Email Templates: Out Of The Box vs Custom

October 27, 2021 Kyle Giebel

Email design is an important part of any marketer's arsenal. Email design refers to the visual and functional aspects present when an email hits a subscriber's inbox. Having good design doesn’t necessarily mean your campaigns will succeed, but having bad design almost guarantees your campaigns will fall flat. 

Whether you are switching email send platforms (ESP) or simply doing a brand refresh, one of the main opportunities presented to marketers is how to set up an email template. There are two main options for kicking off your email template implementation — out-of-the-box templates and custom code templates.


Out-Of-The-Box (OOTB) Templates 

Whether your company uses Salesforce Marketing Cloud, Pardot, Mailchimp, or some other ESP, you most likely are given the option to build emails from a pre-packaged template within that platform. These are convenient because  they are relatively user-friendly and already included in the platform. In the case that you’re setting up a new template, the out-of-the-box templates are a quick and easy way to get started. However, the speed and ease of set up comes with trade offs. 

These pre-packaged templates limit the layout and functional potential of your emails. Some ESP templates and editors give more creativity to the marketers using them than others, but there is a limit still. This puts your emails at risk of not being up to brand standards or arguably worse, looking cookie cutter. 

Another downside to the OOTB template is less control over the end-user experience. The lack of control in the underlying code in pre-packaged templates subjects your emails to the risk of not rendering well across all of the email clients or mobile devices. In general, the editors do a decent job at rendering the content in its intended way, but there are some subtle quirks, like mobile stacking, or buttons with rounded corners in outlook inboxes. The simpler the overall design, the less likely these quirks will pop up.


Custom Templates 

The other option is to spend the time and resources creating a custom template with HTML and CSS code, with a contractor, new hire, or an agency. One of the drawbacks of custom templates is that it is imperative that you have someone well versed in HTML and CSS. Going down this path will cost you more than the already included pre-packaged templates, and a custom template will take longer to implement. The trade-off for spending a little more and being patient, however, is YOUR template. The extra time spent goes into understanding your brand and how your marketers plan to use your emails to reach your clients. This means not only will your emails look exactly how you want them to but your emails will better serve your needs as marketers. 

Another benefit of the custom template route, with the assumption your team has brought in a subject matter expert, is the ability to write and tweak certain aspects of the template to better account for the way different mobile devices and email clients render parts of your emails. Most agencies will be working with familiar code snippets that they have been using and improving as emails evolve, so the focus is on making the email template truly your vision and less on pesky code nuances.
 

Creating email templates can be as much of a process as you want it to be. Just be aware of the tradeoffs at each part of your email prep journey. Out-of-the-box email templates are convenient and most likely free to use, but come with some rigid design limitations. Custom email templates require extra knowledge and more time to develop, but they also open a world of creative possibilities and can better serve your specific marketing needs. Need help deciding what to choose? Contact us.

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