Graphics are cool. Surely creating a great email is all about picking a template with graphics so slick you could play air hockey on it. All that’s left is to put the content in.
Successful email campaigns deliver targeted messages that engage recipients and lead them to a response. Content is king and should dictate the email’s design. Think of the template as packaging – important, but it’s the package that counts.
A template-first approach has already made the layout and graphic design decisions. The needs of the content become secondary. The template takes over and imposes restrictions on the content rather than maximising its effectiveness. Often, even devaluing it.
Start with high-quality, well-structured content with purpose. Let your message determine the right layout – where to put emphasis, whitespace and visual cues. What images will reinforce and complement your message?
But what about the goldfish?
We all know this one… today’s online readers have attention spans that would embarrass goldfish. So templates often focus on visual treats with no more room for your message than a hefty tweet.
On the contrary, the most effective emails are ones that sell. And copy is what we use to engage and persuade. The perfect amount of copy is whatever gets results, often a larger word count will outperform short emails. Arbitrarily limiting copy to what fits in a template will blunt its effectiveness — it’s design done backwards.
Take this advice from Alice in Wonderland’s Mad Hatter:
“Start at the beginning, and when you get to the end, stop.”
Supplying the answers
Starting with well-written copy answers many design questions. Such as, how to:
- Effectively communicate your message
- Decide on a theme to support what you say
- Grab attention and engage the reader
- Keep attention and lead them toward a strong call-to-action
- Structure the content and therefore the email itself
- Decide what should be in the email and what’s left out
Templates are not the first stage of email design. Start with the perfect content, add the perfect layout and functionality, and then build around it the graphic design to maximise its effectiveness.