Make your message look like a winner
Effective e-mail design is important to the success of your program. A consistent template will resonate with your customers, help them easily move through your message and provide them with a customized experience.
But designs can become stale. Just as you continue to redesign, enhance and improve your Web site, you should revisit your e-mail template. If your program has been in place for more than 18 months, or if your click-through and open rates are declining, it may be time for a new look.
Your design template should prominently feature your logo; this reinforces your brand. And once you have developed a flexible template, use it for all your communications. Over time, recipients will become familiar with your format, which can increase response rates.
A two-column format has been shown to enhance readability and usability. Reading on a computer screen is different from reading offline; it is hard for the eye to track or follow copy that runs across a full screen. So, a two-column format can provide easy access to your content. It breaks each article or feature into digestible blocks and gives the recipient faster access to more content in your e-mail. Many marketers use a variation of this format. The featured item or content of the e-mail may appear in a one-column format as the lead, and then the balance of the e-mail changes to the two-column display.
Graphics add interest, but make sure you optimize all visual elements so they load quickly. I’ve received e-mails where the images slowly fill in, which certainly is not a good user experience. Most digital imaging software packages include optimization capabilities, and there also are free online utilities that can help. It’s important to keep the file size of your e-mail campaigns under 30K; 15K to 20K is even better.
One particularly useful element in a footer: a link to a site where recipients can change or update their information. I recently decided to change the e-mail address I use to receive most of my promotions and e-mails. What a chore! Less than half of my favorite marketers and publishers made this easy to accomplish. For the remainder, I had to guess what to do. With some, I clicked on the unsubscribe link, which took me to a form where I could modify my preferences. But with many, I had to unsubscribe and then resubscribe.
Beyond the Basics
You all come from a variety of direct marketing disciplines, and good e-mail design will vary based on the mission of your company. Let’s look at best practices tailored for different marketing purposes.
Retailers and Catalogers: Design your e-mails so they function as a miniportal to your Web site. Many best-of-breed marketers mirror the navigation functionality of their site in the header, or top, of their messages. The company logo placement is echoed in all e-mails, and merchandise departments are prominently displayed.
One great benefit of this layout is that it reminds the recipient of the breadth of online offerings. Even if the featured items in the e-mail are not of interest, headers that incorporate this design feature can spur an immediate click to the Web site, so the customer can shop for other items.
You can use either a single or double navigation bar. For example, you might show your various departments and include “shop by occasion,” “shop by price” and “shop by interest” buttons. One of my favorite design elements is a search box; it allows customers to immediately find the particular item they’re looking for. What could be better in providing a good experience?
Content Publishers and B-to-B: If the purpose of your e-newsletter is to provide features, articles and value-added content, the most critical design feature is the table of contents (TOC). It allows the reader to quickly scan for items of interest. A good TOC allows the reader to click on a headline and go directly to the article in the newsletter.
Many publishers use a standard listing format, but you also can use other structures to the same end. Your TOC might highlight a “feature,” a “top stories of interest” and “more” with either a headline or graphic treatment. These style elements should be customized to best reflect your content. This magazine, for example, uses a similar approach for its TM Tipline e-newsletter. The TOC listing has several articles organized into the following categories: “Target Tips to Test,” “Target News,” “Target Practice” and “Target Calendar.”
Publishers who accept ad banners have integrated placement into their overall design. The ads provide a natural break between sections of the newsletter. These banners also can add to overall format appeal, since they often contain images.
The two-column format can be used effectively to make it easier to read articles, because the width is not full-screen. A narrow first column can:
• provide links to sections of your site;
• highlight specific events or other content;
• include a poll or survey;
• promote subscriptions to other
• e-newsletters you may offer; and
• present ads.
To borrow from a well-known cliché, a picture is worth a thousand words, so don’t overlook the opportunity to include graphics in a text-heavy e-newsletter. These could be images that illustrate or support the main point of the article, content separators, and/or boxes highlighting tips, events or offers.
Take a look at your current design. Is it time for a makeover? If you do decide to re-evaluate your presentation, share the new version with people outside your company who aren’t familiar with your products or services. This is the acid test to make sure your e-mails are easy to read and use.