B2C Email Rendering: The Art of Designing for Preview Panes

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With the newest releases of two popular email clients used mainly by consumers, Yahoo! Mail Beta and Microsoft’s Window Live Mail Beta, preview panes—and the challenges they pose to email marketers—have made their way from the corporate environment to the inboxes of the consumer. But don’t panic—hope, and help, is on the way.

Preview panes do indeed present a new challenge for BtoC marketers who typically were immune to their use. Generally found in the corporate inbox via Outlook or Lotus Notes, BtoB marketers have been dealing with preview pane challenges for many years, and as a result have become experts in maximizing the very real opportunity they present.

Generally, until now, consumers made decisions about which messages to open based on only two pieces of information: the “From” and the “Subject” line. Preview panes will actually allow marketers a third way to entice consumers to read their offers by automatically displaying some of the content contained in the email.

By taking a few extra hours and putting a little extra thought into the design of their emails, BtoC marketers can actually take advantage of preview panes and the “sneak peeks” they offer, just as BtoB marketers are already doing.


Getting the Message Out

So, what exactly is a preview pane? A preview pane in an email client is the much-smaller reading space—typically the 2-inch to 5-inch horizontal box located at the bottom of the screen for most users—that enables consumers to quickly scan their messages before opening them. For marketers, this means that they have to make their selling points within the first few inches of their messages.

The preview pane poses two significant rendering challenges to BtoC marketers:
1) It only shows a portion of the email.
2) In email clients that block images, it shows a blank space or a red X where the thoughtful, enticing and beautifully-designed graphics should appear.

The easiest way to overcome these hurdles is to think small. Since most email templates are design-heavy, BtoC marketers need to reevaluate what their key messages are and where they are placed in the email. Marketers need to ensure that the key details of their email render correctly so the consumer can “get the gist” of the offer from text and links without requiring images and other extraneous inclusions.

The email template should be redesigned with shrinking email real estate in mind: in addition to the preview pane and blocked images, display ads most commonly seen on the right hand side of the screen take space away from the traditional message window. If the template is redesigned correctly—and tested for these situations—a successful email campaign can still be achieved.

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