Great email marketing campaigns & what you can learn

Email marketing strategy: uncovering industry fails and holy grails

As we usher in an era of digital transformation, countless channels have emerged online for all sorts of marketing purposes. Despite the growing number of channels, however, marketers still rely on perfecting campaigns with a solid email marketing strategy.

There’s a simple reason why email marketing has been around for many years: it works. Indeed, many organizations today found success in acquisition through their email marketing strategies. The good news is you can make it work for you too. Read on as we pick apart some great (and not-so-great) email marketing campaigns, go over key elements of a good strategy, and give tips to help boost your business.

Table of contents

Why do you need an email marketing strategy?

an artwork of a white envelope tearing through a vibrant yellow surface

A creative email blast illustration by Art Astronaut via 99designs by Vista.

One major advantage of email marketing is its affordability. Email marketing is an effective platform for communication that won’t break the bank. But there’s more to this marketing channel than cost-cutting.

Here are the top reasons why you need to hop on board the email marketing train.

1. To gather relevant data about your customers

Email marketing is an excellent way to experiment and collect data. By adding information-gathering tools like polls, surveys, and feedback forms to your email content, you quickly create a pipeline of data.

Regularly running an A/B test or split test should also be a huge part of your email marketing strategy. A/B testing involves comparing two versions of a campaign targeted to several segments. This method informs you of how certain groups react toward different versions of a campaign. Similar to a compass, your audience’s behavior leads to your decisions.

Depending on the response, you may need to change the copy, images, layout, or subject line of your campaign. The timing and frequency of your email are also crucial. Finally, consistency is key in A/B testing and can make a huge difference in the success of your campaign.

Aside from email campaigns, A/B tests can be applied to social media posts, FB ads, and blog titles, to name a few.

a woman stands on top of a ladder while holding a large magnifying glass over a giant funnel in shades of blue and red

Marketing funnel illustration source via vectorjuice

2. To target customers across their purchase journey

The type of email you send to a consumer must vary depending on where they are in their purchase journey. This journey starts from awareness to consideration, intent, purchase and retention. The content of your email must adapt to what the consumer is currently looking for, whether that’s further information about your product or a receipt of their purchase.

Stay connected and encourage engagement with the following email types:

  • Promotional emails: Got discounts? Promotional emails inform subscribers about special offers and upgrades on your products and services.
  • Newsletters: Newsletters are periodic digests on your past developments and future updates. These are a great way to keep your customers involved in your progress.
  • Behavioral emails: These are personalized emails that move your customers through their journey. Some examples that you can automate are welcome messages, recommendations, reminders, and re-engagements.
  • Transactional emails: Transactional emails are automated messages sent to complete or confirm a transaction. These include account confirmation, purchase receipts, and updates on social media.

3. Your loyal customers appreciate it

Extending your customer service through email, whether in the form of exclusive offers, periodic newsletters, customer support and queries for feedback, is more personal than social media posts. It’s also the preferred method by most customers.

Social media chats are often reserved for personal conversations and queries that demand immediate answers. Emails, on the other hand, allow the customers to respond without pressure.

4. Email marketing ROI wins over social media marketing returns

Social media is undoubtedly essential to your marketing campaigns, primarily because of its wide reach and unhindered accessibility for a range of audiences. You can gather customer insights through social listening, build communities, and increase your engagement reach to a specific demographic through different social media sites.

a man holding a laptop points at an image icon in front of him. Behind him is a giant red arrow pointing up and a blue target

Marketing ROI illustration source via vectorjuice

But the clamor that social media gets is a double-edged sword. With the number of brands present on social media platforms, the competition in the space is rigid. Not to mention having a share of the spotlight can require a hefty budget.

In fact, if you do a side-by-side comparison of the return you’ll get if you invest in social media marketing and the return you’ll have if you invest in email marketing, you’ll soon find out that you’ll gain more with the latter.

According to a survey done by Litmus, every dollar spent on an email marketing campaign generates $36, higher than most other channels. If you need proof that email marketing works, then this is it.

Of course, this doesn’t have to be an either-or situation. You can still make use of both marketing approaches and get the best of both worlds. For example, you can use social media marketing to boost your email marketing campaign by gaining a wider reach and getting more customer leads.

Three email marketing campaign fails

Like anything in life, if it’s worth it, it’s not easy. While email marketing campaigns are highly effective, they can be challenging to execute. Even big brands are not immune to committing marketing blunders. Before we give you the best practices in email marketing, take note of the following mistakes so you can hone your strategy to perfection.

BuzzFeed and the clickbait subject line

A screenshot of Buzzfeed’s email marketing newsletter entitled 23 People Who May Be Getting Fired Today

Image via Zapier

With their clickable headlines and viral content, many get hooked on BuzzFeed. But this wasn’t the case for one of their newsletters. The newsletter entitled “23 People Who May Be Getting Fired Today” showcased a compilation of videos of employees and their comical blunders in the workplace.

Why it didn’t work

While the headline was spot on and the content was funny, no one was laughing when they read the email’s subject line: “Hi, You’re fired.”  Many subscribers panicked upon seeing the subject line pop up on their phones. Some also saw it as a poor attempt to clickbait.

Suffice it to say that they lost the trust of some of their subscribers that day.

Flickr’s desperate plea for support

In 2018, SmugMug acquired the photo-sharing platform Flickr with the hope of saving it from shutting down. While SmugMug implemented improvements to the platform, Flickr continued to lose money. In a desperate attempt, the new CEO appealed to all subscribers to upgrade to a Pro account so they could help keep Flickr online.

Flickr CEO’s plea for help sent in a newsletter

Screenshot of Flickr CEO’s letter via Engadget

Why it didn’t work

Flickr’s transparency to its customers was commendable. However, the length of the email made it a difficult read. Also, while some of the points raised might have been true, the message could have been delivered without attacking other social media platforms. In the end, the desperate call failed to persuade the majority of subscribers to upgrade to a Pro account.

Amazon’s baby registry hiccup

a crawling baby with a message that there is a baby gift on the way

Baby registry email from Amazon via Twitter

Amazon is an online one-stop shop for every gift you can think of. They are also known for giving away freebies, discounts and other offers from time to time. Millions of people got a surprise in their inbox when Amazon sent an email alerting shoppers that someone purchased them a gift from their baby registry.

Why it didn’t work

Surprise gifts are great. But not when they’re sent to the wrong people. It turns out that the recipients of the email were largely shoppers who weren’t expecting babies at all. Some subscribers found it funny and shared it on social media, but others found it deeply offensive.

Mistakes happen, but they can be avoided. As your business grows, you will have thousands of subscribers in your database. It is best to carefully segment these and run tests before launching your email campaigns to avoid mistakes.

Best email marketing campaigns

It takes hard and deliberate work to craft a successful email marketing strategy. When pulled off correctly though, it brings tremendous gains to your company. Below are examples of companies that did their email marketing campaigns right.

BBC 3’s The Young Offenders new season premiere

a funny image of two guys struggling to keep their balance on a bike

See the animated email in action via BBC3

The Young Offenders is a comedy series premiering its second season on BBC 3. To alert viewers, the network sent an email notifying their subscribers to watch the new episodes online.

Why it worked

Sometimes, simplicity can go a long way. A straightforward yet creatively executed email layout can effectively grab attention and communicate your message in one glance, which is exactly what the designers did with this email marketing design.

Upon opening the email, your eyes go straight to the stars of the show who, because of the animation, seem to be coming at you. The message is simple: they’re here and ready to be seen. At the bottom of the email is a clear call-to-action button, which reiterates the message behind the animation.

No one has the time to read an essay. In fact, more than 61% of emails are read in under eight seconds. So make each element of your content count. Be clear and direct with what you want to say to your customers. Keep your content interesting by incorporating interactive images like GIFs. But don’t animate more than two elements of your content; doing so can result in a messy visual.

an open box with a glass of multivitamins in the center with the expected delivery date and tracking order link below it

Ritual email screenshot via Klaviyo

Ritual’s confirmation email

Ritual is a company reinventing essential multivitamins by optimizing them for women. Below is a purchase confirmation email that it did differently but effectively.

Why it worked

Confirmation emails are typically text-heavy thank you letters with a link to an order number. Ritual jazzed it up with some creative yet minimalist content by showing an image of the product, key shipping information, and clear call-to-action buttons. Plain texts were turned into imagery.

They also offered a referral incentive to increase reach and encourage engagement with the community. Finally, all the elements are carefully laid out in a clean template which is convenient for browsing.

Who Gives A Crap’s update on stocks

an announcement that toilet papers from Who Gives A Crap are back in stock

Who Gives A Crap Toilet paper’s back email via Klaviyo

Who Gives A Crap, a toilet paper company ran out of supplies because of the pandemic. Once they were able to bring in new stocks in limited supply, they notified their subscribers with the following message.

Why it worked

The headline “Toilet paper’s back!” is enough to catch the attention of anyone running low on supply. A brief explanation of the current situation followed by a new ordering system prevented subscribers from panic buying, which has become a common occurrence during the pandemic period.

They also encouraged engagement among their subscribers by adding a feature that lets the company know whether the subscriber is in urgent need of toilet paper or not. This helped the company sort their delivery schedules according to which customers are in dire need of the product and which ones can afford to wait. Of course, it also helped that the message was delivered in a lighthearted and funny way.

Function of Beauty’s apology letter to your hair

an apology letter to damaged hair with a half-opened canister of hair mask at the bottom

Email screenshot of apology letter via Ferreys

Many of us are guilty of putting our hair under stress with damaging chemicals and treatments. If only we could apologize for our hair. But that’s exactly what Function of Beauty did in their email.

Why it worked

This was an unusual and quirky take that many subscribers did not expect. From the subject line to the content, the casual tone of the letter was reflective of Function of Beauty’s fun and friendly brand personality.

They were able to express the same sentiments over the challenges of hair care like how everyone’s favorite aunt gives advice. While the copy was short, it was able to deliver a solution and encourage users to purchase the product.

ThredUp’s abandonment issues

a low cut neckline brown dress with black polka dots

Abandoned cart email from ThredUp via activecampaign

Abandoned carts may result from expensive shipping fees, complicated check-out systems, or customers simply forgetting about them. ThredUp, an online clothing shop, sent an abandoned cart email to win back customers.

Why it worked

There are different ways to optimize your abandoned cart emails. One of these is by showing or highlighting a product or two from the cart. This certainly works, especially if the said items are on special promotion. Add to that a playful CTA and a reward for sharing their website.

This approach creates a win-win situation that’s certainly hard to resist. On one hand, they can purchase the product at a discounted price. Otherwise, they can refer the website to a friend and still get a reward in return.

Key elements of a successful email marketing strategy

There are so many elements to think about including in your email marketing design, the baffling question is often where to start? What are the key ingredients you simply can’t do without?

1. A neat, effective email database

Did you know that companies that ran segmented campaigns reported a 760% increase in revenue?

Great email content is wasted if it’s sent to the wrong people. This is why an orderly, effective database plays a big role in the success of your email marketing strategy. Begin with having a good source of leads. If you are a retail shop, check with your walk-in clients and existing clients. You can also use social media to gather leads through gated content and ads.

Strive to maintain an email database with high potential for conversion and loyal subscribers. Weed out inactive email addresses and subscribers with low interest.

2. Skimmable, relevant and personal content

Everyone’s attention span is narrowing. For millennials, it’s as short as 12 seconds. For Gen Z’s, eight seconds. This is a challenge for marketers for whom attention is the currency. With millions of content online and offline, you need quality content to retain customers’ attention.

an email from Singify app with a phone in the center lying face up. It has three steps on how to use the app indicated at the bottom

A clean email design template by SFicu via 99designs by Vista.

Our advice: less is more. Create a clear and concise email copy. If you are sending out a newsletter, avoid lengthy texts and use appropriate headings and subheadings.

It is also important to get personal and humanize your content. Addressing your subscribers by name is one way to do this. Another is to allow your subscribers to customize their experience. Let them choose the frequency of emails they want to receive. They can select the types of information they prefer and provide feedback or rate their experience.

3. A catchy headline

A poor subject line and headline are an invitation to the spam box. When formulating copies, combine power words, keywords and expected results. Power words are those that persuade and provoke curiosity. Appeal to your customer’s emotions with words like luxurious, intriguing, strange and effortless.

Pro tip: Do not go overboard. A headline aims to grab attention, not to fool. Watch out for words that trigger spam as well and should be used with caution.

4. Metrics tracking

Keep your email marketing strategy on track with key metrics. Improve campaigns as needed based on the results of the following metrics:

a black dog with a red collar and a giant magnifying glass in its mouth is looking at graphs

Black dog looking at graphs by Spoon Lancer via 99designs by Vista.

  • Open rate: This indicates how many of your subscribers opened your email. Aim for a 15-25% open rate.
  • Click-through-rate: Click-through-rate or CTR is the number of people who clicked on the links in your email. The average CTR is 2.6%
  • Bounce rate: Not all emails are received successfully. This is referred to as an email bounce. Email bounces are caused by an invalid address or mail server error to name a few. Your bounce rate should be under 2%.
  • Conversion rate: This refers to the number of subscribers who took desired actions upon reading your email. If you send a welcome email and they end up sharing your website, then this is a successful conversion.
  • Return on Investment:  Your return on investment (ROI) rate determines how much you gained from your campaign investment. This is your ultimate measure of success.

5. Email testing

Technical glitches happen more often than you think. Using previews and sending test tools can go a long way in preventing these from happening. Consider running your campaign on spam tools as well.

6. Functional email design template

Aesthetics play a major role in retaining your subscribers’ attention. A functional email design template balances good copy with the visuals. It should trigger your subscribers’ interest at a glance.

Be creative and don’t be afraid to add animated images, videos, and more colors. Some visual elements like GIFs, when strategically placed, may result in a better response. Mind your white spaces, too, for a clean layout.

a laptop screen, a mobile screen and a tablet screen showing a responsive email template

Responsive email design by alexbombaster via 99designs by Vista.

Nearly half of email opens are from mobile phones. So, it would work best in your favor if your email templates were mobile-responsive.

Email marketing design tips for better results

There are more ways to improve your email marketing designs. Take a look at the following tips to boost your results:

Add emojis on your subject line

Emojis are an easy and quick way to convey emotions in your texts. What was once frowned upon and considered unprofessional is now an effective method to connect with your customers. A study shows that brand emails with emojis in their subject lines had a 56% higher open rate than those without. In a sea of text-heavy subject lines, emojis catch the attention of your readers.

two email subject lines with a heart emoji and a bowl of food emoji are highlighted in yellow

A screenshot of emails with emojis in their subject lines

Depending on your brand voice, you can add emojis to your subject lines to increase your open rate. But, you have to be mindful of who your audience is. For instance, many moms have confused the laughing emoji with the crying emoji while offering their condolences.

Coldplay arguably missed the mark with their recent release of an album featuring songs named after emojis—it left pretty much everyone puzzled. The tip is to keep your audience at the front of your mind. Will they get it? Add emojis that are relevant to your message and can communicate effectively with the people you want them to.

Make sure the emojis you choose should be supported by all devices or you’ll end up with a very unforgiving symbol.

Create interactive emails with videos

a man hits a tree while skiing in the snow. A green tube of Mountain Ice ointment pops out with a list of organic ingredients that help reduce pain

Creative video by Maryia Dziadziulia via 99designs by Vista.

Videos are easy to digest. They allow you to present nuggets of information or tell a story in a fraction of the time it may take to read a text-heavy email. They also create a more interactive experience. Embed a video or create a static play button and link it to the video on other platforms. This is a good way to break text-heavy email content.

For best results, get personal. Let your subscribers take a peek at how your team works and what happens within your community. Tailor your video content for every campaign segment.

Make the unsubscribe button highly visible

Getting subscribers is not an easy feat. But it is far worse to have upset subscribers reporting your emails as spam because they cannot unsubscribe. Unsubscribe links are mandated by law to protect consumers. But worry not as these links can actually work in your favor.

The unsubscribe button helps you to refine your database by getting rid of inactive or uninterested subscribers. This way, you can avoid getting thrown in the spam box too. Also, take every opt-out as an opportunity to get honest feedback for improvements.

Spice it up with a snake layout

three separate images of a guitar, an Asian man wearing headphones while holding a guitar, and an open notebook

Email design with a snake layout by isa9191 via 99designs by Vista.

Long-form email campaigns like newsletters can look cluttered and lose focus on important points. Adapt a snake layout to break up the key messages. This layout guides the reader’s eyes back and forth for an effortless read.

Get help from design pros

The increase in free marketing tools gave rise to DIY marketers. With the right amount of creativity, marketing knowledge and tutorials, you can probably get by. But not everyone has the time to learn these tools, much less to develop the skills to use them effectively. Some are better at strategizing than implementing designs.

Email design, like any branding tool, is beyond creating pretty things to look at. Save yourself the hassle and consider hiring a professional designer to breathe life into your strategies.

Strike gold with your email marketing strategy

There is no single formula for perfecting a successful email marketing strategy. But you can equip yourself with these tips as you build your way up. Set your goals, make informed decisions and find a balance between design and copies. If you do this correctly, you can reap all the benefits email marketing has to offer.

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Author: Rhalyn Claire Maske