We have set up Marketo and my manager was told that 95% of Marketo users make use of the templates provided, but we seem to be having a lot of difficulty with these. Would love to know what others are doing regarding email creation?
I think there is a ton of value in a well built custom template! I've personally not had a ton of luck with the out-of-the-box templates offered, but they can be an ok starting point if needed.
Some of my favorite options, (there are tons out there).
One word of advice - You get what you pay for, I would be wary of template costs that sound too good to be true!
As a last resort Marketo's starter email templates can be useful. My experience has not been that anywhere close to 95% of teams actually use those templates and if they do, it's not long before they're looking for a better solution. Where you'll find the value in the Marketo Starter Layouts is in having something ready and tested "as-is" if you need to get something out and don't have concerns for rebranding or changing up the layout at all. Granted, that's not really a "real world" solution, but they're there as a backstop so you can at least do something fancy with the editor.
I really agree with Jessica here that you no doubt get what you pay for when it comes to email setup.
If you've ever rented a car or moving truck and haven't been able to move the driver seat up/down and had to drive the entire way in an uncomfortable position -- you'll know exactly what this is like. It's possible to get a deal on email (or a rental) but you might not even think to consider if the seats actually move or not (because you'd assume someone else already thought of that) and might be in for a crappy ride.
While this might sound like bad news, in all honesty, sometimes you've just got to get something out the door and the minimum viable product (cheapest, best and fastest) is what you're after. You'll find plenty of these solutions around the internet if you're ever in a pinch to get something out.
In general I see email "templates" falling into one of 3 categories:
1) As-is, layout based: These are usually hard-coded or inflexible emails that are purpose built to do just one thing and do it well. It's hard to argue with "Free" as a cost for a value assessment here, but the lurking costs of updates and complex edits whenever you want something changed make these a "cost center" moving forward in my experience. It's easy to write bad code that works, but it's much harder for someone else to fix it when things change moving forward.
2) Kitchen Sink: Audit all your use-cases and create a specific collection of modules (i.e. Speaker Module, Webinar Module, etc) that you can just drop into different layouts as needed. These usually have a TON of modules that are specific to some use case. Kitchen Sink templates are usually "everything you need right now" but not as future-proof as you'd like them to be. In some cases, I'd expect the cost of something like this to run close to the cost of a modular template at the end of the day. Where you'd be gaining value here is in not having to recreate a template for each new use-case but where you'd be losing value is when anything changed and you needed a new module (b/c you can't just break em apart and stack em back together)
3) Modular: A more refined version of the "kitchen sink" approach, this is more a collection of individual elements that you'd stack up to create more complex setups. Modular emails are usually more flexible (universal) but also more expensive. Where you'd gain value here is over the long-run (3-4yrs in my experience) and where you'd lose value is if you only needed something simple or "fixed".
My best advice here is think about your future self and where you want your email game to be in a few years and work backwards to the best way to get there. Where I've seen this go wrong (and get expensive to fix) is when the short-term solution (band-aid) turns into "the solution" (foundation) and things just kind of spiral from there into a bunch of different iterations and mess.