Outlook 2007, Part II

January 31, 2007

As a daily email marketer who frequently designs, programs and sends email marketing campaigns, Outlook 2007’s apparent step in the wrong direction had me pretty up in arms for many reasons. As a recap for my initial post, Outlook looks set to take a few steps back down the evolutionary staircase and use Microsoft Word as its HTML email-rendering engine. Not IE7. Not IE6 even. But Word. What does this mean? That campaigns that look great now in our inboxes won’t look good come February to those running Outlook 2007.

So, here’s a rundown of the changes and caveats to go by, and as a good email marketer, you should start incorporating these tactics into your designs from hereon in, or suffer the consequences. Remember, Outlook makes up for approximately 80% of today’s corporate email clients, and that number looks to increase should Vista prove to be the next ‘killer app’.

So, straight to the point, what are the actual changes in Outlook 2007 – and how will they affect email marketers and email campaign designers? And is it really the end of the world?

In short…, no.

1) Complex CSS: For those designers out there who love their CSS, you should know by now that email and CSS never mix. I’m sure some would disagree with me, but as an email marketer who knows what he’s talking about, you should never rely on CSS design when creating email marketing campaigns. Leading up to Outlook 2007 you’re going to have to swallow your pride and go back to the basic table-heavy and code-heavy HTML that you grew up on, and learn to love it (again). That’s not to say that basic CSS won’t work in Outlook 2007; I tested a campaign on a colleague’s Vista/Outlook 2007-running machine, and the adverse effects of retaining a basic CSS stylesheet were minimal. Keep your styling to a minimum, and try to limit your CSS to defining only your font faces and sizes. And when and if you can, use inline CSS.

2) Background images: They’re just no more in Outlook 2007, and that’s final. Why? Frankly I have no idea, but based on the various sources I’ve read, it’s a security measure, as viruses and Trojans are finding better and more covert ways to ‘sneak in the back door’ via images and background images. So start to bid farewell to your beloved background images and opt-in (like that?) to using images and table bgcolors instead. I know it will lessen the pretty factor, but it looks like them’s the breaks.

3) More complex CSS
: This goes back to my first point – as an email marketer, don’t even both to toy with advanced CSS in terms of float and div tags, there’s just no point. All email clients (except Thunderbird, which uses Firefox as its rendering engine… I can’t even imagine how much nicer the world would look if all emails could render just as we wanted them to) prefer tables to div layouts, so if you never got into CSS email design, you’re not going to. Don’t go there and you won’t get frustrated and become this guy.

4) All around poor HTML: If you do design with CSS for websites, you’ll know how frustrating it is to test your page in Firefox… ok looks great, and then switch over to IE6 and IE7, only to curse loudly. Microsoft enjoy being difficult and ruining the fun, and IE always seems to add at least 10px in margin space at all sides. Alignments get affected, and you want to cry. It looks like the same thing is going to happen in Outlook 2007, so all I can really say is, TEST and PREPARE. There’s no way to know how your message is going to look in 2007 without seeing it first hand. If possible, set up a test machine with Outlook 2007. If you can’t do that, consider buying a ReturnPath account – email previews include Hotmail, Yahoo, Gmail, Eudora, LotusNotes (no idea why this still exists) and now… Outlook 2007. Finally, if you can’t afford either of these, and don’t have any friends who might be getting Office 2007, then just remember to keep calm and aim for the lowest common denominator. CSS was never intended for email design (unfortunately) so stick to the HTML basics and no background images and you should be fine.

Safe to say Outlook 2007 is going to be frustrating and will take some getting used to, but as well all know, it’s Microsoft, and what they say goes. I just can’t help saying that I’m more than disappointed with this decision. It’s obvious they did this to make it easier for them to have inter-file and inter-application operability, but come on, if there was one player in the game who could revolutionize email marketing as we know it, it’s Bill Gates’ team. I was hoping for the news that 2007 was going to be the year of rich media in email, podcasts in inboxes, and viral Youtube video emails that didn’t need a link. You could watch that disgruntled office worker right from your inbox at work and forward it along to colleagues who were having a bad day. Unfortunately it’s not to be, but maybe next time.


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Outlook 2007

From Onedegree.ca :
Microsoft’s latest decision has the email marketing industry foaming at the mouth.

Outlook up until now has used the Internet Explorer engine to render HTML within email. But next month, when Outlook 2007 is released, IE rendering will be gone to be replaced by ….

Microsoft Word.

That’s right! Word’s appropriately infamous HTML rendering engine will now be the default for Outlook. For those of you who aren’t acquainted with the finer points of HTML rendering, it’s sort of like going from using Windex to wash your windows to a slightly grubby washcloth.

The reaction has already been extensive, and not positive. Campaign Monitor goes into great details about the changes , with an accompanying fury of comments from aggravated users.

How are you planning to adjust your campaigns as a result? My team tells me that we have been using inline CSS for a while, but the last thing that beleaguered legitimate, permission-based email marketers need is another complication in getting their messages read.

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Great, and here I was waiting, hoping that the next big announcement out of the Microsoft camp (and specifically Outlook 2007) was the introduction of rich media email capabilities – allowing recipients to actually join the online video craze without actually leaving their inbox. Add to that roster podcasting, vidcasting, and possibly some javascript, and you have a whole new ballgame for internet marketers. I’m fully aware of the kind of repercussions enabling rich email would have on postmasters and deliverability systems for a while, but hey, aren’t we used to Microsoft and the other big guys simply making a decision and all of us are stuck having to run around like lemmings to catch up? (If not, please, re-read above).

I’m waiting and hoping someone realizes the potential of rich media email and comes out with something, anything, to get the wheels turning. The thought of Hotmail 10 years ago, and the way it revolutionized the entire email scenario (I still have my hotmail account I made back in ’97) is exactly the type of thing someone else needs to do, but this time with marketed ‘rich email’ functionalities. Someone needs to be the gorilla in the room and be bold, be different, and see what happens. Maybe this is my calling?

From Bizreport.com:
More marketers are turning to the Internet to make a buck. According to a new study, 94% of marketers who said they will decrease offline ads in 2007 said they will increase online advertising. And if you thought email was dead, think again. More than half of the respondents said email was at the top of the list.

In October Alterian , a marketing software provider, polled 500 online marketers, ad agencies and service providers. 81% of respondents said they would increase email spending, 50% will increase direct marketing and 45% will increase spending on their landing pages.

“. . .These results certainly indicate tremendous opportunities for marketers to use email and online marketing techniques linked with traditional direct marketing tactics to establish competitive advantages and serve customers better than ever,” said David Eldridge, Alterian’s chief executive officer (in a prepared statement ).

Email is becoming integrated with all of the other advertising channels according to the survey. Most (35%) are using email now in coordination with other advertising or in coordination with other online offerings (25%) instead of as a standalone channel (18%).

The biggest challenge for these marketers is segmenting the different sales forces. According to 36% their online and offline ad forces are run by separate departments, and 32% say they have had problems “integrating email marketing activity with the customer database”.

Another interesting finding is that 71% of respondents send less than one million emails per average month. Who is handling the bulk of these campaigns? The bulk of the campaigns are being managed in-house for both small (less than 1 million emails/month) and large (more than 10 million emails/month) campaigns. The mid-size campaigns (between 1-10 million emails/month) are being outsourced.

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Wow, and here I was thinking email marketing had had its hay day.

If you’re an email marketer based in the UK, take note.

As of January 1st, all UK-based email marketers are required to comply with new legislation that insists every company include specific regulatory information on their websites, business emails, and outbound email marketing campaigns.

As noted in The Register’s article written by Out-Law.com, UK-based companies must include their company registration number, place of registration, and registered office address in the aforementioned areas due to an update made to the original legislation of 1985 entitled the ‘First Company Law Amendment Directive’.

From an email marketing perspective this affects UK-based email marketers in the same manner that the CAN-SPAM act affects all North American-based email marketers today. It’s great news in winning the war against spam, by effectively putting a face to the name of a sender, but it also means that failure to comply with the new regulation in the UK could result in dire consequences and legal action against your UK company from an irate recipient of non-permission-based email.

So heed the warning UK marketers, and look into having your up-to-date registration information displayed on your websites, business emails, and most importantly your email marketing campaign footers!