This article originally appeared in MediaPost on August 16, 2012.
What's the one thing all email marketers should know?
I have been in the email space for upwards of 12 years now (geez, I am getting OLD) and through the years I have had the chance to work both the client and vendor side. I have held nearly every position within every discipline of the industry, but I got my start in direct mail.
Back in the day, when I started in marketing, direct, targeted mail programs were where it was at. When you were developing programs and offers and targeting schemas for those program,s you had to know the fundamentals of marketing to put together the program -- but you also had to understand what was possible for your direct-mail pieces. What are your die-cut options? Printing options? Gloss? USPS delivery considerations? You had to know enough about every aspect of that offer from conception to receipt in to the customers hands. Email is no different.
The backbone of email marketing is HTML, yet very few email marketers understand what is possible or how to interpret it to effectively direct the implementation teams doing the work. Now, the expectation isn't that you should be able to code an HTML email from scratch, in a notepad file -- much like no one expected me to run the die-cut machine at the printing press -- but you do need to understand what is going to drive your production team batty (more times than not).
Providing Inputs in a Word Document
While it is always helpful to visualize the treatment you anticipate (bold, italics, colors, etc) within a Word document, it is much cleaner to provide copy and inputs in a text or notepad file. When copying content out of Microsoft Word, there is often erroneous code that is picked up that can affect the way your content renders. If your production team is busy, something simple like this that can slow things down.
Instead, become familiar with common treatment tags that will help indicate your visual presentation of the copy: break tags <br> instead of a carriage return; the <bold> tag </bold> instead of actually making the copy bold; or even an <a href> tag instead of hyper-linking a word in the document. All of these things can help expedite a clean and easy production process.
Understand What is Possible in Email
Many times marketers want to do something in their email that they saw on a website. While all of what you see on the Web is achievable within code, it still doesn't mean it will render in the email clients you are sending to. Basically, you are bound to what you can do with HTML and image files. When it comes to anything else, you are rolling the dice on the user experience. For example, including forms with submit functions may or may not work -- not because your production people can't do it, but because many inbox providers do not allow java script to be active within the inbox (at least not yet, thoughsome are starting to come around).
Know What is Coming (or has arrived)
If your frame of reference for what you can do with the code in email is something you haven't thought about in years, then you are likely uninformed. What you were once not able to do with CSS in email is now possible, and HTML5 brings a whole other level of possibility. Just as the best practices for strategy, tactics, timing and creative change regularly, so does the capability of the code behind the email. It's worth it to spend some time with you production team (or provider) to find out what's new, which should help you get the most out of your programs.
In the long run, the better you understand what's possible, the more likely you are to achieve greatness. It isn't a stan- alone bullet to your email marketing efforts, but the code behind your creative is certainly an important (and often overlooked) piece of the puzzle.