Email Creation Maturity Model Part 2: Phase 1 Defined

If these scenarios sound familiar, your organization is in Phase 1 of email maturity.

Last week, we launched the stensul Email Creation Maturity Model. This project is the result of 5+ years of stensul’s industry experience working with hundreds of enterprise brands with various demanding requirements. In our whitepaper, we lay out the five phases of maturity organizations will go through to optimize their email creation process. This framework helps identify the key levers that must be pulled to take email programs to the next level.

Last week we also kicked off this blog series with a post entitled, Why should I read this whitepaper? which we recommend you read if you’d still like to learn more about what you’ll find in the Maturity Model. Today we dive into Phase 1.

Overview of the process

Phase 1 of email maturity is one of the more common situations enterprises find themselves. In this phase, organizations design every email using an image editor like Photoshop. The design file is done from scratch or using a design pattern library. Designers work alongside copywriters to create the entire design image file for approval by the requester. At that point, it is sent to a developer to code the file into an HTML email. If a change is needed along the way, the process starts again with an update to the design file first, followed by the email being re-coded. Often, the design does not match email best practices, such as ADA compliance or mobile optimization.

Some teams have tried creating a design file that maps to reusable modules or templates to create more efficiency, however, these methods still present issues:

  • Design file still needs to be approved before it’s moved to the modules or templates.
  • Process requires the design team and producers to communicate well to ensure everything stays in sync.
  • Too much time is spent going back and forth on changes.
  • Copywriters can’t put their copy directly into the design file.

Emails usually take a lot of hands-on work and time to produce. Creation time is usually over 10 hours, with coding alone taking over 5 hours. It can take 2-3 weeks or more to complete a single email, and the review and approval process requires 5 or more touchpoints.

Which teams often find themselves in this phase?

Internal agencies and creative services teams are most commonly using these processes and tools. These teams tend to design over 20 different asset types for internal clients ranging from video production to in-store signage and direct mail pieces.

The main requesters here are CRM teams who need to communicate simply with their audience; however, design and coding makes that challenging. Even though CRM teams are a key requester, anyone at the company can make requests.

Most assets need a design, so design is a natural starting point, but in today’s digital world, assets need to be both designed and coded. This has resulted in a productivity gap as the process of asset creation for digital channels has not kept pace with the overall digital shift.

In addition, the need for agility and testing has increased since there is much more email performance data available. In pre-digital marketing methods, when organizations bought a billboard or put together product packaging, performance data was limited. Once the campaign launched, it was done. Now, sending a single email provides scores of data points like opens, clicks, and downstream pageviews. This creates the need to experiment with different subject lines or to adjust a CTA based on clickthrough rates.

In order to drive the program forward, there must be bandwidth on the team to review and act on the data, and technology to be agile and to easily modify the next version based on the data.

How does this model impact strategy?

Creation is so laborious and time consuming that the team spends virtually no time on performance improving activities. Our research shows that most teams spend 90% of their time on email production and 10% or less on program strategy, testing and activation. They are just trying to get assets activated while keeping up with the volume of requests.

research by Cella

With access to more metrics, additional time is needed to coach the requesters on customer strategy, marketing performance, and experience delivery. A recently published Cella report explored the time internal agencies spent creating emails, ranging from highly strategic performance to just taking orders. As you can see, only 13% have mastered becoming organizational strategic partners.

In some cases, not only is no time spent on strategy, but creation teams aren’t able to handle the volume or “order taker” style requests.

How does this impact output?

Full image emails are not often designed around best practices, since the design comes first. As a result, emails generally are not ADA compliant or mobile optimized impacting performance.

Link tracking may be done at the email level in the ESP, but it’s rarely done on the content level. It is important to know not just how the entire email performed, but also how each piece of content performed.

Technology consists of disparate single-player tools

The team works with a number of single-player tools that are not integrated with each other, and are certainly not integrated with the email deployment platform. The designers work in Photoshop or another image editing program. The coders use a program like Dreamweaver while requesters submit briefs and copywriters produce copy in Microsoft Word. Workflow management is challenging, and usually done with ad-hoc emails back and forth, or a workflow platform like Workfront, neither of which are integrated to the creation tools.

The process is very inefficient 

Email requesters usually work with the internal agency to strategize and create a brief. Designers and copywriters then work to create a design file off of the brief. This file is then approved by the requester. In highly regulated environments, the regulatory teams also have to sign off on this file. After the design file is approved, producers either convert the design file to code, or in some cases precoded templates and modules.

When a change needs to be made, it usually has to go back to a designer to be changed, then to the producer to make code updates. Rendering tests have to be done after every change to make sure the code did not break. As a result of these inefficiencies, it often takes 2 to 3 weeks or more to create a single email, with creation time itself taking around 10-15 hours.

What clients experience working with stensul

Using our detailed assessment process with clients, we find $500,000 or more in value moving from Phase 1 to Phase 3 and above. After implementation, organizations find at least one to two full time employees that could be focused on higher value work and strategy. In addition, moving to mobile optimization and enabled testing can yield a 20%+ uptick in revenue. Increased focus on strategy, improved engagement and conversion and possibly external spend. This return can easily reach the millions of dollars for larger teams.

Case study: A large electronics company

Before stensul: In house designer and copywriter designed every email. External agency coding each email. Not ADA compliant, responsive or agile.

Solution: Stensul success team provided best practices and helped to guide transformation to have the designer and copywriter build in stensul without needing to have the design file coded separately.

Results with stensul: 

  • Process – Designer, copywriter and producer can collaborate in a single platform where requesters have visibility and review the email.
  • Increase Strategy- Reallocated $300,000 annual spend on agency hours for strategic work instead of back and forth coding. Requesters on the CRM team can focus on A/B testing and strategizing with the designers and copywriters.
  • Improve Output – ADA-compliant, mobile responsive code without additional coding effort
  • Streamlined Tech Stack – Integrated with ESP and Liveclicker; consolidated use of Photoshop, Microsoft Word, and Dreamweaver; and improved analytics with module-level link tracking

To learn more about the Email Creation Maturity Model, download the whitepaper now. Read part 1 of this blog series, Why should I read this whitepaper?

Continue on to learn about Phase 2 of the Maturity Model.