School Funding Services

September 13, 2009

Educational E-Marketer’s Guide to Working Effectively With Outlook 2003

Filed under: E-Marketer,Educational,mdrdbs,school — House @ 4:18 am

By Christopher Ziemnicki, MDR Analytical and Data Services Product Manager

Outlook 2003 has been available since late 2002 and has gained significant market share. Increasingly, schools and businesses are upgrading their software, and Outlook 2003 is now a force that educational marketers must be ready to deal with when sending e-mail promotions.

When Outlook 2003 first surfaced with a new feature that automatically prevents graphics from being downloaded when an HTML e-mail from an unknown sender is opened, a lot of people in the e-mail marketing space sat up and took notice. The obvious concern: This was going to decrease open rates and dilute the marketing message, thus affecting conversion rates as well.

Right from the start, a number of strategies were devised, and best practices were created to address the issue. The industry as a whole showed that it could meet the challenge. So why is it today, over two years later, that so many marketers are not dealing with the issue?
Answering the doorbell to find no one there—don’t let this happen to your message!

Click here to view larger image.

Getting Your Message Across

E-mail marketers have a lot to consider when planning a campaign—the list selection, the offer, the associated Web landing pages, the subject line, the “from” line, and more. With all that to tackle, many marketers scramble to get their message content (i.e., text and graphics) created leaving little time to think about how the message will look and work in Outlook 2003.

Let’s step back for a moment. What is the issue with Outlook 2003? When installed with its default settings, Outlook 2003 automatically blocks the downloading of images when an HTML e-mail from an unknown sender (an e-mail address or domain that is not in the recipients’ address book or on their “safe senders” list) is opened. Instead of the actual image, the recipient sees a box outline of the image with Outlook-inserted text explaining how to view images, followed by the image description tag (a technical HTML term) if one exists. See the example below:

The image box size and spacing varies, depending on how the HTML e-mail is formatted, the use of tables, and image-size specifications. What was once a very well laid-out and attractive message is now misshapen, misaligned, nearly impossible to read, and missing all of its images.

Myth Revealed: But you may ask, “I created a multi-part message, won’t my text version appear if Outlook 2003 blocks the images from being downloaded?”

Answer: No. This action to block the image downloading by Outlook 2003 has nothing to do with it “auto-sensing” and displaying HTML or text. Outlook 2003 is displaying the HTML version of your creative, so your text version—if you have one—is not going to be seen.

Steps to Combat the Outlook 2003 Issue

Many solutions to the Outlook 2003 issue center around building a relationship with your recipient so they expect your e-mail and take action to make sure that they can view it correctly. You may want to instruct them how to add the domain or e-mail address to their safe list or address book as this will solve the Outlook 2003 issue and help your e-mails get past their spam filters consistently.

While the stragegy described above usually works best when you have some type of relationship with your customer, what should you do if you are using e-mail to prospect new customers?

It all starts with the creative. The number one culprit and contributor to the Outlook 2003 issue are message creatives that rely on a graphic-centric presentation, especially those that are repurposed print or Web site creatives rather than HTML e-mails created from the ground up.

You’ve been hearing about the benefits of creating HTML messages from scratch for some time. But many marketers still use an existing creative and repurpose it into a graphic-centric e-mail creative. This is the critical design flaw that creates the Outlook 2003 disconnect; when the graphics are turned off, the message cannot stand on its own. For this reason alone, in my opinion, it is well worth the extra time and effort to design an optimized-HTML creative.

Admittedly, there are some marketers who argue that their graphic-rich HTML presentation looks much better than an e-mail message that uses text with a few supporting graphics. They accept the risk that there will be a percentage of recipients who will not see the image-rich message with Outlook 2003. I do not believe this to be true. As good as full-image creatives look, with thoughtful design you can craft HTML text/graphic messages that look appealing and will perform better across all users whether the graphics are turned on or off.

Tips to help you survive the Outlook 2003 “no image” issue:

1.Design your e-mail creative from the ground up—do not rely on a graphic-centric presentation to convey your message.
2.Keep your value proposition concise. Place it at the top of the message in text so that even without images, your message will still impact the reader and hopefully prompt them to turn on the graphics.
3.Host the e-mail creative locally on your server. Include a link at the very top of your message that uses the following description: “Click here if you are having trouble viewing this message.” This link will open up the identical HTML message hosted on your server in their Web browser unfettered by Outlook 2003.
4.Optimize your HTML layout to keep the formatting intact with the images turned off (such as setting images sizes, etc.).
5.Use the image description tags to either identify yourself (i.e., a brand lead) or give a clear, concise reason to turn the graphics on.
6.Always test your messages by sending them to a computer running Outlook 2003 with the images turned off so you can preview them prior to deployment.
No images—no problem! Example of a great-looking e-mail sans the images.

Click here to view larger image.

Designing your messages without considering Outlook’s 2003 “no-image issue” is leaving money on the table. Here’s the bottom line: Your customer or prospect received your e-mail in their in-box, and they were compelled enough to open it, so you need to make sure you create a message that is effective whether or not they’re using Outlook 2003.

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

Powered by WordPress