Email as an Open Book

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There’s a harmful attitude prevalent in the email industry. One which says that email design should be kept a dark art. Anyone in possession of knowledge of email clients, coding practices, and email campaign performance stats has a competitive advantage that must be closely guarded.

This attitude is not only outdated, it’s harmful to everyone in the email design and marketing industry. Guarding your email knowledge stifles the entire industry. Only through sharing techniques, stats, and solutions can the email design industry evolve into a mature, well-respected profession.

The Arguments Against Sharing

The typical argument against talking about the email design process comes in two flavors.

  1. Since my client pays the bills, I can’t share the code behind their email.
  2. Anyone can do my job if I give away my techniques. I’ll lose my competitive edge.

First, while it’s hard to argue with a client that pays the bills, email code isn’t something that can be protected. Just like with websites, the code behind an email campaign can be viewed without any trouble. Why pretend otherwise?

A lot of designers are beholden to non-disclosure agreements (NDAs). NDAs prevent them from talking about the specifics of an email campaign, but it shouldn’t stop anyone from openly discussing the process and practice of email design. You don’t have to share specific client examples of your techniques or the campaign stats that go along with them, but it’s a good idea to talk about problems, solutions, and performance in the abstract.

Second, I’ll let you in on a little secret: There is only so much you can do with HTML and CSS in the context of email. Chances are, if you know about a specific technique, so does someone else. While you may think you have a competitive advantage, other email designers are doing exactly what you are, guaranteed.

So Why Talk Shop?

In short, it benefits the email industry as a whole when we all discuss the challenges of email design. Let’s take a look at what happens when we start talking to each other:

  • You can solve problems quicker. Instead of bashing your head against your desk after 32 rounds of sends trying to solve a rendering issue in Outlook, why not talk about your problem and see if anyone else has a solution? Chances are, someone has run into this issue before. By doing this on a blog, forum, or in the Community, you’re not only solving your own problem, but helping out others that may run into the same issue in the future. It’s good email karma.
  • You can refine techniques. You know that responsive technique you are using? There could be someone doing it better. Share your knowledge and together that technique can be developed and refined into something that’s bulletproof.
  • You can measure those techniques better. While every audience is different, and not every technique will work well across industries, sharing campaign stats with other designers helps identify the best design and coding techniques—making everyone’s campaigns better and subscribers happier.
  • You can be seen as a thought leader. Keeping all those secrets locked up does you no good if no one knows who you are. Talking about your process and sharing your knowledge can establish you as an expert in your field. Besides, ideas are a dime a dozen—make a name as someone who can actually implement those ideas.
  • You can create new opportunities. Sharing your knowledge is one of the best ways to build your network. I worked in an agency setting for years, never sharing anything. Writing a book and sharing my thoughts on email design landed me a gig at my dream company, doing something I love—building a Community around email design.
  • You can make some new friends. “Secrets don’t make friends.” Everyone at Litmus has made some great friends by talking about our field. Who doesn’t like new friends?
  • You can educate clients. Clients typically have a hard time understanding the logistics of email marketing and design. By sharing knowledge with each other, we are creating a pool of resources which can be used to help educate clients—leading to better email campaigns and better relationships for everyone involved.

The Biggest Advantage

The best part about sharing techniques, code, and best practices with one another? It will help to refine what was once a dark art into more of a science. Everyone’s job will get more enjoyable and, more importantly, the cognitive load of figuring out solutions to common problems will be lifted so that we can all focus on what is most important in email marketing: the content.

A while back, I wrote on my own blog about how email designers are on the cusp of craftsmanship—our profession is finally getting the resources and tools it has desperately needed for so long. Once we reach the point where email design is less arcane art and more refined craft, we can finally devote more attention to crafting great content and building better relationships with our audiences.

For that to happen, we need three things:

  • Better tools
  • More education
  • A dedicated community space

Litmus, among other services, is devoted to providing the best tools imaginable for email designers—turning a once hair-pulling job into an oftentimes delightful pursuit. Things like email testing, email analytics, the email checklist, client market share, and Scope all help designers do their jobs better.

In 2013, we also hosted the world’s first conference devoted to email design—The Email Design Conference. It was the first time that email marketers could get together, share ideas, swap code, and learn from the best email marketers in the business. We’re looking forward to more of this email camaraderie at The Email Design Conference 2014 (details coming soon!).

A number of blogs, books, and tutorials have popped up recently that are helping to educate new email designers and industry veterans alike. Anyone can take part in opening up the discussion around email design, too. Here are some ideas for participating in the discussion:

  • Start a blog. We have a few favorites around the office, and we’d love to see yours join that list. Blogging is a fantastic way to share your thoughts on email design, not to mention make a name for yourself.
  • Be active on Twitter. Twitter’s not for everyone, but there are a ton of great email designers that share their ideas and help troubleshoot problems in 140 characters or less. It’s also a great way to get a new job.
  • Shoot some videos. Video is increasingly a great way to share information and create an audience. Sadly, though, not a lot of people in email design are shooting anything. Let’s all get on it and make some great video tutorials.
  • Start a newsletter. People are doing amazing things with email newsletters. And we’re all perfectly positioned to do the same. If you do, let me know—I’ll happily subscribe.

Finally, we now have a dedicated place to discuss all things email: The Litmus Community. The Litmus Community is all about bringing email designers and marketers together to discuss problems and solutions, as well as providing world-class resources for learning more about email design and marketing techniques.

The best part? It’s open to every Litmus user. If you don’t have a Litmus account, you can sign up for a free trial and immediately start participating in the Litmus Community.

So don’t keep your email secrets locked up in a vain attempt at a competitive edge. Allow email design to be an open book—share your knowledge, teach your techniques, and reap the benefits of proud community of email designers.

Further Reading