Is it time to update your email production workflow? Columnist Chad White shares key areas to focus on to help you speed things up and boost your email program.
Email marketing teams and email production workflows are incredibly diverse. That’s what we found when we surveyed more than 900 email marketers for our “2016 State of Email Production” report.
Most of the report’s findings (email registration required) serve simply to raise questions about whether a brand should consider changing their team composition, planning process, tool usage and approval process to make their workflow more effective.
However, some of the findings point to areas where marketers can clearly improve. Here are four of those areas:
1. Use a “pre-flight” checklist
In “The Checklist Manifesto,” Atul Gawande writes:
Avoidable failures are common and persistent, not to mention demoralizing and frustrating, across many fields — from medicine to finance, business to government. And the reason is increasingly evident: the volume and complexity of what we know has exceeded our individual ability to deliver its benefits correctly, safely or reliably.
That’s certainly the case with email marketing, which has grown increasingly complex over the years as it has become more targeted, personalized, triggered and interactive. Gawande’s prescription for better outcomes is the checklist — and it’s one that I fully endorse.
However, more than a quarter of email marketers don’t use any kind of pre-send checklist. Those marketers are leaving their program open to simple mistakes — like missing links, missing approvals or using the wrong audience segment — increasing the possibility of needing to send an apology email.
2. Explore web development tools migrating over to email development
One of the exciting things happening in email marketing today is that it’s attracting former web developers. This influx of developers has helped spark the interactive email movement, which adds more web-like functionality to emails, including hamburger menus and carousels.
These developers also bring new tools into the email development world, like task runners and static site generators, which are used by 6.7 percent and 5.2 percent of marketers, respectively. Task runners and site generators make developing emails easier by automating complex tasks, building emails from discrete components and allowing larger teams to work together more easily.
But even tools that are explicitly for email aren’t seeing much adoption. For instance, CSS inliners automate the process of moving CSS formatting code into the body of an email.
This is a critical process due to the fact that Gmail strips out all styling that isn’t inlined. Nearly three-quarters of marketers are inlining CSS by hand — an incredibly laborious method — rather than using inliners to automate the task.
3. Identify tasks where you can safely speed things up
Speed isn’t everything, but if you’re spending a lot more time on an activity than your peers, then that should be a cause for concern.
If your email marketing team spends five or more hours on copywriting, design, coding, data logic or testing, then you’re among the top quartile in terms of time spent on these tasks.
Just because 75 percent of companies are performing these tasks more quickly, it doesn’t automatically mean you have a problem. There could be very good reasons for this.
Perhaps your emails are heavy on text content, so your copywriting takes a long time. That’s fine. Perhaps your emails contain lots of interactive elements and progressive enhancements that target various email clients, so your coding time is long. That’s fine, too.
However, if there isn’t a clear way to explain spending so much time on these activities, then there may be an opportunity to speed things up.
Exactly how you do that will vary, of course. Better training, tools and processes could all be part of the solution to shortening up your email build times.
4. Use email preview software
Ensuring that your marketing emails display and function as intended is becoming increasingly difficult. There are more devices and apps capable of reading emails, and these environments are in constant flux — with many changes going unannounced by inbox providers.
Because of this growing complexity, it’s alarming that 6.6 percent of marketers aren’t previewing their emails in any way, and 1.7 percent are only checking when they update their templates every year or two. That leaves a big opening for subpar subscriber experiences to go unnoticed for long stretches.
The 37.2 percent of marketers using DIY methods to preview emails is also concerning. While these marketers can accurately preview their emails, their methods are slow, don’t scale, and, if they’re creating their own preview lab of devices, expensive.
Email preview software now takes just seconds, allows iterative testing to quickly fix specific rendering issues, is usable by distributed teams and is cost-effective when you consider the time and cost savings compared with creating a preview lab.
If you haven’t audited your email production process recently, this is a great to-do to add to your list for the slower summer months. That way, come holiday rush, your program will be faster and better, and you’ll be more prepared.
by Chad White