Three Simple (But Important!) Steps For Evaluating Email Creative

It takes all sorts of experts to launch a rock-star email campaign, and it’s crucial to have everyone’s eyes looking out for ways to boost the creative. Even team leaders without strong backgrounds in design or copy can effectively evaluate email creative to get campaigns into tiptop shape. Make these three steps part of your agenda before letting an email leave your desk (er, computer screen):

Step 1: The blurred-eye test. Open the email in the environment in which most subscribers will see it. Squint or relax your eyes so the creative becomes unfocused and blurry. Is it clear where the main message is? Without reading the copy or getting a crisp look at the image, can you tell where you’re supposed to click? If there’s ambiguity, it may mean that the primary message isn’t getting the creative weight that it deserves and may be competing with creative elements or secondary messages. To focus subscribers’ attention on the primary messages, designers can take steps such as creating contrast with type color, building a clear hierarchy with type size and placement, balancing the color contrast of design elements and balancing image sizes.



To illustrate, this TommyBahamaemail sadly fails the squint test. The main headline gets lost in the clouds. One could argue that the calls to action below are bolder and draw attention, so maybe the question is the headline. Instead of “Plan your Sandsational Island Escape,” what if it read something like “Introducing our new Sandsational Polo”? Less is more in email. We need each word to serve a purpose, and those in the headline just don’t.

Step 2: The slow read. When different people work on design and copy, the way that their work comes together in the creative can make or break the messaging. To check that the right story is being told, take a minute or two to read the email slowly, pausing after each line. Does the headline get the point across on its own? Does the subhead tie in naturally, and would the user know what to do even without reading the body copy at all? If you have multiple lines of body copy, read them slowly as well, checking that the line breaks feel smooth. If the line breaks make the message ambiguous or choppy, consider moving a word or phrase up or down a line. Finally, is there too much copy? Keep your body copy under four lines to stay in line with best practices. Considering the meager number of seconds most readers spare for each email, shorter is almost always better.

While thisBananaRepublicemail rocks the blurred-eye test, it falls short on the slow read. The copy block is just too long, ringing in at seven tiny lines that are unlikely to make an impression on the reader.

Step 3: The multi-environment inbox check.  These days, subscribers read emails from a wide range of devices and email clients, and your email campaigns need to stand strong in all of them. Make time in your testing phase to experience the email in the same ways your subscribers will, and check for client- and device- specific considerations. How does the teaser copy read in Gmail? How does the subject line look on a mobile device – does it break into multiple lines? In each environment, is your call to action above the fold? Optimizing for all of your subscribers’ preferences is your best bet for grabbing their clicks.   

Backcountry is a smart example of a brand that rocks this test. It’s smart enough to put promotional copy at the beginning of its preheader. Thisscreenshot shows how that copy shows up in a traditional inbox. Right above it is another brand that could take advantage of this opportunity instead of using that space for utility copy (“view images”). In the inbox, the imagery reflects Backcountry’s brand and highlights the products featured. In the mobileinbox, users are typically scrolling through hundreds of subject lines, so using promotional copy first in your preheader gives the subscriber additional reasons to open your email. Once the email is open, the subject line is short enough to give additional pixels to the primary image. The headline is clear, even in this less-optimal mobile view, prompting subscribers to scroll if they are still indeed interested in the “Hand-picked” items

Simple enough, right? OK, let’s walk through one more together:


Blurred-eye test: You see that the 20% off is the most important message for the subscriber. The white text on the orange background pops with more contrast than the yellow text on the white background, making the offer stand out from the promotional copy. Bright, bold colors are the signature of Old Navy’s brand, so while this email may seem really loud in the review process, it makes sense in the context of the inbox.

The slow read: Old Navy has kept the copy short, punchy and clearly delineated by color. Each section of text makes sense as an independent unit, yet they all tie together to tell this email’s summery story.

Multi-environment inbox check: This email is really going to stand out in the inbox. The bright yellow and orange are eye-catching, drawing subscribers’ attention to the two models showing off their Old Navy summer fashions. That said, in Gmail its teaser copy falls short of best practices. After the subject line, rather than trumpeting the offer, the faded teaser copy reveals a line of code: web browser Old Navy"border"0"height" You get the drift; it's not pretty, and it could have easily been caught and replaced with a catchy preheader.

Whether or not you consider yourself an expert in design or copy, using these techniques will help you critique creative like a pro. Stick to the specifics, and you’ll offer your creative team actionable feedback to ensure a smooth experience for your subscribers.

5 comments about "Three Simple (But Important!) Steps For Evaluating Email Creative".
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  1. ann pereira from ads solutions, May 8, 2012 at 1:11 p.m.

    Excellent article - very few authors know how to give real life examples but you hit a home run with this one. Nice job, but pls see if you can fix the Old Navy Link.

  2. Wacarra Yeomans from Responsys, May 8, 2012 at 4:08 p.m.

    Thanks, Ann! I appreciate your comment! I think the Old Navy link is updated, I can send you a direct link if that helps! :)

  3. Jen Williams from MOXIEGREEN, May 9, 2012 at 9:21 a.m.

    The Old Navy link didn't work for me either, but great article! Excellent tips!

  4. Wacarra Yeomans from Responsys, May 9, 2012 at 11:33 a.m.

    Doh! Try this link:

  5. Henry Alva from ATG Stores, May 9, 2012 at 3:51 p.m.

    Great blurred-eye test. Never tried that before but it really helps you notice CTAs or anything else that may get a subscriber's attention.

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