Adventures in Mobile Marketing

Why Email Design is So Bad

Monday, 05. May 2008 by Anna Billstrom

For another project I’ve really been maxing out my CSS and design skills. It’s for the real web… that is, real web sites that can handle CSS, JavaScript, Ajax. Then I return to the email world, and wonder, to myself, why is it all so bad? (And is that the reason why I’ve been stunted, so to speak, in my front end programming abilities for the last 6 or so years?).

For those of you that have no experience with contemporary website design, it has undergone a real revolution. Elegant, sparse, and flexible, was my feeling when I finally upgraded a project from old tables and background colors- what we do in email- to the newfangled world of CSS2. So yes, there are technical restraints to using new design, how flash and CSS is oddly handled by all of the browsers and systems out there- but in general, we’re still not keeping to good consistent design (like our contemporaries in web design.)

But back to email- why is it so bad? See this Avis email I got a few minutes ago.

Avis with images off

Not to pick so much on Avis- this is actually middling in the range of design flaws I get in my inbox every day.

What’s Wrong
If you’re asking yourself what’s wrong, read on, otherwise skip to “Why This Happens”.
- First off, the right sidebar alt text font color is hard to read over red.
- Subhead has different font and size- too large, unreadable- than main head. Solution? Encapsulate that in the same style setting, or set the body font to arial 10pt.
- Use of spacer GIFs instead of margins, also clutters up the rendering with image soff.
- Alt text in different font and style than the body- also managed with setting body style or inline styles to match.
- Images for headers, which is not advised with image suppression- use links.
- The Avis branding in the alt text is not enoguh to drive me to download images. It should be interesting and descriptive. They favored branding over getting images turned on- and basically maintaining subscription.

Why This Happens
My belief is that:
- Companies aren’t recognizing the errors and loss in readership, optin and subscribers, by bad design. Either they don’t have a testing suite to show them, or they don’t believe it (see: the perils of gut marketing). This is mostly an issue because they may get the email rendering OK in their work account, and don’t see the myriad of design issues in other inboxes.
- The best minds of design aren’t going into email- it’s still stigmatized by spammers.
- Lack of standardization means that, in the interim, designers just design for one or two situations (browser/OS) and disregard the rest.
- Organizationally, there’s a split in skills- the markup folks and the design folks- and passing the buck of “what works in what browser” and other testing suites. To get someone who knows the markup and can design worth some salt, that’s special indeed.
- Marketing managers don’t want to use templates. They think every communication should be different, that every offer is unique. I think this is misguided, as any email provider will tell you that the majority of their email messages from their clients look alike.

Gmail Grimace… The Movie

Tuesday, 08. April 2008 by Anna Billstrom

The Gmail Grimace movie is up!

Email Standards Project – Gmail Grimaces from Mathew Patterson on Vimeo.

It’s pretty funny. I like the slow pan with voiceover and tinkly piano notes. I think my favorite’s the guy reading the CSS book.

Hope Google will finally get the message. On a totally personal note: my photo was rejected!
Reaction to Gmail Rendering

Certification: Data vs. Guts

Sunday, 24. February 2008 by Anna Billstrom


MarketingSherpa offers a certification course before the EmailSummit sessions begin on Monday. Last night at dinner, my two colleagues and I were talking about the course, and I wondered if, since we were already doing pretty sophisticated emails, segmentation, etc., whether it was going to be worthwhile. The bits I witnessed, with Dr. Flint McGlaughlin of MarketingExperiments, was chock full of great advice, methodology, and data points. More importantly perhaps is that it spurred a conversation with the same colleagues on the efficacy of one of our key campaigns. McGloughlin went through various emails very clearly into the reading flow of consumers, the issue of expectation from the subject line to the content of the email, as well as the offer.

In the presentation, MarketingExperimenets presents a formula based on effectiveness of email marketing, and the fact that they had a formula really dovetailed nicely with a book I read on the plane (and will review on here at some point): SuperCrunchers, which establishes data and regression testing in contrast to (what I term) gut marketing, or intuitive defenses of the ways and means of effective marketing. Haven’t we all seen that- someone in management or executive level saying “I don’t like that,” with no justification, data, or analysis to back it up? Frustrating.

This certification course has a lot of testing and information in helping corporate email marketing departments defend certain issues and “reasons why” we do things- short email subjects, not selling so hard (Phil hates the word ‘deal’ for very good reasons!), etc. So in this regard the certification course is very valuable. Looking forward to the email marketing internal politics session after the keynote tomorrow!

Back to the subject of data analysis in constant battle with ‘gut marketing’, what interesting to me is the fact that data analysis is not the gold standard, because, basically, learnings age. Negotiating that aging period is the real challenge. When do you have to retest various lessons you learned? When do offers get stale (i.e., “free shipping”), voice gets old, segmentation becomes complex and no longer useful, etc.

Gmail Grimace

Tuesday, 29. January 2008 by Anna Billstrom

Reaction to Gmail Rendering Funny post from Matthew over at Email Standards Project- what face do you make when you’re horrified by Gmail’s rendering? I put mine up- and I hope more people do this so it’s not just me & Matt!- I haven’t been code line writing emails in a long time- but did do some quick template work for writing “Designing for Web Emails”, and realized just how much Gmail has degraded HTML support. I know, there are two sides to that coin, but hey, HTML is here to stay, so get used to it, basically. Feel free to join in on the Grimace campaign and share your pain, or just enjoy a gallery of pain. Will we get some traction on this with Gmail? I hope so.

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