What UX design can teach us about email marketing

December 7, 2018 Lane Harbin

Products aren't just things to be used—they're also experiences to be had. Using a product, implementing it, and seeing the results are all an important part of the process.

User experience (UX) design is the science of enhancing this process to improve a customer’s interaction with a particular product.

Let’s say the product is email, one of the most versatile tools professionals have for marketing. 
Whether one-off campaigns or ongoing newsletters targeted at specific segments, emails work better when there is a focus on improving the user’s experience.

Email marketing is valuable because the userbase is so massive—more than 3.7 billion people use email, including nearly all adults in the U.S.

There are two sides to email marketing: First, there’s the task of marketers to get email tools that help assist them and enhance their promotional efforts. These are the senders.

For the recipients, good UX design email marketing makes clicking that message more worthwhile. When the information is more accessible, usable, and satisfying, it increases the likelihood the email will facilitate interaction or conversion rather than simply ending up trashed.

The importance of UX design

The concept of UX design in email is predicated on understanding various different elements. Let’s go over these elements to find out exactly what constitutes UX design and how each factors into email marketing.

Visuals

Graphic design or user interface design deals with the aesthetics of a product or service. In terms of digital content, like emails, the layout of an email determines how a user will interact with it. Can they find the data they need? Is the content organized in a way that persuades the user to continue reading and find out more?

Source: Campaign Monitor

Check out the example above. Notice how the opening graphic grabs the viewer’s attention and even has a built-in call-to-action with the “Explore Now” option. Right below it are product options with prices and buy buttons, and even an added graphic to show users how much they’re saving.

Structuring

Organizing digital content is important for making sure users can get the most out of it. The same could be said for the platforms used to distribute this content.

An email marketer who is trying to create a newsletter will want the same thing from their interface that a recipient wants from their email—a smart structure. Did you know a third of people will abandon a purchase if they can’t find the right information they need? 

Usability

A lot of testing is done on top-notch emails to determine whether recipients can actually use the email for its intended purpose. Usability on the side of the email writer means their system helps them arrange, design, and deliver emails that give a good experience to the recipient. And on the recipient’s side, a usable email informs, entertains, and calls to action.

As we can see, many things about a product impact the experience a user has with it. When we think about the purpose and goals of email marketing, we can see different elements of UX design strategy present with every option under the email marketing umbrella.

UX design: Email types and why they matter

If you’ve explored options with email marketing, one thing has probably become apparent to you above all else–There are many different types of email marketing strategies to be explored.

While some view email marketing as a rather homogenous term, it’s actually a parent term with a number of different categories within. While they may have similarities, they also have differences both in their design and what users expect to get from them.

In each of these categories, both the creator and the receiver have different things they look for. Let’s explore the various forms of email marketing and get an idea of how UX design plays a role in the success of each.

1. Newsletters or one-off campaigns

For the person who is getting a newsletter for the first time or is seeing their first-ever campaign from a particular sender, they’re looking for usability in their email. How can it help them? And does the message itself offer design conducive to a convenient experience? Since these types of basic newsletters are often used to make a first-time impression, usability is extremely important.

Source: Campaign Monitor

Consider the above example–It offers a discount and cuts to the chase quickly. For the sender who is organizing these campaigns, building a good newsletter requires the right design product.

Those who have the ability to create great emails with drag-and-drop functionality and to monitor engagement through simple mechanisms will get more out of their campaign launch.

2. Targeted newsletters and long-term campaigns

Email marketing isn’t just about sending out deals or announcements in one-off efforts.

Marketers can engage in long-term campaigns targeted at very specific segments of the market. Behavioral targeting, in particular, can be very effective, helping to drive engagement and increase the ROI of email campaigns. 

With segments based on contact data and other inputs, marketers can improve their UX design by focusing on what their demographic may want. Let’s say a targeted campaign is aimed at young people–A company may then design to change up the design layout of their newsletter to make it a bit more effective with the audience.

The user who gets a targeted campaign tailored to their preferences and their needs will likely be much more appreciative. It’s a classic example of making the marketing effort about the user, and putting them at the center rather than making them a spectator to a company-specific effort.

3. Email marketing among distributed workforces

Multi-location, multi-department, multi-device workforces are becoming more popular. Over three-quarters of U.S. workers prefer to do important work outside the offices, with remote and distributed options becoming more prevalent every year.

For the designers, having a tool that helps them aid their creative efforts throughout all work areas is very helpful. Especially in situations where people may have different levels of technical knowledge, convenient interfaces to control and manage largescale marketing campaigns are key to success.

Source: Campaign Monitor

The above example is targeted at those who enjoy ordering pizza on the weekends – a campaign that could feasibly be constructed by analyzing order records in Pizza Hut’s system and creating a targeted promotion. This deal may be promoted across regional restaurant networks, with adjustments made on the fly for things like:

  • Differences in pricing by location
  • Differences in menu option by location
  • Additional discounts for long-term followers 

For users, getting emails from these types of workforces come with advantages. Their behaviors, with their approval, could be used to deliver more usable emails to them via campaigns and to help them enter into segments more likely to serve their needs.

There are plenty of ways to go with email marketing, but there’s one thing that remains constant throughout–Design has a massive impact on the experience. This is true whether you’re the marketer or the person opening their inbox to find a treat.

Following an intentional strategy helps ensure email marketing is as successful as it should be by designing it around the experience, rather than hoping the user adapts their experience around the design.

Wrap up

Emails have come a long way since their inception. Even just a decade or two ago, emails were viewed as a much more simplistic communication mechanism than they are now.

But times have changed, and so have the elements associated with email design, campaign monitoring, and an understanding of UX. 

Emails are now designable in countless ways, with beautiful graphics, drag-and-drop-interfaces, plus plenty of ways to plan out campaigns according to data. The entire purpose behind these improvements is improving the user’s experience with the email and thus making the email itself more efficient in its purpose.

Advertising is a tricky subject. Everyone knows what an ad is supposed to do, but the very nature of it can make some people skeptical. If they feel an email isn’t designed in a way that improves their experience and offers them a convenient process, they may be put off immediately.

On the other hand, there are big benefits to having a good UX design. Email campaigns can ensure the right type of email gets to the right market segment, thus maximizing the chance of engagement, subscriptions, purchases, or any other interaction a company wants to facilitate.

With the right tools to help, any company can up their email game and accomplish more through this form of marketing.

Understanding how your users view an email, what they plan to do with it, and how you can improve that overall experience is critical to getting the most out of email marketing. 

About the Author

Lane Harbin

Lane Harbin is a senior content marketing manager at Emma. When she’s not geeking out over email marketing, she enjoys binge-listening to podcasts, catching up on the latest tech news, and constantly rearranging her living room.

Follow on Twitter Follow on Linkedin More Content by Lane Harbin
Previous Article
Emma’s VP of HR talks women in tech on the Lean In podcast
Emma’s VP of HR talks women in tech on the Lean In podcast

Emma's VP of Human Resources talks women in tech, female-led companies we love, and more on Tilted: A Lean ...

Next Article
10 drip marketing examples to enhance your email strategy
10 drip marketing examples to enhance your email strategy

Drip marketing can help you increase ROI, improve customer engagement, and re-engage inactive subscribers, ...

Get our best content straight to your inbox

SUBSCRIBE