faster growth among the Outlook.com users, it may mean that you’re being foldered out more quickly.
- Beware of potential rendering issues on mobile due to Exchange ActiveSync.
- Ensure that your emails are rendering correctly for Outlook.com users.
The next several months should be interesting, as the number of people using Outlook.com grows and we marketers wrap our arms around Outlook.com and the many possibilities or challenges it may present.
Have you given Outlook.com a try yet? (To sign up, simply go to www.outlook.com and follow the prompts to get your own Outlook.com email address.) What’s your initial reaction to it compared to other email products? We’d love to hear your opinions!