E-Mail Marketing and Graphic Design – How much is too much?

As the Integrated Marketing Manager here at Word Wizards, its my job to make sure we effectively reach as many people as possible with our outbound marketing, specifically in this case with e-mail marketing. Its a touchy subject and seems to be inherently paradoxical. On the one hand, you are under pressure to reach as many potential clients as possible, on the other, it is critical to maintain professional integrity by not being perceived as a spammer. For the purpose of this article I will be focusing on the graphic elements of email marketing and three different ways you can present an e-mail to your audience, and the various perceptions that people might experience when receiving your e-mail marketing materials.

Bare Bones – Plain Text and Basic Formatting

The bare bones e-mail contains no rich text, css, or other graphical mark-up other than those natively supported by all e-mail clients. It follows the KISS theory, Keep It Simple Stupid! The philosophy here, people know if they are being marketed too, so the more you try and make your solicitations flashy and cutting edge, the more likely the person may think its just another marketing scheme, which in reality, it is…

Another point to consider with this approach is that because it lacks external style-sheets and graphics, when someone opens it there is no warning of external content to download, which can be a big deterrent to trusting an e-mail from an outside source. Techy people don’t like it because they know it is downloading something external, and non-techies don’t like it because they don’t understand why they have to click yes to a warning message. The “Bare Bones” approach might not look as jazzy as other e-mails people recieve but they are far easier to trust and may lead to the development of a real relationship with a stranger, rather than a brief notice of interest followed by no action or substantial benefit.

Half-N-Half – Some Graphic Design and Mostly Text

Half-N-Half is the middle ground approach. Keep the e-mails mostly text based, but spice them up with a nice logo, banner, or other graphic element to show you have chutzpa. Nothing too crazy, and no tables or complicated external elements, just a few nice touches of color and a splash of pizazz to keep people stimulated while they are think about your offer.

Although this approach does require people to download external elements and approve them directly, because the graphic elements are kept to a minimum one can make it so that the e-mail is still effective even if the external elements are excluded. It’s easy to make the marketing still relevant by simply including HTML alt text to replace any images or formatting that people decline to download.

The Works – Complex Graphic Elements and Rich Text with Styling

The final approach you can choose is to give em’ The Works! Depending on what e-mail client your using and how experienced your graphics team is you can get very creative with e-mail marketing. Were talking fully styled graphic wonders that will put a sense of real awe into those who are lucky enough to open them. The drawbacks as mentioned above hold true, but if someone is already opening your e-mail that they probably know is some sort of marketing solicitation. In that case, if they already know they are being marketed too, you might as well go for the wow factor and impress them with a beautiful display of your capabilities.

Furthermore, with rich text and complicated graphic markup, you can include all of the great things that are normally on a website, like social media buttons, opt-in boxes, portfolio examples ext… The added functionality allows you to funnel someone form outside your normal network into your inbound marketing campaign, by providing valuable relevant content and helping them solve their problems without too much expecting much in return.

One more thing to consider here is the level of “formality” associated with each type of e-mail marketing. Depending on how you present your information, people could either look at your e-mail as “just another marketing guy/girl out there trying to reach into my pocket” or as an honest and simple provider of related services to that person’s industry. Its a fine line, and reaching a balance is up to your marketing people and ultimately the audience they are reaching to communicate with.

Test and Analyze Results – The Only Way To Know

So whats the best method between the three, sadly, there is no answer that applies to everyone and every industry. If you try to find a one size fits all solution to marketing you will quickly end up being perceived from a negative light. By doing A/B testing you can determine what works best for your audience by seeing who responds to what and how your message is received under different circumstances. By doing to work to target, experiment, and analyze, you are setting yourself up to understand your potential clients much better and to eventually find out what works for you.

The Golden Rule – Do Unto Others!

The trick is to be human, treat people like people, and find out what works best for you by trial and error. I could go on for days on that subject alone but for the time being just understanding the pro’s and con’s of each level of e-mail marketing is a good place to start. I think the most important thing, as always, is to consider your audience and try to get into their head. People in certain industries will have different preferences than others. Think from the perspective of those people you want to reach, and plan your messages accordingly.