Visual Branding in Email Marketing: 7 Elements to Optimize

January 11, 2023 | 6 minute read
Nick Cantu
Creative Director for Creative Services, Oracle Digital Experience Agency
Lauren Castady
Associate Creative Director, Oracle Digital Experience Agency
Elizabeth Thomas
Senior Art Director for Creative Services, Oracle Digital Experience Agency
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Wherever your customer is, in whatever channel they’re engaging with your brand, you want that experience to feel consistent and unified. Visual branding is the critical first step in creating that feel, as consumers will immediately perceive major disconnects. In your email marketing program, visual branding is important for two strategic reasons.

First, you want your emails to look consistent with your brand and therefore immediately feel legitimate, so your customers and subscribers are confident that your emails are definitely coming from your brand. If you don’t achieve that, then subscribers may become concerned that the email is spoofed or otherwise feel unsafe about engaging with the email. That can lead to disengagement and spam complaints. 

And second, you want the transition from the email to landing page to be comfortable and as seamless as possible, as if they’re part of the same experience. This provides assurances that they’ve indeed arrived at your website and that it’s safe to proceed. It also simplifies the user experience if icons, menu buttons, and other elements are consistent in appearance and placement.

However, with all of that said, the visual branding of your emails doesn’t need to be exactly the same as your website’s. It only needs to be harmonious. That’s a good thing because the email channel has some limitations that force brands to make compromises.

Let’s look at seven aspects of visual branding in email marketing and what the best practices are.

1. Logo

Typically, brands position their logo to mirror what’s on their website or app. So, if it’s centered online, then it should be centered in your email. However, it’s not uncommon for brands to left-justify their logo so they can use the space to the right of it for loyalty or account information.

While it probably won’t make sense to make every image in your emails retina images, we recommend that your logo absolutely be optimized for high-resolution screens. After all, a fuzzy logo makes a bad impression and raises unhealthy suspicions about the legitimacy of your email.

In working with our clients, we create retina assets the standard way, doubling their height and width, which makes the resolution four times the non-retina (e.g., 200x200 image becomes 400x400 retina image). Anything higher than that isn’t visually noticeable (at least with current screen pixel densities) and increases file size too much, which slows email load times.

Understand which images in your emails should be retina optimized.

2. Fonts

The HTML fonts you use are a key visual element of the branding of your emails. The good news is that whatever font you use for your website and app, you can use them in your emails. That’s because many email clients support custom fonts and a wide range of web fonts.

The bad news is not all email clients support them, so you’ll need to build a font stack for your emails that includes multiple fallback fonts. While this is certainly a limitation of HTML or live text, its advantages more than compensate for it when compared to graphical text, which is bad for accessibility and doesn’t show up when images don’t render.

All of that said, some brands have iconic fonts that have tremendous character and are closely associated with their brands. In those instances, it can be worth the tradeoff to use graphical text (with alt text, of course). The important thing is to use it thoughtfully and purposefully.

Build an effective email marketing font stack.

3. Colors

Colors are key to your brand, so port over the color palette you use on your website and in your app. However, again, you may need to make some accommodations for the email channel. 

How dark mode is implemented in inboxes may mean you need to make some changes to your color palette or make rules around when it’s okay to use certain colors to ensure adequate color contrast and legibility. Definitely do some testing with dark mode, but be prepared to accept that some inboxes change your designs in ways that are sometimes difficult or even impossible to control for.

Also pay attention to accessibilities issues, particularly around contrast ratios. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) recommends a minimum contrast ratio of 3:1. And a contrast ratio closer to 4.5:1 is better. Maintaining a high ratio can be particularly challenging when positioning text over gradients and over images with lots of color and tone variations, so be extra mindful in those situations.

Learn more about how dark mode affects email designs.

4. Image Treatments

To state the obvious, if you use a lot of illustrations or lifestyle photos or black-and-white photography on your website, your emails should match. Going beyond that, you should also mirror your use of rounded or square edges, as well as how you position text in relation to your images.

Because of how dark mode is implemented in some inboxes, you’ll want to use transparent PNGs and GIFs, as those handle the transition from light mode to dark mode much better. 

5. CTA Treatments

You’ll also want your call-to-action buttons to match those you use elsewhere in terms of:

  • Button size
  • Button styling (e.g., square vs. rounded corners)
  • Button placement in relation to text and padding around the button
  • Button color
  • Button text size and color

But here, again, you may need to make some compromises as your CTA buttons should not be images. They should be bulletproof buttons created using table cells, background colors, HTML text, and other coding techniques that allow your buttons to render even when images are blocked. That may keep you from replicating your website CTA buttons exactly.

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6. Navigation

Your navigation bars should similarly match the look of those on your website and mobile app, but should also be bulletproof in their design.

Beyond the appearance and construction, you’ll find that the desktop version of your emails likely can’t accommodate the same number of nav links you have on your website, so you’ll need to make some choices. We suggest running some analytics and tests to see what performs best.

With the mobile version of your email, you might consider having your most popular links in a horizontal navigation bar at the top of your emails and the remaining links in a stacked nav bar or link bank at the bottom before the footer. Again, some testing is likely in order to make the most of these high-converting links.

Because of the focused nature of most email messages, you may also find success with nav bars that are tailored to the season or even the individual email. The addition of a “Gifts” or “Holiday” navigation link is common during November and December, as are links to Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day gift selections. However, mixing up category-level links throughout the year can pay off, too.

This brings us to email’s newest visual branding consideration…

7. BIMI-Powered Logo

The final visual brand element for email is the logo you can have displayed next to your sender name in some inboxes if you make use of Brand Indicators for Message Identification, or BIMI (/bē mē/). While complying with BIMI involves six time-consuming steps and considerable cost, the standard is set to become widely supported in 2023, making it absolutely worthwhile for at least large brands.

As more brands adopt BIMI—especially larger brands that are most often the victims of spoofing—consumers will become suspicious of emails that arrive without a logo enabled. So, BIMI will be an important component of visual branding and its goal of creating consumer confidence and smooth transitions between channels.

Optimizing as many of these as possible will not only build trust, but also create a cohesive experience as your customers and prospects transition from your emails to your website and mobile app. And with this as a foundation, you can then move on to other ways of creating unified customer experiences, such as personalization and customer data platforms.

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Need help designing your emails? Oracle Digital Experience Agency has hundreds of marketing and communication experts ready to help Oracle customers create stronger connections with their customers and employees, even if they’re not using an Oracle platform as the foundation of that experience. Our award-winning specialists can handle everything from creative and strategy to content planning and project management. For example, our full-service email marketing clients generate 24% higher open rates, 30% higher click rates, and 9% lower unsubscribe rates than Oracle Responsys customers who aren’t.

For help overcoming your challenges or seizing your opportunities, talk to your Oracle account manager, visit us online, or email us at OracleAgency_US@Oracle.com.

Want to better understand your email marketing risks and opportunities, take advantage of our free Email Marketing Assessment. Our experts will check your deliverability, review your email creative, audit your signup process, do a partial competitive analysis, and more. If interested in this free assessment, reach out to us at OracleAgency_US@Oracle.com.

Nick Cantu

Creative Director for Creative Services, Oracle Digital Experience Agency

Nick Cantu is the Creative Director for Creative Services at Oracle Digital Experience Agency. He has over 14 years of creative consulting experience, with the past 9 years dedicated to data-driven email marketing. His approach focuses on the end-user, building relevant and engaging messages that drive results.

Lauren Castady

Associate Creative Director, Oracle Digital Experience Agency

Lauren Castady is an Associate Creative Director for Creative Services at Oracle Digital Experience Agency. With over 20 years of creative experience, she excels at bringing teams together to deliver successful brand stories. Her creativity and expert knowledge of the digital space enables her to develop innovative solutions that deliver results.

Elizabeth Thomas

Senior Art Director for Creative Services, Oracle Digital Experience Agency

Elizabeth (Liz) Thomas is Senior Art Director for Creative Services at Oracle Digital Experience Agency. She is an experienced lead with a demonstrated history of working in the email marketing industry. She is skilled in setting up email architecture systems, spearheading email creative audits and analyses, leading client presentations, managing projects/timelines, and has a passion for fostering client relationships. Liz has supported a breadth of high-profile clients in achieving their email goals through streamlined design systems, industry best practices, strategy, segmentation, and automation.


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