Every email your organization sends is a chance to reinforce your branding — or fracture it. An email style guide can help your team create and send consistent correspondence.
By Colleen Ringer
No matter what platform your organization is using to send emails, things can quickly get out of control. Templates get cloned and tweaked; new ones get created with new components and fonts; layouts created before your latest rebranding just won’t seem to die. Whether your organization has a distributed email program in which staff outside of the marketing department are building and creating emails or you’re a one-person email show, the key to stopping the madness is an email style guide. If you don’t have one now, you need one.
Consistency Is a Beautiful Thing (But It’s Hard)
The most obvious reason it’s so important to have an email style guide for your organization is consistency — which can often be an uphill battle if you’re working within the structure of a distributed email program. When different teams across the organization are sending emails, it helps to have one source of truth that everyone, in all departments, at all levels, can look to for answers. An email style guide keeps everyone on the same page.
Recently, we worked with Ochsner Health to develop an email style guide that email creators across the organization’s many hospitals, clinics, departments and service lines can refer to for guidance. The guide introduced guardrails in the form of modular components that can be mixed and matched depending on content needs. This gives creators flexibility, while still ensuring consistency.
All of Your Emails Should Sound Like They Come from the Same Place
Your email style guide shouldn’t just be about design. It’s also an opportunity to reinforce your brand’s voice and tone. How do you speak to your different audiences via email? Are emojis appropriate in subject lines or body copy? Should the tone be formal or more conversational?
Last year, we worked with the University of Arizona to answer these questions and more via an email guide created specifically for the university’s many stakeholders. The guide gives the marketing department a tangible, easy-to-follow set of ground rules to refer email creators to.
Email Is Its Own Animal
Obviously, email is not print, and it’s not a website — and it shouldn’t be treated like either of those things. Email comes with its own technical considerations that are inherent to the medium and that differ depending on the platform you’re using. Rules around accessibility standards, font fallbacks, GIFs and plain-text versioning are all important elements to address in your email style guide.
What to Include in Your Email Style Guide
The information within your organization’s email style guide should be based on your exact email set up (the platform you’re using, who’s sending emails, etc.). But there are items that should always be included in your email style guide, for example:
- Best practices for elements like subject lines, preview text, headlines, link text, calls to action and more.
- Guidance on voice and tone.
- Requirements for images, videos and GIFs, including recommendations for responsiveness.
- Advice for SPAM and A/B testing.
- Sample emails and available modules, including a variety of headers and footers.
- Primary and secondary color palettes.