The increasing use of preview panes to view emails has changed how marketers design their messages, putting great emphasis on getting the primary call-to-action above the fold. The retailers that I track via the Retail Email Blog have been steadily improving in regards to this design imperative. Along with this improvement, during the first half of this year I've seen a growing trend of using what I call "preview pane banners" -- which are banners that typically appear right beneath the header and promote something other than the primary call-to-action. Whereas in the past these secondary message banners would have appeared after the primary message, where they would have fallen below the fold and gone unseen by many subscribers, they're now appearing before the primary messages to increase their visibility.
Preview pane banners allow marketers to squeeze an additional call-to-action into the preview pane while taking away only a little viewable space away from the primary message. Judging by the uptake of this design tactic, many retailers are finding the trade-off worthwhile. During the second quarter (April-June), 50% of major online retailers used a preview pane banner in at least one email. These banners ranged from a slender 26 pixels in height up to a beefy 180 pixels, with an average in the neighborhood of 65 pixels.
Not surprisingly, the most popular preview pane banner message promoted the current shipping offer. Since shipping costs are a chief concern among online shoppers, making it easy for subscribers to see the current spending threshold for free shipping or the current flat-rate shipping deal is important. Using a preview pane banner for that information puts it front and center above the fold.
Beyond the latest shipping offer, other items promoted by retailers in their preview pane banners include:
· Reminders about sale deadlines
· General sale announcements and coupon offers
· Reminders of gift card incentive spending thresholds
· Reminder of free gift-with-purchase spending threshold
· Reminders of the date of an upcoming holiday, such as Mother's Day
· Product review solicitations
· Announcements of new Web site features or reminders about existing ones
· Announcements about store events
· Reminders about gift wrap services
· Reminders about payment options
· Promotions of pre-orders for highly anticipated products
· Asking subscribers to forward the email to a friend
· Loyalty program promotions
In many cases, preview pane banners are used to remind subscribers of content that was previously a primary message. For instance, in one email a retailer would announce a sale and then in the next use a preview pane banner to remind subscribers of the sale offer or sale deadline.
If you haven't experimented with preview pane banners yet, I encourage you to run some A/B tests to see how your subscribers respond. Given the uptake among retailers, I bet that you'll be pleasantly surprised.