5 email marketing sound bites (and the deeper meaning behind them)

I’m a sucker for a good sound bite, and I heard plenty of great ones at our company’s *conference in Boston a few weeks ago. However, as a researcher and former journalist, I also like to dig into a sound bite and see what substance there is (if any) behind it.

Here are my favorite quotes from The Email Design Conference and my take on their deeper meanings:

“The time when emails had to be pixel-perfect is way behind us.”

—Eric Lepetit, Email Lead Engineer, Manager, Nest (@ericlepetitsf)

The email rendering landscape is messy. Very messy. Your email can look different in the iPhone’s native email client than it does on the Outlook desktop app. Heck, it can display differently in Yahoo Mail depending on whether you’re using Internet Explorer or Firefox.

This email marketing reality can be a tough one for brand managers and graphic artists to swallow, especially if they’ve done a lot of work in print and other traditional media.

Rather than striving for an identical experience, try to create a consistent experience — or, even better, an optimized one. Just like rendering varies across email clients, so does support for functionality.

For instance, enabling tap-to-call for phone numbers in the mobile versions of your emails improves the experience for subscribers viewing your email on their smartphones, but it doesn’t help those on a desktop.

Frankly, the rise of wearables and the Internet of Things is making it impossible to create consistent email experiences, because those new devices have such small screens and restricted capabilities. The rise of voice interfaces like Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, and Microsoft’s Cortana will similarly challenge our ability to create consistent email experiences.

So instead of trying to create sameness, we should be playing to each email client’s strengths by using progressive enhancements like media queries and watch-HTML.

“I want to do business with a company that treats emailing me as a privilege, not a transaction.”

—Andrea Mignolo, Head of Design & UX, Movable Ink (@pnts)

While it may sound like Andrea Mignolo is talking about permission and relevance, she was actually talking about messaging and design. Specifically, she was expressing her appreciation for brands that put some thought into writing on-brand messaging that connects with their audience and use design to enhance that messaging.

Too many brands have robotic email messaging and soulless design, she says.

While I think too much has been made of the human-to-human movement, Mignolo is right that too many emails have a cold, sanitized, transactional feel. You don’t have to be edgy or overly casual (unless that’s your brand voice), but you should be warm, polite, and considerate of subscribers.

I recommend you think about your most consistently effective brand ambassador, your best customer service person — and write your emails in their voice.

“An Amazon email in your inbox should feel like an Amazon box on your doorstep.”

—Vicky Ge, Product Manager II, Email Automation and Outbound Marketing Systems, Amazon (@vickymakesstuff)

That’s a high bar to clear, but anticipation and excitement are the emotions that Amazon wants you to feel when you get one of their emails.

To stretch this analogy: Subscribers have paid for your emails with their permission and attention. When they open that email, they should be excited by what’s inside it. Disappoint them too many times, and you risk losing that subscriber.

Vicky Ge said this in the context of talking about using explicit and implicit preferences to create targeted emails and targeted content. Explicit preferences are ones that your subscribers tell you directly by making selections in your preference center or through their responses to progressive profiling. These preferences can include content preferences as well as frequency preferences.

And implicit preferences are ones that your subscribers tell you indirectly through their behavior. For instance, if a subscriber has downloaded a whitepaper and attended a webinar on advanced analytics, then that’s a signal that they’re likely in the market to buy analytics software.

Together, explicit and implicit preferences give you strong signals as to what each of your subscribers is interested in. Acting on those preferences via triggered messaging, segmented emails, personalization, and dynamic content vastly improves the relevance of those emails compared with generic broadcast emails.

“The right button isn’t what’s popular. It’s what’s tested.”

—Mike Nelson, Co-founder, Really Good Emails (@mevlow)

That’s absolutely true. However, I’m a huge believer in the wisdom of crowds, especially as a starting place. What’s common isn’t necessarily best, but what’s common totally shapes consumer expectations — and marketers should always pay attention to consumer expectations.

So, yes, you should definitely test the call-to-action buttons in your emails to see what your subscribers react to most.

However, your testing should probably be informed by what other email marketers are doing. And you’re in luck, because Mike Nelson did extensive research on the topic of CTA design.

The average email CTA button is a blue rounded rectangle that’s 47.9px high and contains 14 characters, according to Really Good Emails’ research. The top 10 words used in CTAs were “join,” “find,” “see,” “start,” “view,” “book,” “read,” “take,” “shop,” and — at No. 1 — “get.”

“F#@&ups are learning opportunities.”

—Russell Patton, Senior Email Deployment Specialist, Archer>Malmo

Email marketing mistakes are not a matter of “if,” but “when.” Email is too dynamic, too complex, and too quick of a medium to avoid mistakes completely.

The best you can hope for is to keep mistakes infrequent and small, and then to manage them quickly and recover with a degree of grace when they do happen.

But Russell Patton’s point is key: You don’t just want to recover from your mistakes; you want to learn from your them by changing your email production process, your approval process, and other elements of your workflow.

His advice was to fill out an Email Issue Assessment Form to document your mistakes. Doing this creates “success through pain aversion” by making you think about root causes, what you could have done differently, and putting the mistake in perspective. He recommends including:

  1. Summary of issue
  2. Number of subscribers affected
  3. Possible resolutions
  4. Future considerations
  5. Financial considerations
  6. Percentage of deployments for week/month affected

Patton’s point is a good one to end on, because email marketing is always changing. That means there’s always so much more we can learn about optimizing emails across platforms, creating compelling on-brand messaging, understanding our subscribers’ needs, creating compelling designs, and improving our workflows.

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.