At one point or another, we all need inspiration to do our jobs better. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a marketing veteran who has navigated through years of changing technology or a newbie fresh out of college — we all need examples of outstanding content. It helps us get through creative ruts, make the case to our boss for experimentation, and improve our own marketing.
Most of the time, inspiration is easy to find because most marketing content is publicly available. You can scour the internet or go on your favorite social network to see what your connections are talking about.
But there’s one marketing channel that is really, really hard to find good examples of unless you’re already in the know: email. There’s nothing casual about it — you usually need to be subscribed to an email list to find great examples of emails. And even if you’re subscribed togood emails, they are often bombarding you day after day, so it’s hard to notice the gems.
Because it’s so difficult to find good email marketing examples, we decided to do the scouring and compiling for you. Read on to discover some great emails and get the lowdown on what makes them great — or just keep on scrolling to get a general feel for each. However you like to be inspired is fine by us!
12 Examples of Effective Email Marketing
1) Warby Parker
What goes better with a new prescription than a new pair of glasses? The folks at Warby Parker made that connection very clear in their email to my boss. The subject line was: “Uh-oh, your prescription is expiring.” What a clever email trigger. And you’ve gotta love ‘em for reminding you your prescription needs updating.
Speaking of which, check out the clever co-marketing at the bottom of the email: If you don’t know where to go to renew your subscription, the information for an optometrist is right in the email. Now there’s no excuse not to shop for new glasses!
2) charity: water
When people talk about email marketing, lots of them forget to mention transactional emails. These are the automated emails you get in your inbox after taking a certain action on a website. This could be anything from filling out a form to purchasing a product to updating you on the progress of your order. Often, these are plain text emails that email marketers set and forget.
Well, charity: water took an alternate route. Once someone donates to a charity: water projects, their money takes a long journey. Most charities don’t tell you about that journey at all — charity: water uses automated emails to show donors how their money is making an impact over time. With the project timeline and accompanying table, you don’t even really need to read the email — you know immediately where you are in the whole process so you can move on to other things in your inbox.
I already have a soft, soft spot for BuzzFeed content (70 pictures of dogs in their Halloween costumes, anyone?), but that isn’t the only reason I fell in love with its emails.
First of all, BuzzFeed has awesomely written subject lines and preview text. They are always short and punchy — which fits in perfectly with the rest of BuzzFeed’s content. I especially love how the preview text will accompany the subject line.
For example, if the subject line is a question, the preview text is the answer. Or if the subject line is a command (like the one below), the preview text seems like the next logical thought right after it:
Once you open up the email, the copy continues to be great. Just take a look at that glorious alt text action happening where the BuzzFeed logo and first image should be. The email still conveys what it is supposed to convey — and looks great — whether you use an image or not. That’s definitely something to admire.
The beauty of Canva‘s emails is in their simplicity. When they come out with a new design concept, they let their email subscribers know by sending an email like the one you see below. Each one gives a brief description, shows a preview, and then encourages the reader to try it themselves. My colleague Niti (who’s an email marketer herself) is a huge fan of their emails — in fact, she says Canva’s emails have some of the best tie-ins to a product that she’s seen in any email campaign.
The subject line of this email from beauty product subscription service Birchbox got my colleague Pam clicking. It read: “We Forgot Something in Your February Box!” Of course, if you read the email copy below, they didn’t actually forget to put that discount code in her box — but it was certainly a clever way to get her attention. And the discount code for Rent the Runway, a dress rental company that likely fits the interest profile of most Birchbox customers, certainly didn’t disappoint.
6) Cook Smarts
I’ve been a huge fan of Cook Smarts‘ “Weekly Eats” newsletter for a while. The company sends yummy yummy recipes in meal plan form to my inbox every week. But I didn’t just include it because of its delicious recipes … I’m truly a fan of its emails. I love the layout: Each email features three distinct sections (one for the menu, one for kitchen how-to’s, and one for the tips). This means you don’t have to go hunting to find the most interesting part of its blog posts — you know exactly where to look after an email or two.
I also love Cook Smarts’ “Forward to a Friend” call-to-action in the top-right of the email. Emails are super shareable on — you guessed it — email, so you should also think about reminding your subscribers to forward your emails to friends, coworkers, or heck, even family!
You might think it’d be hard to love an email from a company whose product you haven’t been using. But Dropbox found a way to make their “come back to us!” email cute and funny, thanks to a pair of whimsical cartoons and an emoticon. Plus, they kept the email short and sweet to emphasize the message that they don’t want to intrude, they just want to remind the recipient that they exist and why they could be helpful. When sending these types of email, you might include an incentive for recipients to come back to using your service, like a limited-time coupon.
8) Paperless Post
When you think of “holiday email marketing,” your mind might jump straight to Christmas, but there are other holidays sprinkled throughout the rest of the year that you can create campaigns around.
Take the email below from Paperless Post, for example. I love the header of this email. First, it provides a clear call-to-action that includes a sense of urgency. Then, the subheader asks a question that forces recipients to think to themselves, “Wait, when is Mother’s Day again? Did I buy Mom a card?” Below this copy, the simple grid design is both easy to scan and is quite visually appealing. Each card picture is a CTA in and of itself — click on any one of them and you will be taken to a purchase page.
Humans crave personalized experiences. It’s science. When emails appear to be created especially for you, you feel special — you’re not just getting what everyone else is getting. You might even feel like the company sending you the email knows you in some way, and that they care about your preferences and making you happy.
That’s why I love on-demand podcast/radio show app Stitcher‘s “Recommended For You” email. I tend to listen to episodes from the same podcast instead of branching out to new ones. But Stitcher wants me to discover (and subscribe to) all the other awesome content they have — and I probably wouldn’t without their encouragement.
I think this email is also quite a brilliant use of responsive design. The colors are bright, and it’s not too hard to scroll and click — notice the CTAs are large enough for me to hit with my thumbs. Also, the mobile email actually has features that make sense for recipients who are on their mobile device. Check out the CTA at the bottom of the email, for example: The “Open Stitcher Radio” button prompts the app to open on your phone.
10) Turnstyle Cycle
When I got this email from spin studio TurnStyle Cycle, I felt like I was reading an email from a good friend.
Design-wise, they kept it simple: a branded header followed by plain text and a simple footer. But the copy was what caught my eye. It’s friendly, yet sincere: “We know you are busy and would hate to see you miss out;” “Please let us know if we can help accommodate in any way possible;” “Feel free to give us a call – we want to help :)”. Plus, they provided me with the exact details I needed to know — a reminder of what I’d signed up for and when, the expiration date, and a phone number to reach them.
The only thing missing here was a CTA button directed at the class schedule; but otherwise, the genuineness of the email copy really stuck out to me and made me feel close to the brand.
Your customers want to hear from you about exclusive deals and other ways they can save money. Offering coupons and discounts via email can be an effective tool for both customer acquisition and customer loyalty. I think office supply vendor Poppin did a great job with this email where they offer a 15% off promotion. The bright, bold colors and soft fonts match their cool, modern branding, and the design is simple with four distinct calls-to-action. Plus, I don’t know about you, but I always love a good pun.
Sometimes, the best emails have the simplest designs. Design-wise, this email takes the cake. It’s super easy to scan, making it easy for you to digest what it’s about. The copy is simple but clever and aligns perfectly with their brand. And they are telling you exactly what you need to know about the new product; nothing more, nothing less. Because this email is about driving awareness of a new product rather than converting someone to become a lead or customer, that’s all you really should be noticing. So hats off to Drybar for using design to better communicate its message!
These are just some of our favorite emails. Who sends you emails that you love? Share your favorites in the comments, and we’ll check them out for future posts like these.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in October 2013 and has since been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.