On any given day, most of our email inboxes are flooded with a barrage of automated email newsletters that do little else besides giving us another task to do on our commutes to work — namely, marking them all as unread without reading or unsubscribing altogether.

In this post, we’ll explore:

Let’s get started.

Inbound marketing acknowledges that not everyone is ready to buy from you at this exact moment. That’s why email is such an important channel.

An email marketing campaign is as effective as its ultimate goal. Here are some examples of different purposes your email campaign may set out to accomplish:

One of the biggest benefits of email marketing? Getting click-throughs to pages on your website. Not only does this boost your referral traffic, but it also drives visitors who’ve already shown an interest in your business, making it more likely that they’ll act once they get to your site.

Overall, email is an effective promotion channel for the high-value content you create on your website. It can help you drive qualified traffic to your product pages, blog posts, and web pages, consequently boosting conversions.

Not everyone who opts into your email list is ready to make a purchasing decision. You can use email marketing to stay top of mind while providing the educational content that is most relevant to them.

In these emails, you can be more up-front about wanting recipients to buy. You can include shopping-centric calls-to-action, such as “Shop now,” “Buy now,” and “Add to cart.” However, it’s essential for recipients to have shown strong purchase intent. Adding items to their cart or having a purchase history are both strong indicators.

If you target these emails to casual visitors or first-time subscribers, you may be rushing them and inadvertently discouraging them from buying from you.

Now that you know the most effective campaigns you can create, grab some inspiration from the masterful email marketing campaigns below.

If you’re reading this, you probably have an email address (or two, or three …). In fact, you’ve probably been sending and receiving emails for years, and you’ve definitely received some questionable deliveries in your inbox.

Whether they were unexpected, uninformative, or had a subject line tHaT wAs fOrmAtTeD liKe tHiS, we bet you didn’t hesitate to direct them towards the trash, right?

While email has managed to stand the test of time, many marketers have failed to update their strategies since its inception. So to ensure you’re sending modern emails that warrant some of your recipients’ precious time and attention, we’ve compiled a list of effective email examples to inspire your next campaign.

Great companies are always evolving, and your customers expect to experience change. What they don’t expect (because too many companies haven’t lived up to this end of the bargain) is to be told about those changes.

That said, this email from ModCloth serves as a refreshing change of pace. If you’re going to change the way you communicate with a lead or customer, give them clear, fair warning so, if they aren’t on board, they can make the necessary adjustments to keep their inbox clean.

 

It sets expectations for communication moving forward so that the buyer persona can choose what’s best for them.

This email from Netflix provides a curated list of new shows the customer may be interested in based on their watch history. It’s skimmable with plenty of visuals supporting the new releases and provides a CTA that prompts you to watch the trailer.

 

The CTAs in this email entice the user to stop what they’re doing and head over to Netflix to check out the new content.

Have a new product or project in the works? It’s a good idea to let your subscribers know prior to the launch, especially if you’ve been away for a while.

This email is personable and reads like you’re catching up with an old friend. Additionally, the “join now” CTA makes it easy for readers to sign up for the app and other updates.

Did you see that? Did you see it move? Pretty cool, right? This small bit of animation helps to separate this email from Tory Burch from all of the immobile emails in their recipient’s inboxes. They also leverage exclusivity by framing the promotion as a “private” sale. Oftentimes, this type of positioning makes the recipient feel like they’re specially chosen, which encourages them to take advantage of the special opportunity they’ve been presented with.

Emails can get static, boring, and impersonal. This email subverts those expectations without going overboard.

 

RunKeeper makes an effort to reengage lost users with this friendly, informational email. By highlighting their app’s most recent changes and benefits, the copy works to entice recipients to give the app another chance. It also discusses benefits that the recipient may not know about since the last time they used the service.

Small inclusions like the “Hi friend” greeting and the “You rock” closing makes the content feel welcoming and less aggressive.

Here’s another great example of animation being used to create a more interesting email marketing design. Unlike static text, the swipe motion used to provide recipients with a look “under the hood” of their email tool is eye-catching and encourages you to take a deeper dive into the rest of the content. Not to mention the header does an excellent job of explicitly stating what this email is about.

The animation is subtle, and it’s executed in a way that serves to enhance the email’s body copy. Even better, it works well with the design of the email, creating a matching but contrasting focal point before the reader dives into the rest of the copy below.

This email from Loft aims to demonstrate their understanding of your crazy, mixed-value inbox. In an effort to provide you with emails that you actually want to open, Loft asks that their recipients update their preferences to help them deliver a more personalized experience. This customer-focused email is super effective in making the recipient feel like their likes, dislikes, and opinions actually matter.

It centers the recipient’s needs with the slogan “Happy Inbox, Happy Life.” Paired with a low-friction CTA, the copy is simple and effective.

You’ve heard it a million times (and a few thousand of those times may have been from us): You should create a sense of urgency with your calls-to-action. That’s what makes a lead take action, right? Well, this email from UncommonGoods succeeds in creating a sense of urgency by focusing on the value of acting now.

Instead of saying, “Order your Mother’s Day gift NOW before Preferred Shipping ends!”, this email asks, “Don’t you think Mom would’ve liked a faster delivery?” Why yes, she would. Thank you for reminding me before it’s too late — I don’t want to be in the dog house because my gift arrived after Mother’s Day.

9. JetBlue

Confession: We have a serious email marketing crush on JetBlue. And they continue to deliver their lovable marketing in this cheeky email campaign that aims to humorously reengage customers. Every element from the header, to the three witty points, to the actionable, contrasting CTA work together to create a lovable campaign that’s promotional without being pushy.

This copy is bursting with friendly personality and airline jokes. The email is relatable and reads as though it comes from a friend, which will help earn a positive reaction.

My friends at Harpoon are so thoughtful, aren’t they? This simple, timely email really does feel like it’s coming from a friend, which is why it’s so effective. In an age of email automation, it’s easy for email campaigns to feel a little robotic. And while I’m certain that this email was, in fact, automated, it feels really human.

If you’re looking to strengthen the relationship you have with your existing customers, consider taking the time to set up a quick email like this to let them know you’re thinking of them.

Personalization: From the timing of the email (birthday) to the personalized salutation, this email was sent to the right person at the right time.

“JOIN THE REVOLUTION.”

That’s quite powerful, wouldn’t you agree? Rip Curl, an Australian surfing sportswear retailer, combines urgency and our psychological need to be part of something to create an email headline that jumps off the page. This positioning is designed to lead people to believe that there’s a “revolution” taking place and it’s their turn to get in on the action.

At the end of the day, people want to be part of something that’s bigger than themselves, and this email aims to motivate them to do so by purchasing this sleek watch.

For many of us, when it comes to wrapping gifts, the struggle is real. J.Crew Factory recognized this problem and then created this email to serve as a solution for those incapable of pulling off a Pinterest-esque wrap job: gift cards. The email offers up two different ways to pick up a gift card — in store or online — in an effort to avoid excluding anyone.

They’ve also included a map of the nearest store location at the end of the email to lower the purchasing barrier even further.

It combines humor with a low-stress, low-friction solution.

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 marketers set and forget.

Well, charity: water took an alternate route. Once someone donates to a charity: water project, her 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 onto other things in your inbox.

It keeps the audience engaged and shows the impact that their actions have made on the organization in the effort of staying top-of-mind and increasing future participation.

The beauty of Uber’s emails is in their simplicity. Email subscribers are alerted to deals and promotions with emails like the one you see below. We love how brief the initial description is, paired with a very clear CTA — perfect for subscribers who are quickly skimming the email.

For the people who want to learn more, these are followed by a more detailed (but still pleasingly simple), step-by-step explanation of how the deal works.

We also love how consistent the design of Uber’s emails is with its brand. Like its app, website, social media photos, and other parts of the visual branding, the emails are represented by bright colors and geometric patterns.

All of its communications and marketing assets tell the brand’s story — and brand consistency is one tactic Uber’s nailed in order to gain brand loyalty.

We love TheSkimm’s daily newsletter — especially its clean design and its short, punchy paragraphs. But newsletters aren’t TheSkimm’s only strength when it comes to email. Check out its subscriber engagement email below, which rewarded one of their subscribers for being subscribed for two years.

Emails triggered by milestones, like anniversaries and birthdays, are fun to get — who doesn’t like to celebrate a special occasion? The beauty of anniversary emails, in particular, is that they don’t require subscribers to input any extra data, and they can work for a variety of senders. Plus, the timeframe can be modified based on the business model.

The folks at TheSkimm took it a step further by asking Mineo if she’d like to earn the title of brand ambassador as a loyal subscriber — which would require her to share the link with ten friends, of course.

Think you know all about the people who are reading your marketing emails? How much of what you “know” about them is based on assumptions? The strongest buyer personas are based on insights you gather from your actual readership, through surveys, interviews, and so on — in addition to the market research.

That’s exactly what Matt Becker of Mom and Dad Money does — and he does it very, very well.

Here’s an example of an email I once received from this brand. Design-wise, it’s nothing special — but that’s the point. It reads just like an email from a friend or colleague asking for a quick favor.

Not only was this initial email great, but his response to my answers was even better: Within a few days of responding to the questionnaire, I received a long and detailed personal email from Matt thanking me for filling out the questionnaire and offering a ton of helpful advice and links to resources specifically catered to my answers. I was very impressed by his business acumen, communication skills, and obvious dedication to his readers.

As it turned out, the discount code was actually a bonus promo for Rent the Runway, a dress rental company that likely fits the interest profile of most Birchbox customers — which certainly didn’t disappoint. That’s a great co-marketing partnership right there.

It gained her attention and delivered some unexpected delight.

I have to say, I’m a sucker for GIFs. They’re easy to consume, they catch your eye, and they have an emotional impact — like the fun GIF in one of Postmates’ emails that’s not only delightful to watch, but also makes you crave some delicious Chipotle.

You, too, can use animated GIFs in your marketing to show a fun header, draw people’s eyes to a certain part of the email, or display your products and services in action.

It centers the product in a fun, attractive way.

 

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 its “come back to us!” email cute and funny, thanks to a pair of whimsical cartoons and an emoticon.

Plus, the email was kept short and sweet, to emphasize the message that Dropox didn’t want to intrude — it just wants to remind the recipient that the brand exists, and why it 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.

It uses the Dropbox logo in a way that’s creative and unique to demonstrate their product as a solution.

Every week, the folks at InVision send a roundup of their best blog content, their favorite design links from the week, and a new opportunity to win a free t-shirt. (Seriously. They give away a new design every week.) They also sometimes have fun survey questions where they crowdsource for their blog. This week’s, for example, asked subscribers what they would do if the internet didn’t exist.

Not only is InVision’s newsletter a great mix of content, but I also love the nice balance between images and text, making it really easy to read and mobile-friendly — which is especially important, because its newsletters are so long (below is just an excerpt). We like the clever copy on the call-to-action (CTA) buttons, too.

I’ve been a huge fan of Cook Smarts’ “Weekly Eats” newsletter for a while. The company sends yummy recipes in the form of a meal plan 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 especially love the layout of Cook Smarts’ emails: Each message features three distinct sections: one for the menu, one for kitchen how-to’s, and one for the tips. That 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” CTA in the top-right of the email.

Emails are super shareable over — you guessed it — email, so you should also think about reminding your subscribers to forward your emails to friends, family, or coworkers.

“Saying goodbye is never easy to do… So, we thought we’d give you a chance to rethink things.” That was the subject of this automated unsubscribe email from HireVue. We love the simple, guilt-free messaging here, from the funny header images to the great CTA button copy.

Not only are the design and copy here top-notch, but we applaud the folks at HireVue for sending automated unsubscribe emails in the first place. It’s smart to purge your subscriber lists of folks who aren’t opening your email lists, because low open rates can seriously hurt email deliverability.

The button copy is a pattern interrupt that will prompt the recipient to pause and think if they want to take the action.

Take the email below from Paperless Post, for example. I love the header of this email: It provides a clear CTA 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 quite visually appealing. Each card picture is a CTA in and of itself — click on any one of them, and you’ll be taken to a purchase page.

It earns a positive sentiment by prompting the recipient to do something they may have forgotten (send a card). This provides a solution and saves the recipient the pain of feeling guilty about forgetting Mother’s Day.

I love on-demand podcast/radio show app Stitcher’s “Recommended For You” emails. 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 it has — and I probably wouldn’t without this encouragement.

I think this email also makes 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.

As humans, we tend to crave personalized experiences. So 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 it cares about your preferences and making you happy.

Internet providers and bad weather are natural enemies. You’d think telecommunications companies wouldn’t want to call attention to storm-induced power outages — the one thing that sets off customers’ impatience. Then, there’s RCN.

RCN, a cable and wireless internet service, turned this email marketing campaign into a weather forecast just for its customers. This “storm update” got the company out ahead of an event that threatened its service, while allowing its users to get the weather updates they need right from the company they count on for Wi-Fi.

As you can see below, the email even advises personal safety — a nice touch of care to go with the promise of responsive service. At the bottom of the email, RCN also took the opportunity to highlight its social media channels, which the company appropriately uses to keep users informed of network outages.

It simply offers an update. No promoting, no selling. The recipient’s best interests are in mind, and they’re setting expectations for something that they may imminently care about.

I’m a huge advocate of thought leadership. To me, some of the best companies gain customer loyalty by becoming the go-to source for expertise on a given topic. Trulia — a property search engine for buyers, sellers, and renters — is that expert in the real estate biz. How do I know? Just read their emails, much like the one below.

“Why aren’t millennials moving?” The subject line of this email campaign reads before citing interesting data about relocation trends in the U.S. Trulia doesn’t benefit from people who choose not to move, but the company does benefit from having its fingers on the pulse of the industry — and showing it cares which way the real estate winds are blowing.

It opens a loop by posing a question that the recipient needs to take action to get the answer to.

This email marketing campaign crushes it, and for so many reasons.

Further down in the email, the details of the course are laid out, giving potential students a breakdown of what they can expect to learn. The language is friendly, succinct, and persuasive.

These are just some of our favorite emails. Don’t just follow best practices when it comes to your marketing emails. Every email you send from your work email address also can be optimized to convert with a little planning.

Want a quick refresher on how to master marketing email? Check out this helpful video:

 

Now that we’ve reviewed great examples, let’s get into how to create an effective email marketing campaign of your own.

Figure out the outcome that you want:

Have you ever heard the saying from Meredith Hill, “When you speak to everyone, you speak to no one”? What Hill is getting at here is that if you’re watering down your message to apply to your entire audience, you’re leaving opportunity on the table — opportunity for creating high-value, specific, relevant content that speaks directly to the recipient.

After you’ve identified the outcome and the goals you want to hit, you now need to strategize how to provide value to your buyer persona so that they convert, engage, or take the action you want them to take. Some things to ask yourself might include:

Once you know who you’re emailing and why, it’s time to strategize how to move them from A (where they are) to B (where you want them to be, the goal of the campaign).

Over the course of the campaign’s timeline, you may want multiple touchpoints. You may also even consider follow-ups based on the actions that each recipient takes. Plan these emails out, outlining the core message and take-away for each email.

Keep in mind that you can’t expect a single email to do everything. Your email campaign can be made up of multiple emails, so consider taking your email recipients on a journey with each email serving a single purpose. This will increase the odds of each email being successful in its role toward reaching your goal.

For example, if you’re doing a lead nurturing campaign, you might have a few educational emails to take them from the awareness stage to the consideration stage before providing more conversion-focused content.

The longer the buying process and sales cycle, the more emails you’ll need.

Once you’ve written the copy for your emails, you’ll want to build them out in the email software client you’re intending to use.

With a comprehensive email builder, you can create, optimize, and personalize your own email campaigns without needing any technical or graphic design experience.

Remember, if you’re taking up your audience’s time — and inbox space — with another email, your message must have a point to it. Consider what you want your email recipients to take away from the email.

In most cases, you’ll want to add a call-to-action (CTA) for them to take further action.

Don’t confuse your email contacts by providing too many options. For each email you send, there should be a single action that you want the reader to take. Then, instruct them to take that action and set expectations for what will happen when they do.

Your goal behind the CTA may vary depending on the audience’s buyer’s journey stage and what you want to accomplish with your email campaign. For example, you may simply want to engage them further with another piece of content, or you might want to get them to make a purchase.

Regardless of what it is, you should follow CTA best practices such as making the ask with clear language and emphasizing it with contrasting design elements.

Consider the experience. Do your email recipients want to feel like one among hundreds of other people in your database? Or do they want a personalized experience as though you’re talking directly with them?

Automation helps save time, but it should never be at the cost of the experience. Marketing emails need to be personalized to the reader and contain information that is relevant to them.

Once your emails are built out, check them over before hitting the send button. Effective email marketing campaigns are designed for all devices on which users can read their emails — desktop, tablet, and mobile. Consider sending them as a test to a colleague and checking them across multiple devices and email clients.

As the campaign runs, take notes. Are your open rates and click rates what you expected? What went well vs. not well? Are you on track to hitting your goals with the campaign?

The more you pay attention to the data, the more you can understand what’s working and what’s not for your audience, leading to more effective campaigns in the future.

Email marketing is a fantastic way to nurture leads, engage subscribers, and retain customers. The examples we shared above will help you brainstorm winning campaigns that drive sales and offer a high ROI. But to make the most out of your efforts, you should use a planning template to organize all of your campaigns in one place.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in October 2013 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

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