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•Begin testing by giving participants context. If the e-mail is triggered from a Web site, make sure participants first interact with that Web site. If the e-mail is one piece of a multipart series, show participants all preceding e-mails. If it’s generated after users interact with print collateral, show participants that collateral. These measures will prevent you from being sidetracked by context-dependent problems that will resolve themselves in the real-world experience.
•During testing, use true-to-life viewing and interaction methods. If the e-mail will be viewed on a computer screen, test it there instead of on paper. Paper-based testing doesn’t assess text tolerances and doesn’t show how content can fall below the fold. Similarly, if users will interact with the e-mail on mobile devices, be sure to test it on these devices to understand interaction challenges—like those caused by scrolling and stylus pens. Also, be sure to test shorter e-mail exposures to understand the effect of time-limited viewing. Short-term user perceptions are often much different than long-term designer perceptions.
•After testing the e-mail, show participants what happens next to determine whether the larger system of communications makes sense. If the e-mail leads to a Web page when clicked, show participants that Web page. If a subsequent e-mail will follow after a delay, use a distracter task so that participants forget some of what they just saw and then show that e-mail. These measures will tell you whether the test e-mail needs modification to work within the larger communication context.
Melissa Read is VP-research and innovation at Engauge (www.engauge.com), a marketing solutions agency.