Email is but one of many forms of mar­ket­ing. They all have their legit­i­mate pur­poses and advan­tages, but each approach has its own unique attrib­utes and best prac­tices that are not nec­es­sar­ily transferable.

For exam­ple, email cam­paigns should not fol­low the same prin­ci­ples as a direct mail effort, and email mar­ket­ing pieces should not be designed like you would design your direct mail fly­ers, cat­a­logs, and brochures. In fact, using direct mail prac­tices (like send­ing large num­bers of untar­geted pieces to those who have not requested them for your email cam­paigns) could lead to com­plaints. That could ulti­mately dam­age your chances of suc­cess­ful deliv­ery and, ulti­mately, your rep­u­ta­tion. And indi­vid­ual emails that don’t fol­low estab­lished design prac­tices run the risk of not being seen at all.

Don’t use your key­board like a printer!

For many rea­sons, your email piece does not have the same flex­i­bil­ity of design that a print mailer would. Your read­ers will not view an email com­mu­ni­ca­tion in the same way that they would a printed flyer, both in how they respond to it and in how their eyes track through the piece. Email has many usabil­ity fac­tors to con­sider that are not rel­e­vant in a print world. For exam­ple, your email piece needs to encour­age clicks, it needs to con­vince sub­scribers to read the email in less than two sec­onds in a pre­view pane, and it must get through all the spam fil­ter­ing checks.

Here are some ideas to give your emails the great­est chance of hav­ing the impact you desire. You will find expanded dis­cus­sions of how to cre­ate the best email pieces later in this blog.

Mon­i­tor Your Frequency

Postal per­spec­tive: Send your mail­ing to the widest pos­si­ble audi­ence. They may not be ready at the time for your prod­uct or ser­vice, but the cat­a­log or brochure may sit in a pile on your din­ing room table until the cus­tomer is ready.

Email per­spec­tive: With email, you will ulti­mately be penal­ized if your cus­tomers are not engaged and your emails go unopened. You get just a few sec­onds to engage your reader with email, and it is likely they will never return to it if their inter­est is not cap­tured at that moment.

Know Your Audience

Postal per­spec­tive: Cut print­ing costs by send­ing the same flyer, brochure, or cat­a­log to every­one on your direct mail list.

Email per­spec­tive:With the tools of your email ser­vice provider, you can cus­tomize indi­vid­ual emails, tak­ing into account per­sonal infor­ma­tion, past pur­chases, inter­ests, and more. Each email can be designed to feel like it sat­is­fies a per­sonal request by the cus­tomer for goods and ser­vices that meet a need at that moment in time. (See my ear­lier blog on this topic.)

Design of the Mailing                                                                                                                                                   

Postal per­spec­tive: Since your cus­tomer has the piece in their hands, fill every part of the page—front and back—with use­ful infor­ma­tion and prod­uct offerings.

Email per­spec­tive: I’ve said it before: “Keep it real sim­ple, stu­pid.” Research has shown that peo­ple look at cer­tain areas of the screen first when read­ing email and that their eyes fol­low a cer­tain pre­dictable pat­tern.  Their eyes do not nec­es­sar­ily go to the pic­tures! Stud­ies sug­gest it might be safest to have your head­line, call to action, and com­pany infor­ma­tion at the top of your email. Don’t make your users scroll down the page for what really mat­ters. Also take into account that your sub­scribers will be view­ing your emails on dif­fer­ent devices and browsers.

Make It Pretty!

Postal per­spec­tive: Fill your flyer or cat­a­log with eye-catching images that will attract their atten­tion, even if the piece sits on that same pile of mail for a while.

Email per­spec­tive: You can­not design your email as you would design a print mar­ket­ing piece. Your design team may be frus­trated that your email doesn’t look as pol­ished as a cat­a­log or printed flyer, but unlike its paper coun­ter­part, the email needs to drive results and get deliv­ered suc­cess­fully. Choice of images can affect a num­ber of factors.

  • Have an opti­mal bal­ance of text to images.  An email that has lots of images and low text con­tent may look good, but it may be blocked by many spam fil­ters.  Use at least 60 per­cent of your avail­able space for images. Don’t send emails that are just one large image.
  • Overuse or dis­pro­por­tion­ate use of images when com­pared with the amount of text in your mail­ing can send your piece to the spam filter.
  • Make sure your email looks good even if the images are dis­abled. Many email providers block images as a default and many users don’t take the time to turn them back on. Use  “alt-text” so that your call to action will be vis­i­ble, even if images are disabled.
  • Links should be text links, not graphic but­tons or boxes. Remem­ber, some of your read­ers may not see the images.
  • At the top of your email, also include a link to an online ver­sion of your HTML.
  • Finally, as we always advise, test, test, test. It’s impor­tant to test your email prior to deploy­ment to see how it looks with images off and on.

Email may look like a printed page when viewed on a dis­play, but it is actu­ally very dif­fer­ent. Design­ing your emails and your email mar­ket­ing cam­paign like you would a direct mail­ing effort will not get you the results you want. Treat­ing email like the unique mar­ket­ing vehi­cle it is will engage your cus­tomers and dra­mat­i­cally increase the like­li­hood of your success.