Design for your eight e-mail audiences

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Stefan Pollard
Stefan Pollard

As a marketer, you might send one identical message per campaign to a highly targeted list of active recipients, but it will still be seen by eight different e-mail audiences, each of whom reads and responds to your message in a different way. So it's vital to find a design that appeals to as many of those audiences as possible.

Just to complicate matters, the audiences can shift each time.

The same recipients might read your message differently from edition to edition, depending on their mood or time constraints.

Understanding the major e-mail audiences will help you choose the right design tactics to maximize the likelihood that everyone will read and comprehend your message.

The eight different audiences are:

Identifiers have one goal: They use the “from” address and the subject line to whittle down their inboxes as fast as possible, deleting everything they don't want. Clear branding and great subject lines have the greatest impact.

HTML vs. text
Some e-mail clients give users a choice between HTML or text, which is why multipart MIME format has two parts: HTML for those who prefer e-mails with images and text for those who don't. Every e-mail you send should include both versions even if your preference center doesn't capture this choice.

Skimmers vs. readers
Skimmers open your message, but they want to read as fast as possible, using headlines, subheads and CTAs as cues. When you craft your message, have all these copy points working in unison to deliver the idea and lead to the clickthrough.

Readers want to read the two-to-three sentences of body copy between the headline and CTA to “learn more” about the specific topic the e-mail is discussing and help them over the click-through hurdle.

Mobile vs. desk
Some PDAs display HTML just fine. Others show a text version including lines of ugly HTML code. These e-mail addicts will most likely save your message to read later on a desktop or laptop. Few mobile readers will click through, and many will delete if something doesn't grab their eye fast enough. Desk readers are the ones most marketers design their e-mails for. Rendering tools like EmailAdvisor check e-mail messages with this audience in mind. They are the majority and the most likely audience to act on your message. Anything you do to optimize your design strategy for your other audiences will also help you reach this audience more effectively.

Searchers start out as members of one of the other audiences. They saw something they liked in your message but couldn't deal with it right away and saved your message for later.

The challenge: finding it again. If it doesn't stand out, it will be overlooked or forgotten and eventually deleted. Proper branding in the sender address and the subject line — including brand name and offer — have the greatest impact. Which audience is yours?

If you keep all eight audiences in mind when you design your emails, you multiply your chances of reaching the broadest spectrum of readers.

Stefan Pollard is director of consulting services at EmailLabs. You can reach him at

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