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Oct 14, 2003
How To

Make Your Email Graphics Compulsively Viewable: Inspirational Samples

SUMMARY: This is *not* a fluffy creativity article for design buffs. Now that AOL v9 and Outlook 2003 are blocking HTML images, everyone sending graphics in email is affected.

So, we interviewed the folks behind one of the most compellingly- designed HTML newsletters in the world (Central Market's Foodie) and found out how they get an insanely high open rate consistently.

Also includes links to useful tech articles and creative samples.
Most email art directors and mailers are fretting right now about two nasty developments that could rip the heart out of HTML campaigns -- AOL 9.0 and Microsoft Outlook 2003.

In an effort to stop unwanted junk email, both AOL and Microsoft have put defaults on their latest versions that block HTML images. Your readers will see your text, but not graphics such as your logo or other images. (See below for links to detailed articles on the situation.)

You only have three solutions:

A. Resign yourself to getting text-only results. This may be fine for some emailers for whom text was working, but for most, it's a nasty set-back.

B. Ultra-carefully copywrite a hotlink, to your HTML-version posted online, that uses such compelling wording that more people click through than the normal scant percent. If you are a god at copywriting and your audience adores your brand, you'll do ok... but it still won't work as well as HTML in the in-box.

C. Get your regular readers to add your "from" email address to their personal buddy list. If you're on the list, your HTML gets through unscathed in either system.

The key to making either of the last two options work is making your HTML graphics so fabulous that your regular readers will leap through hoops - clicking and buddy-listing - because they yearn to see the pictures.

You have to design "must-view" HTML - and change it in every single email you send your house list so readers learn to expect the new graphic and seek it out.

Want some inspiration?

For the past three years, Central Market, a gourmet grocery chain in Texas, has been sending out "Foodie", an email newsletter so gorgeous that it's won national awards, and has an open rate that's far, far above average.

(We can't reveal the exact number, but trust us on this one. If you knew their open rate, you'd be jealous.)

The key is - not only are the images both beautiful and witty, the main image changes in every single issue. Once you've gotten a couple of issues, you find yourself compulsively opening the next ones just to see what the fun new graphic will be.

Each issue starts with a big image that's a witty line drawing incorporating a photo of some food or wine. The newsletters are always "from" Central Market, and the subject lines are always short, snappy, and related to the image.

How do you come up with images that readers consistently adore?

For each fortnightly issue, the creative team leave their offices behind and go on a field trip to wander about a nearby Central Market store, looking for what's new, what's eye catching, what's fun.

They take photos of half a dozen items, try creating fun line drawings around them, and then mock-up two-three sample graphics. Then Central Market's marketing team gets to vote on a winner.

"We just love it," says Marketing Director Melissa Porter. "It's very cool, it gives us something to look forward to. Deciding on a winner is part of the fun of being in marketing. You get to communicate with customers in a way that's intelligent and witty."

Next copywriter Jim Hannaford writes four short-articles (one each on produce, beer/wine, cheese, meat/seafood) plus some brief sales alerts and news notes; and then the creative team put the final issue together and click "send."

If this sounds like a lot of work to you, that's because it is.

Mailers who primarily use email "because it's so fast and cheap" will probably balk at the idea of investing time and resources into an intensive ongoing campaign like this. And we bet that as AOL 9.0 and Outlook 2003 gather zillions of users, those mailers will start whining about "email dying."

We also bet that Foodie newsletter readers click on the "add to buddy list" option in their email systems, to be sure they see graphics, so fast it will make your head spin.

Porter says the extra investment so far has definitely been worth it, "We're very pleased with its performance. We get a lot of great customer feedback."

You can see Foodie issue samples below. Plus, here are our five top ideas for must-view email graphics for you:

o Charts and graphs -- works well for b-to-b as well as personal finance newsletters.

o Photos of people -- works well for celebrity photos, and b-to-b where readers might know each other.

o Photos of things -- try before-and-after, guessing games, recipe outcomes, maps.

o Printable coupons and certificates.

o Regular cartoons people look forward to.

5 Useful links related to this article:

-> Samples of three Central Market newsletters to inspire

-> Katydid article: "How Outlook 2003 Affects Email" (Thanks to author Kevin Troy Darling for letting us publish this link)

-> MarketingSherpa article: "Ouch -- AOL 9.0 is bad news for emailers. Here are some solutions:"

-> Richards Interactive who do the graphics for Central Market's newsletter:

-> Central Market:
See Also:

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