From the moment we begin learning about effective marketing, we are taught the importance of clear, repeat impacts on targeted customers to create top of mind awareness. A focus on consistency of theme, branding and calls to action can be seen in marketing at every level, including online outreach, print advertising and television commercials. Even larger entities like TV networks and sprawling online news agencies try to create a somewhat uniform vibe from top to bottom because it reminds the viewer/reader/participant that they know what to expect. It’s comforting.
But, is consistency always the most effective plan for consumer communication? There are a growing number of professionals who feel that an over-adherence to consistency may be counterproductive in the long-term – particularly in the world of email marketing.
With that in mind, we tapped two of our top in-house marketing experts to debate the merits consistency of when building email newsletters. Enter Mel and AJ. AJ will stand for the benefits of a consistent approach, while Mel will present the case for a more adaptable plan.
For the purposes of this blog let us define consistency as the ongoing and unvarying use of branding, email template or layout, type of content, and sending frequency.
Alright. Mel, AJ, touch gloves, and let’s get this thing started.
The Case for Consistency
I don’t like change. Not because I’m afraid of it, but because in a world without change, I know what I’m getting every day, and I know how to deal with it. I’m more efficient and more effective when I don’t have to deal with adjusted expectations.
I feel the same goes for email marketing. Consistent marketing has been the cornerstone of effective business building for as long as anyone can remember, and with good reason. Consistently branded, designed and timed email communications offer your customers a chance to develop a routine – one that will help them remain engaged and active.
There are really three elements to a highly successful email marketing campaign, and they’re all directly rooted in consistency.
Ease of recognition. Don’t put your subscribers in a position where they have to think, even for a second, about who sent them the newsletter they just opened. When I pop into my inbox in the morning, I’ve got a mountain of emails to get through, and I roll. I go through them as quickly as possible. If I open something and it takes me too long to figure out what I’m looking at, it’s headed for the trash.
A consistent format can even help before the message is opened, as many email clients offer a preview pane right from the inbox. Those repeated visuals have a tremendously high impact value. Consistency makes the communication process easy for your subscribers. And, that’s what you want.
Utility. Consistently designed email newsletters allow the subscriber to jump right to the section they’re most interested in. No fuss. It’s like going to the grocery. Every time I shop, I know exactly where the items I need are. I can go in, get my ginger snaps, and get out. If they rearranged the store every week, I’d have to scour the aisles to find my beloved snaps. Then I’d probably miss The Bachelorette finale. Is that what you want?
Not long ago, we ran a blog indicating that below the fold ad and content placement actually created a higher CTR in some cases because returning readers would zip directly to the part of the message or page that included the content they wanted most. Consistent design allows for that kind of interaction from loyal, engaged subscribers. Rearranging the shelves doesn’t.
Branding demands. Part of the immediate recognition we mentioned above stems from branding. Clear, immediately identifiable branding should be a part of every campaign, but in the world of email marketing, it is absolutely essential.
Logos, header placement, colors and art are your identity. They elicit memories or expectations from the minds of your subscribers. If your business has served them well, the sight of your company colors might even make them happy.
That kind of response demands consistency. If that’s not enough to make the case, I don’t know what is.
Mel, you’re up.
The Case Against Consistency
A little personal history: I grew up in a household where debate was the dinner table conversation. Halfway through a debate my father would say “Ok Mel, now debate the other side, and don’t reuse any of my arguments.” So…being on the opposite side feels pretty comfortable for me. Lets talk about why consistency is overrated.
When sending to an intimate readership who already has strong top-of-mind associations with you, the name in the from field is all they need to see in order to know they are going to read your email. In fact, with this readership you might even be able to build an appreciation for having a variety of looks and offerings. If every newsletter looks the same, why is there any reason for the reader to assume that the content will vary all that drastically? In a hurry, they might even think “Oh, I’ve seen this before,” and click away without seeing what new and interesting content you’ve come up with!
This leads us to my next point: there might be a niche market or two in which sending newsletters that look wildly different would be valued. For example, if you were an artist who sent out newsletters related to unique installations, having a visual representation that resented the unique qualities of your new work would be a strong aesthetic choice. Similarly, those who focus on decorative or strongly seasonal offerings might also find that having a distinctive look for each newsletter or season is a good motivator to peak interest and set the mood.
A flexible, adaptable approach means that you can present information in unique and entertaining ways. Your readers won’t ever be bored and – if you have read your readership right – you might even find that it increases their open rates. After all, everybody loves a surprise. At least, they do when there might be something in it for them.
We’ve seen some strong cases here today, but this one isn’t over yet. We’ll be back next week with Round 2 of the great consistency debate!