Email design best practices are recommended for a reason: They help engage your readers, convey your message, and (hopefully) convert your subscribers beyond clicks.
Let’s see how design can help increase your email conversions.
Create brand awareness
When I think of effective branding, I think of Tiffany & Co. It’s iconic little blue box says it all. In its email designs, Tiffany uses that blue color to build upon its brand equity.
But it’s about balance, too. Tiffany doesn’t have to shout its brand name. “Tiffany & Co.” is tastefully placed at the top of the email. It doesn’t overpower the product, which certainly takes center stage.
Branding builds recognition and trust with your audience. That leads to sales. You’ve got to earn that trust, however. It doesn’t happen overnight. Over time, consistent messaging – coupled with exemplary products and/or services – will create a level of comfort and trust.
Pay attention to the preview pane
Because many email service providers have preview panes, it’s crucial that your most important message appears in the top left of your email. You’ve basically got 250×250 pixels to work with. It’s challenging. Deal with it.
A picture’s worth a thousand words…
OK, it’s a cliche, but let’s face it. In email marketing, you’ve got to get your point across quickly. Readers spend only seconds on your precious email, so you’ve got to make every aspect count. According to a study by the Nielsen Norman Group, “Email Newsletter Design to Increase Conversion and Loyalty”, 69% of email newsletters are skimmed.
So (sorry, copywriters) you need strong images to catch your readers’ attention. This email from MAC is an example of an eye-catching (pun intended) graphic. It proves that you don’t always need color to be compelling.
… but …
You’ve got to design your emails expecting images to be blocked. That means, for one thing, that you must include alt tags. If you don’t, your email could look like this:
It will be hard to convert a subscriber who has no clue what your email’s about. Alt tags give your subscribers a reason to download the images in your email…click on the email…and make a purchase (or other action).
A word about color
Depending on your audience, color can impact how they respond to your email offer. Kissmetrics has studied how colors can affect conversions. Are you targeting women? Go with blues, purples and greens; avoid orange, brown and gray. Targeting men? Go with blue, green or black; stay away from brown, orange and purple.
Take this Sony email, for example. It’s designed to grab your attention:
Colors are associated with various qualities, so you might want to think about this when incorporating color into your emails. Here are a few to start with, courtesy of Color Wheel Pro, but keep in mind that if you have a global audience, colors take on different significance in other countries.
- Red – Energy, danger, strength, power, passion, desire, love
- Orange - success, encouragement, happiness, creativity, joy
- Yellow - joy, happiness, energy, intellect (avoid dull yellows)
- Green - growth, freshness, fertility, harmony, safety, money (dark green)
- Blue - trust, loyalty, confidence, faith, truth, tranquility (light), power (dark)
- Purple - royalty, nobility, luxury, wealth, creativity, mystery, magic
- White – Safety, purity, perfection, goodness, innocence
- Black – power, formality, elegance, death, evil, mystery
You’ve got to close the sale. In emails, that means you need a prominent call to action. It can’t hurt to be clever, too, as illustrated by this Christmas email. Even the colors are a softer version of the typical red and green. That’s one way to stand out from all the clutter in the inbox – especially at holiday time.
The key takeaway
You won’t have the Email Design Police coming after you if you fail to follow all the rules all the time. In fact, I’d encourage you to break test the rules occasionally. But if you fail to follow the solid practices most of the time, you won’t get the best results from your email campaigns.
Mobile email is becoming very important. One study estimates that 38% of email is now opened on a mobile device. That compares to 33% of email opened on desktop applications.
In my humble opinion, if your company is not paying attention to how your emails look (and behave) on mobile devices you’re already trailing the competition.
So today we’re going to look at a few mobile email marketing trends that you may be able to apply to your program.
Location-based email marketing has come a long way in a short amount of time. Emails can now determine your current location, with each new open. So you could open an email from your favorite restaurant in one town and if you are in a new city the next day you could open the email again and it would list the store that is now closest to your location.
Live email information goes beyond location though. There are live countdowns that can be used for promotions and flash sales. Live emails also include social media updates like a live Twitter feed or Facebook photo stream.
The example above is from a Movable Ink blog post, a company that is really doing great things with live email content.
There are lots of possibilities.
2. More Text, Less Images
One issue with mobile email marketing is the time it can take to load images. But the biggest game changer when it comes to email content is that when images are blocked an image-heavy email is nearly unreadable. Sure, this is also true for emails which are viewed on desktops but given the slower load times it’s all the more important to use text over images, when possible and appropriate.
In the example, Apple uses a green background with a headline image and product image, but the text is actually text. Should the images be slow to load on a mobile device the user would still be able to read the text right away and they would still see the call to action to visit the local Apple retail store.
3. Responsive Email Design
Responsive design is being used on heavily on websites. The process gives users an optimized experience no matter what device they use to view the site. The site owner only has one site to maintain, which makes it different than a mobile site.
Nowadays, a lot of companies are using responsive email design too. Which, if coded properly, allows the email to render differently and depending on the device on which is open. You can adjust width, image size, font sizes and even hide or reveal content blocks or columns.
This example from Twitter, which was featured in this post from Litmus, not only changes (for the better) when viewing on a mobile device but the call to action changes as well, which we discuss in more detail below.
4. Pushing Apps
LinkedIn has an increasingly good email resource for professionals. What’s most interesting about this email, though, is the call to action for the LinkedIn Mobile App.
Like responsive email design, it’s a great way to provide a better experience to users based on the device they are currently using.
Final Thoughts on Mobile Email Marketing
Mobile email marketing is becoming something nearly every company will need to pay attention to in 2013. People are viewing email on their phones at an increasing rate. If the experience is not optimized subscribers will lose their patience.
Take inspiration from the trends above for your email programs.
What else are you seeing in the mobile email marketing world? Share your thoughts in the comments.
There are many segments of email subscribers.
The first, and most important segment, are buyers. Your customers.
Buyers love you. They’ll open and click on a fair share of your emails.
What about the non-buyers?
These can drive email marketers crazy.
When it comes to the non-buyers, the people that are simply subscribers, it could mean big dollars to your business if you can get them to pay attention to your emails.
How do you win these people over once you’ve persuaded them to open your emails?
The answer is design.
Why Design Is King in Email Marketing
As humans, we have evolved to quickly process new information. When we encounter something for the first time we draw on past experiences to give us a fast understanding of something new.
We have evolved this way because there is so much information in the world and it would be impractical to take time to analyze everything. Instead we simply draw on past experiences and assumptions to come up with early conclusions.
An email marketing campaign is just like a first face-to-face meeting.
Instead of you being there in person it is the email making the right impression. Making things even more challenging is the fact that your email can’t speak so that sense is thrown out the window.
As a result, people gain a first impression of your email, once opened, by quickly assessing the design.
It may seem shallow, but it’s how humans have evolved. We look at the design of something, even the design of humans, when first assessing something. It’s a first response to quickly take in information and determine if it’s worth further taking the next step.
Just as physical beauty is an important first impression for human mating, beautiful design is important for email marketers who want to convert openers into buyers.
Emails need to be stunning.
Think of it like a great song.
When you are first interested in a song what is it that captures your attention?
It’s the melody or the music. You hear a catchy hook or an interesting layer of instrumentation and you’re taken in. Once your attention is captured your start looking deeper into the entire song including the rest of the music and the lyrics.
That is how email marketing works.
How to Create Stunning Email Design
Design is emotional.
As people, we pay attention to design because we like to feel emotions. Design brings out various emotions and we respond.
To get to the buying emotions in people it’s necessary to create email designs that make a good first impression.
Here are some examples.
BOLD AND BEAUTIFUL
Everybody is using white backgrounds. Even Apple in the screenshot above uses white backgrounds. To stand out, Fossil uses bold background colors.
Part of being stunning is being different. When people see something they don’t expect to see they take notice, which means they may be more inclined to take action.
QUIRKY AND DIFFERENT
Again, being different is the key to standing out. Pier 1 walks a fine line with their brand because they want to be known as a purveyor of quality furniture. But in order to stand out in the inbox they went with something quirky and different.
SIMPLE DESIGN IS EFFECTIVE
It’s difficult to be simple. We have a tendency to try to solve problems for everyone that might be looking at our email. If a single piece of merchandise is interesting and stunning then featuring it might be enough to stand out in the inbox.
This example is from C. Wonder. The story is the jacket and its bold color. The jacket has style. The jacket is different and the designers at C. Wonder understood that and took the distractions away.
You’re leaving money on the table and you know it. We’re all leaving money on the table by not converting those non-buyers into buyers.
We’re struggling to get their initial attention. To get those people interested it’s necessary to focus on subject lines and design first and the content of the email second. Get their attention first and once you have them win them over with the content within the email.
For too long we’ve heard that content is king.
Forget it. When it comes to winning over the people that take only a second to view an email it comes down to first impression and email design helps to make a strong first impression every time.
Most people respond to marketing messages according to how they feel about a product rather than logic.
Noted psychologist Robert Plutchik created what is now known as the “wheel of emotions” which describes how emotions are related, which marketers can use to cultivate the desired emotions and response.
Emotional Factors That Influence Engagement
Now let’s explore how as email marketers we can cultivate these emotions in our subscribers, and influence their engagement.
Anticipation: Humans are curious. You can use this to your advantage when crafting your emails. Enticing imagery, trigger words, and teaser content all help to motivate your prospects.
Joy: Happy customers mean well engaged, repeat customers. Keep customers happy by offering valuable content, positive imagery, and well-written copy.
Trust: Your prospects want to feel safe when interacting with your offer. You can build trust through endorsements, well-known referrers, and reviews.
Emotional Factors That Influence Purchases
Research suggests that up to 90% of all purchase decisions are made unconsciously and in a matter of seconds. Below are some emotional factors that can influence those split-second purchase decisions.
No-brainer: People prefer to buy without thinking. If people are required to think too much when interacting with your offer, you are exhausting them, and the subconscious mind doesn’t like that.
Make it easy. Narrow your product choices and cut out unnecessary information.
No Risk: People have a natural aversion to risk. As a general rule, people feel loss more powerfully than they feel gain.
Consider positioning your product as being the “safe” option rather than the “new” option or give them the option to kick-the-tires before committing.
Social Proof: People will follow the crowd. As humans we all like to move with the herd and see what other people like.
Provide your customers with proof that other people are buying, and benefiting from, your product.
An Example of Emotional Email Design and Copy
All of the work we do as creative marketers uses the abilities we have to play with emotion.
But as email marketers we have additional considerations, which run parallel to emotional triggers, such as preview text/panes, image rendering, mobile views and subject line/content/landing page continuity. All of which must also be considered.
Here’s a Breakdown
- Joy: Snappy Headline + Professional Imagery
- Anticipation: Simulated Video Animation + Crisp Body Copy
- Social Proof: “Mind. Blown.” Tweets
- No-brainer: Solo Offer + Clean Call-to-action
- No Risk: Free Trial or Learn More
This email also successfully addresses the limitations of the medium. For example, note how well this email rendered on my mobile device.
Note too this slick screenshot that was created by a new, free service from MailChimp called Smartphones@.
What’s The Takeaway?
If your emails aren’t tuned to resonate with your audience’s emotions, you could be losing business. By cultivating one or more of the desired emotions in your email creative, nay…your email program, you’ll boost click rates, decrease attrition, and grow your revenue.
But remember this…emotional engagement doesn’t begin and end with email creative…but you can use it unleash the power of this creative thinking in all of your marketing or professional endeavors, not just design or copy of the email itself.
P.S. Props to Justine Jordan who created the Litmus email. I’m a fan but not just because she wears an awesome cat hat. Justine’s work reflects that she has strong sense of how aesthetics and copy should work in partnership.
If you’ve seen Zombieland or The Walking Dead you know that there are rules for staying alive in the midst of a Zombie plague. I know what you’re thinking, “How can I apply those rules to my email marketing?” No?!
Okay, surviving the (un?)likely event of a post-apocalyptic zombified wasteland might take priority over the success your email marketing efforts but given the season, and my fascination with Zombies, it seems appropriate to share a slightly modified version of these rules with you now.
- Cardio. Like outpacing a Zombie hoard you must be able to run your email marketing program for an extended period of time. No sprinters here. If you’re going to survive thrive, endurance is key.
- Double Tap. It takes at least two gunshots to safely deal with a Zombie. This is the same when dealing with customers and prospects. You’ve got to tap them again and again and again to demonstrate your value.
- Beware of Bathrooms. You are at your most vulnerable to a Zombie sneak attack when you are in a bathroom. If you become comfortable and relax for too long; your email marketing program can run into the same problem. Be vigilant. Keep testing. Always be on the lookout for opportunities and dangers.
- Travel Light. It will be harder to out run a Zombie if you’re carrying more than you can handle. No dead weight. This goes for both the objects and people (practices and vendors) you carry with you. If they can’t pull their own, ditch ‘em.
- Dress smart. Clothing should be tight-fitting and purposeful, with easily accessible pockets. The same holds true for your emails; tight in their construction, purposeful in their message and accessible across mobile devices and desktops.
- Limber Up. When entering a Zombie zone you’ll want to be as limber as possible. Have everything in order before pushing the “go” button. Your contact strategy. The creative. Landing page. Sales support. Let’s do this!
- Know your environment, use it to your advantage. Outside of their apparent supernatural sense of smell, Zombies have limited insight into their surroundings. You’re no Zombie. Observation and information are your most powerful weapons. Previous purchases, subscriber behavior, stated interests, calendar dates. Data is the next best thing to Zombie repellant.
- Buddy System. Never, ever, ever, under any circumstances shall you EVER go anywhere alone (yes, this includes the bathroom). You can’t always see a Zombie coming from every direction. Having an email marketing partner can be a huge help, preferably one with extensive Zombie hacking experience. They can be objective to things you may not want to see, try or do; helping you save time and money.
- Enjoy The Little Things. When fighting Zombies you’ll need to take time and entertain yourself (and your subscribers) every chance you get. Enjoy getting to know your clients and enjoy testing new ways of selling. Enjoy the added-value (e.g. branding, social sharing) that email marketing can provide. Have fun but never rest.
This list is intended to be a living document, designed to be passed from survivor to survivor. Please comment so that we can add, edit or consolidate these rules. Our future depends on it.
In case you missed it, here are the slides to the webinar that I (and the team from Mass Transmit) put on last week.
Along with several eye-opening stats and HTML coding tricks, you’ll also find really good tips for creating a one-size-fits-all email template framework, that renders well across mobile devices and desktop clients.
It’s been said that creating an HTML-based email in 2009 is like developing a web page in 1999. It’s sadly true; the coding is archaic and, compared to modern 2.0 functionally, the limitations are huge.
So when email marketers want to convey motion and visual direction they use animated GIFs. Prior to Flash, simple GIF animations were the order of the day. Nowadays the use of animated email is increasing. Why? Firstly, animated GIFs are well-supported by the major email clients and webmail interfaces, second, it helps marketers to stand out, and most importantly, they seem to work.
This recent A/B test by BlueFly found an animated email pulling in 12% more revenue than the non-animated equivalent. Likewise, this case study on Marketing Sherpa, Lake Champlain Chocolates experienced a sales increase of 49% at Christmas in relation to a campaign using animated GIFs compared with a campaign the previous year.
Firstly, marketers can use a relatively small amount of space to highlight multiple products, special offers, or calls-to-action, as well as increase click-through rates to hosted videos. Smart marketers can also use animation to encourage scrolling in exceptionally long (or horizontal) emails.
The most relevant compatibility issue is how animated emails render in Outlook 2007. That is, only the first frame of the animated GIFs is displayed. So you’ll want to communicate your message in the first frame, just in case. You’ll also want to keep in mind that the size of the animated GIF (in kilobytes) can negatively affect the speed and order of which your images are displayed.
Animated Email Examples
- Communication Example: Indiemark Newsletter
- Impact Example: Grand Wailea
- Call-to-Action Examples: Banana Republic, Lexus, Piperlime
- Product Showcase Examples: Land’s End, Art.com
- Simulated Video Examples: Twilight
- Misc. Usage Examples: Norm Thompson, Aeropostale
With a solid understanding of your objectives and an experienced email designer you’ll be able to increase click-through and conversion rates using animation.
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