No images in your email are better than some images…

As some of you would know I’ve been working in what is now called the ‘digital marketing industry’ for 20 years. My first foray into the information superhighway was in 1994. And as all of you know, there are now more alleged experts in the various channels of digital marketing technology, than all experts combined from every other industry in the world since the dawn of time.

Yet despite this plethora of digi-expertise, many of the basic fundamentals are still being ignored – at great cost to shareholders and great frustration to marketers. One could say EPIC FAIL is standard practice.

Take the humble email message for instance. Email is a personal channel, yet digi-marketers treat it as a mass one. Just look at your typical newsletter. Websites invite subscribers to newsletters, but then send the subscribers something entirely different. Most often it’s a digital version of a retail press advertisement. Lots of offers and ‘buy now’ buttons. There’s rarely any news, like a traditional newsletter is supposed to contain.

Brand Guidelines get in the way of communication

Worse still is the role played by the Brand Guideline Drill Sergeants. Why should a personal message look like a brand ad? It should look like a personal message. I don’t know if too many people have not bought something because they thought the brand guidelines in the email message weren’t correct.

There are two reasons your email message needs to look personal:

  • One is because well-written personal messages work better than messages choc-full of brand images
  • And two is because technology dictates design

Don’t get me wrong, if you are an online product retailer then your email message should contain lots of product images with prices and ‘buy now’ buttons. But these aren’t newsletters.

The best way to write your newsletter content (as opposed to copy) is to write it as a personal message with links to more stuff. Then if necessary insert relevant images and caption your images. Add subheads in bold to attract the eye and encourage continued reading. Then add your corporate logos only after everything else is complete and preferably at the end of the message not at the top.

There’s a simple reason why your logo (or other images) should not dominate your masthead – and it’s to do with digital technology. Think about what you have to do to view an image in your email message. You have to right-click the image. And if your email message is dominated by images, or particularly if your masthead is a massive image that covers the top quarter of your message, the initial visual impression of your message by your customer is an ugly mess. It’s certainly not conducive to opening and reading.

Here’s an example of a message from Letterbox Deals, before the recipient chooses to right-click on the images.

Nothing appears until you right-click
Nothing appears until you right-click

And here’s what the message looks like if recipients bother to right-click:

The view after you right-click
The view after you right-click

BTW, this is not a shot at Letterbox Deals – it is a very successful business, but imagine how more successful they could be if they considered human nature. We humans are lazy by nature – we always prefer the path of least resistance and forcing us to right-click just to see brand guidelines is an insane way to design messages.

And of course there’s the issue of sp*m filters. Most automatically block a message if the image content of the message is more than 50% of the message. So you should minimise your number of images if you want your message to get through to your customers.

The best way to determine the most successful design is to run a continous test programme. Determine your control design – the one that works best for you – then constantly test new designs in a sample segment to try to beat the control. Your bottom line will thank you enormously.

I have an interest in a travel agency and our most successful email messages to sell travel (one of the most visually dominated categories in marketing) is a short email message that is all text. We highlight the offer in the headline, then the reason for writing, then explain the details and how to order. The logo goes beneath the signature file.

The headline is a large font heralding the offer. This means that any customer viewing the message through their preview screen, can immediately read the offer – there is no right-click required. We make it easy to read in a way that suits human nature.

Here’s the highly sophisticated layout – it always works better than messages full of images:

HEADLINE WITH BENEFIT

Reason for writing

Details of offer

How to order

Signature File

Logo

And I’ve always found the easier it is for a customer to make a decision to buy, the  more likely they will buy – digitally speaking of course!

2 Comments

  1. Malcolm, I had experience of this issue with a mail targeted at home and giving retailers.
    Interestingly, for that particular market, we trialled and found a better open and clickthrough rate on the email with pictures.
    My thoughts:
    1. a highly visual market, used to looking at pictures of products they might want to sell
    2. we were mailing to a third party newsletter list, and that newsletter generally sent them a lot of photos of potential product.
    So I suspect the recipients had set to autodownload pictures in emails from that email address, or possibly even from everyone. (I’m a words person, as I suspect you are, so I would never do that, but many people do.)

    Couldn’t agree more with a continuous test programme! In this case we were trialling the list so we couldn’t do continuous test, but we did do an A/B test on leading with image vs words before sending the bulk.

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