By David Bierman
In 2009, email was officially declared ‘dead’ by the Wall Street Journal. “Email has had a good run as king of communications. But its reign is over”, the newspaper argued. Ten years later, look who’s laughing now: email is still alive and, for marketing purposes, more relevant than ever. Email forms an essential part of most brand customer interactions, but companies don’t always treat this platform with the respect it deserves. That’s why, in The Valley, we set a good example.
“Our company’s services are doing well”, Charlotte once heard some CEO say in a meeting at a digital convention. “And our email team is tagging along nicely.” All present laughed, except Charlotte. She found it strange that they mentioned email in this way, sort of as a separate, almost backward entity within their agency. When she repeated the words in her mind, it sounded a lot like “Oh yeah, and then there’s email.” Charlotte shook her head in disappointment: another one who underestimated the power that email can command.
It’s unwise to dismiss email marketing as obsolete or unimportant in this day and age. Essentially, the email is an efficient device to develop a direct relationship with a database of potential and existing customers. Because of its personal nature, email is generally of high value in the modern-day challenge of shaping people’s brand preference. Companies know this well: daily, billions of emails are sent to customers across the world. The ROI (Return of Investment) of email is, because of its low cost, higher than any other direct marketing channel. So, it’s fair to say that email should not only be considered a loose variable in the sum of a brand’s interactions, but an integral part of the user experience the brand wishes to convey.
Because of email’s important contribution to the face of a brand, its design and feel should perfectly align with the brand’s identity. Email is there, after all, to greet a newly signed up customer, to keep them up to date with products and offers, and to remind them if they’ve not interacted with the brand for a while. Along every step of the way and across every touchpoint in the customer journey, email can be of valuable use. Because of that, The Valley saw the need to integrate email into the Total Brand approach.
Aspects of design
The root of email design lies in email’s identity as a one-of-a-kind face in the crowds: its look, feel and style are inherently different from other communication platforms such as apps or sites. For a visual designer used to a lot of freedom, designing an email can present quite the challenge as they have to find a way to bend their creativity to fit a platform that is rather limited in comparison. This is where an email pro can lend a hand: while the designer applies his unique design approach to email, the email marketeer points the way content-wise and offers insight. In The Valley, this cooperation is known as ‘email ambassadorship’.
Lorenzo is one of those email ambassadors. Together with Charlotte, he works on projects and therein dives to new depths of email design. That email has not as big a playing field as a website or an app, Lorenzo quickly realized: “For me, the big difference between designing, say, a website and an email is the amount of limitations you encounter. An email needs to load fast and then be displayed correctly in all different browsers, systems and on phones: that forces you to think hard about what to include and what not. Email has a totally different structure than a site, with every aspect needing to be a call to action for the reader. You must be smart and very precise with your creative options to make sure an email achieves its purpose.”
Recently, Lorenzo designed an important email campaign. It was a job for GVB, Amsterdam’s largest transport business. “We started by sitting down with the client and defining the basis we had to build the campaign from. GVB asked us to design imagery, symbols, interactive features, activating text and to then incorporate all this in a distinctive style of email that completely looked and felt like GVB.”
Starting from the idea of a bus or tram arriving at different stops as a metaphor for the product’s ‘journey’, Lorenzo designed wireframes that look and feel 100% GVB. He payed close attention to colors, language and the lay-out of special features. “I managed to add and customize a working countdown timer that counts down to the second when the new product goes live. Pretty nice to have that in an email, right? In another email, there’s also a calculator which flips through different amounts of discount. Email design possibilities are still a little behind those of sites and apps, but as you can see, it’s catching up!”
After all work was done, Lorenzo and Charlotte presented the GVB campaign consisting of three different emails, made both for desktop and mobile. Plus, they delivered two pages consisting of all components used in the campaign, so that GVB can use those again in the future. In working together, they shared their knowledge of UX and email: not only did this lead to a combined strong product, but it also sharpened their personal skills on those respective subjects. For both, learning to develop innovative email UX from scratch was a highly valuable experience. “And me,” Lorenzo says, “I got extra: a ton of insight on what makes email special and how important it is to make it consistent with a brand’s identity.”
All parts connected
A good email consists of the three p’s: it’s got to be positive, personal and propelling, so you really do have to mind your p’s (and q’s) when designing an email. But even more importantly, when it involves communication between a brand and a customer, an email needs to be precisely ‘on brand’. Does your company have a certain style of copy, a specific way of handling clients or a humorous approach on social media? Email should reflect your corporate identity in the exact same way other UX parts of your company do.
A brand is as strong as the sum of all interactions: email is an integral part of those interactions and cannot be seen as a lone wolf in the pack of user experiences. We take it upon ourselves to make sure that designers know all the ins and outs of email by heart so that when a client asks for Total Brand, we can deliver it down to the details, with email included.
So, we as an agency also benefit from the mutual education that email ambassadorship entails in the form of professional growth. It is by learning together that an email ambassador gets to transform into an email pro, while an email marketeer, in turn, gets to expand his or her UX repertoire. The knowledge gained can then be passed on to others. This cycle will not end before email design knowledge is fully equal to that of apps, sites and print. Here in The Valley, that’s one of our premier goals.
The Valley currently provides email strategy and execution for big names such as ABN Amro, Rabobank, Pricewise, KLM, Nationale Postcode Loterij, Vriendenloterij, BankGiro Loterij and WPG Media, with new brands joining us regularly.