There really is opportunity in every e-mail challenge.
It's easy to focus on the negatives of e-mail rendering, design, and delivery, especially with reports like the recent Email Experience Coalition (EEC) Rendering Report or when we see the shrinking real estate available in today's updated e-mail clients.
But there's opportunity in every challenge if you're willing to look for it. It isn't enough just to solve the problem; by focusing on the problem, then looking for the opportunity hiding in it, you can turn a disadvantage into a clear advantage.
Challenge: Shrinking Real Estate
As more e-mail clients crowd the message window with functions and services designed to attract and retain users, such as calendars, contact lists, ads, and RSS feed readers, the amount of real estate your message can display in has shrunk.
Throw in the ads many Web services, such as Gmail, Hotmail, and Yahoo Mail, now stuff into the messages space, and the amount of room you have for your newsletter, product bulletin, or weekly sales circular has been cut by about 30 percent.
On top of that, the preview pane has become a standard feature of consumer-focused Web clients, such as the beta clients for Yahoo and Windows Live Mail.
Readers who use it (and statistics show upwards of 90 percent do in business environments) may see only the top two to three inches of your e-mail message instead of the six or so inches that might display if the full message displays.
Opportunity: Subject Line Lift
No longer do subject line and message content operate independently. Now, content showing in the preview pane can expand the subject line's pull and effect for an immediate benefit. The reader doesn't have to wait for the message to fully display before seeing the value proposition, call to action, or reassurance the message is one he expects and wants to receive.
In Yahoo Mail's beta, where the preview pane is called the reading pane, the message displays in the pane immediately below the subject line when the reader highlights it in the inbox.
Your subject line must still be compelling enough to catch the reader's eye and get him to click on your message. But with proper preview pane designs, the subject line gets an immediate lift from the message. No more waiting for the full message to display before revealing the most important content in it.
Solution: Uncluttered E-Mail That Packs a Punch
If your target is primarily consumer-focused, you may not have faced this challenge. Now, e-mail clients have changed. A few building blocks of current your e-mail design will probably have to go:
The added benefit is your preview-pane copy can do a lot of the brand or value-prop heavy lifting that your subject line had to do previously. More than ever, subject line and message content must work together to give a recipient the incentive to open, read, and act on the message, along with the confidence the message is one he wanted to receive and he will benefit from reading.
Finding opportunity in the midst of a stiff challenge is a hallmark of business success. Applying that entrepreneurial viewpoint to targeting benefits in the midst of e-mail challenges can help you find ways to deliver more value to readers and boost your e-mail program's ROI (define).
And as always, keep on deliverin'!
Want more e-mail marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our e-mail columns, organized by topic.
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Stefan Pollard, who started his career in online marketing in 1999, was considered a selfless mentor and champion of best practices in e-mail marketing. He held the position of senior strategic consultant at Responsys where he was responsible for developing e-mail marketing and lifecycle messaging strategies to increase clients' ROI. Before that, Stefan led the e-mail consulting program for Lyris clients, frequently speaking at industry events on best practices. Prior to that, he managed the audit process and consulted with clients to improve their e-mail delivery challenges for Habeas. As an e-mail marketer, he spent several years building and executing acquisition and retention campaigns at E-Loan and Cybergold.com. He died May 14, 2010.
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