How Hard Is It to Brand Your E-mail?

How hard is it to brand your e-mail? That’s what I was thinking as I scrolled through my overcrowded inbox one day and saw a particular e-mail come up in my preview pane.

“Hi Stefan!” it began, brightly. “Check out these local events that match your entertainment preferences.”

Because I read e-mail with images off, I saw a blank box where the company logo should have been. I opened the e-mail without looking at the subject or sender lines, so I didn’t immediately know who sent it. The message copy didn’t help, either.

I could see the e-mail was about buying tickets to upcoming concerts and sporting events, but there’s more than one online ticket agency in this world. The company name finally surfaced at the very bottom of this long, copy-heavy message.

Branding is Simple

This e-mailer flunked one rule of modern e-mail design: Always brand your message copy high up in text so that people will see it no matter where or how they view it — full size or in the preview pane, images on or off, or on a desktop computer or vintage mobile phone.

Inserting the company name in the first sentence would have cleared up the confusion: “Hi Stefan! Check out these local events that match your ‘BigTicketAgency’ entertainment preferences.”

Without telling me who the sender was, in text, I couldn’t tell if it was from my regular ticket agency, or if they rented out my name to a third-party ticket vendor (without my approval).

Answer the Three Ws

The toughest spam filter you face is not found at a major ISP or in a spam-reporting service. It’s actually the one in your recipient’s mind.

This “mind filter” determines whether an e-mail gets opened, marked as spam, or deleted without opening. No e-mail delivery service can guarantee passage past this most strict filter.

You get a head start, though, when you understand the conditions under which your recipients are looking at your e-mail and removing as many barriers as possible.

Your e-mail has to answer these three “W” questions in the first two to five seconds that a recipient looks at it, whether in the inbox or message body:

  • Who sent this e-mail?
  • What’s in it for me?
  • What do you want me to do?

If your e-mail doesn’t answer those questions right away, you risk failing the mind filter.

That leads to higher spam complaints, which hurts your sender reputation and drives down your deliverability. Besides increasing your list churn, readers who don’t spam-button you might simply stop acting on your e-mails, which increases inactivity.

The inbox is the place to start answering questions and establishing identity and trust. But it’s only the start.

Take the ticket-agency e-mail. Yes, I did look back to the subject and sender lines to see who sent it (by the way, the name wasn’t in the subject, either). However, I expected to find a clue to the sender’s identity somewhere in the top part of the e-mail that showed in the preview pane where I was reading.

Yes, a majority of e-mail users look at the sender line, the subject line, or both when triaging their inboxes — the process of deciding whether to open, delete, or spam-button a message.

But, a sizable minority doesn’t. These are likely the people who will end up clicking the spam-complaint button if they can’t tell right away who sent the message.

Building Your Brand in Four Easy Steps

Brand recognition is critical to e-mail performance. To engage the positive side of the recipients’ mind filter, here are four simple techniques every sender should use:

  1. Brand the sender line. This means your company, your brand or your newsletter name, whatever you think your readers would recognize first. Be as specific as possible, because any spammer can call himself “BigTicketAgency” (name changed to protect the clueless) to lure you into acting on phony information.
  2. Brand the subject line. This is your fail-safe, in case the recipient doesn’t recognize or look at your sender line. Just because it’s there doesn’t mean people will see it, after all.
  3. Brand your message copy in text as well as images. With images off, readers won’t see your gorgeous company logo. You can name it in alt text that appears inside image boxes when images are disabled, but that doesn’t always show up. Name your brand in the first line of text (the snippet or preheader line) or elsewhere in the top left quadrant of your message body to accommodate the skimpiest preview pane or mobile-phone screen.
  4. Always review messages with and without images enabled before sending. Look at your e-mails the way your recipients do. How far do you have to read into them to learn who the sender is or what the e-mail is about? If you’re halfway down and still can’t answer the three Ws, revise your copy.

Until next time, keep on deliverin’!

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