Following our last article, Email Marketing: There’s a Lot to It, we thought it would be helpful to delve a little bit deeper into some of the less obvious skill sets that every successful email marketing team needs.
Email marketing is a complex world that merges strategy, copy writing, design, technology (including some serious technical stuff), data analytics and more. And it’s a rapidly changing industry, too! New updates to email applications can wreak havoc with what was once a beautifully designed email, and new privacy laws can force you to overhaul not only your email process but also elements of your website.
If you are responsible for your company’s email marketing results, here are four essential skills that you can develop on your team – skills that will lead to a more profitable program:
1. Mobile-First Mindset
The look and feel of your emails on mobile devices is now absolutely critical to your success in email marketing. The tipping point was a few years back — 2017 by most accounts — when reports showed more than 50% of email opens occurred on mobile devices. And even before that, a 2016 industry study showed that the majority of subscribers (up to 70%) delete an email within three seconds if it displays poorly on mobile!* Today, several of our clients are reporting 70% or higher mobile opens.
So why are so many graphic artists still starting with the desktop version of an email and then adapting it to mobile as best they can instead of the other way around? From a practical perspective, it makes sense as a designer to start with the desktop version because you want to start with images at their maximum size and then shrink them down as necessary for mobile. But you still need to be thinking about how your design will translate to mobile even as you do this. If you don’t, the mobile version ends up taking a back seat, and that can be a costly mistake.
Experienced email designers know what they are facing before they even begin to develop a concept for the look and feel of a template or a campaign. Like web designers, they use specific design techniques to ensure a good experience for the mobile user. That could mean stacking images and text differently, hiding or showing elements on mobile versus desktop, or having larger call-to-action buttons to ensure a mobile user can easily click through to your landing page. Font size is also a critical, yet often overlooked, factor of mobile-first design.
If your email team doesn’t have a mobile-first mindset yet, it’s time to make that shift in your creative process.
2. Email Coding Expertise
Email and web developers use the same programming languages, HTML and CSS (cascading style sheets), to build out their designs, but that’s where the similarity ends. Email coding is what we call a “nichey-niche.” Here’s why:
Email can be viewed on almost limitless combinations of mobile and desktop devices using mobile, web-based and desktop email applications. Think of all the different smartphone versions and the different versions of the iOS and Android operating systems. Then add the myriad of apps available for managing your email accounts on smartphones: native mail apps plus apps for Outlook, Gmail, Yahoo, AOL and various other email aggregators. Then add webmail applications for Outlook, Gmail, Yahoo and AOL, all of which can be accessed on either a PC or a Mac using Chrome, Firefox, Safari or Internet Explorer. And don’t forget all the desktop versions of Outlook and Mac Mail – particularly for B2B brands, whose subscribers for the most part read email at work.
The list is exhausting!
The complexity lies in the fact that not all email applications translate HTML the same way and they definitely don’t keep up with web standards. That means you often need to code to the lowest common denominator PLUS know the hacks for individual applications — at least the most popular ones used by your subscribers. If your email campaign isn’t coded correctly, it might look beautiful on your own smartphone yet completely broken and unreadable on another.
It’s not uncommon to find companies where the web developers are tasked with coding for email. While some highly skilled developers move seamlessly between web and email worlds, that’s usually not the case. A lack of expertise in the specifics of coding for email can cause major problems for your program.
3. Deliverability Chops
Deliverability is all about getting your email to the inbox. After all, if it doesn’t make it to the inbox, it’s probably not going to get opened or read, nor is any action going to be taken in response to the email.
There are many factors that impact deliverability, but here are some of the highlights:
Technical factors: Email authentication details like properly configured SPF and DKIM records are an important first step. Implementing a DMARC policy is recommended as well. IP reputation can play a significant role, so it’s important to know whether you’re on a dedicated IP or a shared one. Typically senders with smaller email volume will share an IP address with others, and your ESP is responsible for monitoring everyone’s email conduct to ensure a good reputation for the IP so emails don’t get blocked or flagged by spam filters.
Content: Your message content impacts email engagement, which in turn impacts deliverability as well. The subject line and preheader text work together to drive open rates, and once somebody opens your email, you want clicks as well, so you have to be sure the email content delivers on the promise of the subject line. Healthy open and click-to-open rates signal to filters that you are sending content your subscribers value, so your campaigns are more likely to land in the inbox instead of the junk folder.
List hygiene: Yes, it’s a thing, and it’s important. A high number of bounces and spam complaints can negatively impact your deliverability, so it’s a good idea to keep up with list hygiene and remove any subscribers who complain or repeatedly bounce if your ESP doesn’t automatically remove them for you.
Metrics: Above all, good deliverability requires being proactive about monitoring your metrics and making adjustments as needed. If you’re not on top of things, you could end up blacklisted by specific email providers, and that’s not a headache you ever want to experience.
4. Spam Law Savvy
The United States has perhaps the most forgiving laws impacting email marketing, which are detailed in the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003. If you’re sending emails to people who live or work in other countries, the regulations surrounding consent and privacy are much more strict, and the fines can be steep if someone files a complaint against your company. This is why every email marketer needs to develop a good grasp of the spam laws that apply to their subscriber base.
Putting together a well-rounded email marketing team with the necessary balance of creative and technical skills can be a challenge, but the results are worth it. Look at your team today to see who has (or could develop) these often overlooked but essential email marketing skills.
*(Adestra, 2016 Consumer Adoption Usage Study)