Designing for Real-Time Email Part 1: What Designers Need to Know

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Despite its place as one of the most developed and mature digital marketing channels, email continues to evolve. And like any other technology that grows and changes over time, it’s important that designers adapt to continue providing compelling, competitive experiences.

Today’s designers have many options available that were once considered all but impossible: fully-embedded video in email, web UX functionality like rotating carousels, dynamic elements that adapt to users’ context at the time of open, and more.

The rise of real-time email is redefining best practices and creative capabilities for designers. It’s time for us to catch up and adapt!

So What is Real-Time Content?

The concept of real-time email content is a broad term that encompasses a variety of different (but related) pieces. But as far as designers are concerned, there are a few specific things you can look for and consider using yourself:

  • Any element that is automatically personalized for the recipient
  • Items that change over time upon reopen (package tracking, store inventory, etc.)
  • Local maps, area traffic, and other elements that respond to your geographic location
  • In-email polls and poll results
  • Live weather and environmental forecasts
  • Social and RSS feeds
  • Video playback in email and animated imagery
  • Interactive experiences like click/reveal or hover directly within email

What Real-Time Content Does for Designers

It’s better to see this deluge of new real-time email capabilities not as an obstacle to beat or a problem to solve, but as an opportunity to revolutionize and update an ageing medium. The reality is that these design elements are a godsend for designers, who long have had to fight with email’s technical limitations and its slow-to-evolve clients. Just a few of the advantages of real-time email content for designers:

  • It makes your emails look fresh, fun, and just plain cool. That not only reflects favorably on your brand; it helps you create experiences that are memorable and engaging.
  • It brings your email experience up to par with the enticing, interactive experiences of your website, social channels, content, and advertisements.
  • It’s highly sharable, capable of generating major social buzz and going viral
  • It creates more email real estate and allows you to be more efficient with your design space
  • It better activates the intent of your design, becoming part of the story you’re trying to tell
  • Perhaps most importantly for marketers; it makes your email program demonstrably more engaging and improves your core metrics of success

Get Inspired: Where to Find Your Real-Time Muse

Sometimes it’s hard to visualize the possibilities of real-time content or understand the use cases of a particular element until you actually see it in action. If you’re in need of some real-time inspiration, I recommend starting with these resources:

  • Your inbox. I’m always monitoring my incoming emails for creative and innovative ideas! Many of the most dynamic brands are already taking advantage of real-time content, and odds are good you’re on the mailing list of at least one of them. Find the marketing emails that you like most; what are they doing to customize your experience and make it immediately relevant?
  • Email archive sites like Notablist or Really Good Emails
  • Email and marketing award sites
  • Curated real-time email lookbooks
  • Your own imagination. Think outside the box; what would you like to see in an email? Don’t be afraid to try new things and fail. That’s how we innovate!

How to Choose the Right Real-Time Experiences

Email marketers have a long menu of powerful real-time experiences and personalization elements to choose from. Some will be more effective than others at accomplishing certain goals.

  • First determine what you’re trying to accomplish with this campaign, then choose the tool that’s best suited for the job.
  • Generate a sense of urgency: use a countdown timer like LiveTimer
  • Deploy content you can change after sending: use adaptive content like LiveImage
  • Get subscribers excited with interaction: embed engaging experiences like LiveReveal
  • Animate branded charts: LiveRender
  • Set it and forget it: implement ‘evergreen’ content that self-updates like LiveScrape and LiveFeed
  • Do more with less space: Add real-estate saving slideshows like LiveSlides
  • Add convenience and relief: Keep openers up to date with real-time order tracking via LiveTracker
  • Increase credibility and likability: show off some charm with social feeds like LiveSocial
  • Surprise, delight, and keep emails open: add irresistible product and experience teasers like LiveHover
  • Add trackable, customized deals: incorporate personalized coupons like LiveCoupon
  • Get hyper-local: add adaptive maps that respond to real-time location data
  • Claim time on your subscribers’ schedules: incorporate ‘add to calendar’ elements and reminders like LiveCalendar
  • Relate your message to the opener’s environment: add real-time forecasts and weather elements like LiveForecast
  • Gather valuable data: efficiently test and grow your email programs with analytics-gathering elements like LiveData

Never Stop Learning

In a dynamic profession like digital marketing, designers can’t afford to get complacent. Never stop trying new things and pushing your creative boundaries!

Stay tuned for part two of our ‘Designing for Real-Time Email’ series where I’ll explore some of the details and technical considerations when approaching the next generation of email design.

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Brittany is a digital marketer with experience building an online presence for both B2B and B2C brands. As the S. Content Marketing Manager for Liveclicker, Brittany plans and produces effective communication across channels, creating valuable content that helps clients and prospects harness the power of moment-of-open personalization.

Brittany King
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