The internet is swarming with tips, tricks, and suggestions about how to design beautiful emails. We see great examples in our inboxes, or even showcased in blog posts. And while a lot of marketers seem to understand the basics -- personalize the copy, make the call-to-action pop, segment your list, etc. -- many still overlook an important component of effective email marketing: emails also need to have visual appeal, or they risk getting ignored by recipients altogether.
Oftentimes, marketers do give a lot of thought to email design when it comes time to launch a campaign. It makes perfect sense: You have an awesome new announcement or event, and you want to kick off the campaign right with a darn good looking email.
But what about the follow-up email? Or any email that may be included in an automated email workflow? It's time to stop focusing on the design of just your biggest sends, and spend some time spiffing up all those other emails you're sending, which you probably don't give a second thought to.
1) Emails About Your New Marketing Offers
This is one you probably already know and love. You know, the one where you announce your next sale, ebook, webinar, coupon, free trial ... and the list goes on. This email is used to describe and promote a particular marketing offer -- one single offer -- with a call-to-action that links to a targeted landing page made for that specific offer. For this email, that targeted landing page is key. After all, emailing someone about a 25% off coupon and sending them to your homepage where they have to hunt down their coupon will only result in huge bounce rates -- not to mention significantly reduced conversion rates.
When it comes to designing an email for a specific offer, the main component to keep in mind is the offer itself. You want the copy to be brief but descriptive enough to convey the offer's value. Consider making use of formatting techniques such as bulleted lists, which can help you clearly describe the offer while avoiding long sentences that can turn off the reader. In addition, make sure your email's call-to-action (CTA) link is large, clear, and uses actionable language. You can also include a large CTA image/button underneath to make the action you want email readers to take crystal clear.
2) Form Submission Kickback (Thank-You) Emails
Whenever a prospect, lead, or customer fills out a form on one of your landing pages, a kickback email should automatically get triggered after their submission. Depending on the form, these kickback emails are often referred to as thank-you emails. These emails are mainly for the sake of fulfilling your promise to the user, and storing the information you promised them safely in their inbox. How frustrating would it be if you downloaded an ebook, and then forgot where you stored the link to the PDF? Kickback emails solve that problem.
These automatic emails should make the CTA big and clear. Keep in mind that the CTA should link to the direct offer -- NOT to the form! In these emails, simply thank the reader for their form submission, and give them what you promised, whether it be a link to the PDF of an ebook, instructions on how to activate their free trial, or the coupon they requested. Furthermore, don't overcomplicate the appearance of these emails. The reader isn't looking for additional information, but rather the offer or content they already know they redeemed.
3) Product Information Emails
Product emails are tricky. People generally don't want to receive these often, and they're often not as fun or engaging to as, say, an offer email. In fact, product emails may be the most important emails in which you should focus on simplifying and not over designing. Many companies choose to send weekly or monthly product digests to keep their customers or fan base up-to-date with the latest features and functionalities. And no matter how much a customer loves your business, it's still work for them to learn how to use new features or learn why a new product is worth their investment.
Rather than inundating your contacts with a slew of emails about each individual product update, consider sending a sort of roundup of new updates or products periodically. For each product update you list, include a large, clear headline (sort of like how this blog post is set up) with brief descriptions underneath. Use an image that showcases the product or feature. It's also worth linking to a custom web page for each feature, so if a particular product or feature piques a reader's interest, he/she can click through to learn more about it.
4) Digital Magazines or Newsletters
Do you maintain a business blog for your company (hint: you should!)? Are you a magazine or media outlet? No matter which of these categories you fall into, many companies choose to send a roundup of stories or articles published weekly or monthly. And if you truly want people to read these email roundups, it's critical that you share them in a visually appealing way.
As showcased in the cropped screenshot below, within these roundup emails, it's a good idea to use an image paired with a headline, a brief summary or introduction, and a CTA for recipients to read more. This simple format will allow you to use visuals to attract the reader to each article while still giving you the ability to feature multiple articles -- without sending a super lengthy email.
5) Co-marketing Emails
Co-marketing is when two or more complementary companies partner together for some mutually beneficial task, event, or other promotion. The main draw of co-marketing is to leverage the audience of another company to increase your reach. Sometimes the relationship results in a strategic announcement; other times it's as simple as a joint webinar. Let's use the latter for an example of how co-marketing emails work, and why they're so beneficial. Let's say you and another company decide to do a webinar together on a particular subject. As a result, that webinar will likely (pending your arrangements) be promoted to the email lists of both of your companies. This exposure to a list that is not your own is one of the key benefits of co-marketing partnerships!
When it comes to the email your business sends, make it clear that this offer or event is the result of a partnership with company X -- especially if your co-marketing partner is particularly popular or impressive. To do this, you can adjust the company logo in your email to also include the other business' logo. Furthermore, make sure your copy mentions both businesses, and create a custom graphic or image to visualize the offer or event. By drafting and designing an email you'd love to send to your list, you can then share your design with your co-marketing partner, inspiring their own email copy and design! This will give you the assurance that both businesses are sending a visually appealing, effective email that will help boost both your conversion rate and brand awareness.
6) Internal Updates
Don't neglect a very important audience for your company: your employees! Many companies, especially if they're on the larger side, choose to send internal updates or newsletters to their employees to keep them in the know about the latest company information, whether it be new product updates, marketing offers, or events. Here at HubSpot, for example, I personally send a weekly email with all the new marketing offers for the upcoming week so the entire business is on the same page about what Marketing is promoting at any given moment. With these emails, it's less about the beauty, and more about the clarity. And like all marketing content, make sure you know your audience. For instance, with my weekly marketing updates, I know that HubSpotters will want to know which of our buyer personas each offer is relevant for, how they can share it socially, and what each offer's key talking points are so our sales reps are able to talk about each offer with their prospects, without having to read it cover-to-cover.
The most important formatting tip for these types of emails is to arrange the information in a simple and helpful way. The images you include within this email shouldn't aim to attract employees to read, but rather to help our sales reps and consultants identify each offer. Once you've nailed your formatting, it's simply a matter of highlighting the most critical information associated with each offer so its messaging is crystal clear to everyone.
7) Lead Nurturing Emails
Lead nurturing emails consist of a tightly connected series of emails containing useful, targeted content. As their name suggests, these emails are used to nurture leads through the marketing funnel into a position of sales readiness. For example, let's say you sent your list a marketing offer email. You might then set up a lead nurturing workflow that triggers another email about a complementary offer or piece of content to everyone who converted on that initial offer. The logic is simple: By identifying a particular group of your contacts that you already know are interested in a specific topic, you and can follow up with more relevant and targeted content that makes them more likely to continue their relationship with you.
In your lead nurturing emails, it's important to call out why recipients are receiving the email. For example, you could say something like, "We noticed you're into [topic x] since you downloaded our [Topic X] ebook, and we thought you might want to learn more about [topic x] ..." Once you've addressed why recipients are getting email from you, you can format your lead nurturing emails similar to the way you'd set up your general marketing offer emails. Other very important considerations to make when crafting your lead nurturing campaigns are the planning, setup, segmentation, and timing of your nurturing emails, which you can read more about in this ebook. In addition, make sure your lead nurturing emails are as equally appealing to contacts as the initial marketing offer email that converted them, and carefully select the offers and content you feature within them. Your lead nurturing emails should maintain the same quality and credibility its recipients were used to from the beginning of their relationship with you.
8) Dedicated Sends
Every now and then, you may want to send a dedicated email to a certain group of people. For example, if you're hosting a conference or event, you might want to send a dedicated email just to event registrants to alert them of any new event updates they should be aware of. Or if your business is community based, it might be a good idea to send a monthly welcome email to all your new members.
We do something similar at HubSpot. When people choose to opt in to our blog's email subscriber list through one of our landing page forms, we want to welcome these new subscribers to our email list and let them know exactly what they've signed up for before sending blog post notifications to their inbox. In this case, our blog manager sends a dedicated email to everyone who has opted in during the past month to welcome them to our blog. These emails also offer a great opportunity to include CTAs for an additional marketing offer (in the below example, a free inbound marketing assessment from one of our specialists) that can help nurture these new prospects further down your marketing funnel.
9) Email Confirmations
How frustrating is it to book a flight or register for an event and not receive an automatic confirmation email? I know that personally, every time I make an online transaction, I wait impatiently to see that my transaction was complete. After all, nobody wants to worry that they're first payment wasn't processed, only to click the payment button again and get charged twice.
What bothers me most about so many businesses' confirmation emails are two things: when the subject lines are vague, and when the information I actually want to confirm isn't immediately evident when I open the email. Confirmation emails should be just that -- confirmation emails. I shouldn't have to scroll through forever or get bombarded a ton of other bells and whistles. This is one email in which recipients really don't care much about appearance. They simply want to know that the action they took was completed so they can save the information, have peace of mind, and move on. Keep these emails short and simple, with just a brief summary of the information your recipients would want you to confirm.
10) Event Invitations
Email can be a great promotional vehicle for promoting an upcoming event you're hosting. But if you want to invite your contacts to an event and motivate them to register, it's extremely important to clearly showcase why that event is worth their attendance. A great way to do so is through visuals. A lot of events cost money to attend, and most cost a pretty penny. So if you want to attract registrants, cut down on the copy and show potential registrants why the event will be awesome.
For example, when we were promoting our INBOUND 2012 conference, HubSpot sent a very visual follow-up email with images focused solely on the conference's draw of its 'INBOUND ROCKS' concert featuring Cyndi Lauper. As you can see below, the email was image heavy and slim on text. The pictures did all the talking.
11) Social Media Sends
Wait ... what does social media have to do with email? Well, if you're making good use of LinkedIn Groups or Google+ Events, email has everything to do with social media! As the administrator of LinkedIn Group, when you send a LinkedIn Announcement, you're directly reaching a LinkedIn user's inbox. And when you create a Google+ event, sending the invite directly sends you into users' email boxes as well. Without ever creating lists or collecting email addresses, you automatically have access to users' email, but be sure to tap into these resources with care.
When it comes to these social media emails, you don't have the option of using an email software that allows you to customize the layout or add images. You're at the mercy of copy alone. This is where leveraging white space is very important. Keep your paragraphs short, your sentences brief, and your thoughts clear. Keep in mind that you have to relay the same amount of information an email with a visual can convey -- without the visual! Optimize these emails for the scanning reader, and use bullets or numbers to deliver your main points. And for heaven's sake, be sure to change your LinkedIn Announcement's subject line to avoid the generic "Announcement from Inbound Marketers - For Marketing Professionals," or whatever your group is named.
At the end of the day, your emails should not only be visually appealing, but they should also be valuable. Focus on sharing the key information in the most appropriate format depending on the type of email you're sending -- and the audience you're sending it to. After all, what's the use of a crazy-beautiful email if it doesn't provide any true value to the reader? Match your email format with the desired result, and good luck emailing!