Do beautiful emails really grab the attention of your recipients? Do big graphics at the top of your email cause people to get engaged? Does the path to email success include a designer, some fancy HTML, lots of pictures, and special fonts? 

This is one of the toughest conversations I have with our customers. They want to know how to increase their open rates and get more clickthroughs on their emails, so they can contribute more to sales. (Doesn't everyone?)

But... when I tell them to "let go of the pretty," they resist. Many marketers seem to really love sending gorgeous emails, and many get very dug in when it's suggested that the "pretty" might be keeping them out of the inboxes they're sending to.

What's more important? Pretty? Or PERFORMING?

Let me pause a moment here. If you are a big company with a mailing list of hundreds of thousands of people (or more), you'll get to enough inboxes to make the pretty work for you. But, if you're a small or mid-sized business with a modestly-sized list of email contacts, you need your email marketing to count in ways that giant companies don't.

So let's make those emails count. 

Step 1: Let go of the "pretty." 

Here are a few facts about pretty emails that you want to consider:

  1. The more graphics you have in an email, the more likely it is that the email will be seen as a promotional email. This is an email deliverabiity fact. When the Googles and Microsofts of the email world see graphic-heavy emails, they are quite likely to drop them into the promotional tab, the clutter tab, or the "other" tab. You are depending on your recipients to find that email and then to pay attention to it. 
  2. The majority of emails are opened on mobile devices. When an emails arrives with a giant graphic at the top, a lot of times the graphic is a giant box with a "download pictures" in the corner. That wouldn't be so bad, except that the text, assuming you have some, will fall "below the fold" and may never be read. 
  3. "Below the fold" isn't the worst, though. What if your email is truncated by the recipient's email system and all that's there is a message "download message and Internet pictures." In this day and age, particularly if your recipient doesn't know you, how do you think that message will go over? How do YOU respond? Personally, anything that says "download" in an email is scary to me.

Of course it is possible that your recipients have their mobile email set up so that the pictures automatically download. In fact, for an email that one of my colleagues and I both received, his phone automatically downloaded all of the pictures and mine did not. (Which is why open rates CANNOT be trusted as an email metric. You know the "open" gets recorded when the pictures are downloaded, right?)

If that's the case, AND the email you've sent is responsive, maybe the email gets read - if it lands in the primary inbox, that is. See fact #1 above. :)

The other thing about those pretty emails? They're mostly what I call "presentation" emails - all about the sender and whatever the sender wants you to buy today. Pictures and presentations just go together, you know? 

Again, if you're a huge company with a huge email list, selling your stuff through email, you don't need to build relationships with your leads. It seems that most big companies who email me just want to train me to open their emails in hopes I'll find a coupon or a discount code (Keurig, I'm talking about you here, among others). 

But for most small and mid-sized businesses, building relationships with the people who could become your customers is key. 

Start by letting go of the "pretty" and get more of your emails into the inbox and actually read.

I'll give you the next step in the next blog post.