Critical Trends In Email Design

Last week we unveiled the 2011 Email Design Look Book, which celebrates outstanding email design and copywriting from 20 brands. While each email stands alone as a fantastic example of marketing, together they illuminate several trends that will be vital to email marketing success in the coming years.

Personalization. One of email's key strengths and differentiators is the ability to segment messages and personalize the content. The inbox is a personal space that's shared with emails from friends and family. Email's one-to-one capabilities give it the potential to attain parity with the personal emails in a subscriber's inbox. Marketers should be constantly trying to demonstrate that they know each subscriber. 

The most powerful example of personalization in the Look Book is an email from LinkedIn. Sent in January, the email notified subscribers of how many of their connections found jobs last year -- a tough year, to say the least. The main portion of the email was a grid that included the profile pictures of some of those newly employed connections, complete with alt text for each image with the person's name. It's a phenomenal example of true one-to-one messaging. 



Triggered emails. Proving that email marketing isn't a batch-and-blast volume game, triggered emails demonstrate that low-volume emails can generate huge returns. Marketers with sophisticated triggered programs are finding that while these emails represent a single-digit percentage of their overall volume, they generate 20%, 30%, or even 50% of their email revenue. The key to triggered emails' value lies in that they reach subscribers when they're most receptive, often with segmented or personalized messaging. 

For instance, the U.K.'s Heathrow Airport sends travelers an email eight days before their trip with information about parking, currency exchange, shopping and other items. They send another email three days before the trip with last-minute reminders. Then they follow up after the trip with information to get subscribers thinking about their next trip. Heathrow wants you to have a smooth traveling experience, and these helpful tips arrive at just the right time to help make that happen. 

The Look Book also includes back-in-stock emails from Zappos that are personalized with size and color information. These opt-in notifications are a fantastic customer service and allow Zappos to rescue conversions that might otherwise be lost due to out-of-stocks.


Mobile design. For most brands, mobile readership of emails is in the teens in terms of percentage of penetration. However, the percentage is growing rapidly, and for some brands, especially those with lots of teen customers, it has already passed the 30% mark. For a while now we've been recommending a move to narrower emails, larger font sizes and bigger buttons, but the mobile readership at many brands hasn't tipped the scale yet in favor of radically changing  email design.


The Look Book provides some good examples of where things are headed in terms of mobile-friendly design in the next year or two. For instance, Volvo UK's emails are just 360 pixels wide, with lots of screen-sized blocks of information and isolated buttons that are easy to tap with your finger.

Style Campaign's season's greeting email, which targeted smartphone-toting marketing professionals, is also a great example of a mobile-friendly design. In fact, the email is designed to fill an iPhone's screen with no scrolling necessary. The innovative email delivered fresh content over six days because it was powered by a dynamic image server that updated the primary image in the email every few minutes -- leading more engaged subscribers to open it dozens of times!  

Cross-channel integration. I remember in the early 2000s when I interviewed retailers who were struggling with integrating their stores and websites. With the advent of social media and Internet-friendly smartphones, cross-channel integration is even more difficult. Yet consumers expect a seamless experience no matter the channel.  

Best Buy made it into our Look Book with a 2-email post-purchase series that was triggered by an in-store purchase, with the use of a loyalty card allowing them to match the purchase back to a subscriber. The emails thank the customer for the purchase, provide installation tips for the particular product purchased, and suggest related accessories and services. Post-purchase emails like this can be an important tool to increasing customer satisfaction and repeat business.

The proliferation of channels has also made listening to consumers more difficult for brands. But Uncommon Goods made it clear in an email they sent in March that they're all ears. The email promoted products that were the most liked on Facebook, most talked about on Twitter, most popular on their community site, and top-rated on their website. That's some top-notch cross-channel data collection -- and ensures that Uncommon Goods is procuring the right products in the right amounts.

Email marketing has always been in a state of flux, but perhaps no more so that right now. I hope I've inspired you to take advantage of these powerful trends and stay ahead of the curve.

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