Button Up Your Email

Have you ever found yourself standing in front of an automatic towel dispenser, waving your hands frantically over the hands-free scanner, praying for a towel to come out? Yeah, me too. Usually, if I wave my hands over, under and around the dispenser long enough, something comes out. The key word here is usually.  

A week ago, I found myself working up a sweat in front of a towel dispenser when a waitress finally came in and said, "Oh, you have to actually touch the button." To which I said, "But the button says hands-free." Her response? "Oh, it's wrong. You actually have to touch it."  Interesting. The directions were wrong and if that nice lady hadn't come in the room, I could still be standing there like an idiot waving my hands. Because the button said hands-free. 

This little interaction got me thinking about the importance of directions, or as we call them in the email universe: CTAs. We use buttons and links to tell people what action they need to take if they want to continue their shopping experience. They are the clicking points of your emails, and you'd best be spending some time crafting them.  

Think of buttons and links as mini billboards. You have six words or less to get your point across. Choose them wisely. While CTAs should be visually easy to spot and read, they don't have to be generic. Yes, sometimes down-and-dirty is your best bet, as in this Staples email. "Order Now" works, so why reinvent the wheel? That said, there is always a time and place to get a little creative with your CTA copy. Here are some quick Dos and Don'ts for how to push some buttons in your next email.

DO: Make the button a part of the story. By crafting your CTA to play off the headline, you suddenly have a story with a beginning, middle and end -- just like Piperlime does here and here. REI and Backcountry take the idea a step further by cutting out the body copy altogether. They let the headline and button tell the story in a clean and clever way.

Anthropologie knows how to have fun with its CTAs, and this Holiday '08 email showcases its brand voice to perfection. Free People shows off another fun way to incorporate the CTA visually in this email. If only the company had added a carrot or something to make the CTA a tad more obvious.

DO: Take the direct route when needed. Being too clever can backfire, so sometimes a direct CTA is the way to go, as Coach did here. The imagery and headline do the heavy creative lifting, while the "Shop Our Latest Jewelry" pulls the story together. And check out the way Coach added the "Free Shipping" bug just below the link. Sheer genius.

DO: Give customers the option to "Shop this Look." If you're showcasing one small piece of a larger collection in your email, give your customers the option to "Shop this Look" in addition to "Shop the Whole Collection." Tommy Bahama pulls it off nicely in this email.

DO: Try to think outside "Click Here." When emails first starting hitting the inbox way back when, we saw a lot of "Click Here" CTAs. But we've evolved. Using a "Click Here" in today's email world feels really old-school, and not in a cool retro way. If you find yourself taking the easy way out with a "Click Here" button or link, challenge yourself to reword the CTA without it. For example, Pottery Barn could have simply gone with "Learn More" in this email 

DON'T: Forget to include clear directions (remember the towel dispenser). If you're taking the time to send out an email and you have specific sales goals for that email, why wouldn't you direct people towards the experience you want them to have? Bottom line: You risk your click-through when you don't include a clear call-to-action.

Hollister makes a conscious creative decision to leave out the CTA altogether in its emails, like this one and this one. Maybe it's cooler on some level to the teen crowd (it'd be an interesting test, no?), but without a top nav. the lack of a CTA leaves customers hanging. Crate and Barrel emails are always on-brand, but the lack of a clear CTA leading to its Christmas landing page in this email feels like a huge miss. (Although, they win bonus points for the fantastic headline: "Deer Santa." Love it.)

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4 comments about "Button Up Your Email".
  1. Jim Couch from Lextant , November 17, 2009 at 12:33 p.m.

    I enjoyed this article, and the examples sited. However, I must confess that I read the entire article largely to see if the acronym "CTA" would ever be revealed. Chicago Transit Authority? Communication Tag Administrators? ...

    Given the second to last paragraph, I assume CTA means "call-to-action"? So much for assumptions, communications, and industry-specific jargon.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , November 17, 2009 at 4:43 p.m.

    To me, Macy's has a real problem. Go to their site, click on 96 per page view. Go through a couple of pages and click on an item. Whether you put it into your shopping bag or not, you click on continue shopping which takes you back to page one of 24 per page. How many lost customers has Macy's lost? Yes, I contacted them. No, after months they have not fixed it. There are a couple of people who need to learn how to use a mop.

  3. Darrah Maclean from Smith-Harmon , November 18, 2009 at 9:54 a.m.

    Ah Jim! Good point. My oversight. Yes! CTA means Call-to-Action. Note to self... include definitions of acronyms in future emails.

  4. Aaron Elliott from Townsend Communications , November 18, 2009 at 1:04 p.m.

    Great ideas and examples...but...for some reason I cannot access the link to "Try to think outside of 'click here'" email link. I'm not sure if it is a broken link, or if it just isn't loading correctly on my computer. Thanks