Outlook 2007: The Sky Isn’t Falling

When I first read about Outlook 2007, I thought its e-mail design limitations would bring us back to the days of text-only business-to-business (B2B) e-mail.

Though text-only e-mail can be very effective (and has outperformed HTML e-mail in many cases) a text-only inbox would be a boring, bland experience.

I was jumping to conclusions. Although Outlook 2007 will cause its share of headaches, they seem to be surmountable.

To get a high-level perspective on what changes B2B e-mail marketers should anticipate (rather than the nitty-gritty details of what their e-mail designers will contend with), I spoke with Eric Boggs, product manager at Bronto, the North Carolina-based e-mail marketing software firm.

“Don’t panic,” is his advice, “The whole world is not going to switch to Outlook 2007 overnight. In fact, many corporations never upgraded to Outlook 2003, and are still working with the 2000 version.”

Basically, he says the new version won’t completely remove your ability to brand and design your e-mail marketing communications, but it will require your designers to jump through more hoops to consistently do so.

Because Outlook 2007 uses Microsoft Word’s rendering engine instead of Internet Explorer’s, designers must forsake CSS (define), which offered more stylish design options, and go back to old-style HTML. This will result in simpler e-mail styles and layouts.

Check out this sample of a typical e-mail in Outlook2003. If you don’t reevaluate your designs, your message could look like this in Outlook 2007.

Recommended E-mail Design Changes for Outlook 2007

Some suggestions for making your e-mail render well in Outlook 2007:

  • No background images and colors. These will be stripped out or inconsistently supported in Outlook 2007.

  • No embedded e-mail surveys. You’ll have to include links in the message to surveys on a Web site.
  • No animated GIF files or Flash content. Animated GIF files won’t move. Flashwill only render a big red “X.”

You can still have an e-mail template, but you’ll have to conduct quality assurance testing to make sure it will work in this new environment.

You can still have photos, but make sure they have captions in case the images are stripped out, as has happened with Outlook 2003. Don’t allow messages to be so image-dependent that if all images are stripped out, there’d be no message, as I’ve seen on a number of occasions with Outlook 2003.

Quality assurance is also important when it comes to ensuring deliverability. One of the early adopters in the Outlook 2007 migration is Njal Larson, SVP of product strategy at Satuit Technologies, which offers client relationship management (CRM) and sales force automation (SFA) solutions for investment professionals.

Larson said there were mixed deliverability results in initial rollouts for Outlook 2007-compliant e-mail. E-mail messages sent to their own company were tagged as junk.

He added the company also had to rewrite most of its clients’ e-mail templates to handle restrictions created by the implementation of Word as the HTML e-mail editor. He also cautioned that when photos and images are blocked in Outlook 2007, it may not be obvious to the reader how to download them. An additional issue occurs because animated GIF images and Flash can’t be viewed correctly, so you’ll have to send readers to a site to see these images. This can add an extra step to the sales process and cause the reader to abandon the message.

The sky isn’t falling. But B2B marketers should take action now to prevent future problems, particularly considering Outlook’s ubiquity in the workplace. People aren’t going to switch to Outlook 2007 overnight; however, those who do will most certainly be business users.

How will you adapt to Outlook 2007? Send your e-mail case studies and samples to Karen.

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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