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9 Design Tips to Mastering Your Email Marketing Campaign

Email has come a long way since robotic “you’ve got mail” reminders and basic HTML format served up on clunky desktop computers running on dial-up internet. Email campaigns today include interactive graphics, dancing text, and striking color palettes that are responsive and readable across devices.

Email is generally considered a traditional marketing tactic, but leveraging enhanced, exciting design is one way you can spruce up your game and differentiate yourself from your competition. Here’s our list of pro tips and tricks to help ensure your email marketing campaign is designed to dazzle your users and help you meet your business goals.

Mastering Email Marketing With Design

1. Stay On Brand

This is an important rule of email marketing. You can spend days fine-tuning the palettes, CTAs, and layouts of your email, but if your consumers can’t figure out where the email came from, you’ve already failed. When you think of established, high-achieving brands like Apple, McDonald’s, Nike or Coca-Cola you picture things like a glowing bitten apple, inviting golden arches, an iconic swoosh, or flowing red and white calligraphy, right?

That kind of brand recognition comes from a carefully chosen brand identity that is consistently applied. All of your branding across platforms should match, and to ensure this, it’s crucial to strictly adhere to your brand guidelines. If your organization doesn’t have established brand guidelines, start there! Your persistence will ensure your customer attaches the brilliant design of your email to your company.

2. Create a clean, striking layout

Layout and placement of copy is crucial to a good email marketing design. Without a clean, easy-to-follow template, your customer won’t be able to follow your message. The key to effective layouts is finding the happy medium between bleak white space and cluttered sensory overload.

Your call to action is your email’s raison d’être, so without a CTA, there’s no point reaching out to your audience.

Too much white space can leave your customer scrolling, searching for your message, while a cluttered design can be distracting, muddying the intent of your email. When choosing a layout, think “less is more.” Focus on formatting a clean layout that includes a tasteful amount of white space and a clear call to action.

3. Experiment with your brand’s colors

Some of the most effective email marketing designs are those that catch the eye and entice customers to keep reading. A pop of color that aligns with your company’s palette could be just the key to reeling in that new customer. In fact, brand recognition increases 80 percent by adding color, according to a 2015 study by the University of Loyola.

Staying within a four-color palette that matches your branding, try designing the majority of your email with three of those colors, and use the fourth sparingly to accentuate important takeaways. Playing up the color will add personality and potential to your email.

4. Choose fonts strategically

Just like color, fonts are an equally important element to catching the attention of your customers. A creative font choice or a bold-faced word in a sea of plain text can mean the difference between your consumers clicking and unsubscribing.

Try mixing serif fonts with sans serif fonts, italics with upright, or underlined with not underlined. It’s good practice to use the same font for all of your headings, and a different one for your body text. Serif fonts are easier to read when they’re large, while a sans serif font works best for small text. Keeping your branding guidelines in mind, play with fonts for a more effective message.

5. Create clear divisions

Don’t let your customer get lost in your email, or worse, delete or archive it. The average adult attention span in 2015 was 8 seconds, according to Statistic Brain—that’s right, less than a goldfish! That means you need to work even harder to keep consumers interested and engaged in your email marketing campaigns.

Make it easy for your customer to scan your email. Allow them to recognize when you’ve moved to a new section, product, or concept with a dividing bar, a different section color, or a different font choice. Making it clear that you’ve moved to the next subject will make consuming your email seamless and effortless. It will also allow your customer to review it again later with ease, all within the eight-second time period their attention span allows.

6. Utilize high-quality imagery

It’s no secret that the current consumer generation doesn’t have the time or attention span to read a text-heavy email. The old saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” and email marketing is no exception.

Copy and imagery are complementary elements of the same user experience. Think about it like this: The first thing consumers will see is the subject line of your email (i.e., copy). If that resonates with them and they open the email, the imagery needs to be compelling and engaging—if it isn’t, your readers won’t ever reach the headline, product or service offering, or CTA. It’s not an overstatement to say the success or failure of your email campaign relies heavily on the first impression you make. That means quality imagery.

Although original photos from a professional photographer are ideal, stock photos will do in a pinch. Make sure your images are a high enough resolution for the platform—there’s nothing worse than striking design and a clean format that uses pixilated photos.

7. Use motion tastefully

Imagery today includes varying levels of interactivity. GIFs, animations, illustrations are used all the time to create visual appeal that is unique and different from your competitors. Images aren’t just static anymore, so it’s important that your email marketing campaign is consistent with what your target audience expects.

A word of caution: It’s tempting to use motion graphics whenever and wherever possible, but too many of these can become distracting, which will likely result in your audience clicking away. Use motion sparingly—one moving element per email is plenty. Interest your consumers, don’t overwhelm them.

8. Make your emails responsive

It’s striking how many companies overlook the move to mobile. The fact is, 44.7 percent of emails today are opened on mobile devices and that number is rising, according to Informz’s 2014 Association Email Marketing Benchmark Report.

Most of us read email on our phones while standing in line, on the couch before bed, or while watching evening TV shows. Your consumers do, too. Focus a few attention-grabbing design elements at the top of your email—above the “jump”—to keep your consumers scrolling down the page searching for your products and services.

Also, make sure your design is 600 pixels wide. Anything larger than 600 will require your customers to scroll left and right to see your full design, taking away from the visual appeal of your work. Designing your emails to be responsive across various devices will improve interaction and increase engagement.

9. Use a clear CTA

Always, always, always use a CTA. Your call to action is your email’s raison d’être, so without a CTA, there’s no point in reaching out to your audience. Emails with a clear CTA can increase clicks by up to 371 percent, and sales by up to 1,617 percent, according to Toast’s marketing VP, Ellie Mirman, at Unbounce’s Conversion Road Trip in 2015.

But without creative and useful design elements, your email’s CTA will get lost. The key to making sure your CTA doesn’t get lost is stating it clearly and situating it in an intuitive place. To make your CTA obvious, use an accent color, different font, or make it a hyperlink that sends users to different section of the site. Think of your CTA as the goal of your email. Ensure it is built and formatted to draw the user’s eye to a single spot.

The Bottom Line

Ultimately, have fun with it. Be creative. Don’t be afraid to push boundaries and test click-through rates to pinpoint what actually resonates with your audience. If you wouldn’t open, read, or take action on the email marketing campaigns you’re creating, your readers won’t either. If you’re proud of your product or service, your email should showcase that as well.

Nora Allen

Nora's appreciation of good storytelling leaks not only into her work at Olive, but also her love for music and food that's too good for words. When she isn't working hard on the Olive blog, you can find Nora geeking out about keyword research and SEO.