Buy Versus Build: Branded Daily Emails?

My last column shed light on low-cost, high-impact marketing through the use of branded templates for your organization’s outbound email.

I was amazed at how many of you responded. This week, I’m following up with answers to the question and comment I heard most often:

  • “I love it. So how do I do it?”

  • “Here’s a list of reasons why the idea won’t work.”

I say, “Amen!” to both sides.

The first group is focused on the business value to be gained. They’re eager to pursue the idea further. The second group is focused on business costs. They want to ensure all technical hurdles have been taken into account.

Here are three ways to add branding to your daily email, with links to additional resources. Following these are a list of questions, culled from your responses and my investigations, that will help you to find the best solution for your own needs.

Signature files. One approach is using the features built in to your email client, such as MS Outlook’s signature files and stationery systems. These features are easy to use at a minimal level by nontechies.

A dozen or more companies offer assistance, by either supplying a template design the user can save as a signature file or offering software that leverages an existing client-native system. Consumers and SOHO businesses that don’t need click-through tracking or enterprise template management or that are not concerned with email file size use these systems. To learn more about how to use signature files, visit here or here.

Mail rerouting. Another way to add corporate branding to email is to route all outbound email through a vendor-hosted server, which adds branding elements on the fly. Both Rocketseed and Mailround do this.

Mail rerouting offers more control to standardize branding for all outgoing messages, across departments and employees. Tracking and feedback mechanisms are usually included. Disgruntled or “creative” employees cannot access (or alter) the templates. This solution takes some server load off your IT department because the provider serves the graphic elements itself. Make certain you’re comfortable with the provider’s reliability and security before passing all your email through its servers.

Combination client-server applications. This solution category tackles many concerns of larger IT departments while addressing personal choices and “email aesthetics” at the client level. FullSeven’s LetterMark platform is an example. This service permits individuals to choose who receives branded email, text-recipient intelligence, and template selection/preview. Server components handle the heavy lifting for tracking, one-source management of templates, editing contact info, and hosting/delivery of graphics. Also, its private-label template adds a mere 200 bytes to the size of a message (about one-fortieth the size of a banner ad).

Whether you’re considering a vendor solution or trying to build your own template, here are the 11 key questions to ask a prospective end provider:

  • Will graphics served into email keep messages “light”?

  • Will the solution differentiate between HTML and text-only recipients?
  • Will the system work across various email client security patches, versions, operating systems, and email protocols?
  • Will user account, template, and contact information be updated and managed?
  • Will the system be affected by attachments, voting buttons, MS Word used as editor, proxy-server network configurations, or firewalls?
  • What will internal email look like?
  • How will/can users select and/or preview different templates?
  • Is the system optimized for display across various email clients: AOL, Blackberry, Hotmail, Eudora, Entourage, Novell Groupwise, Outlook, etcetera?
  • How will branded emails affect storage and bandwidth requirements?
  • Will reply and forward behavior be handled to eliminate stacked graphics?
  • Does the solution track click-through and download data by template, user, or URL?

For questions, comments, or any other feedback, please feel free to drop me a line or two. Cheers!

Barry will present “In-House or Outsource: One, The Other, or Both?” at ClickZ Email Strategies in San Francisco, November 18-19.

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