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Strategy Sessions: Choosing the Right Email Format for Your Audiences

Your email marketing strategy doesn’t have to be monotonous. As you develop different types of content, you’re likely to find that the look and feel of the emails you use to promote this content could vary. And that’s great! Not all emails must (or even should) look the same. In this video, Adam and I talk about different email formats and how to make the best choices for your target audiences.


Adam: Welcome back to another edition of Strategy Sessions. I’m Adam Rightor.

Lauren: I’m Lauren McGaha.

Adam: Today, we wanted to talk about email formats. We get a lot of questions about this. “Should I have a really design-heavy, image-heavy layout that looks beautiful or should I just use text and links? What works better? What looks better?” We wanted to talk through that today.

Lauren: The fundamental question is “What’s going to make them click on it,” right? What’s going to make them take the action that I want them to take? We’ve played around with this quite a bit over the years. Here’s our current opinion: There are four camps that your emails can fall into. You can mix and match these different types of formats to see what’s going to work better for your audience. In Camp A, we’ve got the heavily branded HTML email versus Camp B, which would be a really pared down version of that. This would be an email that’s free of most design images or design components and simply looks like you sat down and wrote the email from your desk to a specific individual. Right? It looks like something that came out of your Outlook or your Gmail. The other two elements that you can play with are emails that deliver multiple forms of content, so multilink emails, versus an email that’s just going to be pointing everyone’s attention at one piece of content or one call-to-action. A lot of different types of elements that you can explore there.

Adam: Going back to the A versus B in the first section there, we’re talking about an email that looks like it’s coming from a real person versus an email that’s heavily designed. Those are two extremes. There’s a lot of types of formats in between. With the heavily designed, image-heavy type of email, we really prefer our clients to reserve that for a B2C type thing where you’re promoting a specific product and you need to have everything look perfect. The designer in us really loves this type of email because it looks beautiful.

There are other considerations there though. The image-to-text ratio could be quite high. If you go take a look in your spam folder right now, you’ll find a lot of emails like this that are really heavy on the images, and there’s a reason that they end up in your spam folder.

Lauren: Yeah, I mean these types of designs have their place for sure, but think about the efficacy of an email that you may have received that just looks like it came from an individual person. If you subscribe to Newfangled’s email list, we send emails like this quite a bit, where we’re actually sitting down, writing an email and making it look like one person from our firm sat down and wrote a personal email to you. I mean, we recognize that we’re not fooling anyone. You know these messages are automated, but there’s something authentic about that design. There’s something a little bit more authentic about creating a message that strips away the very clearly promotional design elements. In these messages, you’re likely actually having the “from” address coming from a particular person inside of your company versus a generic email alias like info@ or marketing@.

Adam: Those are just some of the considerations to think about. A really beautiful email isn’t so beautiful if it ends up in someone’s spam folder and no one reads it. A few spam filters might catch on to that if you go a little too image-heavy.

Lauren: There are things you can do to combat that. I mean, you’re always going to be checking your spam score before you deploy any of these messages. You can tweak the design, and as we mentioned, these messages have their place. One strategy might be to think about these version A and B emails as we’ve coined them now, and juxtapose that with the other two options that you have here, which are multilink emails and an email that’s promoting one link, a link to one piece of content or one call-to-action.

You may find that pairing off a very heavily branded beautiful HTML email with a series of links like your blog digest is really effective because the people who have signed up to receive your blog digest know that that’s an automated communication. They expect to hear from you every two weeks or every month or whatever your schedule is. Alternatively, you could go with that more stripped-down, plain version email when you have a very specific and important piece of content that you want to focus on, making it look like you sat down and really had this particular person in mind when you wrote that email to promote this one particular piece of content.

Adam: I see some clients running into trouble where they really do have a primary goal of the email and there’s a couple other things that they choose to also prioritize. They’ll say, “Well, maybe if they are not interested in that goal they’d be interested in this link and this link…” That’s fine. I would recommend sending a follow up message trying to promote those secondary goals, but really not trying to confuse or divert the attention of the original email. In this day and age of low attention spans… are you still listening… having a singular goal in mind and making it very clear even if they were just scanning the email what that goal is. Maybe a big button at the bottom.

Lauren: In terms of a formal recommendation from us, what I can tell you is that generally we see higher engagement on those stripped-away emails where those heavily branded elements are not involved. That being said, sometimes it’s best just to mix up the format. That’s what we do, actually. We don’t have just one type of email that we send. We mix it up, and I think our users get a lot of value from that, and we’ve seen really great engagement on both types of formats simply because we’re mixing it up throughout the year.

Adam: As you can probably tell, it depends on the type of message, the type of list, the purpose and the goal of the program, so there’s a lot of different elements that play there. One of the best things you can do is test it. A lot of email platforms have an A/B testing tool where you could take your whole list, split it in two, and try two different formats to see what people respond to better. Take that one forward, and then keep optimizing that particular path.

Lauren: Yeah, I really like that idea because no one’s audience is exactly the same. Your list isn’t going to operate the same way that our list is necessarily, so I really like the A/B test idea.

Adam: All right, thanks for watching.

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