In Search for the Ideal Email Development Process - The Design Sprint

Email marketing is the oldest trend there is. From the moment “You’ve got mail” hit the box office in 1998, companies registered a substantial increase in their use of email to reach their customers and prospects. However, as easy as it sounds to whip up an email marketing campaign and send it, it’s actually more detailed and time consuming than some other methods. Many companies have admitted to not using a clear email development process, which almost always leads to wasted resources, multiple back and forth between team members and loss of momentum.
This article will break down the steps of a standard email development process and help you manage any email production cycle and increase your marketing team’s email productivity.

It is important to remember that this email production process is general and is meant to be edited and tweaked to fit your company’s specific needs and strategies.

Email Production Statistics

Before we break down the email development process, take some time to check out some of the tools and practices most companies use to create their email campaigns.
Thanks to the 2016 State of Email Production report, published by Litmus, we have good insight on how marketers plan, build, approve, and send emails.

Email Creation Team Composition

  • More than 40% of companies have only 1 or 2 people working on the email campaign creation.
  • only 11% worked with agencies on day-to-day email production, design or coding while 64.2% of all companies use only in-house resources.

Content Planning

  • Almost 50% of companies maintain content calendars year-round. Here is Chamaileon's version.

  • 30% plan and send emails ad hoc, so they need a quick response from the designer of the emails.

Email Production Cycle

  • Only 14% of companies code all or most of their emails from scratch.

  • The remaining 86% rely on some sort of email template to design their emails.

Email Marketing Campaign Development Process

We asked Chamaileon's users about their email campaign creation process and we want to share some of their experiences with you.

This section is written by Michael Saikaly, an experienced Graphics Designer from Canada. He shares two stories - real examples - with us that display the most common email campaign development processes.

Example 1: Fundraising campaign for a non-Profit nicely done

I’ve been working with a non-profit organization for a number of years, and one of their projects I’ve been involved with was an email series (12 automated emails over a 7-month period) to promote one of their yearly fundraising events.

Background on automation:

Each message engages with the reader and encourages them to sign up/register, create a team, and raise money for health research. Each team or individual participant registers for a local bicycle ride event.

Each message is dispatched on a specific date based on the user’s event date.

Example: Send email # 1 four weeks before the subscriber’s event date.

Email creation/structure

From a design aspect, I wanted to start with an email that wasn’t too image heavy and gave a good user experience in terms of readability on desktop or mobile devices.

The initial design of the email was based on the website branding and existing email campaigns. I wanted to keep everything as consistent as possible across the board. I had seen a previous email that the client mocked up and deployed in another system, so I took that design and made it more appealing for the brand.

From the top

Use some form of pre-header text that relates to the message plus the standard “View Online” CTA.

Logo & CTA

Next up, branded logo along with a CTA bulletproof button.

After deciding on the general design, next it came time to choose the hero image. The hero image featured past event highlights that would connect with many people. Having this in place would give a sense of being a part of something great for a great cause.

Body content

Simple and easy to follow content with the addition of branded icon imagery followed by a CTA to log in and fundraise.

Standard footer content

Incorporate the company’s standard footer content material to finish off the message.

Email Development

To create the email, I decided to use the Chamaileon platform.

I’ve used other email editors, and so far this one gave me the most features and tools needed to successfully layout and edit the message the way I wanted. The email
looked great on both desktop and mobile.

Data Feed

For the data needed for the entire automation, I worked with a third party vendor who took care of the email data and configured a daily import process on my end.

Data would be imported into Salesforce Marketing Cloud every morning, mapped to the necessary fields and created filtered segments to match the correct email in the series.

Example 2: A veterinary B2B project that went off the rails

Workflow was as follows:
Along with a coworker, I was one of the main contacts on this project.

My role was to make sure we had all assets and full logic needed in order to build out an automation series targeting veterinarians in their own practice. This email campaign runs every year, with 24 emails in the series, English only.

We worked with a number of different contributors who helped on fully building out this campaign.

Senior web developer - Programmed landing pages used for the email campaign. Recipients would click on a link in their email and be brought to a landing page to take a survey regarding their pet’s veterinary details.

Database owner - Created the data reports for the campaign.I set up the FTP import within Marketing Cloud that would feed the email program. We also used some ampscript to populate the users first name, pet name, and a last visited date from the database. There were constant data checks in place to ensure all the fields were being mapped over and correctly displaying within the email.

Marketing manager - Handled the email copydeck and imagery, and reviewed feedback of email tests. The marketing manager was involved with reporting. They were also responsible for working out the logic behind email delivery timing.

Email developer/coder - Responsible for coding the emails and testing with an inbox preview tool like Litmus.

Project Manager - Along with myself, there was also another project manager who was responsible for updating the client on project status, any issues we ran into during development, and keeping on top of timelines as needed.

Where things went a little “bad”
After everything was ready to go and begin production, we needed a central place to collaborate together. Basecamp was the platform all parties agreed on.

During the initial development, the project was going pretty smoothly. Emails were getting developed, database feeds were getting setup/verified, and making it to the testing/review phases.

Where things kind of went off the rails was making sure everyone was on the same page and knowing where items needed to be communicated. As mentioned, Basecamp was the central platform, however people ended up using email more often, so things didn’t actually stay all in one place, as intended.

Any project will experience hiccups, and you can never fully prepare for the unexpected. This was the first place we experienced problems.

Emailing campaign assets and using project management tools to track complex work like email design is not a good idea at all, that's why we made Chamaileon to you (-:

We hope, Michael will not face bottlenecks in his established email production process that relies on Chamaileon's collaborative features.

But we aim to show you a new initiative in the email design workflow, that is rarely used yet:

Email Design Sprint

You probably heard of Google’s Design Sprints, or at least of the term Sprint. Simply put, a sprint is a run! A run set in a specific period of time during which tasks, missions, and objectives should be met and completed by a specific team.

Design Sprint is a step-by-step one week or less process going from having nothing tangible to creating a fully functioning, testable result at the end of the week. This method was invented by Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky, and Braden Kowitz at GV, who actually wrote a whole book about the process: The Sprint Book.

The Design Sprint method is being used by a lot of companies who want to obtain high-quality results in a short amount of time. It saves time, energy and resources. Some even argue that it allows the team to come up with better solutions following SMART objectives. Something that is not always guaranteed when using exclusively team-based methods, such as Brainstorming.

The Design Sprint works, because it is clear and structured. Each team member has their roles and responsibilities, and is set by deadlines, which helps keep the whole team on track and makes sure that objectives are met at the end of the specified period. The steps of a Design sprint are divided according to the days of the week, as follows:

design-sprint-days-by-jake-knapp

  • Monday is all about strategic planning and setting SMART objectives and KPI-s. All team members should be on the same page when it comes to understanding the final goal of this Design Sprint.
  • Tuesday: Each individual on the team comes up with ideas regarding the mission at hand, writes it on a small sticky note and puts it on the whiteboard. Team members take turns to explain their ideas and solutions, and the team discusses each one, eliminating the ones that are less suitable. At the end of the day, you are left with only a select few.
  • Wednesday: Now that you have a few really good ideas, you will spend the third day choosing THE ONE, and going into more detail about how to create and implement it.
  • Thursday: Build a realistic prototype-day! This is when you will get your hands dirty and come up with a tangible output.
  • Friday: Test your prototype on some customers or even internally. This is an important step that will allow you to improve your final product and avoid any mishaps.

Monitoring and Evaluating the success of your Email Marketing campaign

Here is a breakdown of what you need to know about KPIs, and why tracking them is crucial.

Reason #1: Measure the success of your campaign

Once you send out your email marketing campaign to your target subscribers, you need to objectively and scientifically determine whether you have reached your goals set at the beginning of the email production process or not.

Reason #2: Continuously improve: know what works and what doesn’t

When you have a set of indicators to follow throughout the process, you will be able to pinpoint exactly which features work best and which features you need to improve. Consequently, you will be able to experiment and show creativity with your email marketing campaigns, and at the same time, be based on specific data.

Reason #3: Collect useful data for future use and decision making

Information is a key resource for every type of business, no matter the size or the industry. Your key performance indicators will give you more insights on your partners’ behaviors and attitudes, which will guide you when making decision, whether it’s on an operational or a strategic level.

What is an indicator?

A KPI is a feature that can be observed or measured, which clarifies or indicates the extent reached by the achievement of a result intended to be achieved.

Performance indicators answer the question “How will we know if our objective has been achieved?” Therefore, having a specific set of KPIs to follow and measure throughout any process is necessary, if not imperative, to evaluate the extent of our success

What makes a good indicator?

A good indicator should be:

  • Easily determined and measurable: Can the indicator be measured?
  • Appropriate: Does the indicator show the desired change in the activity?
  • Objective: Can the indicator be estimated/measured without personal estimates?
  • Useful and easily comprehended: Can other personnel and people who are not part of your marketing team understand it and use the data collected through this indicator to make decisions in the future?

Examples of indicators to look for during your email marketing campaign

Here are some indicators you might want to look for after you send out your email campaign:

  • Open rates
  • Unsubscribe rates
  • Click rates
  • Bounces
  • Conversion rates
  • Spam complaints

How to improve your stats based on these indicators?

Some expert advice from Michael

A/B TESTING - Easy to do and may see great results!

Get more out of your emails with A/B testing if you have the opportunity. A lot of ESP’s offer many different testing features already included out of the box.

What to test?

  • Different subject lines
  • Different email layouts ( Image based VS Mostly html text)
  • Different CTA buttons
  • Different images

Email Design Example that I use often

Email 1 - This can have a CTA button in the top corner of your message.
Email 2 - This can have that same CTA button but placed in the body of the message.

Note, save the CTA as a Block in Chamaileon and re-use it in more emails. It saves time and effort.

The underlooked obvious: Send date/times and subject lines

Whenever I’m working on a campaign and the client just wants a simple deployment, I always recommend starting out with at least a subject line test. Coming up with a couple compelling subject lines for your email could give you the results you’ve been looking for.

I would definitely test against a database of at least 1,000-2,000 records.

My setup would be:

20% - Subject 1
20% - Subject 2
Test for at least 4-6 hours based on open rate. Whichever one performs better, send out to the remaining 60%. Most ESP’s will send it out automatically for you or you can decide to manually push them through.

Another version of subject line testing would be a straight 50/50 split.
50% of your database gets Subject 1. The other 50% will get Subject 2. You can gather the results whenever you like and see how both perform - the second choiche is better for the Design Sprint approach.

A third option could be to add an emoji or two in the subject line test! You never know! People are always using them in social media and having them in an email subject line is becoming popular these days.

Wrapping Up

Planning and designing an email marketing campaign is as important as keeping track of its impact on your target audience. Making sure that you choose the right subject line, email copywritting and call to action is crucial and has a huge effect on the success of your campaign.
The data you collect from each camapaign can be used to continuousy enhance your results and therefore, reach your objectives.

The different steps to atcually create an email camapign and collect useful data can be overwheling. And that's when implementing an email marketing design sprint comes in handy.

Make sure to check out our next article to know more about Email Marketing Design Sprints (detailed action steps for each day).

This post was a collaboration between

Yasmine Nahdi, Gergely Csaba Nagy

  • Yasmine Nahdi

    Yasmine Nahdi

    Content Creator/Marketer @Chamaileon. Whale enthusiast and beautiful emails guru.

    More posts by Yasmine Nahdi.

    Yasmine Nahdi
  • Gergely Csaba Nagy

    Gergely Csaba Nagy

    Read more posts by this author.

    Gergely Csaba Nagy