How Are You Building Your Marketing Emails? A Guide to Templates, Editors, and Agencies

Once upon a time, email was the cool, new way to communicate without having to pick up the phone.

How Are You Building Your Marketing Emails? A Guide to Templates, Editors, and Agencies

Today, it's a massive, multi-agency, multi-stakeholder marketing and branding machine that connects brands with prospects and customers. What we say in email is valuable and vital—but it's often a source of confusion and frustration for the people building them.

How did we get to this point, and what’s the future of email marketing?

The history of email

Image by Anas Alshanti on Unsplash
  • 1971: The first email is sent 46 years ago by computer engineer Ray Tomlinson. It’s a test message to himself.
  • 1978: The first mass marketing email generates $13 million in sales for Digital Equipment Corporation.
  • 1989: Experts predict that other technologies like the fax machine would soon replace email. Of course, the opposite proved to be true.
  • 1990s: HTML and emails with images are introduced, and eventually become the norm.
  • 2000s: Blackberry, and later the iPhone, jumpstart the need for responsive emails.

How emails are built today

Image by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

As brands look for ways to reach customers and differentiate themselves from competitors, email creation has become more complex, incorporating real-time opens, and hyper-personalization. Ask any email marketer and you'll hear about all the people and moving parts that help produce just one email.

A closer look at today’s three most prevalent solutions reveals why it might be time for email creation to get an upgrade:

1. Templates

Image by Nick Morrison on Unsplash

Many brands opt for this route. A developer or agency codes a single template in HTML, which is then reused for multiple emails. It sounds like a simple solution since, in theory, the “hard” part is over and marketers should be able to build these emails on their own. But it comes with its own share of issues.

Even simple image design (such as text overlay) requires a designer to step in, while advanced code from your ESP (such as feeds and personalization tags) requires developer input. And email is often the last priority for a developer or designer, which is why your requests end up on the backburner.

Additionally, templates aren’t built with A/B testing in mind, since that would require developers to rework or recreate the template. Without testing, you aren’t gaining any insights into how to improve your email program. This means you’re failing to drive the best results, which is your job as a marketer.

Using the same template over and over again also runs the risk of making your brand seem stale.

On the technical side of things, for marketers, even basic usage of HTML requires training, and if you don't know what you're doing, you could break the code. Plus, each update requires a rendering test, which is another time-consuming process when all you want to do is get an email out the door.

Finally, there aren't any brand constraints built in. Template-based emails can end up being off-brand if someone decides that the color #007ba7 looks better than #008ba7. This usually results in someone within the company calling you out for going “off-brand.”

2. What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) editors

Image by rawpixel on Unsplash

These email builders or editors require less HTML and CSS knowledge than templates, but most platforms aren’t user-friendly or easy to pick up, which means the end result isn’t going to be representative of your brand.

This is essentially a one-size-fits-all approach, but people in your organization have different email needs—consider a field marketing manager sending heavily segmented emails, compared to an internal HR team sending a company-wide newsletter.  

The main stumbling blocks with WYSIWYG editors is that it's difficult to test, since code can easily be broken. You also need to perform rendering tests per email. In general, the code gets pretty messy, making it hard to modify your emails for personalization, feeds, and other elements after it’s built. In other words, there are limitations to what you can and can't change.

Lastly, there are no enforced brand constraints within WYSIWYG editors, so just like with templates, users could disregard brand guidelines.

3. Agencies

Image by rawpixel on Unsplash

Outsourcing creation completely is a popular option, especially for brands that can afford it.

Agencies have a lot of expertise and can help craft serious campaign strategies. But no matter how passionate they are, a dedicated in-house team will always be more aligned with your brand strategy than an external agency. Additionally, agencies have other clients and their priorities are often based on the severity of an issue and what their clients are paying them. This leads to a frustrating experience for the client.

Another major pitfall, bringing in agencies tends to slow down the entire process. If you're hoping to get an email out quickly, you can forget it. Don't expect to be able to react quickly to something that's going on in your industry or in the news—a day or two turnaround time is considered a "rush" request. Typically, it takes an agency at least several days to produce an email.

The other obvious con? The price—agencies can get very expensive. Take a look at our full deep-dive into the pros and cons of hiring agencies for email creation here.

The future of email creation

Image by Farrel Nobel on Unsplash

Smart teams are leaving the past behind and looking into new, customized technology that’s laser-focused on alleviating manual creation, resulting in improved efficiency, increased output, less backlog, better brand governance, and faster turnaround times.

Think about it: Wouldn't it be great to have a personalized email creation experience for different teams in your organization? And a single platform to simplify the process, house creative assets, and automatically enforce brand guidelines so everyone’s work stays consistent?

Most importantly, how great would it be to have the ability to move quickly on an idea, getting an email out the door in minutes to hours (versus days)?

That's what the future of email creation is all about. The right tools will alleviate much of the pain and effort of creation, giving you time to hit your metrics and build revenue.

If you’d like to discover how stensul can increase your email output by 10X and reduce your email production timelines and costs by up to 90%, get your personalized demo here.

Stensul sloth love on Twitter

Stensul sloth love on Twitter

5 Reality Checks For Every Email Marketer

5 Reality Checks For Every Email Marketer

Learn how to overcome the most common email creation obstacles


Ready to start building smarter?

Let's schedule your custom demo.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.