Apply Design Thinking to Your Email Marketing
Apply Design Thinking to Your Email Marketing

Apply Design Thinking to Your Email Marketing

09/19/2020 by Tamara Buran
How to maximize your prospect’s experience with your email marketing.

For those of us that live in the email world, we are constantly thinking of innovative ways to create and share content with our audience. We’re always thinking of our prospects—what do they want to see? When? We dream up the perfect subject lines while in traffic, write down energetic CTA’s (call to action) while in line at the grocery store, we comb through the analytics of previous deployments to find out why our best performing content performs the way it does—we’re obsessed with finding new ways to surprise and delight our email marketing audience. 

However, on occasion, we can become struck with a complicated issue and need to generate a new plan of action to solve the problem at hand. When faced with a problem that does not have a simple solution baked in, I’ve found that applying lessons from different disciplines can be extremely beneficial. As a user experience designer who works in email marketing, I’ve found that many principles of design can apply to the world of email marketing— specifically the practice of Design Thinking. 

Design Thinking has long been tied to tech and innovation, with some of the world’s leading brands at the forefront of the movement. I first heard of “Design Thinking” during my first year of my graduate program in Information Architecture, where we were taught to approach solutions and client issues “as a designer.” At first, I had assumed that this was another fun acronym to memorize, but I quickly learned that Design Thinking refers to a new way to approach our own line of questioning. 

When presented with a problem, Design Thinking provides a framework to demystify, to be curious and to question our own line of thinking. When we talk about Design Thinking we’re really talking about igniting an interest in our users, and developing an unbiased and deeper understanding of the people we are emailing. 

According to the Interaction Design Foundation, the phases of Design Thinking can be broken down into five phases: 

  1. Empathize (with your users)
  2. Define (their needs, their problems and your insights)
  3. Ideate (challenge assumptions, create ideas)
  4. Prototype (start creating solutions)
  5. Test (solutions, revise)

How does this apply to your email marketing?

Let’s look at each phase of Design Thinking and see where we can implement these aspects into our email strategies:

Empathize:  Start with empathy. The ability to put yourself in another person's shoes is not only good for your email marketing, it's good practice for being a human being on this planet. Seek to understand your audience and what drives them; research their perspective without prejudice and judgement. Think of your email list beyond its numerical value, be curious about your people. Ask them what they want via surveys, have conversations on Twitter, listen for their concerns or feedback. Setting aside your own assumptions and listening to lived experiences will make your messages accessible and topical. 

Define: What is the problem? Now that you’ve gathered your research and empathized with your audience, it’s time to start to think about the problem we’re facing. Work with your team to define the problem statement in a user-centered manner. What issues did you face last year in your email marketing? Low click rates? Low opens? Do you want your audience to engage with your content more? Think about how you’re going to solve this issue while thinking about their experiences.  

Ideate: The fun part. It’s time to start thinking of ways to solve for the issues you’ve defined. Think outside the ESP. Explore different ways to view the problem and how you’re going to challenge lingering assumptions about your audience and messaging. 

Prototype: It’s time to build. In this experimental phase we’ll start to identify solutions. Sketch out your emails, think about how they’ll look on all platforms. Make sure they are accessible to all users [link to Accessibility post?] and start to look to Pardot for ideas. Which features can you use to make your ideas happen? What kind of completion actions are available to you? Can you pre-fill a form to make it easier for your prospects? 

Test: And fail fast. After you start building your email, preview, and test your automations. Keep your test list up to date and if you have built an engagement program, run your tests before launching it. Luckily, Pardot’s built-in testing functions make this step incredibly easy to accomplish - not to mention fast. If we can identify where our solutions fall short quickly, we'll be able to move on to our next idea faster. 

Email marketing serves a number of purposes — from selling a product to driving engagement or raising donations— but at the end of the day, what we’re really looking for is to connect with our audience. We want them to connect with our brand and message on a personal level. Our users want to interact with us on their terms, and we need to design our emails to fit their ever-changing needs, schedules, and desires. 

How do you utilize design thinking in your everyday life? Let’s connect on the Salesforce Trailblazer Community or chat with me @Tamara_Buran