Why email design should be driven by data

May 31, 2017 McKenzie Gregory

 

How to apply design best practices based on audience data

As an email designer, it's easy to get swept up in the latest and greatest trends you see from big-name brands in the inbox. After all, who doesn’t want to emulate sexy retailers like J. Crew and Kate Spade, complete with flashy GIFs, bright imagery, and even – dare I say it – interactivity
 
But it’s important to remember that what your audience prefers might not align with what J. Crew subscribers want; in fact, it probably doesn't at all. That's why your design choices should be informed by your subscribers' expressed preferences – preferences revealed through the data you collect about them.
 
Recently, Emma's Design Services Lead Logan Baird laid out the three crucial pieces of data you need to inform your email design strategy, plus examples of how they can help you map out your design choices. Here's what he had to say. 
 
 

That's Logan!

 

The problem: Best practices are only meant to serve as guidelines...

... but many designers accept them as gospel truths. The fact of the matter is that most of the email design stats you'll find are based on a ton of data collected from a ton of different brands in a ton of different industries.

Because of that, the "best practices" they support are extremely generalized and don't provide much help when it comes to real-life application. Here's an example: 

 

 

15-70% of opens. That's quite a range, huh? It's difficult to make any truly informed design choices off of such generalized data. 

 

 

The solution: YOUR audience's data 

Thankfully, you already have a trove of actionable insights to work from – your own data. Whatever ESP (email service provider) you use should offer metrics you can use to make data-informed email design choices. 
 
 
Here are the three key pieces of subscriber data you'll need:
 
1. Client How is your email being rendered?
 
2. Device What’s the screen real estate you're working with?
 
3. Location Where are you reaching them?
 
 
 
 
If you're using Emma, you'll find the first two pieces of data – Opens by Device and Opens by Client – in your "Response" section. 
 
 
 
 
The "Location" component is a little more complicated. You can make assumptions about where your audience is opening based on whether they're using desktop or mobile (at work or on-the-go), but the best way to figure it out it is to begin gathering data about your email subscribers early-on in your relationship. 
 
For instance, include a "Where do you first check your email?" field in your signup form or preferences center. 
 
 
 

I have the subscriber data... now what?

Once you've collected Opens by Client, Opens by Device, and Location, you can begin to make data-informed design choices based on how and where you know your subscribers are reading your emails. 
 
Client-based insights: 
 
Your subscribers open mostly on Apple clients.
Takeaway: You have room to branch out into Google Fonts
 
• Your subscribers open mostly on Apple or Android native clients.
Takeaway: Use CSS animation as a great, lightweight alternative to GIFs.
 
• Your subscribers open mostly on Outlook. 
Takeaway: Skip the animation and focus instead on strong imagery and clear messaging.
 
Device-based insights:
 
• Mostly mobile opens?
Takeaway: Go with a single column, mobile-first approach.
 
• Mostly desktop opens?
Takeaway: Still stick with one column to keep focus, with limited use of multiple columns for secondary CTAs.
 
Location-based insights: 
 
• Do your subscribers open your emails on the go?
Takeaway: Keep design simple and lead with clear, concise text.
 
• Do your subscribers open your emails at work?
Takeaway: Don't ask them to do too much or anything super time consuming. 
 
•  Do your subscribers open your emails at home?
Takeaway: You have room to incorporate more engaging design elements like video.
 

 

In summary... 

1. Email client, device, and location are the three key pieces of subscriber data you need to collect when developing an email design strategy. 

2. If your email service provider doesn't allow you to easily surface those insights, it's time to switch!

3. Subscriber data allows you to understand how your audience is experiencing your emails and tailor your approach.

 

 

 
 
 
 

About the Author

McKenzie Gregory

McKenzie Gregory is a content writer on Emma’s marketing team. A Nashville native, she can be found covering all things email on the Emma blog, debating hyphenation rules, and watching obscene amounts of Netflix without a trace of shame.

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