Avoiding the Pit of Dark Mode Despair and Making Sure Your Emails Look Awesome With Melissa Sargeant From Litmus [AMP 219]

Are you familiar with the dark mode? About 92% of those with smartphones use dark mode on at least one app. The increased use of dark mode with various email services and clients present challenges. How do email marketers make sure that emails are easy to read in dark mode? Today’s guest is Melissa Sargeant, Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) at Litmus, a well-known email marketing software company. She explains exactly why dark mode matters for marketers, and what they can do to make sure their emails look their best. Melissa provides insights into why this is important for marketers to understand, test, and optimize.

Some of the highlights of the show include:
  • App Developers: Dark mode makes type and visuals lighter on dark backgrounds
  • Functional Trend: People use dark mode to read content; easier on their eyes
  • Benefits: Reduce screen brightness to preserve battery; accessibility preference
  • Email Clients: Apple, Samsung, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo offer dark mode
  • Problems: Prioritize dark mode for subscriber preference, different email clients
  • Cost: Sending email versus potential cost of not optimizing email to be visible
  • Tips and Tricks: Settings, assets, code, examples, and guide to dark mode
  • Do More with Less: Build, test, and analyze emails, then send them for review
  • Email Analytics/Insights: It doesn't end with send; use data to make better email
  • Test every email, every time to deliver an experience that exceeds expectations
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Avoiding the pit of dark mode despair and making sure your emails look awesome with @mhsargeant from @Litmusapp.

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Ben: Hi Melissa, how are you doing this morning? Melissa: I am doing fantastic, Ben. How are you doing? Ben: I'm not doing too bad. It's a short holiday week as we’re chatting right now. I think it's going to be good to get a little time away from work and decompress a little bit. Hopefully, you'll be able to do the same. Melissa: I too am looking forward to that. What I like about this time of the year—there's a lot of things I like about it—it seems to be the only time of the year where everybody takes a collective beat. Unlike when back in the day when we got to do summer vacations, you would come back and you have 5000 emails, you're back in the office for five minutes and it feels like I didn't take time off at all. That's what I really appreciate about this time. Everybody collectively takes a beat. Ben: For sure. For our listeners, would you mind taking a moment just to introduce yourself and explain what you do over at Litmus? Melissa: Sure. My name's Melissa Sargeant. I am the chief marketing officer at that Litmus. I've been at the company for a little over a year. I'm in charge of basically all of our marketing from demand generation to brand building globally for our customers and our company. At Litmus, what we do is help companies put one of their most dependable marketing channel’s email first. We do that by helping them to optimize and collaborate on their emails so that they can go out the door perfectly every time, know that they're going to reach the inbox, and that they can take those insights and use that across their entire marketing mix. Ben: Very cool. Something that we're going to talk about today is dark mode. I think that most people are familiar with the basic concept of dark mode and what the supposed benefits are. It seems like every other web app and service out there offers some kind of dark mode. There's even a statistic that 92% of smartphone users use dark mode on at least one app on their phone. For email marketing, that could potentially have some pretty important ramifications for how emails are designed because if someone's using dark mode on like the iOS mail app and that causes your email to be illegible, you're probably better off not sending it. Before we get too far along, could you explain maybe for some of our listeners who maybe aren't super familiar with dark mode, or maybe they're aware of why dark mode has become a trend in app design but maybe they don't know why, would you mind just taking a moment just to explain what are some of the functional benefits that it can provide for users that would make them want to use it? Melissa: Sure. Practically, think of dark mode as taking things like your typography, your visual elements, putting those on dark backgrounds and making those light colored. The reason why a lot of people are viewing things in dark mode—we talk a lot in email marketing about accessibility to your emails—for some folks, it's just easier on their eyes. It’s an easier way for them to read content. On our mobile devices, we’re always running around trying to plug those things and preserve our battery life if you're on the go. By reducing the screen brightness, they can actually help protect your battery life. For a lot of people, it's just easier for them and how they read content. It's just easier on their eyes to read it. They may just have a personal preference for a dark interface and how to read content. Ben: Certainly. I think one thing that's challenging in general with email marketing is there are so many different email clients, so many different webmail services and all kinds of different things that you have to account for, which already makes things difficult enough because getting one email to log good for the majority of users is shockingly challenging. I think that the introduction of dark mode really just adds one more thing to think about for people who already have too many things to think about when it comes to, are my emails readable or at least do they not look broken to the people I’m sending them to. For our listeners’ benefit, if you can rattle off at least a few popular ones off the top of your head, which specific email clients out there do offer dark mode that have a really high rate of adoption right now? Melissa: As you correctly stated, sending an email is hard enough across 90 different combinations of devices and operating systems. This list is literally growing day by day. In our engineering team, we have a whole crew that's just focused on and keeping up with dark mode in addition to all the other clients that they keep up with, but on iPhones, your iPads, your Samsung, Apple Mail, Gmail, Outlook, Windows, Yahoo Mail, it's really growing very, very quickly. The best thing to assume is that in your subscriber base, you've got people that are doing things in dark mode today, for sure. Ben: I think that some of the potential problems for not taking dark mode into consideration might be obvious, but I'm going to guess there's probably some that are maybe less obvious, too. For our listeners and for email marketers, some people might be hearing this and thinking, I have enough on my plate already. We're already tinkering with enough stuff, like you said trying to get things to what could go on an impossible number of permutations between devices, between operating systems, between email clients, between everything else. Why should I make this be just one more thing to concern myself with? What are the real potential problems that I could find myself facing that might even be hard to detect if I don't make this a priority to take care about this? Melissa: We should prioritize it because we think about email as a channel. It’s truly this one-to-one connection that you have with your subscribers. If they are showing a preference for how they want to view their content, it's a good idea to honor that, respect that, and do the best you can to deliver them their content the way they want to read it. As you were stating, email rendering is really, really complex. When you're taking this across 90 different combinations, it can seem like a math problem that's really, really difficult to solve. If you are using an email optimization platform, you can do all this building and testing across all these devices and ensure end clients that when that email goes out the door, you'll know with certainty that people who are arguing and dark mode are able to view it in dark mode. Ben: Something we’re touching on for a moment here is the cost of sending email versus the potential cost of not optimizing those emails to be visible on as many devices as possible. I think most of us at this point understand that email marketing is really tricky. Getting emails to look good on the multitude of different combinations of email clients and services and devices that people can be on gives us a lot to think about already. If you were to go into a conversation (as you might) with an email developer, a marketing automation specialist, or whoever is responsible for actually building the emails and testing the emails that you want to send, they might be curious why all of a sudden do you care so much about dark mode and why is dark mode a thing that they should concern themselves with on top of all the other things that they're already asked to do. It might be a good idea for you to go into that conversation by tying that back into potential results and potential negative impact on the investment that you put into that email. When you can take these conversations away from things that might be easy to overlook or things that someone might feel a little bit silly, you can actually tie it back to something that might actually negatively or positively affect something that you’re putting money into. You might find making forward progress on those conversations and actually getting other folks in your team on board with the idea that this is important. That could apply to whether it’s making sure you're testing your emails on dark mode, making sure that they look good in dark mode, or it could be something else entirely different. Being able to tie things back to numbers and money is really a powerful emotional lever that you can pull to help make the case for why this is important. And it is important. Now, back to Melissa. It really doesn't have to cost you that much more time doing this. If you're doing this in a centralized way and doing it in an agile workflow way where you're building and testing as you go along, you can know with confidence that every email you send, whether they read it and dark mode or light mode, whether they're reading it on a Samsung device or an iPad, is going to be viewable and they're going to be able to consume that content. When you consider that the average email can take—in some organizations—up to two weeks to get out a single email that you're toggling in between multiple tools to even do that, you want to make sure that all that effort that you put into it is actualized for the recipient. Ben: Certainly. Obviously, using a platform that helps you test and optimize your emails before you send them out is one solution. Whether they use Litmus—I'm sure there are others out there—that can go a long way toward making sure that your email isn't going to look illegible. What are some of the things that someone might see? If I'm trying to view an email on a device using dark mode, if an email is not optimized for dark mode, what are some oddities or some weird quirks that I would likely see on my device? Would I just see black screen? Would text be invisible? Would visual elements be buried? What could possibly happen? Melissa: All of those things that you mentioned. Just like any other broken email that you've received before, all of those elements cannot render properly. What makes the challenge even more challenging is that there are little nuances for each different client. Because it's a newer thing, there are nuances there and little quirks that you need to take into account as your team is coding those emails to make sure that they take those things into account. It's just like any other broken email that you would receive where some of the elements are going to render properly, some of them may disappear, all sorts of things. Ben: Beyond using a platform or in this hypothetical situation, let's assume the listener has what they need to test their emails or to optimize their emails. They have the tools and the resources available to them or they could procure them if they need it. What are some specific things that they can do or that they should really be paying close attention to, to make sure that their email is easy to read in dark mode? Melissa: There are specific settings. Actually, we've got some really good assets that you can use, that are very, very practical with actual lines of code that you could do as a CMO. I'm not allowed to touch any of the tools anymore anyway, but I would recommend that there's some specific tips and tricks that you can absolutely take into account, and we can help you with that. You can actually just get that from our blog. We’ve got a specific article around dark mode. We actually show you some examples of things that were optimized and not optimized based on specific clients what you actually look for and what it looks like in light mode versus dark mode side-by-side so that you can make sure you account for those little tips and tricks, as well as just the nuances that there are with the different clients. Ben: On the flip side of that, is it possible to go too far in tailoring an email for dark mode? Could you potentially encounter a situation or have you maybe even ever witnessed a situation where someone went all-in on making their emails look great in dark mode to the exclusion of everyone else so if someone was just looking at something in plain old Gmail and it just didn't look maybe the way that it was supposed to? Melissa: No, that shouldn't be a problem because you're building them for both light mode and dark mode. All of the extra steps that you went through before dark mode, in the nuances that you have with the different clients and devices, this is just taking that another step forward. The real benefit is that it's a very subscriber-centric approach, just like all of the other things that you do to make sure that it's easy for them to read and consume your content, and it rides in their inbox the way they would expect it to. You're just taking that one more step forward. Ben: Okay, so it's not really a concern. You're not going to go present your email designer or developer, your marketing automation team or anything like that with an either-or. Melissa: Correct. It's both, so you cannot over-rotate on dark mode. Ben: Good to know. I ask because I feel like sometimes as marketers, it is certainly possible to fall into a tendency to overcompensate for one problem and then just create two more problems somewhere else. Melissa: Definitely. Efficiency and the email workflow process is super important. Anytime you add something else to that, you start to think is that now going to take three weeks to get it out the door for a single email? It’s definitely understandable and something that you want to be able to account for and how you're delivering your emails. Ben: The last thing I'd like to touch on, something you've mentioned a couple times through the course of this conversation is workflow. I think that's really important to discuss because if you are in a situation like you're describing where it can take time to get a properly optimized email send, ready-to-roll without issue, especially even if it is relatively easy to make considerations for dark mode, it is one more thing on a long list of stuff. I think something that you're alluding to here is that in order to keep things efficient, you need your workflow to be dialed in. As it pertains I think more broadly going even beyond dark mode, at a high level in your view, what should a good email testing workflow or email optimization workflow should look like? How could a listener make it more efficient so that adding one more thing to that list doesn't become the straw that breaks the camel's back or just something where you get told, no, we have enough stuff. This is already too hard. Don't come at me with one more thing I need to worry about that's going to make this more difficult to get over the finish line. If it already is going to take 2-3 weeks to send out an email, you have to be really careful about at what point is it good enough before it just gets to a point where workflow inefficiencies just make it so that it becomes a more difficult conversation to get people to not ignore stuff like this. Melissa: It's a great question. We are always trying to do more with less in our marketing organizations. From an email optimization perspective, the things that you want to be able to do or to build, test, and analyze your emails, and send them out for review in a single plate. I mentioned that a typical organization that's not doing this can take 2-3 weeks to get out an email. We do this annual state of email survey and some companies have 4-5 different reviewers that have to happen for a single email to get out the door. You're doing this and sometimes in multiple different tools. The email developer, the email manager is building this, trying to test it. Then they have to create a proof, send it to somebody else via email, get their comments, and try to consolidate from five different folks in the organization. What you really want to be able to do ideally is centralize all of that work in that workflow so that you're building, testing, reviewing, and approving. When you do all that work, most companies are going to be using an email service provider to just sync with the ESP so that you can hit send on your email. Even more important is that we say it doesn't end with send. That has to go beyond your traditional opens and click-throughs which everybody looks at, but you want to be able to understand what did that person do who received it? How long did they spend reading it? What did they do after they read it? Did they forward it to somebody? Your email analytics and insights are far more powerful across your entire marketing mix than just your email program. Of course you're going to use that data to make the next email send better and the one after that. But if something's performing really, really well in email, why can't that be a webinar? Why can't that be a blog post? Why wouldn't you take that topic and look at your paid search mix and wonder if that's something that people are going to engage with? It really has the ability to supercharge your entire marketing mix. Ben: I think that’s a great answer. That's all I had prepared for you, but before I let you go, is there anything else on this topic or anything that's loosely adjacent that you think is important for our listeners to know that we haven't touched on yet? Melissa: I think it's just a reinforcement of you want to test every email every time, no exceptions. Your subscribers have an expectation of that one-to-one connection with you. You want to deliver that subscriber experience that exceeds their expectations every time. It's very easy to do this in a consistent and systematic way, so don't leave anything to chance. Make sure you test every email every time.
About the Author

Ben Sailer has over 14 years of experience in the field of marketing. He is considered an expert in inbound marketing through his incredible skills with copywriting, SEO, content strategy, and project management. Ben is currently an Inbound Marketing Director at Automattic, working to grow WordPress.com as the top managed hosting solution for WordPress websites. WordPress is one of the most powerful website creation tools in the industry. In this role, he looks to attract customers with content designed to attract qualified leads. Ben plays a critical role in driving the growth and success of a company by attracting and engaging customers through relevant and helpful content and interactions. Ben works closely with senior management to align the inbound marketing efforts with the overall business objectives. He continuously measures the effectiveness of marketing campaigns to improve them. He is also involved in managing budgets and mentoring the inbound marketing team.