An Unconventional Approach Can Make A Lot Of Sense

Watching football on Thanksgiving has become part of the American tradition, but you might notice something nontraditional during the games this year that you can relate to your email program. Over the past couple of seasons, an unconventional offensive formation known as "the Wildcat" has spread throughout the NFL.

Without getting too detailed, what makes the Wildcat unique is that it eliminates the traditional drop-back quarterback from the equation, with a running back taking the direct snap from center. This wrinkle has given opposing defenses fits, but what has been hailed as a break from convention is actually a very sensible approach to maximizing the chances for success.

Taking a conventional approach to your email marketing might seem a safer bet than trying new things, but an "unconventional" approach might not seem so risky if it's born of the same sound reasoning as the Wildcat formation.

Is it new, or new to you?

Though it has only recently caught on at the pro level, the Wildcat formation is not new to football. Try not to focus so much on keeping your own email program on track that you lose touch with what other organizations (especially competitors) are doing with their email programs; something that might seem unconventional to you may have already been employed with great success by someone else.

Are there obvious advantages?

On a typical running play in the NFL, the quarterback is a non-threat, essentially leaving the remaining 10 offensive players against 11 defenders. The Wildcat formation evens the score by replacing the quarterback with another potential ball carrier or blocker­ -- an obvious advantage.

In the same way, look for new elements that would have obvious advantages for your email program. For example, taking measures to optimize the small pre-header area of your email messages with important content might seem excessive after all of the time spent fine-tuning the content within the body, but there are obvious advantages. Consider the display of your message in a Gmail inbox, where the pre-header text appears next to the subject line. If that pre-header text is optimized to hold some value to the recipient, it's almost like another subject line (or, like another ball carrier).

Where is the focus?

One or more players are set in motion prior to the snap on almost every play run out of the Wildcat in order to draw the attention of the defenders. How can you draw recipients' attention away from the other messages in their inbox, or the countless other possible distractions present on their screens?

One approach is the use of animation in the upper portion of your message, which can catch the eye of recipients scrolling through messages in a preview pane view. While the word "animation" can invoke thoughts of distracting, low-quality banner ads, a subtle use of animation in email can prove to be a key differentiator that allows your messages to stand out. A good example would be an image of an automobile that changes color or rotates to show front/side/rear views, all of which draw the eye while providing additional information for the recipient. If your email template feels stale, it might be time to breathe some life into your message by trying something new.

One goal, many ways to get there

A typical play run out of the Wildcat formation has at least three potential ball carriers heading in three directions, and in some cases, an option to pass to a receiver downfield as the play unfolds. The goal, of course, is to score a touchdown through any of these different means.

Hopefully, there is a goal behind the email messages you send, but are you limiting the means by which you can achieve that goal? Give recipients plenty of ways to click over to the landing page you want them to visit, rather than relying on the single link or button that you may currently use. Is there a particularly important piece of content you want to share? If you typically send text-heavy messages, try linking to a short video containing that same content for recipients who appreciate a break from reading and may respond to a video.

Introducing new, "unconventional" elements into your email marketing campaigns does not require a total departure from what you've done in the past, nor does it require tremendous risk -- so long as you conduct adequate testing. The results might show that trying something new makes a lot of sense.

Of course, it's a good idea to stick to tradition when it comes to Thursday's big meal -- some formulas shouldn't be messed with. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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