Automation to Innovation: Bringing the human touch to your email program

A hybrid approach that balances templates with one-off campaigns leads to sustainable, scalable email programs that work for internal brand and agency teams.


  1. Speed and efficiency: Content creators know what is needed; the development and design is usually already baked.
  2. Easier learning curve for non-devs: Anyone from an email marketing manager to an intern can be empowered to handle the build of a templated email.
  3. Less resources required, more affordable: If outside agencies are leveraged to build the template, this is a one-time fee.
  4. Consistency/on-brand: Minimal concerns about whether the template itself being “on brand” as the likelihood of the template being on-brand reduces variables.
  1. Carbon-copies: The template can start to “templatize” an email program, which can lead to user fatigue and disinterest.
  2. Limitations on customization: All content is treated agnostically, which means that customization based around a specific product or content strategy isn’t really possible.
  3. Built to the Email Service Provider: The email will be based around what the ESP can do, which can often be restrictive.
  4. Design drives content instead of content driving design: Any good designer will tell you that designs are driven by the content they comprise. As such, this approach forces users “upstream” to constrict their content to the confines of the template. Either they will, or they won’t; either scenario is not ideal.


  1. Content drives design: As it should be! The design can actually be influenced by the content created. Both can work symbiotically.
  2. Software-agnostic: The software doesn’t define the design.
  3. Customization has no bounds: Custom design and development can lead to more innovative concepts unique to the subject at hand.
  1. Inconsistencies: No technical restrictions can mean that humans are responsible for maintaining style guides (if they exist) and branding consistency.
  2. Requires more resources: Because everything is customized from strategy through deployment, it is likely you will need more individuals with specific skill sets and more time.


  1. Guardrails for consistency, opportunities for innovation: It can be challenging in an email program to prioritize what’s most important. By setting some “guardrails” around the automated program, you can get some of the branding elements out of the way (header, footer, etc). One-off campaigns can then leverage that work, and build from there. The focus will then be on innovation, not retroactively fitting a one-off email into a system.
  2. Iterative process, supports learning agenda: The hope is with some automation, you can focus your on-going resources into evolving the program as a whole. Our team has found success in establishing a learning agenda, that prioritizes what data we want to collect on our user, and reformulating the email program around that. We can then slot in one-off and templated emails to do the work, and build new aspects as needed.
  3. Flexible, continuing improvement, embracing change, adaptation: Templates lack the ability to really evolve. Evolution in a template basically is a redesign. Instead, the hybrid model encourages continual adaption. Through our learning agenda, we can strategically place small nuances (that fit with our testing strategy for example) as needed. If the client needs to re-pivot the email strategy because of larger campaign shifts, the email program is lean enough to adapt to this.
  4. Consistency and cohesion: The magic of the template is the consistency. This hybrid approach allows brands to look at both templated and one-off sends through the lens of the brand, and determine what that spectrum can encompass.
  5. Shared vocabulary: Strategists, Content, Design and Development are forced to think about how their decisions affect the broader design system. In this approach, no one department is responsible for “enforcing” the rules or restrictions of the approach. Instead, the entire team informs how the hybrid model is created (due to the nature of it being defined by client instead of industry terms).
  1. Nebulous concept, hard to communicate to clients and set boundaries for them as well as the team: One-off and template approaches are usually table stakes, and widely understood by most email savvy clients. Agencies and internal teams can hit the ground running once that binary decision is made. A hybrid approach requires upfront discovery work to determine what the hybrid model will look like for that particular brand or client. As such, teams not versed in this approach can have a hard time formulating the plan and sticking to it.
  2. Long game approach: While the hybrid approach is magical in its scalability, there is a certain economy of scale that is required to make it most effective. Very, very small email programs may find this approach to be too much upfront work for the payout of one email a month, for instance. However, we’d argue that every email program benefits from creating efficiencies. Even if that means creating efficiencies so that you can focus on non-email initiatives.




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Heidi Olsen

Heidi Olsen

Senior Developer by day, Fun Professional by night

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