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New Trends That Impact Email Rendering

Email marketing is an ever-changing world. Your strategy—specifically what content you send, how often you send it, and who you send it to—should be something you adjust and improve over time. The same is true for your email templates. As email clients (Gmail, Microsoft Outlook, Apple Mail, etc.), web browsers, and devices evolve, your organization should be updating your template to keep up with these changes. Here are a few to pay attention to right now.

Web Fonts

THEN: The rule for fonts in emails was that only old school Web Safe fonts were acceptable. Even if your organization had a font specific to its brand, your emails were limited to the default fonts available on PCs and Macs. This is because if users didn’t have your font installed it would switch to the system default (such as Arial, Times New Roman, or Tahoma). When this happened, you were unable to predict how the email looked in regard to spacing and paragraphs.

NOW: Email clients are finally updating what they will accept when it comes fonts. This means organizations can use things like Google Fonts and other web-based fonts and have more control over what happens if someone doesn’t have that font installed. You can create an email with a font that is more closely associated with your brand and it is more likely to appear as you intended. Plus, you can code it in a way that allows it to render correctly on devices that still default to an older standard font.

Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG)

THEN: When inserting a logo or designed graphic into an email, you had to stick to the PNG format. This meant that the logo would simply get smaller or larger depending on the size of the device. No matter how large or small, the image always looked the same because the pixels were in the same place. Because of this, organizations were stuck having to use a graphic that often didn’t look right on certain devices.

NOW: Email templates can now be designed to include SVGs, which are files that can scale up or down and change depending on the size of the device. Think about an elaborate logo that has small detailed elements. On a larger screen these might render fine, but smaller they might be too intricate. Using an SVG means you can designate certain elements to disappear on smaller devices, allowing the logo to render clearly. You can also control colors to shift in the same way, highlighting an area of a graphic for example, so the contrast works at small and large sizes. This innovation is only related to graphics (not photos) but you will need an image editing tool to create an SVG.


THEN: Gradients have always been troublesome in email clients. Most often used behind an image, for a button, in a call-out box, or even behind the entire message itself, gradients add a little touch of visual interest to the design of your email template. For email clients that did not accept gradients, organizations would have to designate a specific solid color to replace them. For example, it you had a gradient that went from blue to green, you would have to pick either solid blue or solid green as its replacement.

NOW: Gradients have much wider support across email clients and can safely be used consistently in your email template. This is a great development, especially for organizations that have gradients in their brand guidelines. One important note: Just because gradients can be used more, doesn’t mean you should overuse them. We recommend only one or two gradient elements per template.

Animations and Images

THEN: Until now, animations such as GIFs we primarily used by for-profit companies to entice customers to make purchases via email. They were often seen as an extra element not needed in nonprofit communications. Stock photos on the other hand were the common choice for organizations in their messaging, as opposed to graphics that could be used to tell a story visually.

NOW: We are seeing a trend of more nonprofits using animations in their email messages and this has led to wider acceptance of this approach. Instead of being viewed as a casual or silly add-on, animations are being used by nonprofits to capture attention and drive people to the most important element of an email message. Stock photos have gone in the opposite direction—users have become more aware that these images are not unique to an organization and are sometimes seeing the same image over and over. Because of this, custom illustrations have become an acceptable replacement.

Dark Mode

THEN: A recent and evolving innovation, dark mode was not something nonprofits had to consider when designing email templates. It was safe to assume that the background color for email, regardless of client, browser, or device, was white.

NOW: With dark mode as an option for all users, it is something that your organization has to keep in mind. Dark mode can impact how text, buttons, and images appear. It is relevant to color contrast choices, and images that might appear less visible on a dark background. If you haven’t checked how your emails look in dark mode, we recommend doing so ASAP. You can use a testing tool such as Litmus or connect with us for guidance.

GPS Personalization

THEN: Nonprofits have been using location-based personalization for years, but it was usually limited to a ZIP Code radius. Businesses were taking this approach a step further, using GPS tracking. For example, an individual could visit a particular retail store and a company could track their latitude and longitude and then deliver them an automated message with a coupon for that store, to encourage them to make a purchase.

NOW: Nonprofits are seeing the benefits to this strategy as well. Using GPS tracking, organizations can target their supporters with greater specificity. This allows nonprofits to send event information or advocacy alerts to the right people, where previously they may have been targeting individuals who were actually too far from the actual location or district. Now that nonprofit tools have this capability, the way business tools do, it’s time for organizations to consider how they can implement it as part of their strategy.

How your email appears to a subscriber is their first impression of your organization, so keeping up with these trends and innovations isn’t something to push to the back burner. You don’t want an illegible graphic, an oddly spaced paragraph, or a message with no contrast to be the reason that someone doesn’t donate or why they unsubscribe. If you think you need some updates to your templates, or want help with testing, reach out to our team of digital marketing experts today.



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