The View from My Laptop

The fact that Outlook 2003 blocks images is yesterday’s news. So why are so many of today’s e-mails still full of images — and completely unreadable in this popular program?

As an independent copywriter, I must admit I’m one of the culprits who ignored this fact. I never upgraded Outlook 2000 on my desktop. And because I often write the e-mails with very little input into their design, I was blissfully unaware of how these messages were appearing (and how images were disappearing) in Outlook 2003.

That changed a month ago, when I got a new laptop with Outlook 2003. While I was out of town, I clicked a few promotional e-mails from e-newsletters I like to read; companies I like to buy from, and all I saw was blank pages with little boxes with an “x” in them saying, “Right click here to download pictures.”

Now, even as a loyal reader and customer of some of these companies, there was no way I had enough time or interest to download images. And so their messages were completely lost to me. Apparently, I’m not the only one. In a 2005 survey by EmailLabs, 45 percent of e-mail users rarely or never download images within their preview pane.

I’m looking at an e-mail now from Dell. It’s a jigsaw puzzle of missing pieces. There are 10 missing images in the first screen alone with seemingly unrelated captions that make absolutely no sense. When I right click to download the images, everything falls into place. It’s really a nicely designed ad.

Here’s a funny thing, though. What did come through loud and clear on the Dell image-free e-mail was the “Click here to unsubscribe” link. Looking at it made me realize I really didn’t need to know about new Dell products anymore, so I unsubscribed on the spot.

What I did like in the Dell e-mail was their preview screen at least provided a teaser to engage me in the e-mail. It said”

“Meet your high-level business needs with a Dimension 5150 desktop solution. In this week’s Small Business E-mail Update find excellent technology deals, including a Dimension™ desktop with flat panel for just $569, 15% off select Dell™ flat panels and great savings on select Dell printers”

This preview pane message didn’t appear, to my knowledge, in the actual e-mail copy itself. It was its own independent little ad. This is a great idea, especially since according to the same E-mailLab survey, 69 percent of B2B subscribers frequently or always use a preview pane.

From what I can see in my inbox, most marketers aren’t taking advantage of this mini-billboard. Instead, the preview pane simply reflects the first few lines of message text, which may or may not be promotional.

Most often, the preview pane message reveals “Add this e-mail address to your address book” text. This may not be the best use of this valuable real estate, since the E-mailLabs survey also notes 50 percent of subscribers rarely or never place an e-mail address on their e-mail client’s safe sender list.

Now if you’re an e-mail pro, all this may be a big “Duh” to you. But apparently, it’s not to the vast majority of marketers who are sending e-mail in pre-Outlook 2003 mode.

So let’s all get with the program and update e-mail designs to reflect 2006 realities. Outlook 2007 is on the way, so I’m sure there will be even more changes in store then.

Want your case study featured in a future column? Send along your B2B best to Karen.

Meet Karen at ClickZ Specifics E-Mail Marketing, October 24-25 in New York City.

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