Email Peeps 28: Thomas Defossez
What attracted you to email marketing, and how did you get to where you are today?
As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be an email designer 😉 My journey is unconventional: I pursued a Bachelor’s in Fine Arts at the University, aiming to become an elementary school teacher. After obtaining my degree, I underwent specialized training at the University Institute for Teacher Training (IUFM) to teach 3-year-old children. But due to the pressure I put on myself, I quickly resigned. “🎶 Pressure ! Pushing down on me… 🎵 ”
With little time to find a job (rent to pay, food to buy), I sat down and asked myself, “What do I genuinely love doing?”. Spending time in front of a computer. Painting. So, I decided to pursue a dual training as a Multimedia Designer and Integrator. Makes sense, right?
The training required me to find an apprenticeship. I secured this at what was formerly Experian CheetahMail, then Experian, and now Marigold. There, I learned to code my emails, initially on paper, the old-fashioned way, you know the drill. I quickly became fascinated by the task and the daunting challenge at the time: trying to achieve the same pixel-perfect appearance across all email environments 🤯.
During my training at the school, I was fortunate to have Rémi Parmentier (aka Hteumeuleu, the creator of CanIEmail) as my HTML and CSS integration instructor. It’s a sign, I’m sure of it now.
After a year, with the diploma in hand, I continued my role as an email integrator at Experian. Later, I had the opportunity to work in a web agency as a web designer and front-end developer. I then started my own agency, where I quickly returned to my initial passion: email marketing.
Then, everything fell into place: Badsender, a French email marketing blog and agency, became my biggest client. I joined their team in 2017 as Lead Email Designer and Email Developer. Since then, I’ve had a blast every day, primarily creating innovative email designs and email design systems.
What’s your favorite email design or coding hack?
In terms of email design, my favorite tip is to create a component system on Figma (with variants, booleans, texts). It requires a lot of planning upfront, but what a time-saver in the end when you have many emails to produce! I also think that we don’t give the proper value to the work of Retina visuals: a Retina image is inevitably larger than a standard image. I tend to say that it can, therefore, be even more compressed. This allows for achieving greatly reduced image file sizes while still maintaining very good quality.
In terms of HTML code for emails, I’d say one of my favorite tricks is Nicole Merlin’s Spongy Code method to display a mobile version of an email everywhere, even when media queries or the <style> tag aren’t supported. Honestly, I also wish that metadata to set an expiration date in an email worked: I’d love to see the project of automatically deleting an email come to life! I also, of course, think about the padding and margin properties that clearly aren’t utilized enough today: I still see so many emails being sent with spacing generated using empty cells… I am… A little… Disappointed…
Are there any easy ways marketers can enhance their emails to make them more interactive?
There are plenty of easy ways! Add hover effects to buttons, or an image change effect when hovering over a product, for instance. I’d echo Alice Li in saying that the CSS pseudo-selectors :hover and :checked allow for a lot of creativity. I actually had fun creating an email themed around my long-time friend, E.T. the extraterrestrial, for example. There are also Gmail annotations, pixel art, or even focusing on a design entirely in HTML and CSS, for instance, without images. Or playing with the email’s width (with horizontal emails), or cinemagraphs or looping animated gifs: interactivity and novelty aren’t solely in the code!
There are many others solutions to make an email interactive: carousels, countdowns, tabs, forms, hotspots, interactive quizzes, changing gradients… The problem is that they aren’t easy to implement. Firstly, because they usually require a lot of code, but also because one must consider what will happen if the interaction isn’t supported and what the fallback version will look like! On numerous designs and developments for fun, I endeavored to insert and test these more complex effects: like in the redesign of the Olympia email (a concert hall in France) with cinemagraph effects, neon effects, and horizontal gradients on texts, a panorama… I also tested forms and hotspots in an email for my email designer certification by Litmus on a Deezer email (a competitor to Spotify). It was a lot of fun, but complex to set up. As I often say, ‘Get to know your recipients to determine which designs, which innovations, and which coding method to choose.’
I also believe that these innovations shouldn’t just be a treat for email geeks. One should first consider their real utility (from a marketing standpoint), as they represent a significant amount of code in an email.
What’s in your email marketing toolbox?
- A PC that’s not the newest and runs on Windows. Nothing too fancy.
- Three monitors: it makes me feel like an air traffic controller. “Roger, the runway is clear.”
- A JBL speaker to always work with music from Radiohead, Thom Yorke, and Nick Drake. I CAN’T work in silence.
- A rather basic Samsung A41, but it gets the job done.
- Always a coffee mug (more or less filled with cold coffee).
- Figma, of course. I can’t live without it. It’s my drug.
- Adobe Dreamweaver. I’d like to get into Parcel, but I have my old habits.
- Combo of ScreenToGif and Ezgif for capturing screenshots to post in my articles.
- Fable: a lovely discovery, very handy for making short animations.
- EmailOnAcid (even though I also love the Litmus team, don’t hold it against me, guys!)
- Spotify (for the same reasons as for the speaker).
- Squoosh: to reduce the weight of the images in email.
- Html Crush and Emailcomb
- And of course, CanIEmail
- “Stop! In the name of looooove ! 🎵” I forgot the slack for the emailgeeks.
My control tower with the three screens and my entire collection of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial figurines and merchandise.
How can marketers streamline their email production processes?
By creating an email design system, composed of graphic components (modules created through atomic design), technical components (code), and documentation (written on platforms like Zeroheight, for example). This combination of elements allows marketers to know what’s possible or not in an email, depending on the type of email, for instance. It also saves time in the quality control process of the emails produced. Ideally, it should be paired with a content style guide to simplify the writing of textual content.
Then, by preparing their design on Figma and using variables (to prepare color variations for Dark Mode or widths for the mobile version), recording text and color styles, components and their instances, component properties (like variants, booleans, instance swap, text, nested instances), libraries, auto-layout, and plugins like “Text Styles Generator” to generate recorded text styles, or Google Sheets Sync to prepare textual content on Google Sheets and automatically update a mockup on Figma… This platform truly saves a ton of time in email design!
Lastly, by inserting or creating their email templates or customized modules in standalone email builders or those that are part of ESPs. I spend a lot of time currently testing this type of email builder. I then write articles about them (Stripo, Pardot Lightning, Hubspot, Mailchimp, Emarsys). Some are behind the curve, while others, on the contrary, show great potential and very impressive features. At Badsender, we’ve even decided to develop our own Email Builder, named “Le Patron”. With our team of designers (of which I am a part), you can obtain templates with tailor-made modules and quickly construct any type of email you need.
Whose email newsletters do you consistently make time to read?
That of Badsender, of course! But as of now, we haven’t had the time to prepare the English version. As a result, there’s no registration form on the site for the English version… I’m sorry if you were hoping to sign up. Otherwise, I’m subscribed to newsletters from Action Rocket, All Things Email, Ted Goas, Stripo, Really Good emails, No More Tables… I try to follow as many as possible to make sure I don’t miss out on anything! I truly miss receiving newsletters from Megan Boshuyzen and EmailMarketingTipps…
How do you manage work-life balance?
Well before the arrival of Covid, Badsender had already adopted 100% remote work. As a result, I set up an office at home. At Badsender, we have a philosophy that goes, “Arrange your schedule however you want, as long as the work gets done (and done well).” I love this mantra. Sometimes I take time to garden (my big passion) and give my dog some tickles. It helps clear my mind. I also spend a lot of time with my family as soon as my daughters come home from school. That’s the most important thing : Play hopscotch, jump rope, and put leaves and things found in the garden into water and soil. So, I stop working at 5 pm.
But I have a bad habit of working again in the evening. That’s the problem with full remote: it’s very hard to disconnect. And being passionate about what I do doesn’t help… Proof of that, it’s 2:15 in the morning, and I’m still here writing.