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Simple Content: A Safer Choice

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E-mail marketing creative presents a particular challenge for marketers: Unlike a print ad or direct mail piece, which are usually displayed as the advertiser intended them to be, the content in a marketer's e-mail message may or may not render properly depending on the recipient's e-mail client. With that in mind, many marketers are opting for simpler creative that loads easily and leads readers to their Web site for more information.

One concern is the newest version of Microsoft Outlook 2007, which was released earlier this year and renders HTML differently than previous versions. Instead of using the Web browser Internet Explorer to render e-mail, Outlook 2007 uses Microsoft Word, whose support of typical Web design elements is limited.

Shannon Delaney, director of client services for Spunlogic, an interactive marketing and technology agency, said she recently overhauled a client's e-mail marketing campaign to make it more effective when rendered in the newest version of Outlook.

"As companies and individuals are buying new computers and upgrading their software packages, that's what's going to be available to them," she said. "It's not a big deal yet but it's coming, and I think it's going to be one of the next big waves in what's going to cause e-mail creative trends to change."

To ensure that e-mails are effective even if images don't load, Delaney recommends putting the most compelling and important information in Web text at the top of the e-mail and on the left side, because people read left to right and will see that information first. "It's more about bringing that call to action front and center at the top of the e-mail, so people are immediately engaged," she said. "If you do heavily image-loaded creative and the images don't load in Outlook, someone that's busy isn't going to download the images and wait for things to happen. You have a lot less time to make an impact in that kind of an environment."

Rendering obstacles and spam filtering issues have forced marketers to focus on the message and relevance of their campaigns, said Bill Nussey, president-CEO of e-mail service provider Silverpop. "Marketers are really coming to grips with the fact that to capture someone's attention and be relevant, you can't be fancy; you just have to have solid content, solid promotion and targeted information," he said. "Vehicles to differentiate yourself purely through creative have been somewhat diminished."

This is especially true for b-to-b marketers, whose audiences often want quick access to product information or news on industry trends that will help them do their job better.

Such is the case for Joe Biondo, e-business manager at Bosch Rex- roth Corp., a provider of drive and control technologies used in industrial automation, who said text e-mails have been successful for his company because its audience of engineers looks for hard data. The e-mails might include a thumb-nail photo of the product that adds a little pizzazz, he said, but the messages are not graphics- or photo-intensive.

"They see the text e-mail as less showy and little bit more credible in the industrial markets we're working with," he said.

VuTec Corp., a provider of video projection screen technology that works with Bronto Software for its e-mail marketing, keeps e-mail creative simple with the goal of grabbing the recipient's eye, and then gets into the more detailed information later, said David Miller, corporate communications manager at VuTec. "It's almost like an ad; your headline, your subhead and message have to get them on the first glance, where they can just recall it and go from there," he said.

But having e-mail creative that engages recipients is only half the battle. A report released in June by Silverpop studied landing pages from 150 e-mail marketing campaigns and found that many fail to grab visitors' attention, and some are confusing and cluttered.

"An area that notably marketers just don't think about is the landing page where the actual conversion takes place," Nussey said. "By tuning landing pages and trying different landing page layouts, marketers can often find lifts in their response rates that far exceed what they might get by tuning content on the e-mail side alone."

The Silverpop report found that e-mail recipients can be confused when a landing page doesn't match the look and tone of the e-mail that led them there. A landing page should repeat the e-mail's call to action, the report said, though 45% of the landing pages analyzed didn't do so; it should also include an opt-in request to gather an e-mail address from people who are not in the marketer's database but received the e-mail via forwarding. Of the landing pages analyzed, 35% didn't include an opt-in request.

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