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The latest blog post from Litmus about the possibility of a standard in email design got me thinking. While there’s no way of knowing when and if that will happen, there are certain email design rules that we can apply to campaigns that can guide us across the various quirks of email clients.

One rule to bind all others

In a recent webinar we hosted, I mentioned that from a design perspective, there is one rule that should over-arch all design decisions if we are to create positive customer experiences using email marketing.

To design user interaction is to present a challenge to the user. One that they can choose to accept or not. Our job is to make it easy to accept.

The truth is that this statement, however fluffy, is universally true; though the world of email is more challenging than most. Our inboxes are inundated with things we signed up for in order to get one-off offers or because we didn’t deselect the right checkbox in a form. So when you do have someone who is even a little interested, to make it hard for them to understand what to do next is unforgivable.

Are you clear with subscribers on the ‘what’, ‘why’ and ‘how’?

This might seem simple to achieve, but if you stop to think about it, the number of email marketing campaigns that fail to communicate these three elements every time is worrying. Email is part of a customer journey, but customers dip in and out of it, so your campaign could be the beginning of that journey (Welcome to our world!), the middle (Here’s what we had to say this month) or the end (We’re sad to see you go!).

As we don’t know where in that journey our emails cross the paths of our customers, we need to make sure that the content and design of email campaigns answers these three questions at all times.

To give you an example, we have this campaign from Fuel Card Services.

What is it communicating: We’re offering you discounted fuel x miles away from you.

Why you should trust them? Look at these well-known brands that we work with.

How do you take advantage of it? Get a fuel card and use it at this nearest fuel station.

Fuel card services email design

The customer journey evolves but should stay consistent

A lot of brands make the mistake of thinking that equivalence leads to more conversions. But creating consistency is not about recreating your website in your email. It is about making people feel ‘at home’ in your brand. Instead of trying to fit your homepage into 600 pixels, you could pick some key elements from it – colours, buttons, parts of the navigation – and use these to help your users understand what is expected of them.

In these examples from Air Charter Service, you can see how we’ve used different pieces for different emails but kept the consistency going throughout. The first email they receive looks most like the website and the lead image will change depending on which area of the business they interacted with. Subsequent newsletters retain some of the key pieces of ‘Why Us’ messaging as well as other elements such as the call to action buttons and brand colours.

ACS website design

Air Charter Service website design

ACS welcome email design

Air Charter Service welcome email design

By applying these principles across your email design, you can take a step back to think about the customer journey before delving into specific email client coding requirements. After all, those can (and hopefully will) change in time, whereas the strategy behind how you present your brand should stay consistent.

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