person's finger appearing to be touching the sun
Interactive design incorporates a sense of play into traditionally stagnant email messages. PHOTO: Wall of Xavier

What if your email audience always looked forward to encountering your brand in the inbox?

The idea of hitting the right notes with your subscribers shouldn’t feel too far off: In today’s marketing landscape, brands seek to cultivate genuine relationships with subscribers, often going to lengths to avoid sending repetitive, tone-deaf or irrelevant content.

Getting to a point where your audience is genuinely excited to receive branded emails, however, might feel like a different ball game entirely.

Add a 'Sense of Play'

Interactive design achieves this goal by incorporating a sense of play into traditionally stagnant email messages.

Rather than using email to direct subscribers to a landing page, marketers who take advantage of this growing trend can invite recipients to explore and engage with the email itself.

Common elements of interactive emails include tabbed menus, collapsible content, image carousels — or more complex elements that allow for functionality like designing a clothing pattern, completing a puzzle or unearthing coupon codes for discounts.

Whether you’re considering adopting interactive email in its most basic form or preparing to deploy a complex interactive strategy, asking the following questions can help smooth your planning process, ensure a successful execution and enhance ROI over time.

1. What’s Your Goal?

Building a positive brand experience through playful engagement is one of the most effective uses of interactive email elements. Doing so can increase shares and build anticipation for future mailings.

If your brand is trying to solve direct challenges, such as low open rates or click-throughs, a simpler solution might be a better first step — such as subject line testing or centering the design of your emails around a single call to action.

If you can commit the time and resources required for interactive email, make sure it’s in support of your team’s overarching goals rather than a shiny new technique to try.

2. How Do You Expect Customers to React?

There are no industries or verticals in which interactive email is a no-go. However, if you’re already recognizing signs that customers are interested in engaging deeply with your brand, consider how they might grow those relationships through interactive email.

Outlining clear goals can help your team track progress, plan integrated campaigns and make tweaks as necessary along the way.

3. Is Interactive the Right Choice?

Like any piece of the marketing puzzle, an interactive email campaign won’t build, deploy and analyze itself. Prepare to brainstorm email designs, code and remain in tune with your customers throughout testing processes to ensure you’re delivering content they want to receive.

Interactive emails empower brands to foster informed, valuable, real-time engagements and relationships with customers, but only if brands can put in the time and resources necessary to keep them going.

4. Will Your Recipients’ Email Client Support Interactive Email?

The code that makes interactive email possible is often called the “checkbox hack.” It has reasonable support among iOS Mail, Android 4.x Mail, Apple Mail, Yahoo Mail and AOL.

However, if your audience primarily uses Gmail, G Suite, Outlook 2007-2016 or Outlook.com — or if you’re not sure — it’s not yet worth investing the time to develop an interactive campaign. Additionally, if you send emails through an email service provider (ESP), be sure your ESP supports interactive code without altering or wrapping it, as doing so can break a message’s interactive elements.

5. What Are the First Steps to Interactive Email?

  1. Use Litmus Scope to explore the code of interactive emails you like and understand how the markup functions.
  2. FreshInbox has an image carousel generator that will give you a head start in creating that specific type of interactive email.
  3. FreshInbox also has a number of tutorials on interactive elements and articles about noteworthy examples.
  4. table tr td also has great breakdowns of email code, including the basic functionality interactive email is built upon.

At the center of any interactive email initiative, you’ll find a simple concept: playful engagement.

If you’re already making effective use of animated GIFs, emotive imagery and compelling calls to action, interactive email might well be the next path to explore.

Before taking your email to the next level, however, really stop to make sure your internal team, audience and business strategy are on board.

If you do decide to put in the work to create a truly impressive interactive email, your subscribers will take notice — and reward you with sky-high, long-term engagement.