Aug 14, 2006

Nonprofit email campaigns: Do images help or hurt?

Check out this case study over at TechSoup. M+R Strategic Services tested some environmental activism email campaigns for whether or not including cute little tear-jerking polar bear pictures would help or hurt their open rates and overall effectiveness.

One really good observation in their study was that you shouldn’t take up too much room with your header graphics. That got me thinking…

I’m subscribed to several non-profit and charity email lists. They all use very large headers (that take up around 200-300 pixels or more in height) in their templates. And their templates never change.

I care about their causes, but to be honest with you, their header graphics take up so much space, that every single email looks exactly the same. All I can see in my preview pane is this:

Giant logo, forward-to-friend, please donate.

Next week, it’s: Giant logo, forward-to-friend, please donate.

Again and again and again. I never read the rest. Just click delete.

Here’s one example. Now, I’ve got a 1280×1024 resolution monitor, and that’s all I see in my preview pane. Every week. Note that I have to click Thunderbird’s "Not a scam" button once, then it changes to a "Not spam" button, which I have to click again before seeing this. Sigh.

People get bored. We need some variety from campaign to campaign.

And you really only have about 200 pixels of space to accomplish this.

For instance, here’s what emails look like in AOL 9’s preview pane.

Here’s what they look like in the Windows Live (the new Hotmail) and Yahoo! Mail Beta preview panes

And the folks at MarketingSherpa recently freaked out about how bad preview panes are in this article.

Images or no images, just know that:

  1. You only have a very tiny sliver of space to entice your recipients into opening.
  2. Images get blocked almost all of the time, unless you’ve been added to the recipient’s "whitelist" or address book (and for nonprofits, this actually might be getting easier, thanks to AOL’s new whitelist program for nonprofits).
  3. People get bored of seeing the same stuff over and over again, especially if you’re asking for donations in every email.

So use that preview pane as efficiently as possible. Get that compelling message (and imagery) crammed into that little slot.