When it looks more like a website.
As the technical capabilities of email clients grow, so does the ability to send richer content. But this growth is sporadic, email clients vary greatly and this creates the fly in the ointment, a vast range of clients implementing various levels of a range of render engines.
Marketing email campaigns look to stand out and grab the recipient’s attention, marketeers see this as the way to create a successful email. This drives a thirst to adopt the next piece functionality available. Words of caution over the percentages of recipients that will actually be able to use the functionality get ignored over the demand to make it bigger, bolder and brighter.
This drive to add website functionality and big imagery creates emails that resemble websites, some even include navigation-like links as part of the email. Even the strategy behind the creative is more akin to a website. Designers layout the email on large screens with most of the email in view at once, this doesn’t reflect the end-user experience.
There is a lot to be said about the technical side of email design, over-sized images, bitmap text, viewport space, network limitations and much more. But this often ends in details that get too technical for the average marketeers.
There is one factor that should be considered and used to question if a website looking email is a good idea. The more an email looks like a webpage the more a user will treat it as such. So if your email has made it past the subject line inbox prune, been opened and had the images loaded, then the user will treat the result based on their previous experiences.
We expect a user to only spend a few seconds on page looking for goal content, if the user hasn’t found anything within ten seconds, we expect the goal will quickly be to leave the page or site. Compare this with a standard text-based email received from a trusted source. Even a skim read will mean the user spends more than ten seconds with the email. There is good reason for this difference, it’s the user’s preconceived commitment to read based on expectations. The use of imagery, iconography and snippet type text is all designed to speed the absorption of information, this instills an expectation of immediacy to the user. This sets an expectation that seconds are all that is required.
Consider a news item on bbc.co.uk, the user expects to be able to read a headline and one or two paragraphs to grasp an understanding of the news item. Compare wit a Wikipedia page, it sets the expectation for a value to reading through several sections, multiple paragraphs and deep absorption of high quality information. We expect a skip through approach to the imagery heavy snippet content and expect the written word to be pondered over and commit time to the value of reading.
I often use the real world comparison of doorstep mail, we pick up the pile of letters of the doormat, sift through and sort out the junk mail, giving each a glance, but giving extra weight of meaning to those personally addressed windowed DL’s.
I am not suggesting making emails like Wiki entries but consider the communication is an email, treat it, design it and create it expecting the user to spend time absorbing it, to gain the attention of your target audience.