Why Is Email Production So Hard? And What You Can Do About It

digital transformation course with tom goodwin

Partner ContentCopy of sparkpost

By April Mullen, Senior Director of Brand and Content Marketing, SparkPost - a MessageBird company

“It takes 100 emails to send one email.” That is what one CRM Manager from a leading UK high street retailer said when asked to sum up the email creation process. And it’s true: there is so much that goes into making one email. It can take over two days to create and execute a new email campaign, according to 40% of companies in SparkPost’s 2022 benchmark report. And with top frustrations including slow execution, email designs taking too long and lack of relevant content, those two extra days can only be described as an intense scramble.

Whether it’s a transactional, promotional, or community-focused email, the creation process is mostly the same. That historic way of doing things includes a myriad of steps, loops and pathways, which is inefficient and leaves teams scrambling around feeling tired. And because the process hasn’t changed, it can be difficult to take a step back and see just how problematic it is.

Paving a new way

CRM and email marketing budgets increased in priority from 2020 to 2021, according to respondents who took part in SparkPost’s benchmark report. Brands are putting a lot more faith and emphasis in email for the future, after realising its reach and growth potential for their business (and its ability to weather external factors).

That provides more room for investment but also gives email marketers the chance to shake up their current process and use some of that budget to help shape a much more efficient one that maximises the ROI potential of email.

Sometimes it just takes a new perspective or a bit of inspiration to approach adjusting the email creation process. We’ve compiled some ideas which do not shy away from all the nuts and bolts that go into the process. Here are just a few.

Gain an advantage from the beginning

We all want to come up with that email campaign idea or topic that engages our audiences and cuts through the noise of direct and indirect competition. Using competitive intelligence tactics can help with that but they are currently underused when planning email campaigns.

Gathering insight from competitors and the wider industry can give you that hilltop view of what your audiences are consuming and what you’re competing with when it comes to fighting for attention. Start by looking at what your subscribers are responding to, and how emails are performing as a whole across the industry. You can use that insight to pivot and uniquely place your email campaign in a sweet spot where you can gain the edge and make your emails more effective.

If you find the thought of adding another step in the email creation process overwhelming, simply research into who your main competition is and subscribe to their emails to gain an insight into what they’re producing to inform your own strategy. It doesn’t have to be time-consuming or necessarily slow down the already elongated email production process. However, the more competitive insight you can get your hands on, the more you’ll strike a chord with content that resonates making that time investment more worthwhile.

Top tips for getting it done

A process that will sound familiar to many involves writing the brief, outlining the content creation steps, creating amazing copy that fits the brief - all while balancing other projects. The copy might also go through many cycles of approval before moving on to the next step.

Copywriting isn’t a problem in itself; it’s when working together on feedback and iterations that delays and process issues can appear. Confusion over why edits have been made, who is working on what, or what particular parts need to be changed, can easily happen as a result. Plus, keeping all stakeholders to their agreed milestones as the project progresses can be a headache. Usually, they are juggling multiple projects and dependencies and, now that many teams are working remotely (SparkPost’s 2022 benchmark report found that 49% of companies globally are still fully remote), it’s even trickier to keep track of timeframes, and even more critical to do so.

To work best together, clarity and transparency when collaborating is vital, so any changes and edits are fully understood. This then helps mobilise stakeholders to stick to their timescales, instead of being stuck ‘sitting on’ a problem. It also helps to provide a centralised location for all stakeholders to work and collaborate in to increase transparency and accountability, which helps projects run smoothly.

Tackling translations

Translations can be a terrible headache as it is highly unlikely that everyone in your team speaks multiple languages and understands localisation in email. It’s not simply about translating the text, it’s about how it fits back into the email. Plus, if you have many different languages, you’ll need many different versions of the email - so re-creating and then translating each one takes a frustratingly long time.

Identify from the outset how many versions you will need for different languages, and therefore how many templates to prepare. Also, give your translator access to these and the ability to directly edit to enable them to spot any changes needed in the structure to help decrease the chance of accidental errors stemming from moving translated text from one document to another.

Creating the email design

When creating email, it’s tempting to go for the jugular with amazingly creative visuals that wow your subscribers. But if they are off-brand, or your emails don’t contain standard brand visuals such as the correct logo, header and general colour scheme, they won’t resonate with your audience. If they struggle to recognise who they have received the email from, they are likely to either not read it or even unsubscribe.

It’s crucial to communicate with a designer, and give them the correct tools and assets, so they are clear about your brand’s visual identification. To make sure your email is consistent with the brand and includes some creative design, try the following:

  • Define design elements up front with your designer to identify which areas require branded assets (logos, branded bullet points, colours, etc.), plus areas where they could be ‘freer’ (background images or GIFs).
  • Create a checklist that includes all the common brand elements, so everyone is clear on what needs to be included. This can be used to help the designer and in any QA processes.
  • Make sure that the designer can find and access the latest brand assets so there’s no room for deviating from the brand’s look and feel.

The legal part

Usually, checking the legal requirements of an email campaign is low on the legal team’s priority list, which leaves you waiting for a response. And it’s not like you can spend the time optimising your email, because you’ll have to send that off to be checked, too.

On the whole, legal approvals are based around certain common elements of an email campaign - legal text in a footer, or the legality of the logo you are using, for example. By pre-creating these common elements and modules, and making them unchangeable, you can run them past legal teams beforehand meaning they don’t need to check them every time.

Content changes

During an elongated email creation process, the chance for last-minute changes increases and it can seem like you’re constantly playing catch up. Making changes to an email usually results in different HTML documents being saved, which can get quite dense quite quickly and, at worst, risks the team getting confused and progressing with an older version containing out-of-date information and any errors that were subsequently fixed.

The easiest way to limit content changes is to speed up the whole process, so your email hits the original brief. That’s not always possible, but what you can do is implement a common naming convention for all of your HTML documents, no matter the campaign. This decreases the chance of you progressing with an older version after having to go back and make changes.

The list

Pulling the list, and then validating it, is an arduous task. But it’s necessary to avoid any inconsistencies which can affect any personalisation or segmentation you plan to use.

To avoid the headache of checking the list before the email is ready to go, why not regularly practise list hygiene? Conducting consistent data checks helps ensure that the data you are sending is healthy, robust and won’t cause any dynamic content errors. Then it’s simply a case of pulling the list you need and conducting a quick check before uploading it.

Hitting send

‘Sending fear’ is a very real psychological phenomenon. Having dragged yourself through an elongated and frustrating process, you’ve reached the point of no return: once you’ve sent your email you can’t get it back, and any mistakes can’t be corrected. It may seem sensible to go back through what you’ve done and check for the upteenth time but if your QA procedure is robust and effective, that’s unnecessary.

Hidden mistakes and issues are common and are sometimes tricky to spot at any stage. But it’s rarely due to personal responsibility or competency and instead down to years of draining, complex and inefficient email creation processes that have collectively become the norm. We expect roadblocks and issues when creating email, and therefore we almost expect mistakes in the final product.

Build a process that systematically eradicates or prevents mistakes from being included. That way, you can be confident that hitting send isn’t going to induce more anxiety.

Final thoughts

Although making emails isn’t always easy, they can prove to be a very effective and trusted marketing channel for communicating with customers with an excellent reach and the potential for a high ROI. It is well worth taking a step back to consider how to create a process that is even just a little bit more efficient as it can have wide-reaching benefits for the marketing team and whole business.