Email Modules: The secret to agile email creation

Email modules keep marketing teams from having to recreate the wheel every time they build an email. By using a modular design approach, teams accelerate campaign launches and streamline creation processes.
Modular email design provides marketer flexibility and design consistency

Enterprise marketing organizations focused on agility are tasked with bringing speed to every aspect of their work, from the platforms they use to the programs they manage. The email creation process is no different, but all too often, marketing operations teams lack the technology needed to architect a truly agile process when it comes to their email efforts. Common email creation workflows take up too much time for everyone involved, from the designers and coders building the email to the marketing operations team tasked with deploying the final assets.

When you multiply the efforts it takes to produce a single email by the number of emails an enterprise marketing organization sends in any given month, the cost of a slow email creation process is much larger than most organizations realize.

So what’s the solution? There are a number of components to building agile creation workflows, but it starts with introducing email modules — also known as a modular design approach..

What is an email module? 

An email module is the core of any email modular design system. Think of modules as the Lego building blocks that make up an email. Each module represents a different section for the email: the header, hero image, a paragraph of text for body copy, a CTA button, the footer, etc. An email can have many or few modules, depending on the content of the email as well as how your modules are defined. For example, you could have one module that includes a headline, paragraph of text and CTA button, or you could have each of those elements as their own module to give you more flexibility.

There is no limit to the number of modules you can have, it really comes down to the level of flexibility you want your team to have when creating emails.

Instead of relying on a rigid email template (or even more painful, designing and hand-coding each email from scratch), creation teams that build their emails using a modular design approach have more flexibility when creating emails. At its core, any good email creation platform should support email modules, essentially giving you an agile, interactive design system.

Email modules bring more agility to the overall process by taking abstract elements of email design and layout and turning them into material building blocks (or content blocks) that scale easily.

While modules are the foundational building blocks (pun intended) of email creation, moving to the next level involves using an email creation platform that not only supports modules, but allows you to configure brand guidelines for each content area within your modules. 

While modules are the foundational building blocks (pun intended) of email creation, moving to the next level involves using an email creation platform that not only supports modules, but allows you to configure brand guidelines for each content area within your modules.

By creating and setting design rules within an email module for things like color palettes, fonts, formatting and element spacing, you create a consistent design pattern while also streamlining the email creation process.

How to integrate a modular design approach into your creation process

Using a modular design approach for email creation is a great start to bring more agility to the email creation process for any team currently designing every email from scratch or relying on generic email templates. To take the creation process one step further, implementing an email creation platform can deliver a whole new level of efficiencies.

Truly agile email creation platforms are based on a modular design approach, giving teams ultimate flexibility. Platforms that enable brand guidelines to be configured and automatically enforced streamline the entire email creation process — designers do not need to be involved in every little change a marketer wants to make and coders do not have to be brought in to switch-up an email layout. This is where stensul shines, helping teams run an agile email creation process.

Once you have a platform that offers modular design capabilities, email creation is as easy as 1-2-3:

1. Audit your existing email program

The first step to building an agile email creation process that relies on a modular email design involves performing an audit of your current email program. How many emails are you sending per week and what type of emails are you sending? Collect a sample of each kind of email into a folder. Once you have your full list of emails and the samples, you’ll need to determine how each email can be divided into sections — or modules — and which of the modules can be duplicated from one email to the next. An email module represents the structure — or skeleton — for each section of the email, but not necessarily the content that is included within the module (which can be modified for each email).

The easiest way to begin this process is to think of a module as always being full-width, so it’s as if you took a ruler and a pen and drew horizontal lines across an email to delineate each module. If your emails already have sections that are relatively common and frequently used, focus on those modules to start. If each email is currently designed in a bespoke way, think about what each part of the email represents and how you might be able to come up with a common layout of that piece of the email (this will become a module).

Some common categories or types of modules include: Headers, hero images, email body pieces (text paragraph, headline, image + text, text + image, headshots, RSVP, etc.), spacers, social links and footers. (You may have more categories depending on your business, industry, or the specifics of each mailstream.) For maximum flexibility, many people don’t include top or bottom spacing on modules, they keep the spacers separate so they can stack the modules as they wish, without having to worry about double spacing. If you are using an agile email creation platform like stensul, there are easy-to-use toggles that allow you to keep spacing as part of modules, and you can simply toggle it off if you need that space to disappear.

2. Create brand guidelines

Now that you have your modules, start to think about your brand guidelines, so you can put rules in place for each content area within each module, as well as any rules for the order in which modules should or shouldn’t be stacked.A modular design approach is about building blocks of email content and arranging those blocks in a way that consistently serves your organization’s overall style and branding guidelines. To look professional, your logos, image sizes, fonts and colors should remain consistent from one email to the next, no matter who is creating the emails. Stensul’s platform allows users to put creative guardrails in place so that every email module and email is guaranteed to be on-brand.

To determine what brand guidelines you’ll want pre-formatted into your email modules, begin by asking a series of questions:

  • What sections of your emails should be locked-in and not editable? Your footers? Your header logo?
  • What are your brand specifications for things like fonts and colors?
  • Are there (or should there be) any guidelines or hard rules around character counts or number of lines for headlines, paragraphs of text, or CTA buttons?
  • How much of your email is text content versus images?
  • Which sections of your email do you want to be the primary focal point?
  • Do you want to keep all emails formatted as a single column or multiple columns?
  • How should the email look on mobile as well as desktop email clients? Will any sections disappear or appear on mobile versus desktop for an optimal user experience?

Thinking through these questions like this, along with identifying the modular building blocks of your emails, will enable your team to take a big step forward and uplevel your email creation process.

3. Test and iterate your email creation process

By implementing a modular design approach to create emails, you can more easily test your email designs and iterate on your creation processes to scale your email program and achieve better results. Instead of updating designs based solely on gut instincts, you can rely on data by assigning tracking parameters to individual email modules and elements, measuring click performance throughout the entire email asset.

With modules, you can also more easily conduct A/B tests, inserting different modules into various campaigns to see which deliver the most engagement. For decentralized teams that have multiple employees accessing the email creation platform, you can lock modules into a template if there are cases where more flexibility is unwarranted.

The key benefit to transitioning to a modular design approach is the massive amount of time and effort it saves when creating emails. Stensul’s research shows more than 80% of brands take up to a week or more to create a single email. By keeping teams from having to reinvent the wheel for every single email, the process becomes more agile and teams are able to focus on delivering better work. Marketing organizations using stensul report they have been able to reduce the time it takes to create an email by as much as 90% — significantly accelerating their email campaign launch times while making sure quality remains high.

If you’d like to find out how you can bring more agility to your email creation process, download our Email Maturity Model white paper and request a demo to learn how an agile email creation platform can improve your email marketing efforts.