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Email Templates – Must Contain Season 2 Ep. 6 with Jon Larsen & Steve Reinhardt

Kristin and Kristin are joined by our first-ever guest duo – Jon and Steve from Upcraft.

In this episode, we talk email templates – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Listen in to learn more about the common template asks, how to migrate email templates from one marketing automation platform to another, and the joys of email rendering in Outlook.

If you need to get right to the good stuff, skip to 17:01 for this episode’s lessons.

Need template help? Reach out to Jon and Steve at Upcraft.

A reminder that we have an open call for guests. Submit your buzzword using this form or type the link into your browser –  We can’t wait to hear what topics you want to break down with us in Season 3. 


Hosted by Kristin Anne Carideo(KAC) and Kristin Crowe (OGK)

Intro: (00:00)
Theme song.

Kristin Crowe: (00:36)
Hi, I’m Kristin Crowe.

Kristin Carideo: (00:38)
And I’m Kristin Carideo.

Kristin Crowe: (00:40)
And this is Must Contain the podcast from Etumos where we help explain the how of marketing, although we can’t always explain the why.

Kristin Carideo: (00:48)
Join us every two weeks as we break down marketing and corporate topics and discuss what they really mean.

Kristin Crowe: (00:53)
And if you enjoyed this podcast, please remember to like follow or subscribe in all your favorite podcast platforms.

Kristin Carideo: (01:03)
Welcome back to Must Contain. I don’t know about you, Kristin, but as someone who’s been in marketing operations for a long time, I’ve done my fair share of cursing the world when I encounter some of the issues we’re talking about today.

Kristin Crowe: (01:15)
Ah yes, how fondly I remember those days. We are, of course, talking about email templates today and inevitably we’ll get some complaining about outlook.

Kristin Carideo: (01:26)
Yay, I love complaining. Plus, it’s an exciting day because it’s the first time we have had two guests, both from Upcraft, Jon Larsen and Steve Reinhardt. Can you guys give us a quick introduction to both you and to Upcraft?

Jon Larsen: (01:41)
Yeah, thanks for having us. So I actually have known Steve since high school. He was in an awesome band and I was a huge fanboy. Still am to this day. If they if they had a reunion show, I’d be there in a heartbeat. But we have been web developing kind of separately ever since then. And at a certain point, the stars aligned and we started working together at an agency.

It’s been about 15 years that we’ve been working pretty much every single day, working on marketing automation platforms, web dev and Marketo, Pardot, things like that. And it’s been since 2019 that we’ve been building out an agency that is highly focused on web dev.

Steve Reinhardt: (02:26)
Yes. What Jon said and we we left the agency really wanting to sort of carve a niche. We did a lot of full service stuff. So we definitely learned, were jacks of all trades. We have ops experience as well. So we decided, hey, let’s take all that experience and funnel it into web dev as it relates to MarTech.

So we can jump in to your website. We can, you know, whip up some email templates, landing page templates and sort of have the holistic approach because of our experience. And yeah, we’ve been I’ve personally been going- I’m going on 20 years, so we’ve been in it for the long haul. So we know if you have a question, we have an answer. It’s kind of like what we like to say.

Kristin Crowe: (03:12)
So we usually start by asking our guests to define our buzzword of the week. But in this case, I think it might be better just to have you give us a quick overview of what you think of when someone comes to you and says, Hey, I need email templates.

Jon Larsen: (03:26)
It’s usually one of three people we’re talking to. The first would be like a new Marketo user who’s looking to scale their operations fast. The second would be somebody that has legacy templates that are that are old. Maybe they look a little bit dated, they’re not rendering correctly. So there’s definitely a need for new templates and they just don’t look good and aren’t performing right. And then the last would be somebody who is going through a rebrand and they need something new to match the launch of their website or something like that.

Kristin Carideo: (03:56)
So when marketing operations managers come to you with these email template needs, what do you think is the biggest source of misunderstanding and how they are thinking about them?

Jon Larsen: (04:08)
Well, it’s pretty common that we start to talk to marketing operation managers, and they haven’t really thought through all of their use cases for what they want this email to do. So it’s common that in real time we figure out, okay, we need you. You have webinars, you have newsletters, do you have operational emails, and autoresponders like, what are all the different things you need? And then the other thing that can kind of be a little bit of a of a misunderstanding is like who’s going to design this?

Have, have you internally talked to your design team and gotten them on board with this email template design process? Are they busy? Do they not have time for this? Do they have a branding guide that they can send over to our team and we can kind of run with it? So these are the sort of things we kind of have to to run through and get cleared up early on.

Steve Reinhardt: (05:00)
Yeah, another another aspect is from a code perspective, a misunderstanding as to what emails can actually do and accomplish. So we have to sometimes tame some requests for embedded videos and kind of explain that, you know, some fancier stuff can’t happen in email and to to speak to what Jon said, designers and design involvement just the limitations there and knowing how to actually code for email specifically.

Kristin Crowe: (05:28)
What solutions are available for someone looking for email templates, particularly when they are using marketing automation platforms? You know, I’ve been consulting a while and people are always like, but I have this marketing platform, so I have email. I’m like, uhhh, so what are their options?

Jon Larsen: (05:44)
Well, there’s a lot of options these days. If we just speak of marketo the first option is you can use their starter email templates. And if anybody has ever spent 5 seconds to go to design studio, create an email and click one of the starter templates, you’ll find they’re a bit dated and they lack features and in most cases there’s things that are just stuck in that layout that you can’t make go away.

There’s like a CTA button in the header right next to a logo, and you can’t make the button go away. We actually spent some time working on a I don’t know why I did this, but I was I felt spontaneous and I went through all 30 plus of the starter templates and reviewed them. So that should be coming out shortly on our blog. But that’s the first option. You have those starter email templates.

The next option would be third party builder software, and that’s something that you’d log into externally. Use a drag and drop, edit or build your email out and import that directly into your platform as a template. Now, that’s different than a normal template because it’s kind of set in stone because you’ve edited it externally and you’ve kind of lost some, some functionality once you bring it into Marketo.

And then the last two options would be custom builds. So, you know, you start with a clean slate and design using Figma or XD, something very custom the way that you want it. And then we, we hand code that and then and then the fourth option would be all in one kitchen sink style template that’s modular, maybe has 30 or 40 different sections, all the different things that you could ever want in a template. You take other things you don’t need, and before you know it, you can cover three or four use cases really well.

Steve Reinhardt: (07:29)
And to just speak to the master template approach. I just wanted to add that it’s really powerful. So you have everything, you know, all those use cases are sort of baked into that master template. You can essentially, especially in Marketo, you can create sort of sub-templates that are from the master template, which are essentially just emails from the template. I mean, you can pop them in a folder and hand build your your use cases from there. It’s definitely a cost-effective route. It’s efficient and we find that a lot of a lot of clients opt for that.

Kristin Carideo: (07:57)
So are there major differences between maps, marketing automation platforms and how they handle email templates?

Steve Reinhardt: (08:04)
Yes, I think a common we could probably jump back to that first or second question, but that is a common misunderstanding as well, is that you can just take HubSpot email, migrate to market and just pop it in and off you go. I will say the code itself, the structure is the same. I mean, ideally it’s an email and it’s rendering across all, you know, clients at the end of the day.

It’s really the unique syntax of each of these platforms that sort of throws a wrench into things and they’re just not compatible with each other. So you’ll definitely want to work with a developer if you’re ever migrating and want to retain those emails because all that syntax would need to be stripped and migrated as well.

Kristin Crowe: (08:45)
A lot of our clients come to us while they’re going through a merger or an acquisition or they’re migrating from one platform to another and they need new email templates for a variety of different reasons. So what should people keep in mind if they’re migrating marketing automation platforms when it comes to their email templates?

Jon Larsen: (09:06)
I think the number one thing you want to keep in mind is that before you move anything before you plan on taking this template from HubSpot to Marketo or vice versa, you want to test, test, test whether it’s litmus, email on acid, make sure that that HTML is worth saving in a lot of cases. If it’s been if the email has been around and hasn’t been tested or updated, it’s probably time to start fresh. But test that HTML, make sure that everything is is rendering very well in outlook, responsive, Android, Outlook 120 BPI. So kind of take- or dark mode, so take it through the wringer and if it, if it’s still worth keeping, then you need to work with a developer that knows how to go in there and update the syntax for the, for the platform. It definitely requires some skill there.

Steve Reinhardt: (09:57)
And to speak to the testing, you might say, oh, we tested the heck out of that a couple of years ago. Software’s update all the time you might be testing in Outlook 2016 or there could have been an update to that software that triggered a new a new bug or whatever that might be. So testing is important, even if you’ve done it in the past, especially before a migration, so that you don’t move it over and say it broke because of the migration, you want to make sure you have that baseline.

Kristin Carideo: (10:24)
But speaking of that, I’m going to have a little Seinfeld moment right now. But what is the deal with outlook? What limitations are still a thing in 2022 with email rendering and outlook? How what are you guys seeing that relates specifically to that platform? Because I think that’s the one that almost everyone I know in marketing operations is really banging their head against the wall about forever.

Steve Reinhardt: (10:51)
Yeah, outlook is still an issue. We like to call it job security in email development land, but at the same time, we would love to see some of those issues go away in future outlook releases. But to speak to the big ones, rounded corners on buttons or any sort of button radius style is just not going to – not going to hang in outlook. There is a bulletproof button that when used causes – is starting to cause – like I said earlier, with the ongoing testing, it’s starting to cause issues in some web clients.

So we’ve actually said, hey, heck with it, let’s go back to our standard radius button and just let it be square in outlook, so rounded corners, background image issues, we do have a workaround for it, but it’s just an ongoing it has its quirks and its limitations. Issues arise with background images, one pixel lines, kind of our little secret sauce. We’re going to share with everyone is that, believe it or not, if you use an odd pixel value that will a lot of times cause a line usually below a block of text.

So if you have like a headline and there’s a line under it, check out what font size it is. And if it’s 15, 17, 19, you might want to consider an even number. And I think that’s due to outlook not being able to properly render the odd numbers, I don’t really know. I think it has a lot to do with just old code that they’re still using. There’s other reasons for one pixel line, so that’s not the only one. But I would start there if you’re having that issue. Let’s see.

Kristin Carideo: (12:24)
I think that’s totally insane, by the way. Like, yeah, it’s like the weirdest fact I have learned, I think to date on the podcast.

Kristin Crowe: (12:32)
Divisible by 2.

Steve Reinhardt: (12:34)
Yeah. So yeah, that’s a weird one. And like I said, there’s other reasons. So that’s not the solution to all those lines. But I would say half of them go away when you change those values. Pretty cool web fonts just don’t. You know, outlook does do not like web fonts. So you got to, you know, fall back to Arial or have Helvetica or Verdana one of those old school fonts. They do work and everything else, which is great.

The common thing with web fonts real quick, if you have outlook and you have a font stack and you’ve got your fancy font first, it might be Roboto or something like that. And then you comma and you say Ariel, comma, Helvetica, and you you stack down from there that actually will not work in outlook. Outlook will default to Times New Roman. So a lot of people will render tests. They’re like, where is that even coming from? And that is just a bug in outlook where if you start with a fancy web font, outlook isn’t going to ignore that.

It’s actually going to kind of glitch and default to Times New Roman. So there’s workarounds for that. We don’t have time to talk about today. But if you see times New Roman, it’s usually related to telling outlook to try to render Roboto and it doesn’t like to do that. I think that’s the majority of the sort of the big ones and there’s probably hundreds more because we deal with Outlook every day, all day. So

Kristin Carideo: (13:51)
Divide by two. Can’t do anything fancy with fonts.

Kristin Crowe: (13:54)
Yeah. Just basically put yourself back into like what, 2001 and that’s.

Jon Larsen: (14:00)
Pretty much.

Kristin Crowe: (14:01)
A nice working email in Outlook. Great, great. So moving away from Outlook as we all bang our heads on the wall, when you’re working on custom email templates with your clients, as I suspect you do a lot of what is something they ask for that you just sort of roll your eyes or you like secretly slack each other and are like, what? This again, how can we be good clients for email templates?

Jon Larsen: (14:30)
I think the number one thing is make sure that you’re working with a designer that really understands what email is capable of and what a good email design looks like because it’s there’s like we’ve talked about, there’s a lot of limitations and it just makes all of our lives easier. It makes the project a lot smoother when your designer is kind of on board with how that process should look and what the limitations are.

The second thing that sometimes we we roll our eyes at, it’s kind of a technical thing, but sometimes marketing ops managers, they can be very, very highly detailed and want a lot of control over a template that we’re building. And so for each of the little sections, they may be asking for like a dozen or more tweaks and variables for well we want to be able to change the color code for every tiny little thing. Some of this is very helpful like to be able to change like the top and bottom padding and things like this.

So we definitely build a lot of a lot of that stuff in from the get go. But we feel like there’s like a point where there’s diminishing returns when you’re starting to account for every single possible thing you could ever want to do, and that there needs to be a, you know, a toggle for this or that. So we we think it’s helpful to to kind of be realistic, particularly because we want this whatever emails are are actually sent out from a template. We want it to be on brand. And if you can change the color of everything, then it’s really easy for somebody to go in there and to, to create an email that’s that’s off brand. Those are a couple of things that we are really careful about.

Steve Reinhardt: (16:03)
And to speak to that we do like using variables. It’s extremely powerful. It’s okay to have a lot of them if they all make sense. It’s really those quirky, weird. What if we don’t want the first letter of the first headline? Can we have a toggle to turn off?

You know, and that’s when we kind of get okay and kind of rein it back because we can do those things. You can do a lot. You could do a lot of damage with variables and damage as a keyword, because the more you add in variables, the more layers of potential bugs show up. So we’re a big fan – fans of less is more. Keep it simple. And if you find that there’s a need that keeps keeps coming up with your marketing team, we can absolutely whip something up that’s special for that needed case.

Kristin Crowe: (16:46)
So keep it simple. I love that I think all things in Ops- we all need to think about that just because you can doesn’t mean you should. And I think with that, we will wrap it up. Thank you to our guests, Jon and Steve from Upcraft, who talked to us today about email templates. And here is what we’ve learned.

One, email templates have limitations both in how they can be implemented in your marketing operations tool and in how they render on various devices and platforms. Designers don’t always know how to design for email, so it’s important for marketing operations managers to understand a bit about what those limitations are, to be able to communicate why certain things are possible or not.

Two, the way you implement email templates is different across different marketing automation platforms. You can’t just copy paste HTML email template from Marketo into HubSpot. So there’s an advantage to working with a developer that understands the platforms well.

Three, Litmus or email on acid or other rendering platforms are your friend. Software gets updated all the time. You need to regularly test your email templates once they’re implemented. Like most things in MOPs, it’s not one and done.

Kristin Carideo: (17:55)
And that’s it for this episode of Must Contain and please pitch us some more ideas. Many of the season’s episodes have come from our Pitch form, which we will link in the show notes. We’ll be back in two weeks for another great MOPs topic. Until then, remember, if you’re still calculating things on spreadsheets, your process is not actually automated.

Kristin Crowe: (18:15)
This episode was produced by Kristin Crowe. Kristin Carideo, Lindsay Walter, Ali Stoltzfus and Claudia Lopez. It was edited by Kristin Crowe. Theme Music by Rusty Hall. Special thanks to Jon and Steve from Upcraft that’s it for must contain I’m Kristin Crowe and we’ll see you in two weeks.


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