Blog Entry

Speeding Up Email Production Workflows: How-Tos & Trade-Offs

It generally takes about two to three weeks to create, approve, and send a marketing campaign. If your company is larger, more decentralized, or more highly regulated, it can take even longer. Usually that’s not a significant problem, but sometimes you need to be nimbler or reduce production costs due to heightened uncertainty or financial pressures. Some companies are experiencing one or both of those currently because of coronavirus.

While there are absolutely ways to reduce the time you spend on email production, each comes with a trade-off that might put your email program on thin ice. You may find some of the trade-offs more acceptable than others. Here are the five steps in the email production process where you can cut back in order to speed up email production, plus the downsides to doing so.

1. Email Planning & Analytics

This is where you develop a messaging strategy, which can be based on the performance of past campaigns and tests, trends in other channels, customer modeling, predictive analytics, and other approaches. However you do it, this is where you take insights and turn them into a plan for a particular campaign. 

The Trade-Off

By cutting back on email planning and analytics, brands might find it more difficult to use the right messaging and strategy to connect with customers and subscribers, which in turn hurts the overall performance of their email program.

“The downside is that many brands can start to hurt the overall customer lifecycle by putting out content that nurtures the customer on the back burner,” says Nick Cantu, Senior Art Director for Creative Services at Oracle CX Marketing Consulting. “It’s essential to make a conscious effort to engage your audience with long-term brand goals, while also trying to meet expectations for the current social and economic situation.”

2. Copywriting, Design, & Coding

This is the heart of email design. It’s how you combine your written and visual communication into a message, and then how that message renders across different inboxes and devices through coding. Beyond the basics of writing subject lines, preview text, and body copy and creating graphics, this part of email production includes time spent on: 

  • Email Annotation for Gmail

  • Animated gifs and CCS animation

  • Live content

  • Email interactivity

  • AMP for Email 

  • Optimizing for dark mode

  • Email accessibility and inclusive design

As this is generally the most time-intensive part of the email production process, it’s a big target if you’re looking to make cuts.

“At one of my retail clients, the marketing team was told, ‘There is no longer unbridled creative freedom’,” says Brian S. Sullivan, Senior Account Director at Oracle CX Marketing Consulting. “They now have a bare-bones approach that’s cashflow-driven.”

The Trade-Off

Cutting back on copywriting, design, and coding might hurt engagement and performance. Some sacrifices marketers might have to make can be much bigger than others, especially when it comes to newer and time-intensive optimizations. While our consultants consider AMP for Email an unproven opportunity that’s currently low impact and low adoption, they feel many other email design trends such as live content and dark mode–optimization to be high impact competitive differentiators.

That said, design and coding can be safely sped up by improving templates and implementing modular build architectures that allow you to build emails by stacking pre-coded modules. We migrated one of our clients to a modular build architecture recently and it reduced their campaign build-times by 25%.

“Even before coronavirus, groups have struggled with adhering to templates, bristling under a perceived constraint in design,” says James Wurm, Head of Coding Services at Oracle CX Marketing Consulting. “But adhering to templates removes many variables that contribute to increased level of effort, from copy direction to content layout.”

If you want to speed things up even more, consider creating a quick-turn template, says Patrick Colalillo, Associate Creative Director for Creative Services at Oracle CX Marketing Consulting. 

“These templates can be used for crisis situations, unexpected sales, and promoting new product features,” he says. “We have built out strict timelines for each step in the creative and build processes. The drawback is, you need to stick to the exact template specs to meet the timelines. No adding additional modules, changing image sizes, or ‘small things,’ like adding two call-to-action buttons next to each other that will potentially delay the launch date. During the creative brief process and kickoff, we determine if a quick-turn template is needed, and we agree on timelines and possible limitations of using the template.”

3. Data Logic & A/B Testing

This is where you set up the email campaign in your email service provider. Your setup may include: 

  • Segmentation, including RFM scoring
  • Suppression lists 
  • Personalization and dynamic content 
  • AI-driven content recommendations 
  • Multivariate and A/B testing

The Trade-Off

By cutting back on data logic and A/B testing, brands can sacrifice relevance—and therefore performance and deliverability. 

Our consultants consider segmentation and personalization to be high-adoption, high-impact trends that no brand should neglect, while they consider AI-driven content recommendations and multivariate testing to be competitive differentiators. Cuts to data logic can translate into sizable decreases in email marketing ROI, as well as simmering subscriber fatigue and disinterest as messaging becomes less appealing.

“I have had clients put major creative tests on hold and continue to use past learning,” says Colalillo. “We’re still running subject line tests, as the production time on that is still pretty quick. The downside is not having any new learnings, and the potential to see lower engagement if customers get used to seeing the same tactics over and over again.”

4. QA Testing & Troubleshooting

This is where you check that your email is rendering and functioning as intended before sending. Because there are likely dozens of email clients being used by your subscribers, email client coding supporting varies significantly, and email clients change support without notice, constant vigilance is required to create a functional email experience for your subscribers.

The Trade-Off

By cutting back on QA testing and troubleshooting, brands risk errors slipping through—whether they’re copy mistakes that cause customer confusion, URL mistakes that harm conversion rates, rendering mistakes that diminish the subscriber experience and damage your brand image, or coding mistakes that frustrate subscribers, harm performance, or impact your sender reputation.

“In the interest of reducing time, we are often asked to reduce or completely skip the final testing and QA process,” says Carie Hinton, Senior Director of Campaign Deployment & Monitoring Services at Oracle CX Marketing Consulting. “This is like running a race and stopping just short of the finish line. While the dividends realized from investments in testing and QA are often unseen, the impact of even the smallest error can be far-reaching. Most email recipients won’t notice if a mailing is slightly delayed, but they will notice if it has errors or doesn’t render or work properly. The time associated with correcting even a minor issue is far greater than the upfront investment made in proper testing and QA to avoid having issues.”

5. Reviews & Approvals

This is where you, your internal team, your external teams, and your managers review all the elements of the campaign and ultimately approve it to be sent. This process can take a surprising amount of time—and if your company is large, it can be an astounding amount of time because of the number of people and departments that may be involved.

The Trade-Off

By cutting back on the review and approval process, brands could be sacrificing some strategic alignment and could be letting some mistakes slip through. However, of all the parts of the email production process, this is the portion where the trade-offs are the least clear cut. That’s because we often see inefficiencies in reviews and approvals, such as overly long review cycles, too many review cycles, too many last-minute changes, and too many people signing off on emails.

Often these inefficiencies in reviews and approvals get worse during downturns and crises, says Wurm. 

“When sales or engagement is down,” he says, “it’s every executive’s reaction to get more involved and insert themselves into the email process, which can slow things down at a time when you’re often looking for more nimbleness.”

If last-minute changes are being made, Wurm says that the team should ask themselves: What’s driving any decisions that are being made? Is it data or instinct? If it’s data, it is anecdotal or proven from testing? As much as possible, try to stay focused on what the data is telling you to do.

In tough times, agility is valuable. But make sure your eyes are wide open to the trade-offs you’re making when you cut back on parts of the email production process. Instead of big, unfocused cuts, try to make a bunch of surgical cuts to speed up your process. And make it a full-team effort, says Jason Witt, Senior Director of Creative Services at Oracle CX Marketing Consulting 

“Look for opportunities to align workflows across different lines of businesses and different teams,” says Witt. “Make this time an opportunity to align resources and operations around email creative and development so speed to market improves when timing has become such a focus. 

Want more advice on how to deal with crises? Check out these related posts:

  • Systemic Shocks: Adjusting Your Email Messaging in Times of Disruption

  • Disaster and Crisis Messaging Best Practices

  • How to Adjust Your Email Strategy When Coronavirus Restrictions Ease

  • 8 Email Marketing Improvements to Make During Slow Periods

  • 5 Ways Marketing and Sales Should Align During a Crisis or Disaster

  • Content Marketing During a Crisis or World Event

  • How to Handle a Social Media Crisis


Need help with your email production process? Oracle CX Marketing Consulting has more than 500 of the leading marketing minds ready to help you to achieve more with the leading marketing cloud, including Creative Services, Coding Services, and Campaign Deployment & Monitoring Services teams that can help you create and deploy your campaigns faster.

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