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Q&A from our Sixth Sense webinar with AMA

Answers to your email design questions backed by the latest brain science

We had an awesome time geeking out with you guys over marketing brain science in our Sixth Sense of Marketing webinar. Big thanks to the folks at AMA for hosting us and for posting a recording of the webinar (registration required) in case you missed it or just want to relive the magic over and over again.

That's us! Events Manager Jamie Bradley and VP of Sales Christopher Lester.

It's always fun to share ideas with such a savvy, engaged audience, and you all had so many great questions that we just couldn't get to them all during the webinar. AMA was kind enough to compile the rest for us so we could answer them here on the blog. Enjoy!

I would love to hear more about how to write engaging subject lines.

Let me first throw out the disclaimer that there are no hard-and-fast rules about subject lines. Every audience is different, so experiment and split test to find out what works best for your audience. With that being said, here are a few tips that we’ve found work for us and our customers.

Keep it short. iPhones cut off subject lines at 32 characters, and exceeding 50 characters can sometimes lead to your email ending up in the dreaded junk/spam folder. If you have more to say, then you can always continue your thought in the preheader.

Value clarity over creativity. Your subscribers are only scanning their inboxes, so you don’t want to get too clever with your subject line. It might be hilarious, but you run the risk that they won't spend enough time on it to get the joke. Instead, be clear and specific about the content they can expect to see when they open. But that doesn’t mean you have to be boring!

Look to your own inbox for inspiration. For example, southern lifestyle magazine and Emma customer Garden & Gun recently sent a mailing with the subject line “A Mississippi Roadside Marvel.” This subject line is great because it says you’re going to see something awesome, but it doesn’t give away exactly what that awesome thing is. It forces you to open to see for yourself. And in case you’re wondering, it worked. The mailing went to 60,000 contacts, and the open rate was nearly 40%!

What about email platforms that block images or make you download them?

The good news is that the default for most platforms is to allow images. But if you’re worried about people or platforms that block images, there are a few things you can do:

1. Don’t put important written content in the image that isn’t included elsewhere in the copy. If images are blocked, your subscribers will never see it.
2. Always add simple and clear ALT text for each image. That way, you can get your message across even without the image.
3. And as Litmus suggests, consider stylizing that ALT text so it stands out. Adjusting the font, size and color can help engage readers who have images turned off.

Do all of these ideas translate into the university space? What about for nontraditional students?

Absolutely. The important thing for marketers to remember is that whether it's a university audience, nontraditional students or even a B2B audience, it's still a human being on the other side of that email – all of the brain science and research still applies.

So along with all the other data we discussed, using images that appeal to the primitive brain, thinking about the effect of color choice and designing with mobile in mind will have an impact on your email results whether you’re recruiting a high school senior or reaching someone who is coming back to school after 10 years in the workforce. The key is then adapting the specific content for your audience.

For example, we talked about how people are attracted to images of faces. So, if you’re looking to reach that nontraditional student we just discussed, use an image of someone from their age demographic rather than a high school kid holding a backpack. And don’t forget to also adjust the email copy accordingly. It’s all about being relevant to your audience and creating that personal experience that forms a connection to your school or brand.

Can you explain what you mean by “preheader text” and why it’s so important?

Preheader text is that slightly grayed out text that shows up after the subject line when you’re checking emails. And then with a little coding magic, it disappears once you actually open the email. It looks like this:

It’s important because subscribers only spend 3-4 seconds deciding whether or not to open an email, so it’s another opportunity to catch the eye of someone scanning their inbox. And the nice thing about it is that it allows you to add content without extending the subject line beyond the cutoff point.

You can use preheader text to tease the content of your mailing, provide a strong call to action or write a personal greeting. Or, have a little fun with it and add a symbol or emoji if you think your audience will respond to it (be sure to test it first!). As for length, it varies by email client, but we recommend keeping preheader text under 75 characters to be safe.

In the B2B world, do you still think it’s most critical to design emails in the mindset that they will be viewed on mobile?

YES!!!! Sorry for the all caps, but I can’t stress it enough. People are chained to their desks less and less in the B2B world, so designing for mobile is more important than ever. They’re checking email on their phones during meetings (pay attention, Phil), when they’re out to lunch or in line at the coffee shop. Besides, if an email looks great on mobile, then it will also look great on the desktop – but not necessarily the other way around.

How important is it for the colors in your email to mirror the colors of your university?

Branding is certainly important, but I think it’s ok to occasionally stray from your university colors depending on the message you want to convey or action you want your audience to take.

Like we mentioned during the webinar, we use yellow for our buttons because brain science tells us it adds that little sense of urgency that encourages people to click (or tap), which is the whole point of adding a button in the first place.

But you don’t have to use yellow. Due to the Von Restorff effect, things that stand out or look out of place hold our attention, so try using a color that complements or contrasts with your school’s colors (e.g. orange with blue). It’ll look great and beg to be clicked.

Pick a contrasting color to make your CTA button pop.

What your thoughts on autoresponders and nurturing series? Where is the line where readers feel annoyed and decrease their engagement?

We’re huge fans of automation around these parts. It’s the best way to reach the right customer with the right message at the right time (that’s a lot of rights). Plus, it makes our marketing lives easier and gets great results, so what’s not to love? As for how often to send, there will be a little bit of trial and error involved if you’re just getting started. We think sending once every week or two is a good place to start, but pay close attention to your email results to land on a cadence that works best for your audience.

Do you recommend the email come from a person or your organization? And if you recommend a person, should your brand be in the subject line, so they know who it's from? What from address should the email come from? (ex: info@ or donate@)

Most brands simply use the name of the organization. Or if you want to add a personal touch, you can have it come from a person at your organization as long as your org’s name is also present. For example, our newsletter is sent by our Director of Content Emily Konouchi, but we also include the Emma name so our subscribers aren’t going, “Who in the heck is Emily Konouchi, and why is she emailing me? Delete.”

The lesson here? Don’t overthink it. You want subscribers to know exactly where the email is coming from.

As for what address to use, people can and will respond to your from address, so just make sure it’s one you have access to and one where you don’t mind receiving replies.

Have more questions for us? We’ll answer ‘em in the comments!