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.