Four Deadly Sins Of E-mail Design

Some of the best in the business submitted samples to the E-mail Makeover Panel for review at MediaPost's recent E-mail Insider Summit. The samples were very strong. Turns out no one wants a bunch of "experts" (make that finger gesture for quotation marks in the air) to publicly slay one's work. Still, the panel had a few common issues among the submissions. Is your design guilty of the 4 sins?

1. Envy. E-mail designers--as well as those who approve and review e-mail--all seem to envy those who do print ads. We act as though readers will look at an e-mail in its entirety, as if it were a page in a magazine. When reviewing them, we print e-mails out, open them to fill our computer screen or pin them up in conference rooms and stand three feet back. As a result, we make decisions based on the overall composition. We KNOW that readers view them in small slices in preview panes, frequently with images blocked, but we somehow refuse to take this into consideration. This is a sin that leads to...



2. Gluttony. Graphics very often consume more of the e-mail space and focus than they require. The role of graphics is to guide the eye through the COPY, not dominate the view. In test after test, we see that copy-heavy e-mails deliver more sales than the short & sweet. Don't believe it? Perhaps you are guilty of...

3. Pride. Professionals without experience in data-driven marketing frequently believe their opinion is paramount. They eschew testing because they know what is best. If, on the other hand, you have had hard data refute your pet theories, your mantra changes from "I would never do that" to "Let's test it." Many of the principles of direct and e-mail marketing are counterintuitive. Know what works, don't assume you know, or you may fall victim to...

4. Sloth. You have a design that looks great in your inbox, but how does it look when rendered by the many different e-mail clients and ISPs? Consider investing in a tool, such as that offered by Pivotal Veracity or Lyris, which shows how your e-mail will look in a variety of environments. Or develop a giant seed list and view already-delivered e-mails in order to improve upcoming efforts.

Your e-mail program may be doing just fine, thank you, while committing these design "sins." But, as Flint McGlaughlin of said at the Marketing Sherpa conference, "Adequacy is the enemy of creativity." Understand how readers view your e-mail, subordinate graphics to copy, and test, test, test. Move from adequate to outstanding.

Good luck!

The E-mail Diva

Send your question to Melinda Krueger, the E-mail Diva, at All submissions may be published; please indicate if you would like your name or company name withheld.

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