Failing at Emailing: Part 1 – Design

I’m a marketer’s dream.  I click PPC ads, I download eBooks, I bought Geico insurance because I like their commercials…At one time in my life, I was even the proud owner of infomercial favorites like Big Mouth Billy Bass, the Nicer Dicer, and the Shamwow.

So, you can understand the amazement I feel when so many of the promotional emails I receive don’t even come close to inciting me into action.  I’m not immune to them or anything, most of it is just so unbelievably bad.  Email addresses, obviously, are easy to come by, but the skills and tools to build good email marketing campaigns are not.

Despite all the bad people buying our email addresses from lists and sending horribly designed and poorly written emails from their Outlook accounts, email marketing is very successful and it’s not going anywhere.  It’s destined to continue improving as more inbound marketing jobs require skills like writing, HTML, Photoshop and experience with email marketing software like Hubspot and Marketo.

There’s no reason to wait, though, start contributing to the good email marketing now.

In part one of this series, I will focus on email design.

Much like websites, emails are now following the new wave of responsive designs that cater to cell phones. Multiple columns have since given way to stackable boxes.

Screen-Shot-2015-04-16-at-3.43.04-PM copy

This has also forced designers and email marketers to rethink order, as we want to give the most important blocks priority.  As a result, the body copy that once got prime real estate now gets bumped out of the fold. That was not done by accident. This design strategy is not only meant to be mobile friendly, it is also meant to be reader-friendly.

Even when emails are great, people typically only spend a few seconds looking at them.  Designing emails this way recognizes the propensity to skim by forcing marketers to get their point across using just the subject line, image, headline, and CTA, all of which can be quickly digested by readers (if they are not scannable the marketer is doing it wrong).

Ideally, emails only have a single offer or CTA, but this is rarely the case.  There are often circumstances like an event email with the primary objective of acquiring registration, but also a secondary call for sponsors and speakers.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as long as the different offers are separated by different sections, blocks or colors so they aren’t competing.

In the extreme Macy’s examples below, the emails have multiple offers and links thrown into a small space and, as a result, they look like an “EVERYTHING MUST GO” banner at a car lot instead of targeted eCommerce email marketing that makes me want to buy clothes for my Dad for Father’s Day.

email marketing fail

They made the most common, fatal error in email marketing…

They over thought it.

Father’s Day, discount prices and a picture of a dad holding his daughter should evoke pleasant feelings, but this design just stresses me out and confuses me.

The second appears to be full of information, but would anything be lost with a headline like “Don’t miss clearances of up to 25%. Super Sunday ends tonight,” and a nice image?   Less is always more with email marketing designs. Simplify it and then simplify again.

[icon color=”Extra-Color-1″ size=”small” image=”icon-lightbulb”]Note: Working with Designers to Create Consistent Blog Templates

Companies need versatile email templates to provide consistency. Consistent designs not only help create an email brand identity, they standardize image sizes, which is a crucial part of decreasing marketing’s dependencies on designers for emails.  With standardized image sizes in place, designers can create a bank of images in those sizes, based on common topics and themes for the marketers to choose from.

The key to a successful collaboration for marketing (depending on the talent of the design team) is deferring much of the control to their designers.  Marketers need to cede authority because they have a bad habit of trying to stuff too much information in their emails.  Designers tend to let the imagery do most of the talking, which forces content writers to get their key points across within the boundaries of smaller character limits.  It’s much easier for a marketer to create content that fits a layout than it is for a designer to create a layout that anticipates all of the different content variations a marketer can throw at them. Giving them control allows designers to create unencumbered design standards that cannot be altered. It will also ensure that all emails have the ideal composition and look the way the designer intended.

The marketer’s job in template design should only be collecting and handing over every type of email they’ve sent in the last year, to help designers create templates for as many use cases as possible. Marketers should also provide them with examples of all the email designs that experienced the highest CTR’s, so they can see which of their designs have been the most successful historically.