What is good email design? And how can you hone it to heighten the payoff of your email marketing investment over time?
Like any ambitious endeavor, success favors preparation. In this article is best practices for optimal email newsletter design and how, with careful cultivation, you can plant the seeds that will yield a bounty later. As you will discover, launching successful newsletters is not difficult--it simply involves a hearty combination of knowing your goals, drafting a plan and executing with precision. Staying committed to each is essential.
Mastery Step #1: Define Your Purpose
Your email marketing program--and each newsletter within it--deserves a well-thought-out plan. It's essential to determine what goals you want to accomplish and how they align with your department's or your company's overall communications strategy. The idea is to send emails that convey context, reinforce company "voice," and build your brand by creating a positive user experience. Draft a rock-solid email messaging plan, listing yours goals and the content and design features that will support them. Ensure every element--imagery, copy, palette, tone--supports your brand and communicates consistency across campaigns.
Mastery Step #2: Know Your Audience
Always remember: Your audience is in cahoots with their own interests. That means, no matter what your plans are, if your newsletter doesn't speak to, reach, or intrigue your audience, then you're not going to see the response you want. Since you're also marketing to current or potential customers, it's imperative to understand what they want to see and how they want to see it.
Take into account the following demographic considerations and plan accordingly:
- Is your list comprised of B2B (business-to-business) or B2C (business-to-consumer)?
- Does your list skew to teens, middle-aged or elderly individuals?
- Is it predominantly female or male? Age, generation and gender are big influencers in design. Vary font size, message relevancy, tone of voice, and color themes based on whose reading and why.
- How well do recipients know you and your company? If you're emailing to prospects, delineate clear and relevant benefits in the subject line to deter spam alerts. If your list already knows you, personalize the message by including your name in the "from" line and put the recipient's name in the body.
A few quick tips on keeping the audience front and center:
- Execute "precision marketing:" create newsletter campaigns based on demographic information (age, sex, income, geography, buying habits)
- Place the content most relevant to your target demographic above the fold.
- Speak to your audience on the level they prefer, talk up not down to young adults, be respectful yet upbeat and friendly to seniors.
- Create visual and content templates unique to each demographic group.
Mastery Step #3: Crystallize Your Message
To win the hearts of customers, you need a meaningful message--well told and well presented. To get there in a newsletter, it's essential to define your content's purpose. Do you mean to build customer loyalty, start a conversation, sell a product, offer a discount, or ask for opinions?
Perhaps "all of the above" sounds good, but be warned: like any message, a newsletter saturated by multiple themes and intentions loses steam fast. Spare your readers the burden of too many links, options, and themes. If you don't, they'll likely abandon the search and leave. If your goal is to sell more, try saying less. Be precise. Showcase your products, offer incentives, and present obvious and enticing links. Save the rest for another round.
Map out your newsletter with clear goals in mind--and don't overwhelm readers with too many or unrelated messages.
Remember these quick tips:
- One objective is best for all emails.
- If you have multiple objectives, break it up into manageable sections or send several emails over time.
For example, of the following objectives, choose two or three per campaign:
- Build customer interaction/brand awareness
- Drive customers to your Web site
- Sell your products or services
- Promote events or news
- Recruit brand champions to spread your message
- Communicate your unique selling position and cultivate customer interest
- Build or introduce new brand attributes: color, logos, messaging and tone
- Create hype and fuel social networking
Email marketing is essentially a speed game, word economy is a must. Don't take time getting to the point: say it now, fast, and clearly. Remember that your newsletter is about prompting readers to click to your site. Communicate enough benefit, briefly coined, so readers will want learn more.
Make calls-to-action stand out with unique symbols, arrows, or font and color choices. Pick a style and stick with it--if you use a red triangle to denote section links, then always use them. This consistent effect trains your audience to quickly identify and to respond to links within the message.
Mastery Step #4: Carefully Chunk Content
Structure, design, nuance and message blend to create the force--powerful or weak--behind any communication. How these aspects coalesce in your newsletter content can affect your brand image, sales goals, customer relationships, and future business demand.
As many big-name e-marketers know, achieving email newsletter success requires shapely, succinct, engaging and easy-to-follow content. Once you master the form of these design strategies, over time your newsletter's effectiveness will rise to the occasion.
For starters, a carefully chunked page--that is, a page broken into bite-sized pieces served under clear, informative headings--creates a palatable design tempting to even the pickiest reader. Content chunking is cousin to several essential design tactics. For example, avoid the formidable "wall of text;" present brief, quick-read paragraphs that prompt a "click" rather than teach a lesson; and buffer sections with plenty of white space and complimentary, appropriate imagery.
Akin to content chunks is the "6-second rule." Keeping this in mind will shape everything you do in your newsletter design and campaign, from subject line, to byline to calls to action. The gist is this: if your reader doesn't get it in six seconds or less, then they're gone. Do not collect $200. Do not pass go. They couldn't care less. That's because the way to your readers' hearts is through direct, clear, scannable content that piques their interest and offers quick benefits. How you convey that in the speed game of email marketing is with carefully and concisely structured pages.
Here are a few tips to assist you with 6-second rule mastery:
- Use headings to communicate the essential messages on the page.
- Segment content to make the page "scannable".
- Offer obvious and enticing links to your site or promotional page.
- Restrict paragraphs to three lines or less.
- Break key points into bullets rather than paragraphs.
- Include title, byline, and call-to-action in each paragraph and bulleted list area.
- If you have multiple objectives, chunk each one into bite size nuggets.
Mastery Step #5: Send Multi-Message Campaigns
We've covered the importance of limiting each newsletter to just one or two clear objectives. Now, what about big, complicated messages that still need to get out?
Once you outline your campaign's successive messaging goals, list the topics for each email. Then you can run it as an ongoing conversation with your audience on a theme you make familiar by stretching it across days, weeks, or months. Always remember, the ultimate goal is to get them to your site.
Here are a few tips for multi-message success:
- Stay nimble and allow your Web site to do heavy lifting.
- In each successive email, sprinkle intrigue elements--ask question, offer tidbits, lay breadcrumbs--to get them to your site.
- Use teasers in each email about what's coming next week, month, etc.
- Create reflective content on your site to pair with each message.
- Maintain a consistent theme throughout the entire campaign, in your newsletter and on your Web site.
- Suggest a timely, limited offer to create extra incentive to buy, click or return.
- Plan multi-message campaigns to coincide with larger, yearly marketing strategies.