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A history of email creation and where we are today

Is your email creation process stuck in the past?

In order to understand what a fully mature email creation process looks like today, we have to understand where we’re coming from. Ever since Ray Tomlinson invented email in 1972 and the impact of email marketing has grown, large organizations have been continually pushing the boundaries of email programs, sophistication, process, and more.

So what have those efforts looked like, where are we today, and where will the future of email creation take us?

Email creation in the 2010s

Throughout most of the last couple decades, email creation was predominantly accomplished by designing and hand coding each email. WYSIWYG (or What You See Is What You Get) editors were not to the quality that they are now (and some would say they still have a ways to go), concepts like modular email design were in their infancy, and more digital-focused design platforms like Sketch, Figma and Canva were just arriving to the market. Without all of those tools, creators were left with Photoshop or Illustrator and then had to hand code in Dreamweaver or the text editor of their choice. After an edit, they’d save the html file and then open it in their browser to see how things looked. Rubbing further salt in the wound, email professionals know that browsers do not render emails the same way that email clients (Gmail, Outlook, Hotmail, etc) render emails, so taking a quick peek at the html file in a browser was nice, though not entirely indicative of how things would end up.

For plenty of organizations (that find themselves in what the stensul Maturity Model would call “Phase 1-2”), this process hasn’t changed at all, or has only changed minimally. Four out of five organizations still work with outdated tech tools and processes, but we’re seeing folks start to realize that they need to implement at least one change in order to keep up. More and more companies are beginning to place their trust in a WYSIWYG, or are using the same tools and general processes they’ve relied on for years, but adopting one efficient concept like modular design or snippets. Central teams are also becoming more comfortable reusing templates, rather than designing each email from scratch.

The tech evolution

Besides more companies embracing and feeling confident with WYSIWYG solutions, email builders are increasingly incorporating modularity and templates as a feature. The various ESPs and MAPs have all slowly updated their native email builders over the last handful of years, though research shows those builders are used far less often the larger a customer organization grows in size. This is often due to the lack of brand governance controls within the email builder itself, along with challenges fitting in to established customer workflows. Often, these native email builders are not the ‘center of gravity’ for the ESP/MAP, meaning they are lower on the priority list vis a vis the rest of the platform’s surface area.

A newer crop of design tools (Figma and Canva are examples), some with collaborative functionality, have grown in the market, though they are primarily focused on the design part of the process, delivering a finished design that is then handed off for slicing or coding. There has also been a growth of ‘email coding’ tools for developers, focusing on making it easier to piece together email code snippets to compile a finished email. These are a significant improvement over using a generic coding application such as Dreamweaver, but still require a technical resource as the primary user, something that prevents many organizations from moving up the maturity curve.

Ultimately, the fewer siloed single-player tech tools involved, the more agile an organization’s email production is able to be. This is why an email creation solution that streamlines communication, reduces design and development needs, and ensures brand governance and ADA compliance is key to reaching Phases 4 and 5 of email maturity.

What can we expect from the future of email creation?

As agility and efficiency become essential for competitive, scalable content creation and marketing programs, teams will continue to migrate away from having to manually design and code every email, causing the painful back-and-forth everyone loathes. WYSIWYG technologies will continue to improve, forking into purpose-built WYSIWYG applications, rather than one-size-fits-all options.

Ultimately, the importance of agile email creation will only continue to grow as the market demands companies improve or be left behind. To learn how stensul can help your organization stay at the leading edge as technology improves, schedule a demo with a solution expert today.

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