5 Things That Make an Email Stand Out

Breaking through the clutter today takes more than a catchy subject line.

In researching email best practicing, several colleagues and I reviewed tens of thousands of B2C email marketing messages, many from such leading brands as Ann Taylor, Banana Republic, Bumble & Bumble, Harry & David, Kenneth Cole Productions, Nike, Pottery Barn, and Urban Outfitters. Five tactics emerged for standing out in the inbox:

1. Personalization. Email that includes information directly related to a subscriber boosts the relevancy of the email tremendously-whether that information is based on past purchases, browse behavior, email behavior, or some other piece of data. Personalization finds a natural partner with triggered emails, like shopping cart abandonment emails. The combination can be extremely powerful. For instance, one company's triggered emails represent 3 percent of its overall volume, but delivers 45 percent of its email marketing revenue.

2. Animation. Usage of animated gifs in the emails of major online retailers is up more than 100 percent this year. That's because animation's movement is eye-catching and offers a variety of creative opportunities. In tests, animated versions of emails generate several additional percentage points of click-throughs.

3. Non-traditional interaction. To help wake up subscribers who may be tuning them out, more brands are sending emails that deviate significantly from email norms. Horizontal-scrolling emails are perhaps the most visible and talked about examples of this tactic at work, but there are certainly other approaches, such as asking subscribers to physically interact with your email by printing it out and folding or cutting it out.

4. Texture. Isolated boxes of text and images can feel flat and boring. Make an email visually rich and more interesting by adding texture with script fonts, illustrations, angled text and images, and overlapping elements, and by "breaking the box," which is when a portion of an image sticks out beyond the border of the email or content block. Think of texture as a kind of three-dimensionality (i.e., layered elements) or as adding evidence of a human hand at work (i.e., script fonts).

5. Rendering. According to the latest research from MarketingSherpa, 67 percent of email users block images by default. That figure has done nothing but climb in recent years, so this is a reality that must be confronted when designing emails. It's particularly important to optimize for blocked images if it's a welcome or transactional email, or if you're a value brand. Optimizing for image blocking is significantly less important for luxury and lifestyle brands where images are vital to properly communicating the brand. Using preheader text, alt text, and HTML text instead of graphical text when possible are all ways to convey your message when images are blocked.

With the holiday season approaching, now is a great time to put these tactics to work in your own email program.

+ + + + + + +

About the Author: Chad White is research director at Responsys.