From time to time I’ll pull a message from my inbox and do a walk-through of its pros and cons. These gentle critiques are intended to educate; I hope that the companies mentioned as well as readers will keep that top of mind. 

I always try to be gentle with these critiques but this time… it’s Microsoft, for heaven’s sake!

Microsoft, which so many people have a love-hate relationship with.

True story: in the mid-1990s I had a boss who refused to let our marketing department become a 100% Microsoft shop. His last stand: we used Lotus 123 instead of Excel. Every other department in the company used Excel. During budget period we were constantly having to translate spreadsheets back and forth between the two programs. and just about every time you did it something was lost. It was a bit of a mess.

Microsoft, maker of my Surface Pro, which I love. But also Microsoft, which still causes me heartburn as an email marketer because its Outlook email client blocks images by default, making it more difficult for my clients’ email messages to make a good first impression.

So why, oh why, does the Microsoft Rewards Team send emails which are more than 90% images – and which look like nothing when images are blocked? Case in point…

 When I went into Outlook tonight, here’s what I saw:


It’s got the Microsoft branding in the from line, so they get points there. I know who it’s from.
Score: +5

The subject line isn’t amazingly engaging, but they do use my name (points for personalization) and the word ‘your.’
Score: +2

But I believe the subject line is the same every send, there’s nothing beyond my love of the brand (or not) to engage. For that, we need to take some points away. So it’s a wash. or worse.
Score: -5

But now we get to the meat of it — the body of the email.

Once again they get points for personalization — the ‘Hello Jeanne’ is nice, it’s engaging.
Score: +2

But it’s the only thing that shows when images are blocked. The only thing. When I’m working with clients’ graphic designers they often try to sell me on the value of Alt Tags/Text — and how they/it are a solution to image blocking. What do you think? Is the ‘fine print’ with each image 90% as effective as the image itself? 75%? 50%? less? I say less.
Score: -10

Overall score with images blocked: -6.
And this is kind. The value the reader gets from this message when images are blocked is pretty much zero, nada, zilch.

Now let’s see what we’re missing — here’s the ‘view online’ view of the same message.


So here’s what we’re missing. Let’s talk about how much of this needs to be images — and how much could be presented as rich text, which we would have been able to read even with images blocked.

Top Left: Logo
Obviously this needs to be an image.

Just under the logo: “Your Microsoft Rewards Highlights”
This could easily be made rich text. The only reasons to make it an image are a) because you want to use a non-standard font that would not render properly in every browser or b) because your designer doesn’t understand the challenge that image blocking presents, or doesn’t care.

Just under “Your Microsoft Reward Highlights”: “Pick a Color. Pick up Points.”
Once again, this could easily be rich text. Unless they feel that this font makes the copy much more effective than a standard font. And yes, the text could still be blue if it was rich text. The placement is interesting as well. The way the copy is positioned above the image it would not be difficult to make it rich text. But instead it’s part of the image.

Images of the controllers
This would need to be an image.

Copy under the image of the controllers
This is another wasted opportunity. Why is this an image? There’s a clear benefit here, the points you could earn, but it’s missed if people don’t enable images.

“Start Shopping” Button
At first glance you may think that this needs to be an image, but it does not. It’s been years since some inventive email marketing agencies perfected the ‘bullet-proof’ button — a table within the email with a cell that has a colored background and which rich text copy. Which means that it can look exactly like an image button — but can be seen even if images are blocked.

I could go on but you get the idea. Any text, even that on a colored background, can be made rich text so it’s seen if images are blocked, instead of being part of the image. There’s no such easy fix for images, but look at the web version of this email. If all the images were blocked and all the text were readable, it would be a much more valuable reader experience than it currently is with images blocked.

A quick note on image blocking: iPhones automatically show images by default, but most desktop clients and most other mobile devices do not. If you’re using a marketing automation or email service provider to send your email they should provide you information on the operating systems that your recipients are using to read your emails. Look at the makeup of your audience and judge for yourself. If the majority of your readers are using a client that enables images by default, these issues will be of less concern to you. But if they aren’t you should look at your email creative with images blocked and see if your message is still getting through. If not, it may be time to look at utilizing more rich text — or changing agencies to one that has a better understanding of email.

One last word to Microsoft: you would really help your marketing team’s efforts — and many other email marketers — if you enabled images by default in Outlook. Give it some thought… or train your marketers to make sure the message gets through even if images are blocked, as I do with my clients.


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