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Email Design & Marketing For The Always-On World

Email Design & Marketing For The Always-On World

Email marketing has been around for a long time. In fact, the first time I worked on an email marketing campaign was back in 2004. Of course, the landscape and technology has drastically changed since then. Just like with websites, we really only had to worry about desktop users. There was only one screen size and no mobile or touchscreen devices to worry about. AOL was probably the biggest challenge to delivering emails successfully in your inbox.

Today, email marketing is more relevant than ever. Email remains a much better way to acquire customers than social media, with nearly 40 times the effectiveness of Facebook and Twitter combined. Due to the fact that nearly 91 percent of all US consumers still use email daily, it's also a great partner for e-commerce websites as we’ll discuss later.

With mobile web traffic now exceeding desktop traffic, and a potential to deliver the highest ROI from all digital channels, now's a good time to look at your email marketing strategy including the email design and content you’re using to engage your customers.

McKinsey & Company found email to be 40 times more successful at acquiring new clients than either Facebook and Twitter. A lovely paragraph describes that marketers should focus on the journey, not the click. I think this is more relevant today than ever, when everybody talks about Experience Design.

As a digital marketing agency that provides email marketing as one of our core service offerings, we strive to design and create accessible and frictionless experiences, and when it comes to email design, this couldn’t be more relevant.

Ask yourself, how many emails do you open everyday? Before you have breakfast? Before you wake up the kids and get ready for work? And most importantly, what device are you most often checking your email with?

Yes, you might switch over to your laptop or desktop machine to respond and review some of your most important emails, but the fact is, most of your emails are opened on your phone - that small device that’s with you at all times. If we happen to forget our phones at home or if we lose them altogether, we feel lost, naked and disconnected from the world. See nomophobia.

On top of that, our inboxes are being filled with emails quicker than we can go through them to either read and respond, move them to the trash, or just disregard because it’s yet another brand trying to convince us that their product or service is best in class. With this oversaturated landscape, it’s vital to pay attention to every detail when it comes to your email marketing strategy and design.

Rhythm is an expert in email marketing with more than 15 years of experience. Here are some of the key areas to pay attention to:

The From Name

This is an easy one. Make your "reply-to" address something friendly that will encourage customer engagement. It should be trustworthy and stay away from using a personal email address and any "no-reply" address.
Yes:  ""
No:  ""

CAN-SPAM legislation dictates that from and reply-to addresses "must be accurate and identify the person or business who initiated the message."

The Preheader Copy

Deleting an email in your mobile inbox without having to open it is easier than ever. That left swipe movement with your thumb that moves an email to the trash folder is so convenient and easy– it should scare all email marketers and designers. So when we design and plan emails, the first thing we have to make sure is that our preheader copy - these 40-90 characters - are as compelling and enticing as possible. Often times, the preheader copy is the deciding factor whether we open or delete an email.

If this preheader copy is too long and gets cut off, don’t worry. Sometimes, cut-off preheater copy followed by "…" makes it even more exciting and enticing to open the email.

A great use of the preheader copy is to use it as an extension of your subject line rather than two separate thoughts of the same campaign message.

Not sure if your preheader copy is compelling enough, or just can’t decide which version to go with? Don’t guess, test!!! Send each version of the preheader copy to a small test audience and the winner with the most open rates gets sent to the entire list. Done!

Typically, the first copy of your email gets displayed as the preheader text, which often results in the common "Trouble viewing email? Click here." That is a terrible use of the preheader copy and should be avoided at all costs.

"At Arms Length And With One Eye"

Emails are often consumed on mobile devices, especially the first initial open. It’s essential that these emails are readable no matter what device and screen size. We follow an "at arms length and with one eye" design philosophy. This approach means that we make sure the copy is readable and the text columns are fairly narrow. No "pinch-and-zoom" is needed to read the content, and all links and buttons within the email are easily clickable and have a large enough hit area for every finger and thumb.

While we cannot implement all the fancy responsive frameworks that make today’s websites accessible across screen sizes and devices, there's still a huge need to make these emails appear correctly on mobile devices. The need for a mobile-first design approach is essential to make sure emails reach  inboxes in a user-friendly format. Keep the design and layout of your emails simple, and design with a mobile-first mindset. Review the designs early and often on your phone, and keep asking yourself if your design works "at arms length and with one eye."

Have Fun With Animations

What better way to entertain and surprise users than with neat animations. A memorable experience goes a long way, and providing a glimpse into what’s to come, or showcasing a product or feature is a great way to entice users to take further action. As we like to say, motion provides meaning. Here’s a little animation we created for the teaser campaign leading up to the release of the all new 2018 Acura TLX. Subtle, simple and not revealing the entire vehicle, yet the 2018 TLX blinks at you, as if the car wants to say "Hello, I am coming to a dealership near you, come check me out and take me for a test drive!"

Keep in mind that animations will add size to your email. Don't use multiple animations throughout your email, and make sure the first frame of your animation works for email clients that can’t show the entire animation.

Keep It Simple

The following email we designed for Beats by Dre is a great example that simple design works for emails. A clear 1-2-3 read establishes priority. The user looks at the product, reads the headline and copy, and then interacts with the email.

We stayed away from giving the user too many options and kept it simple with just one button to take action. Different options of the button copy were tested and the winner was sent to the recipient list.


The main buttons, or CTAs, are another key area to test different versions with a specific audience before sending out the email to the entire list. It takes the least effort and typically generates the biggest improvements. Remember to always provide a clear CTA and make it easy to find. Don’t give too many options as that makes users stop and think. Try to write buttons in the first person, or complete an "I-WANT-TO" sentence.

Also stay away from buttons that tell users they have to do something. Nobody wants to "Register To Learn More." Instead,  how about: "Show Me Outfits I Will Love," or "Make Sense of My Finances Fast".

E-Commerce and Email

E-commerce and email is a wonderful combination, and if your e-commerce site isn’t taking full advantage of it, you’re basically leaving money on the table. This goes beyond your typical order confirmation emails sent to the shopper after they’ve completed a purchase...

Abandoned Cart Email
When a user leaves a website after moving items to their cart they should receive an "Abandoned Cart Email". Usually these emails are sent out a few hours after the occurrence, but the timing can again be tested to find the most effective intervals for these automated emails. It’s good practice to send the first automated emails a few hours after the user abandoned the cart, and then another one a few days later.

It’s also good practice to add an enticing offer along with these emails. Of course, I know many users, like our own Associate Creative Director Chris Guadarrama, who leave their shopping carts on purpose, just to see if they might receive a promo offer to come back and complete their purchases.

We invite you to learn more about Rhythm’s Email Marketing Services.

Improve Email Open Rates With Preheader Text