A solid, well-branded, flexible template is a must in today's email marketing world -- vital to recognition in the inbox, consistent rendering, and communicating an air of professionalism worthy
of subscribers' trust.
However, templates can also become mind-numbing to subscribers over time. If your emails look too much alike, subscribers may think you're sending a lot of
the same kind of information over and over and start to tune you out. Furniture.com, Sierra Trading Post and a few other retailers sometimes suffer from this problem.
Every once in a while,
it really pays to shake things up by skipping your usual template and doing something surprising -- perhaps even radical. Here are four email design best practices that I've seen successfully
discarded to create a standout creative:1. Make your emails user-friendly and intuitive.
Over the past couple of weeks, Abercrombie & Fitch has sent several side-scrolling emails.
When I started talking about them on Twitter, there was concern that people
aren't used to scrolling horizontally, that it wasn't easy to do because most scroll-wheels don't go that way. I'm sure that many people were a little perplexed by these emails -- and
that may have been a very good thing. It probably made them pause for a second to figure out how those emails worked, and the uniqueness surely intrigued some. A&F clearly found success with these
sidescrollers or they wouldn't have followed up by sending more. 2. Make your emails highly scannable.
When Coach announced to subscribers the relaunch of its We
bsite in April, the company did so with a long email
that ditched its standard branding and navigation, had a
bunch of screen-grabs all over the place, and used tiny graphical text in spots. A bastion of best practices it was not.
However, the email contained a lot of information and completely
oozed excitement. While most subscribers probably didn't squint to read the print, they were likely inspired to click through to the site to see what all of the hubbub was about, which was the
real goal of the email anyway.3. Be sure to optimize for preview panes.
When subscribers opened up their email from HPshopping
on March 30, all they saw in their preview pane was the grinning face of
Susan/Ginormica, the 50-ft star of the "Monsters vs. Aliens" movie. They didn't see anything about the Monster Sale that HP was holding or the fact that they could save up to 50%. They
had to scroll a bit to see that information.
But I'm sure many subscribers indeed scrolled. Even if it was mainly to see the rest of Ginormica, in doing so they learned about the sale.
This email kicked off a series of emails featuring the stars of "Monsters vs. Aliens" and likely elevated interest in the rest of the series by grabbing subscribers' attention and
raising expectations about what might be arriving in their inbox from HP next.4. Establish a color palette and stick with It.
On Nov. 28 last year, Overstock sent a
Black Friday email
that disregarded the company's well-established color scheme. Instead the email had
reverse type-white text on a black background -- which is a big no-no in design because it's hard to read in large amounts.
But since most marketers stick to the best practice of dark
fonts on a white or light background, Overstock's email popped in the inbox like crazy. If you were quickly clicking through your inbox, this email would have immediately grabbed your attention.
On one of the highest retail email volume days of the year, breaking through and getting the attention of your subscribers is half the battle.
When measuring the success of your
rule-breaking emails, don't just look at the metrics for the email itself. Look at the performance of subsequent emails and see if you caught the attention of some of your subscribers again with
the change of design. Even if the rule-breaking email underperformed slightly, that doesn't mean that it wasn't a success.