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6 Design and Content Best Practices to Improve Your Association’s Email Marketing

Phil Tretheway June 7, 2024

In an overcrowded media landscape, associations must build a strong connection with their members. But many of the marketing tools at your disposal have a barrier between you and your audience. Social media outreach requires time, talent, and financial investment to navigate complex algorithms. Advertising offers a potentially broad reach, but it requires considerable investment for the right exposure.

Of all the communication strategies available to you, email holds great potential because it is a direct line to your audience. In effect, members and those curious to hear more about your association have invited you in. But what does your association have to offer once you arrive?

Inboxes are competitive spaces with an array of voices vying for the audience’s attention. However, with a strategic approach to content and design, you can break through the noise and deliver a standout experience that nurtures your connection with members now and in the future.

Why Mastering Email Is Vital to Your Association’s Health

Email offers a wealth of opportunities for associations, but it can feel like walking a tightrope. Send too much clutter and your members will unsubscribe or, even worse, flag your messages as spam. Send irrelevant content, and your messages won’t be seen as useful and will become part of the noise.

You need to ensure that the content and design of the emails you send allow your audience to see the value of a direct connection with your association. Factor in the changing demographics of the workplace and the stakes grow even higher. A recent study showed 73% of millennials prefer communicating with brands through email than any other medium. 

Email marketing presents a golden opportunity to nurture a connection with members. But it’s a two-way street. Your members signed up to receive messages from your organization because they want curated information from a trusted source to help them succeed.

To ensure you meet these expectations, we’ve assembled the following best practices:

1. Provide a Seamless Experience with Every Email

Much like your association’s website, every email should positively reflect and expand upon your brand story. The visual design should be consistent with your organization’s overall brand ecosystem. Your emails will include links that send readers to your website, and what they see on one should function as a fluid extension of the other. A consistent experience will enhance the perception of your brand and build a sense of trust among readers.

2. Understand Your Audience and Their Needs

Your current and prospective members give you their time and attention when they read an email. You have a responsibility to deliver on that investment and make it worthwhile.

Your organization should survey its members about the content they want to receive and consult analytics to track user behavior. That way, you develop a sense of what your audience wants and respond appropriately. Applying personalization, such as using a member’s first name from your database, will help increase email engagement and ensure your members feel valued and seen.

You should also avoid trying to serve every audience with a single newsletter. Comprehensive newsletters quickly become irrelevant if their content doesn’t resonate, and they’re often too long. Instead, create multiple audience segments and deliver customized content for each to ensure subscribers only receive relevant content.

3. Optimize Your Association’s Content for Reality

Emails should be short, scannable, and mobile-friendly. More than 46% of all emails are first opened on mobile devices. You need to ensure your designs are responsive to these screen sizes and remain lightweight so they load quickly.

You should never include the full text of a message in a newsletter unless it’s a one-off announcement or update. Instead, give your content an engaging headline with a one- or two-sentence description, followed by a button guiding readers to read more. Along with providing a digestible amount of content, you also gain analytics data on what is resonating with your audience.

4. Leverage Effective Design

Email design isn’t a one-size-fits-all endeavor. Creating templates with multiple modules optimized for different content types, such as articles, event announcements, news, etc, helps your messages stand out.

Whatever type of email you send, the content must be useful and easy to read. Design practices such as retaining an appropriate amount of white space in each message will ensure your emails appear light, airy, and inviting.

5. Use Strong Visuals Appropriately 

Images enhance the storytelling in your email and engage your readers. Infographics provide engaging opportunities to express information in a persuasive, scannable way. Animated GIFs will also catch your reader’s eye, but they should be used sparingly and primarily as header images, as they can be overwhelming.

However, your email should not be one large image. Services like Gmail will identify these messages as spam and block your visuals by default. You should avoid putting text in images when possible, as images are often turned off by default in many email programs. When you can’t avoid it, be sure to add alternative text to those images — this ensures you are compliant with accessibility guidelines, and your message will still be understood if they don’t load properly.

6. Send Useful, Actionable Messages That Meet Legal Standards

Email is a powerful tool, but that power is effectively a double-edged sword. Don’t send enough, and you’ll be forgotten. Send too many, and you’ll likely annoy and eventually lose the audience you need most.

Worse yet, your IP address may be blacklisted for not complying with CAN-SPAM requirements, which is difficult to resolve and could also lead to legal action. You should always make the unsubscribe link easy to find to avoid alienating your members and being marked by readers as SPAM.

Whether inviting members to a gala, encouraging a renewal, or sharing professional resources, you should never email your members without a clear and compelling purpose. Before sending an email, ask the following question: What’s in it for your members? If you apply this simple guideline to your email marketing, you’ll nurture a lasting connection that will continue to serve your association’s goals.

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