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Secrets & lies: E-mail marketing design

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It’s a widely recognized industry statistic: About half the time e-mails don’t render because the recipients have images turned off. So what’s a marketer to do, then, about e-mail design? Should you bother with images? Should you go text-only? How much time should you allocate to e-mail marketing design? To answer these design-related questions—and to uncover one of the most common misconceptions—‘EMI’ spoke to Jeannette Kocsis, VP-digital strategy and media at Harte-Hanks Inc., a marketing service provider, and Ivan Chalif, director of product marketing for Alterian, a marketing software platform provider.

Lie: You need to control every aspect of your e-mail design.
You’ve probably got several e-newsletters in your inbox that only have a single image. Companies do this all the time, Kocsis said, because they are so worried about their branding message that they feel the need to control it completely.

“They want their brand to come through exactly the way it does in print,” she said. “They want to control the images, fonts and photos, but they still don’t realize that there are a significant number of people who view e-mails with images turned off.”

A smarter option, Kocsis said, is to provide an HTML version so you can control layout without coming off as a complete control freak.

There are some things, however, that you should control—especially when it comes to your e-mail newsletter. While it may seem like a good idea to mix things up often and change your design frequently, save your creativity for your one-off messages, she said. Create a workable design, and then stick with what’s familiar to your recipients.

“People in retention programs have expectations on where things in an e-newsletter are going to be. They get used to where their eyes will go and where their favorite features will be.” This familiarity should carry over to any third-party advertising you do, Alterian’s Chalif said.

This will be a delicate balance, one that will take some careful planning and testing. Ads shouldn’t take away from your design. You also don’t want them to blend in too much or you risk losing their impact—and your advertisers.

Chalif suggested delineating e-mail banners and ads so they stand apart, and requiring advertisers to stick with a color palette.

“You don’t want spacing or design to mess too much with your design and content,” he said. “But you want to make advertisers happy, too.”

Secret: Marketing creative for your e-mail marketing, landing page and Web page should be similar, but it’s even more effective if it’s a little different from medium to medium.
Experts have preached cohesive design for years. Your e-mail marketing should have the same genesis as your Web site—and even your banner campaigns. But just because some things should be similar doesn’t mean they have to be exactly the same. In fact, when you reuse too many elements or carry, for example, a Web image into your e-mail newsletter, you may be doing more harm than good, Chalif said. “You’ll want to keep design elements simple but connected to other brand images,” he said. “There’s a perception that you can do with e-mail all the things you can do on a Web site or in a print ad, but you can’t, actually.”

Chalif suggested selecting specific brand-related elements—such as logos, color schemes and palettes—to include in your e-mail messaging. This way, everything that touches the customer or prospect has a branding effect but doesn’t get in the way of your actual message the way excessive images or overly busy designs might. Use your landing page to bring in additional elements from your Web site—but don’t make them too busy or include too many graphics or images, he said.

“You want the landing page to be a bridge between your e-mail messages and the Web site so the recipient sees they are all connected. The readers will see a progression.”

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