e-mail marketing: template time warp

It’s been a few months since I’ve worked with HTML e-mail – the colorful, graphical kind used most often for marketing communications. From the time I began coding for e-mail up until the time I created my most recent HTML e-mail template, the general rule was to code like a web page – one from the mid-90′s.

I recently researched the HTML e-mail landscape, hoping that by some miracle it had significantly evolved in the last several months more than it has in the last several years. Unsurprisingly, it hadn’t.

As the folks over at MailChimp put it:

Remember back in the 90′s when there were no WYSIWYGs yet, and you had to code everything by hand? Remember the Internet Explorer vs. Netscape wars? Remember how you had to test your work over and over and over again? HTML email is a lot like that. Times 10.

The myriad e-mail clients (i.e., apps) in use today interpret and display HTML differently – sometimes really differently. When dealing with HTML e-mail template design, it’s best to accept that fact and code for the lowest common denominator. If you can’t (or would rather not) deal with coding, most e-mail services offer templates that are designed to work well in all major e-mail clients. These templates make it easy to send out graphical e-mail without hiring a web developer.

The downside of templates is that many are unattractive and none carry out the look and feel of your brand. Those drawbacks take a back seat, however, when the budget-driven alternative is not using e-mail communication at all.

I’ve created HTML e-mail templates for see see eye, Off Broadway Shoes, Smith, Gambrell & Russell and others. If you’re interested in a custom designed e-mail template for MailChimp, Constant Contact, VerticalResponse, CampaignMonitor or another provider, please contact me for more information.

Update: If you’re interested in understanding how old-school HTML tables are used, you can find a good writeup here. The author’s encouragement to “ditch Netscape 4.7″ shouldn’t be your first clue of the period authenticity of the advice. It should go without saying that use of tables should be limited to presenting numerical data and building HTML e-mail until e-mail clients get with the times.