Imagine spending hours to create the perfect print ad for a new product launch. You have created the perfect visuals and bold headlines. Finally satisfied that everything is perfect, you submit all of the materials to the magazine and sit back to see how your ad performs.
Now imagine getting a copy of this magazine and opening it to find your ad, but there´s no graphic and the headline text is the same size as the rest of the copy. The critical elements designed to convey your message have been lost in translation. After getting over the shock of seeing your mangled message, you´d be on the phone with your agency and magazine reps to understand how this happened and what could be done to prevent it in the future.
Unfortunately, this scenario is being played out on a daily basis in the online world. The difference is that many people don´t know (or realize) that the e-mail broadcast that they so painstakingly created may not be received by the reader intact. The result is a loss of control in how the marketing message is presented, and confusion on the reader´s behalf, because an e-mail that doesn´t display properly may not make sense.
What´s going on here?
In a nutshell, the problem lies in how different e-mail readers render (or translate) and display HTML code and the graphics they link to. Over the years, e-mail readers had made considerable progress in terms of rendering HTML consistently, so that what one person viewed in Microsoft´s Outlook would be close to what someone else might see in Mozilla´s Thunderbird or some other e-mail reader. Sure, there were still problems and little idiosyncrasies that were needed to be worked around, but it was manageable.
That all changed when Microsoft released Outlook 2007. Outlook now uses the HTML rendering engine that's a part of Microsoft Word instead of Internet Explorer for both displaying and sending e-mail. The result is that what displayed properly in Outlook 2000, Outlook 2003 and Internet Explorer may not display correctly in Outlook 2007 because of differences in how these two engines render or translate the code.
As Outlook 2007 becomes more widely adopted, these problems are getting worse. When you also consider that other e-mail programs, including Google, Hotmail, AOL etc., all have different ways to render the same HTML code and rules for how they read Cascading Style Sheets, you have a real mess in terms of trying ensure consistency in how your marketing message is presented to readers.
What can be done?
AuntMinnie has been working hard to test and help provide support for our sponsoring partners who are using our e-mail broadcasts. AuntMinnie has begun including a link to an identical version of every e-mail broadcast we send that is located on our website for the people who don´t have the capability to see graphics or animations in their e-mails. As always, the AuntMinnie team runs every broadcast through a series of quality tests prior to sending them to ensure they display with reasonable consistency in a variety of e-mail readers, including the various versions of Outlook, Yahoo, Hotmail and Gmail. The key is to keep the HTML layout code clean and simple — the more complicated your layout, the more likely your mailer will render with unexpected results.
As a marketing person, you need to carefully balance the advantages that the more complex layouts offer vs. the trade-off in potential problems with producing consistent results in all of the e-mail readers. Realize that until e-mail readers become more consistent, this will be an ongoing problem.
To help address these problems, we have created some suggestions for your design and development teams to help address these problems and to make things easier. Please share these with anyone who is involved in the actual creation of the files and media for your team.