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Email Marketing continues to deliver the highest return on investment within the digital marketing space. This is an edited transcript of a 30 min webinar, Designing Emails That Convert.

First and foremost, each of the small steps within email marketing are what will make a big difference.

In the beginning, we’ve talked about emails being delivered, and opening emails. When looking at conversion, we’re looking at the click. Part of that action, is where the design delivers a click, but is also responsible for being read. There’s two different functions that really happen in this small step.

Mobile-First Design

The very first thing you need to consider is a mobile-first approach.

Mobile-first means different things to different people. The first thing you should be aware of is that 65% of all email is actually opened on a mobile device first. A mobile device doesn’t mean a mobile phone only, it also means a tablet. You need to consider your audience. Where do they open their email first, and design for that environment primarily.

That can change with your audience. If you have an older demographic, you might find that desktop is preferable. A younger demographic will be mobile based and usually commencing with a smartphone. In saying that, different categories and industries will have different open rates as well on different devices; for example, doctors and the physician market is definitely opening on a desktop as a primary channel rather than a mobile channel.

Mobile-friendly and responsive emails are two different things.

You can see in this example that we have a desktop design version. On the right hand side, when we look at a mobile friendly version, this is a one-column design. Responsive email design will look at different rules based on priorities – and it adapts to various sizes. A mobile-friendly approach will be a different sizing layout compared to a responsive design, which is going to be applied to a tablet. The first part of the rule is knowing what device you should be designing for.

Pre header text

This gets overlooked often. Pre header text is the information that you see in an inbox, and there’s a couple of examples below when it is in your inbox. You’ve got the headline, the subject, who it is from, and you’ve got two little lines of text. That’s where you can help your customers open and engage your email because you can let out a little bit more information than just the subject line.

On the right hand side, if you haven’t written a pre-header or preview text, it’s going to come up with default text and the default text is saying, “Not displaying correctly? Click here to view this message online.” These are two very valuable lines on a mobile device, particularly, as well as on a desktop, where you can be pitching the value of what’s actually in the email. We know that subject lines are a huge part of how decisions are made on whether or not someone’s even going to open your email in the first place.

Keep pre header text to 90 characters and don’t just repeat the subject line, people aren’t blind, they can read the subject line and they can read preview text. The idea is to build on your subject line that little bit more and make it really useful. Your pre header text is built into platforms like MailChimp or Campaign Monitor, making it really easy to identify. And when you’re testing, test on a mobile phone, a desktop and a tablet to see what the experience looks like in an email inbox across all devices.


Personalisation is well and truly beyond using someone’s first name. It’s actually looking at someone’s personal information, and I’ve included some examples: a location, behaviour, a purchase history or their name. The two examples I’m giving you here, firstly, on the left, we’ve got the San Francisco map that’s being brought in from an individual user’s profile. We know that this user is on Apple mail, we know where they’re located, we know their gender and we know their age, you can basically garner this information through your own database. The email itself is personalised, not just with Sally’s name, but with her location as well.

On the right hand side, this is probably one of my favourite examples from quite some time ago, this is organic skincare. If you read the actual email, there’s a few clues around the personalisation. A reminder about the toner that you purchased a little more than a month ago, so they’re identifying the product and how long ago it was, and they’re also indicating that it takes 30 days to use a full bottle, and that’s for the 30 ml bottle. It might be shorter, a two week period. This makes a customer check to make sure how much they have left, in case you’re running out. That also does a number of things – it tells the customer to consider, “am I using my product properly, I’m nowhere near finished, which means I’m not using it enough or I’m not using enough of the product or frequently.” It’s also asking to make sure that you’re not going to run out in the first place. I quite liked this personalisation approach because it was useful to the reader, but also brought in their behaviour and their purchase history into personalisation.

Another example, on the right hand side is about a hair product. Beneath the introduction, you’ve got the team you’re dealing with in this company. At the bottom of this email is a green area (shown on the left) that says; What’s the profile? What are your hair goals and what’s the fragrance that comes with this as well? Now, that is truly personalised. What I also liked about this is the excitement that they’ve created in the subject line. It’s very cute and attention grabbing: A chemist, an engineer and a Navy vet walking to a bar. It’s all about the personality and it’s all about the customisation of the product in the end as well.

Algorithmic Personalisation

Another type of example that you could be looking at around behaviour, is algorithmic personalisation.

This is great for charities, donations and giving. You can see here, “we missed you”, which indicates that there’s been a time lapse between the last donation and asking the user to donate again. In this area of email, they’ve actually gone further down and said, let’s differentiate this donor here. If they did donate again, we say ‘thank you, your generosity is appreciated.’ And if they haven’t, encouraging them again, ‘your donation makes a big difference.’

This is a decision-making matrix, you can see here and you can employ at any stage. It could also be my email out to my database that I’m hosting this event. If they’ve registered, I could be saying, ‘looking forward to seeing you next week.’ If they haven’t registered, I could be sending them another note just to this portion of the database saying ‘make sure you don’t miss your seat.’ There’s no point sending a second email to those that have already taken action. Think about how you can cut it up based on actions or non-action in this particular case.

Purchase Behaviour Personalisation

An ALDI newsletter on the left versus a Coles newsletter on the right.

An old example, but a good one. ALDI’s eDM is what we call a ‘batch and blast’, which means everyone gets the same newsletter, versus Coles, which is highly segmented. You can see this was me, personally, and it was when I was living in the Hills District in Castle Hill, it identified my local store. There’s personalisation there with my name, but they’ve localised it by giving me my store name. Each of these purchased products at the time were actually what made up my previous purchase history. Rather than selling me things that I don’t buy, sell me the things that I’m going to continue to buy on an ongoing basis, like my Glad Wrap, my deodorant or some Lemonade. They are all constants that are always going to be in my shopping basket. Further down, they’re creating relationships by giving me the name of my store manager who I can contact. In a big grocery shop, it doesn’t really feel like I’ve got this one-on-one relationship, but the moment that I can call on Chris as my store manager, I have a higher affiliation with shopping there. All of this data is brought together by their Flybuy’s program – collecting that data from every shop and inputting this into the ongoing communications.

Headlines and Value Propositions

Next, we have headlines, messages, your value proposition, your call to action buttons, whatever you want to call it.

It is the key messaging and how it’s displayed. Start with the compelling message.

Learn how to acquire 300% more leads. That’s a pretty compelling message. Then the headline is the proof that other marketers have signed up to this exclusive webinar. As a reader, I’m feeling that fear of missing out that I’ve talked about in the past, I want to have the same success, and these people have done it. If I’m going to be learning, what is it that I’m going to learn? It’s actually selling me the value proposition that’s telling me how I’m going to benefit. And the call to action button, a big fat blue button, ‘I’m interested.’ Now, those words are really important. It’s not “book now”. It’s not fear of missing out messaging such as “Only 100 seats left”. There’s a non-committal to the words, ‘I’m interested.’ It’s not “join”, it’s not “pay”, it’s just “I’ll sus this out a little bit more”, the key words that they’ve used there are really important. And further still, more proof points that this Marcus Tyler guy, he’s done this before and other people have trusted him, that’s building my evidence base in the email to say I want to be part of these.


This is a fantastic email, and this happened to me.

I don’t fly Virgin, I fly Qantas, and I received this email after taking my very first Virgin flight and the subject line got me. ‘You’ve left some valuables on board.’ Well, who’s not going to take a flight and think, “oh my gosh, what have I left on the plane?” The language here is really important for Virgin, ‘click this giant button, join us and we will return them.” That giant button is Velocity points, and that’s what I had ‘left behind.’ Now, I thought the language was clever, it caught my attention, absolutely and made me open that email. If that subject line had said to me, ‘join our rewards program’ I would have thought; ‘Yeah, Virgin, no, I’m not, I don’t need another rewards program.’ And the language as well, ‘another giant button’ plays on Virgin’s tone of voice. They’re very clear about who they are and the personality that they bring. They’re not trying to be Qantas, and this to me was an absolutely excellent example of personalisation using language that resonates with the customer.

Design Layouts

Talking design, and there are a number of design layouts that can work for you. The layout has to help people navigate, read, digest and remember your message. It also directs the consumer’s eye to key elements of the page and using white space and colour to make design work. Many platforms such as Mailchimp and Campaign Monitor, all offer designed templates, but the design is only as good as the copy and the buttons and the functions that you as the Marketer is going to create.

Nice and clear, emotive imagery, image, copy, text.

Call to action buttons are different colours and consistent throughout the designs. If you want someone to ‘read more’, ‘take action,’ ‘get started’; all of those words make a difference in the actual button, not just the hyperlink. Hyperlinks to most people are coloured, so if you want people to click on something make it clearly stand out and be a noticeable hyperlink. They are the key principles of a design layout. Understanding what the principles mean so you can make a really good decision and also ask people’s feedback, by asking your colleagues around you, your family members. Is this easy to read? Does it get to the point? Am I outlining the value of what I’m offering? What would be your next best action?

Segmentation Design

The first example here is for Adidas. You can see here that they’ve used an animated gif.

They’re moving between female and male imagery, not just indicated by the female and male models, but by the pink and blue making it instantly recognisable. And on top of that, they’ve gone another step further to say roses for women and polka dots for men, they’re actually creating that differentiation.

When it comes to segmentation, this relates to the ASOS example and how they collected data before they actually had a sizeable database. ASOS is a mass fashion retailer.

In the early stages of their business growth, what they did was to only collect one vital piece of information, and that was a user’s email address. With the very first email that they sent out to their customer base, they had determined the first click was going to be either male or female. Consumers purchase for themselves first before they purchase for somebody else, meaning they were able to determine a customer being male or female simply based on that first click. So, consider how you can gather segmentation data without actually asking for male or female.

Here’s a great example from J. Crew, another fashion retailer. For females, it’s very simple about female fashion. We’ve got the trends here, some are whites and all your accessories that go with it. On the other hand, the male version is totally different. This focuses on what men need to know within fashion, which was very much Q and A, not giving me the whole style wardrobe, but explaining how to apply rules.

You can see the difference in the female design being very emotive, very much product based versus men who like to be more considered or learning about fashion as opposed to Adidas, another fashion brand, very different in their approach. Think about different design styles that can work for the audience that you’re talking to.

Directional Design – the inverted pyramid

The biggest design tip I can give you is directional design, this is a very common design approach for email and it shows you an inverted pyramid, a triangle that actually stacks content. Stacking content simply means continuously decreasing in width and pointing to a call to action button.

This is the inverted pyramid put into practise, we have the branding, you can see ‘your mountain is waiting’ and it’s starting to invert right down to ‘purchase your pass.’

Countdowns work beautifully, as it adds to the fear of missing out, so it makes people take action sooner. You’ve probably seen countdowns to Christmas Day, countdown to Mother’s Day, also countdown to holidays. Well, this could be a countdown to the end of a sale period. “Only two days left before our stock will change” or perhaps prices might be changing. But you can see the inverted pyramid really clearly.

When it comes to imagery, we need lifestyle shots, emotive imagery and something that can immerse people into the lifestyle. Two examples here that also use the inverted pyramid, which is Who Gives A Crap toilet paper, and this was an abandoned cart email that I received when I did a purchase a number of years ago, and you can see that first thing that came into my inbox was that I hadn’t completed my purchase, there’s sad face, there’s the cat and finish my order. It was the imagery that got me, not the language.

Example number two, this is all about beautifully tailored jackets ‘wears in, not out’ there’s the colour range, but this isn’t just about the jacket, this is about the lifestyle, the freedom of being on the road, being on a motorbike or anywhere else. Now we’ve got the detail, but we’re also going down the inversion to ‘shop now.’ When you start understanding the design principles, you’ll start to notice them in your email marketing and the emails that you receive as well.


When we look at incentives, still following the pyramid, in the first example, we’ve got the reason for being. Thanks for being a friend.

If I don’t read anything other than this ‘ten dollars off’ my next purchase, I don’t need to know why. I don’t need to know about bonus points. But what I do get is ten dollars off and free shipping, an expiration date as well. See the pyramid as well, pointing right back down to ‘start shopping.’?

The second design, ‘we all just lost an hour.’ The design follows the pyramid – VIP guests, three months for free, and then there’s our call to action.

Last design from a completely different category, this is all about stationery. ‘Last day to save.’ There’s our fear of missing out again. “Get it or regret it?” The language is definitely for the audience. ‘Three for the price of one.’ There’s my bargain and we’re actually going down in the inverted pyramid again. Hopefully with some of these different layouts, different examples are giving you ideas of what you could be trying next with your e-mail marketing.

Anatomy of a Winning Email Design

With this terrific resource, anatomy of a winning email design, you have everything you need to build your next effective and awesome email campaign.

Email Marketing Best Practice

I have put this quick list together to follow the best practice golden rules of email marketing. It can act as a checklist as you prepare your campaign work and ensure you’ve given some thought to the key areas of your design, copy, images and build needs.