May 23, 2018

What Email Marketers Can Learn From the Original Apple iPod

ipod illustration

It was about being very focused and not trying to do too much with the device—which would have been its complication and, therefore, its demise… the key was getting rid of stuff.

That quote is from Jony Ive, the lead designer of many of Apple’s iconic products, in this case the iPod. While Apple does a lot of stupid things (getting rid of MagSafe and headphone ports, fucking up laptop keyboards, etc.), there’s one thing they almost always get right: Simplicity. Although Jony Ive was talking about product design, email marketers could learn a lot from his work and Apple’s overarching focus on simplicity.

Far too often, email marketers (or the stakeholders making the demands) try to cram as much as they possibly can into an email campaign. Product updates, company news, surveys, and events jockeying for position in the same email. Little thought is given to the content other than trying to fit it all in. Subscribers are overwhelmed. Email campaigns are ineffective.

It isn’t just email content, either. The underlying email strategy suffers, too. Especially with retailers, the cry is for, “More, more, more!” More emails, at all hours of the day, for “limited time only” sales that happen every damned day of the week, month after month. The desire to send more emails in the hopes of driving engagement works directly against that goal.

Jony Ive knew that more is rarely better. While competitors were busy cramming more features and specs into their MP3 players, Apple focused on getting rid of the things an MP3 player didn’t need. They focused on stripping the product down to its core, and the results were revolutionary.

In the same vein, email marketers should consider overhauling their own strategies and email campaigns. Audit your emails, document everything you send, then take an honest, painful look at those emails and see what you can kill. Strip onboarding drips down to their essentials. See which emails people actually open and dump the rest. Find out what content subscribers are actually interested in (hint: it’s not everything) and leave the rest on your blog.

Be thoughtful. Be focused. Be ruthless.

We might not be able to replicate the success of the iPod, but chances are that we can blow our competitors out of the water, just by stripping emails and the strategy behind them down to the basics.