That's the Click! Responsive Design and the Magic of Email Engagement

Marketers must recognize that email only represents one piece of the customer engagement puzzle, for consistent messaging must reach across channels to create a seamless brand experience throughout the holidays and all year-round.

Email campaigns rarely inspire awe. In fact, with the volume of digital correspondence cluttering the average consumer's inbox, many email campaigns barely elicit a quick glance. For today's marketers, personalization holds the power to generate engagement, as most must continuously seek ways to gain and maintain their audience's interest and loyalty. Luke Wingfield Digby, CEO at Total Send, emphasizes that, while today's consumers' personal communications are typically moving more toward social networks and mobile messaging, users who engage email do so with more intent, meaning those reading their emails are more qualified and more likely to buy. Email also enables more assertive communications.

"When done well, the engagement from email can surpass anything available from mobile apps or social channels," says Dan Smith, vice president of product at Outsell. "Email is proactive-it 'knocks on the door' when it's delivered to the customer's inbox-and in today's connected world, that increasingly means I can initiate a conversation with a customer whether he's sitting at his desk at work or checking his smartphone at the ballgame. The marketer doesn't have to wait for the customer to click on the app or go to the social site to engage."

Yet, for email campaigns to truly evolve into successful triggers for added value and engagement, most marketers still need to work on developing responsive design elements that allow their messages to stand out from their competitors. Email has the power to bring current and potential customers to action, but it cannot be successful without making sure that all messaging features relevant offers and consistent quality that enhances and grows customer relationships.

Remain Relevant

When crafting effective messaging, marketers must work to develop interesting subject lines that promote open and click through rates. Compelling content ultimately encourages engagement, while devising an attractive offer drives clicks, but each strategy converges to one single common denominator: relevancy. Smith emphasizes that brands must use consumer data to understand the average customer's interests so they may anticipate needs and determine ideal timing, encouraging customers to click, thereby making this channel a value-added service.

"The subject line and first three lines in the body of the email are essential to attracting the attention of the recipient and ultimately getting opened," says Avi Greenfield, portfolio innovation manager at HP Exstream. "Relevance is especially important in the subject line. If a company has used analytics to determine items of interest to target consumers and want to pitch a particular product, it is recommended they mention the relevant product in the subject line. If the email is used for a customer service issue, it is recommended they make sure it references the claim or incident in the subject line."

Because many consumers are opening their emails on their smartphone, marketers have an additional opportunity to bring relevance to the fore with real-time and location-based offerings. Alyssa Nahatis, director of deliverability at Adobe Neolane, highlights that mobile enables one-to-one conversations with customers, with geo-location allowing companies to deliver specific offers based upon where the consumer is and when. Not only can brands send relevant offers and money-saving information, but they also have the chance to go beyond the average message by including a Google map of nearby stores. This encourages clicks, as said consumers are targeted when highly receptive, and allows companies to garner interest at an essential moment in the buying cycle.

Maintain Consistency

In terms of responsive design, the single most important aspect to include remains a clear call to action. However, if brands are going to drive clicks, this call to action must be clear across all screen sizes and devices, particularly in regard to mobile. "Companies need to make sure they are sending relevant messages to the right audience, utilizing white space strategically, and making communications easy to understand and easy for customers to act upon," says Greenfield. "Companies need to think explicitly about form factors, screen real estate, orientation, and most notably, designs that will look good across all devices, or mechanisms for detecting the viewing device and delivering the appropriate presentation."

According to one survey by Blue Hornet, more than 80 percent of customers said they would delete emails that are not optimized for mobile. Yet, while many brands put effort into making sure their email marketing campaigns appear uniform across devices, screen sizes, and email clients, true consistency lies in creating a seamless transition from email to Web. Though many might visit a brand's website via desktop, those exploring via smartphone or tablet crave mobile-optimized pages that offer easy navigation and fluid experiences reminiscent of the initial email that triggered their curiosity. Many companies neglect to invest time and money into making sure that pleasurable customer experiences span the channels.

Sustain Relationships

Consumers will agree that, when choosing their messaging preferences, the only flexibility typically lies with the option to choose plain text or HTML emails. But in today's technologically advanced world, brands must put consumers in the driver seat and allow them to dictate these interactions. Nahatis suggests that marketers develop preference centers that not only allow customers to express the types of offers they'd wish to receive, but also how and when they'd like to receive them. By collecting such data, companies can better understand how consumers want to be engaged and through which channels they are likely to be most receptive.

Greenfield also notes that personalization acts as an essential way to bolster customer relationships, for this strategy adds value to consumers' lives and makes them feel like an important piece to the puzzle. Personalized emails increase response rates, but brands must go well beyond simply using the individual's name in the message copy. Targeted offers and information based upon demographics, psychographics, responses to past offers, and buying behaviors all factor into developing proper, effective messaging.

For instance, Chevrolet's 2012 Year-End Clearance event launched a multi-stage email marketing campaign carefully tailored to the characteristics of each recipient's email client and device. The campaign considered how individuals responded to one email message, then employed these triggers to make each successive message more personalized, announcing relevant special deals and newly released incentives to drive urgency. Ultimately, the initiative delivered 260 percent higher open rates and click rates 65 percent higher than typical benchmarks, with 1,000 vehicles sold incrementally throughout the season

4 Helpful Tips for Successful Holiday Email Campaigns

Though the holiday season will be upon us before we know it, successful email marketing campaigns must be orchestrated well in advance. Because consumers are bombarded by incessant messaging across channels during this time in particular, marketers must be exceptionally strategic with their email communications. But, while the holidays present various struggles across departments, they also offer opportunities for brands to improve their email design tactics and implement the strategies necessary for year-round success.

  1. Create simple and clear offers that promote compelling, personalized messaging in order to encourage engagement, for consumers are less likely to pay attention to generic subject lines.
  2. Be sure that all email campaigns will render properly across screen sizes and devices. If messages don't load quickly and clearly, consumers are increasingly likely to delete or unsubscribe.
  3. Don't simply infer consumer preferences based upon transactional or demographic data. Instead, put the customer in control by allowing them to dictate their messaging preferences.
  4. Once your brand has established solid email campaign strategies, be sure to align this responsive effort with your company's website design. Consumers who don't receive a consistent experience across channels may be more inclined to abandon the interaction, especially when numerous competing offers arrive daily during the holiday season.

However, while these tips are particularly helpful during the busiest season of the year, marketers must be sure to integrate these strategies throughout the entire year. These tips specifically highlight the benefits behind responsive email design and how, with just one click, curious consumers might magically evolve into committed, loyal customers.