Newsletter Design, or no design?

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The word ‘newsletter’ is charged with many preconceptions: Highly-designed (hopefully, “well-designed”) templates, graphical & “boxy” as my partner, Mark puts it, i.e., with tables and sections, creatively arranged, with sidebars, call-outs, icons, and other buttons. But does all this help with results? E.g., open rates, click-through rates, and forwards? The numbers cause concern & debate.

Headers, logos, colors, fonts, headshots, and signatures (aka, brand assets) help to unify & integrate emails (newsletters, blasts, etc.) with the websites (and other marketing collaterals). But much of it quickly becomes too much of it, clogging the tiny screens of iPhones, Androids, and Blackberrys. It’s quite frankly annoying to not only have to scroll down, but scroll all around, zooming in and/or zooming out to get to the relevant parts of the email. Many of our clients enjoy this design, but we are looking to change their minds.

A few bells & whistles are needed: To be recognizable (and to brand), we want some of the above brand assets. While I can’t find any specific studies, we have anecdotal evidence that headshots help us remember contacts, and even endear us to the newsletter (or business card, for that matter). We also want to keep it short, with links back to the full article. This helps readers quickly skim the email (and get to other ones), and helps us track click-through rates (CTR). By tracking who clicks, we enable our clients to follow-up only with those interested in the articles.

We are slowly moving our clients to appreciating the value of linear simplicity & white space. Soon we may even publish actual statistics: Emails that are more personal, natural, linear, clean, and simple tend to be clicked through and even forward to others.

Why then have elaborate template designs flourished?
I look forward to your opinions.

Do you prefer to get a magazine-like newsletters from contacts, or do you prefer a simple, natural-looking emails highlighting blog & event updates?
I look forward to your comments.

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