Saturday, March 1, 2008

A best-practices approach to email branding

While these elements all sound positive and easy to implement, several perceived barriers to adoption have kept companies from deploying email-branding policies, fearing that it will be too expensive or require too much bandwidth and intensive writing of code in order to be implemented. Below, I'll hopefully dispel some of these myths and map out a best practices approach to email branding.

There are a number of technical considerations to keep in mind when developing brand elements for email, the majority of which pertain to manageability. For example, ensuring that the recipients will see a pleasing message regardless of the email client they're using, or that their inboxes or mail stores are not going to be clogged by branded email.

Deploying email branding at the server level

Modern tools are deployed at the server level and adhere to a rules-based infrastructure that takes the individual sender out of the picture.

Adding the signature at the server level provides administrator control over how all messages are branded, preventing anyone from tampering with the corporate message. If users are left to create their own signatures, the result will be inconsistent branding, the possibility of typos, and a high chance of an amateurish presentation to customers.

Adding such information at the server also ensures that all mail gets the correct disclaimer or signature added, even if originating from a mobile device such as a Blackberry or a Web client such as Outlook Web Access. Finally, control at the server means that there is only ever one place to make a change, rather than having to roll out a modified signature to numerous Outlook clients.

Advantages to using Inline CSS

Cascading style sheets (CSS) were designed to separate the style elements from the HTML code in Web pages. This can be done with either embedded CSS, where the styles are defined at the top of the page, or with external CSS, where the styles are defined in an external file and referred to from the <head> element of the HTML document.

The advantage is that it makes it very easy to completely change the style of a Web page by modifying the style sheet. However, these methods can be very unreliable when used with email, particularly when the message is being viewed by a Web client, resulting in the message appearing nothing like the sender intended. Many email clients, in fact, purposely strip out any CSS that's either externally referenced or contained in the <head> element.

Inline CSS is a method for defining CSS properties directly in an HTML element. Designing an email style using this method creates the greatest chance of preserving the fidelity of the design, and virtually every HTML-capable email client supports this format.

Inline CSS may be the least flexible way of using CSS, as it requires the style to be individually set in each element, requiring more code and requiring styles to be changed in several places rather than just one. However, it's the most reliable. If you're going to style your HTML messages, you're going to need to embrace inline CSS.