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What We’ve Learned From Making 50,000+ Emails

We help marketers create marketing emails, so we’ve hit the ‘Send’ button more than a few times.

At first, our work involved creating marketing email templates. We helped our customers build over 25,000 different emails using that method.

We then came up with two better and more efficient products – Builder and Enterprise – that offer our customers more flexibility than templates. And our customers have built tens of thousands of emails using those platforms.

After helping create more hundreds of thousands of marketing emails, we can confidently say we have a good deal of experience under our belt. And that experience has led us to learn a few things about the way emails are created. What we’ve learned applies not only to marketers, but to anyone creating brand-sensitive emails.

1. People will always want to make changes to the content

Whether the email is created by a single individual or by a group, it’s hard to sign off on the content.

I think this is human nature, especially for creative types like marketers. Because they are creative, they are always having ideas and looking for improvements.

Our big learning here was to embrace this and expect people to make changes. By ‘people’ we mean everyone who sees the email before it gets sent out. You aren’t going to prevent people from fiddling, so relax and let it happen.

2. People want flexibility when they create emails

We could provide the best email marketing template in the world, and it wouldn’t be enough. Why? Because it would be perceived as too rigid. Marketers want flexibility. They want to be able to play. They want to engage in a creative process that involves moving things around and trying out new ideas.

We learned here that people don’t like doing things in a rigid, formulaic way. Certainly not our clients, and we suspect this applies to anyone creating emails going out to the public.

Templates, for all their advantages, can be constraining.

For example, you might have an email template that places your company’s logo in a certain spot. But one day you company partners with another firm in a joint venture.

Now you need two logos. Whatever you use to build your emails has to provide the flexibility to make that happen.

3. No one will ever be happy with how the email looks

Sad, but true. Even if the email is brilliant, even if it eventually wins an award, someone will always be unhappy about something.

For example, maybe that award-winning email was sent out the day before you updated your logo and branding. When you get the award, six months later, the email will seem out of date. People (your people) will notice. They may grumble.

We have learned to accept that no one will be 100% happy with a finished product. Marketing teams always seem to be going through some sort of brand revision. They get excited over a new look, but a year later they want to do it all over again because what was new a few months ago now seems tired. It’s par for the course. Move on.

4. Design trends are always changing

The way emails look, the options we have for email creation, are always evolving. Everyone is looking for ways to make their email stand out. Our learning: Stay on top of the changes.

For example, emojis and GIFs are become more commonplace, in marketing emails and even in personal exchanges. We’ve had to stay ahead of these changes.

Sometimes, advances in technology drive change.

Ten years ago, a lot of people approached emails as if they were printed brochures.

Anyone who does so now is behind the times. Today, emails have to be designed to be viewed easily on computers, tablets and mobile devices.

5. The processes for creating emails are not efficient

Far too often, people who create business or marketing emails do so using inefficient processes.

For example, we have seen people use an Excel spreadsheet or a Word document as an email creation tool, even though the final email product will be created in HTML.

In one extreme case, this involved a person populating an Excel document, then sending that document to an offshore team in India, which created the email.

The email was sent back to head office, where it would be the first time that the person who populated the Excel file saw their work in email form. It was often very different than they had imagined in their mind.

These exchanges went on, back and forth to India, through several rounds of revisions until the final version was approved.

It doesn’t have to be that way. There are now project management systems that cut out the need to have a person converting documents from one platform to another.

Our learning: Companies need to be on the lookout for products or ways of working that increase their efficiency.

You may have a working process in place, but if it involves having a staff member keep track of 50 versions of a PDF file, it’s not efficient.

6. It’s difficult but necessary to involve all the stakeholders in the process

There are a lot of people involved in creating a branded email. They’ve all got to have their say. What we’ve learned is that the companies that create a system facilitating this get the best results.

The number of stakeholders varies, and it’s larger for highly regulated industries such as financial services and pharmaceuticals. Those branded emails not only have to look good and do what they are expected to do, they have to conform to compliance and legal requirements. Best to get everyone on board from the start and build the email in a collaborative fashion.

7. People are often in denial about their problems or inefficiencies

From working with a variety of clients, we’ve learned that not enough companies actively question their methods and processes. The feeling seems to be: “We manage to get the emails out, so the system must be working just fine.”

In other words, they are happy with duct-tape solutions.

In many cases, there’s room for improvement.

See the example involving Excel and an offshore team in India I wrote about earlier. Wouldn’t it be simpler to have the email built by the same person who knows what they want the end product to look like?

8. Too many people are confused about what you can and can’t do in an email

You can’t put an video in an email, at least not just yet. It’s simply not technically possible.

Yet every day, we get asked to do so.

That question speaks to the confusion a lot of email creators have about what you can and can’t do in an email.

Yes, you can put in a GIF, which is a short animation of a series of static images. A GIF is jumpy and lacks the fluidity of a video, but because it’s just a series of static images, it doesn’t require huge amounts of bandwidth and can be used in emails.

And yes you can put in emojis and images.

And yes, people want to do all they can to make their email stand out.

Our learning here is that people who create emails, especially people who aren’t technical, need to learn about what is and isn’t technically possible.

This applies especially to people who create marketing emails, the vast majority of whom do not know how to code.

9. The email platforms themselves evolve

Finally, we’ve learned that to be successful in creating meaningful emails, it pays to keep up with changes to the email platforms themselves. 

Whenever Outlook does an update, for example, the smart people take the time to see whether it affects their work.

The same applies to the release of new devices – a new version of a smartphone, for example. You need to know how its technical specifications impact email viewing.

A lot goes on in an email. It’s hard to get it right, time after time. Internal and external factors are always changing, and with every change, every revision, there’s the possibility of a mistake creeping in.

We think the best emails come from marketers who make the effort to learn new things, adapt to change, and create efficient processes. That’s as close to perfection as we think you can get.

Pierce Ujjainwalla has years of experience as a CEO, entrepreneur, and marketing leader. He has lived in the marketing trenches at companies like IBM, SAP, NVIDIA, and Marketo, and he launched Knak in 2015 as a platform designed to help Marketers simplify email creation. Visit his personal blog, Unsubscribed!, for more of the insight he’s gained as founder and CEO of Knak.

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