Email Design: Breaking the Rules

Travis Buck

Recently, I received an interesting email from J.Crew. It’s in some ways unconventional and goes against one common best practice. Best practice would tell you the call-to-action should be “above the fold”. “The fold”, however, is an antiquated term and hard to define in today’s email universe. You can basically translate this to saying that the call-to-action should be visible without scrolling. This is a bit tricky considering the various monitor resolutions, tablets, and smart phones people view their email on. As a designer, this can be frustrating because if you truly stick to this best practice it can cause some limitations in your design. What I like about this email is the fact that it doesn’t follow best practice. There’s no clear call-to-action initially — you have to scroll down to see it. What this email did was make me curious. Not only did curiosity make me scroll down, it made me click to “find out why”. Now, I’m not saying throw caution to the wind and ignore best practices. They’ve been established for a reason. What I am saying is its ok to shake things up and break the rules now and then.

10 Tips for a Successful Email Marketing Program


'Tis the season of finals for students of all ages who are wrapping up the school year (or even their school careers). With that in mind, we wondered what would happen if retail marketers were to be given a final featuring a single question - Can you list 10 tips for a  successful email marketing program?

Following is what we would consider an A+ list, along with some explanation:

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4 Ways to Prepare for the Future of the Inbox


Today’s Privacy and Deliverability post comes to us courtesy of ClickZ. It is an article by Margaret Farmakis from ReturnPath posted May 28, 2014: 

With all the changes coming to the email channel, it’s easy to lose sight of what you need to focus on to both optimize what you’re doing today and strategically plan for continued optimization tomorrow.

In case you haven’t noticed, the inbox is changing. Once, the inbox was…a box: a digital version of a mailbox and a mostly static place to send and receive messages. That’s so 2010. The inbox of 2014 has morphed into a portal: a dynamic hub of information that reflects the lives of its users; from social update activity to purchase receipts to travel itineraries to news to marketing messages and more. The inbox has also never looked better (thank you Gmail), been more interactive, or more organized. As a result, there’s never been more subscriber-level data in the inbox that can be leveraged to inform broader marketing decisions. What an exciting time to be an email marketer!

And yet, there’s a dark cloud to every silver lining. There’s so much data available that marketers are often unsure of how to use it to gain insightful analysis and act on those insights. A recent study by IBM showed that 82 percent of responding chief marketing officers (CMOs) said they felt underprepared for Big Data. It’s big, and it’s only getting bigger. The Internet of things is poised to unleash the power of email in ways that once sounded more like science-fiction than reality. In the near future, everything from our appliances to our gaming consoles to our homes could be communicating with us via email.

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Listrak’s IR Special Survey Report, Pump Up the Volume with Personalized Email, Released


Listrak recently conducted a reader survey in conjunction with Internet Retailer on trends in personalization in email. Download the report of our findings to learn what retailers are and are not doing to take advantage of online shoppers’ willingness and desire to achieve more email featuring products personalized to their preferences and shopping habits and history. 

How and When to Use Symbols in Subject Lines


There is plenty - and varied - information available on using symbols in subject lines. Below Listrak Account Director Karen DiClemente shares some thoughts and best practices: 

When using symbols in subject lines, retailers are primarily trying to drive higher open rates. I encourage ALL clients to A/B test subject lines with and without symbols to see if the symbol actually made a significant impact on open rates.

Prior to using a symbol, here are a few questions I tell clients to ask themselves:

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In Defense of Popups

It is no secret that we tout the modal popup as the ultimate tool for building your email subscriber base, and we have the research to prove why. There are still those, however, who avoid using this time-tested tactic for fear that they will annoy – and potentially lose – prospective customers. 

Recently, while discussing the effectiveness of exit popups, Listrak Senior Solution Consultant Joe Devine met with the popular popup objection. We thought his response was worth sharing:

The best strategies surrounding pop-ups, side bars, footer overlays, or any other sort of whirligigs are often hotly contested by marketers. Some folks see them as the utter dissolution of all brand integrity, while some of us see them as a necessary engagement tool when trying to achieve revenue goals. 

The truth is engagement KPIs are lifted when you strategically increase acquisition. However, with such a broad spectrum of sentiments, one thing is clear: One size will not fit all and testing is key to driving adoption.  After years of deploying and testing these technologies, it may seem brash, but the simple fact is, these tools work and work well. For every naysayer, I would challenge you to prove that the revenue results are not achievable or that any detriment to your brand or UX can’t be overcome. 

I have said many times, for each member of your audience who abhors the technology, there are 100 more who will engage and interact with it. Marketers and brand strategists can take their windfall of profits from the 100 shoppers who convert at significantly higher levels and send flowers requesting forgiveness from every disgruntled website visitor, leaving plenty of profit for the bottom line (literally, a beautiful spring bouquet of fresh flowers!). With the right strategy, you can win your audience over. 

Some retailers seem to have missed or dismissed the concept of “selling.” I believe that many audience members, on some level, want to be engaged during their shopping experience. Just as a sales rep on the floor of your stores should be greeting and interacting with patrons, so too should your website. Will you please everyone? No. But who is out there today pleasing everyone?  If we make marketing decisions based upon the small audience we can rarely please, we miss the opportunity to please the audience that is ready, willing, and able to engage with us.

Gmail Grid View


In case you’re not aware Gmail is currently doing a field trial that allows you to view image previews of promotional emails. It’s referred to as the grid view. I signed up for the field trial and it’s definitely something retailers will want to take advantage of. There was however an issue I noticed. Some of the emails did not have an image preview. With a little research I discovered there are a few things that can cause this problem. This article at FreshInbox provides some helpful information about fixes for the issue.