When e-mail design goes bad

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Julian Scott
Julian Scott

Time and time again I discover that one of the main obstacles to creating effective, visually engaging, brand-propelling and, most important, results-driven e-mails is the creative team behind them.

There are many factors that need to be considered when designing an e-mail: how much content there will be, whether there will be dynamic content, how the design will organize the content, what call to action to use and how it will be coded. Everything needs to come together in unison to deliver an e-mail message that will deliver the most results.

Several critical points your creative team must keep in mind:

Best practices are best practices for a reason Unless it will work in 99.9 percent of environments, it is not a best practice and should generally be avoided.

Print is not the same as e-mail How the recipient will interact with and read it will be very different.

E-mails are rarely viewed in their entirety. You have to be able to tell your story within consolidated chunks that are clear, easily scanned and actionable.

E-mails are read top to bottom and left to right, so placing the headline at the bottom of the e-mail is not going to work. You have only a few seconds to grab their attention — don't waste it making them search for the primary points or call to action.

The way you would code a Web page is not the same way you code an e-mail, and you must adjust your design to accommodate no background images, no Flash, no forms, no java script, no CSS, no image maps.

An e-mail is never the destination. It serves as a stepping stone to motivate recipients to take an action. If the e-mail is not designed with this in mind, then you've missed the point and wasted your money.

Remember, if recipients cannot read your e-mail because the primary content is below the fold or coded in a way that will not render correctly, they are not likely to take an action.

Some simple things you can do include making sure your creative team attends industry events and stays on top of industry trends and news. Also, try to include them as part of your marketing planning process. Often, just understanding “why” is critical to effective implementation. Always be sure to share results and encourage creative thinking that can be validated through testing.

Julian Scott is creative director at Responsys. You can reach him at jscott@responsys.com.

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