DMD’s Lab Report: The Art & Science of Healthcare Email explores insights, trends, and obstacles affecting healthcare email. From strategy to creative, deployment to reporting, we aim to address the most pressing issues healthcare marketers face.
Missing images, broken links, distorted text, misaligned bullet points—these are just a few of the design flaws users experience on the Outlook email platform. But, for healthcare marketers, the concerns surrounding deployments to Outlook users are far more problematic than visual dissonance.
Namely, emails not even reaching your intended targets.
In this edition of The Lab Report, we’ll quickly summarize why Outlook is such a thorn in healthcare marketers’ sides—at least until the newest version (Outlook 2021) becomes available.
Outlook Challenge #1: Deliverability
With any email marketing campaign, the goal is to achieve the highest reach—and most engagement—possible. With Outlook, both of those are often stymied. Why? It comes down to four factors.
1) Customization. Outlook is highly customizable. Some might say too customizable. There is an endless number of options—both at the exchange server level and the individual user level. This vast variability means deliverability is highly unpredictable. While an email may sail through the firewall at one hospital system, it could end up in “email jail” at another.
2) Security. This challenge can be summed up in one sentence: Outlook will never sacrifice ultimate security to make a user’s experience better. Even if a sender has previously seen successful deliverability, that doesn’t guarantee future emails will make it through the firewall—based on security criteria. This is especially challenging in healthcare, because of the heightened security parameters needed to protect sensitive information.
3) Interactivity. You deploy an email, and presto! Look at all those clicks. Unfortunately, the initial activity you see is likely not human-based clicks, but rather non-human security checks enacted by the firewall. This presents confusion for both marketing and sales, as neither department can be sure engagement is authentic.
4) External Forces. In addition to all the Outlook-specific obstacles to deliverability, a number of external factors can also temporarily or permanently impact deliverability. This includes things like IP reputation, black lists/block lists, bounces, creative considerations, and technical considerations (e.g. CAN-SPAM violations, link age).
Outlook Challenge #2: Design
While the messaging contained in an email is really the “sustenance” of the email itself, design does matter. Outlook doesn’t support even the most commonplace email innovations such as animated GIFs and video. Sometimes, Outlook will even remove links to videos. And that’s just the beginning.
Outlook will never sacrifice ultimate security to make a user’s experience better.
Outlook will oftentimes change your hand-selected email font to its designated “default” font (e.g. Times New Roman).
It also is very strict about images, and does not allow background images or even rounded corners on buttons.
As of now, there’s not much healthcare marketers can do about these antiquated parameters—except follow Outlook’s “rules.” So, when sending, you’ll need to consider potential rendering issues and design around them.
Microsoft 2021 Is Promising (But It Won’t Fix Everything)
The good news is, (some) change is on the horizon. Microsoft Office 2021 is expected to replace the current version in November, and will likely improve the user experience by allowing for more creative expression with HTML5, animated GIFs, CSS3, and Google AMP.
However, this version is not predicted to ease deliverability woes—and may bring even more security, further complicating the ability to deliver to Outlook inboxes. That’s why it’s so important to understand how to optimize design for Outlook, as well as establish a deployment strategy specific to Outlook inboxes.
If you’re wrestling with deliverability and/or engagement performance—regardless of which inbox provider you’re deploying to—our email scientists can help. In the meantime, download The Lab Report to get more information on Outlook’s challenges, as well as key best practices for building the “ideal” email for Outlook.