Do you sit staring at your analytics wondering why some email campaigns are successful while others have dishearteningly low open rates?
When designing your email marketing campaigns, avoid simply analyzing the parts. Instead, study several good email marketing examples from a variety of businesses through a more holistic, human lens.
Don’t get me wrong. Regularly reviewing analytics is key to figuring out what worked and what didn’t, enabling you to make more informed decisions in the future, but you’re not writing marketing emails for robots.
Humans are more than just a set of 0s and 1s behaving in predictable, formulaic ways. We get sick. We give birth. We explore. And unlike robots, no two humans are alike, even identical twins.
Our fears, desires, and goals are in a constant state of change, so when it comes to email engagement, one recipient may delete it without reading it, while another may read it all the way through and eventually become a customer.
To help you understand, I’ve pulled the past year’s best email marketing examples from my own inbox and outlined why these emails made the cut. I’ve also listed additional exercises you must do before writing that next email.
So if your open and click-through rates aren’t what they should be, continue reading for a twist on writing emails your customers will want to read.
To understand what makes a customer open or delete your emails, take a moment to put yourself in the customer’s shoes by thinking about your own daily email check.
I’m not talking about emails from your boss or your mom. You’re obviously going to click on those, even if you don’t really want to. Examine those weekly “newsletter” emails you somehow opted into, perhaps to get a digital coupon, ebook, or some other prize.
It probably goes something like this: Delete. Skip. Delete. Delete. Delete. Skip. Star. Delete. OPEN! What was it about those few emails you decided to open? You have so many other emails you have to read, so to read something voluntarily, that email better be good.
There are tons of blog posts out there about the various components of good marketing emails, but to understand how to follow the advice that’s out there — much of it really great advice — you have to start seeing things from the recipient’s point of view rather than your campaign goals.
Before you even start writing an email, you need to know who your ideal customer is. You may think you know, but can you answer the following questions? Is your ideal customer:
What are your ideal customer’s greatest fears and secret hopes? Struggles and pain points? How do they spend their free time? What’s their favorite food? Movie? Hobby? Book?
If you’re marketing to a general group of people or even a specific group of people, that’s part of the problem. Write your emails to one person, whether your subscriber list is 20 or 2,000. When you write to a generic audience it sounds, well, generic. It won’t resonate with your readers.
Instead, think of either someone you know who represents this ideal or make someone up. This should be someone you really care about who is eager to learn but does not have your knowledge base, so you need to keep things simple without being condescending.
Much like creating a main character for a novel, you need to know many seemingly unrelated details about that person, even if you never use that information directly in the copy. The more you know about your ideal customer, the more this will come out in your word choice, tone, style of writing, and even length.
This moves your ideal person from the status of someone to whom you sell or market to someone you care about and want to help. And your customers will sense this.
I’ve compiled a mix of B2B and B2C emails and analyzed each one. These were all emails I voluntarily signed up for and the sources of these emails, more often than not, sent emails I never read.
But when they got it right, they really got it right, and I have the sales receipts to prove it.
Here they are, in no particular order:
Subject Line: 10 Things You Can Do To Become Confident Speaking Spanish
The Hook: The subject line gave me clear expectations and offered something I wanted.
Other than practicing with native speakers or taking a class, I hadn’t thought about how else I might improve my Spanish. I’m also a former ELL (English Language Learner) teacher, so out of curiosity, I opened the email.
The image inside was playful yet simple. The call-to-action (CTA) was clear: Read more. I was already an iTalki customer, but I hadn’t used the service in a while, so this email served as a helpful reminder that they’re experts who can help me.
Subject Line: The Doolittle Test: Is Your Dog Happy?
Source: Dr. Marty Pets
The Hook: I care about my dog’s happiness more than my own, so this subject line pulled on my heartstrings. I think my dog is happy… but what if he isn’t?
The tough part is that pets can’t speak, but they can communicate. The body of the text contained several photos of the same dog with different facial expressions with descriptions of what those expressions mean emotionally.
Dr. Marty really earned trust with this email. There wasn’t an obvious CTA. Instead, there was a button at the top of the email that said: “Visit the Site.”
He sends plenty of emails about upcoming sales, which I usually delete, but this one was purely helpful, which I appreciated.
Subject Line: [Freebie Fri] Digestive Health Quiz: We Need to Talk!
Source: John Douillard's Lifespa
The Hook: This email plays on a common fear about whether we have good health, but turns it into a game through a quiz. You’re sure to hit a home run if you can solve a problem for a customer in a fun way.
The body of the email contained one simple image of a person forming a heart with her hands over her belly. This image was so powerful because in its simplicity, it carried so many messages.
In our high-stress world of fast food and processed ingredients we can barely pronounce, we need to give our overtaxed digestive system some love. Good digestion also makes us feel better emotionally and mentally.
The CTA was obvious: Take the quiz. The next step? Buy products in the store or book a consultation. As a current customer who knows Dr. John’s consultations and products are worth every penny, I did both.
Subject Line: I Am Quarantined in Northern Italy. Here’s What It’s Like.
Source: Elemental (a Medium publication)
The Hook: It spoke to my pain point — not being able to travel to places like Italy — and piqued my curiosity. The photo of a typical picturesque Italian street pulled me in even further.
I imagined being quarantined in Italy would be so much better than here. I was wrong. It was an effective email because when I first subscribed, Medium took the time to find out exactly what I’m interested in hearing more about.
It also keeps tabs on which articles I read to continue to better curate articles based on my current interests.
This post was sent in an email as part of one of those curated lists.
The CTA was to spend time reading the article, which I did. The lesson here is obvious: Get to know your customers in-depth and continue to learn about them so you can give them what they want.
Subject Line: Here's my #1 trick to grow blog traffic and subscribers
Source: WordPress Beginner
The Hook: There’s only one thing this email is going to force me to focus on, and that’s a trick for achieving the goal I had at that time.
What convinced me to read the entire email was the line that read, “I was looking through my analytics and realized that about 70% of people abandoning my website were not coming back.”
It spoke to my fear, and then showed me how I could overcome that obstacle. The text was followed by a simple yet urgent CTA with a coupon:
Get more email subscribers now!
Bonus: use the coupon VIP20OFF and you'll get 20% off.
Many companies make the mistake of spamming their customers with subject lines that focus on sales and discounts. If WordPress had used the above CTA as the subject line, I never would have read it. I get hundreds of emails with discount offers. I want something new.
Also, there were no images in this email, which shows you don’t have to be fancy or cute. Just get to the point. In this case, it was a pain point. The email was simple and straightforward and it immediately delivered what the subject line promised it would.
Subject Line: What Freelancers Need to Know Right Now
The Hook: This email was sent to me in May when so many people were facing uncertainty at work, as well as joblessness. I had just started freelancing at the time and didn’t know where to start, especially in the current climate. This spoke to a pain point.
Each resource had a simple icon next to it in the brand's colors that represented the topic to make navigation easier.
There were several CTAs in the form of resources. In my case, I clicked on the resource about navigating project opportunities. The link took me to a blog post that contained several other resources via links.
The subject line told me what to expect in the body of the text. It was also timely. They didn’t send this email months into the pandemic or even right when it started. Instead, they sent it at a time when many people started losing their jobs.
The lesson? Timing is everything.
Subject Line: 12 Literary Journals That Publish Novel Excerpts
Source: Authors Publish
The Hook: They promised to solve a problem: The time-consuming task of figuring out which literary journals will take novel excerpts because many don’t.
Writers spend hours and hours on sites like Submittable, Duotrope, and Poets & Writers combing through databases to figure out which of the hundreds of literary journals will most likely accept their work.
The CTA? A free ebook. For writers. Yeah, Of COURSE, I clicked on that and gladly gave away my contact information to get it.
Subject Line: Jennifer, here’s how to write more than ever
The Source: NickWolny.com (Writer on Medium)
The Hook: He used my name in the subject line along with a promise to solve a problem I had.
Nick knows writers because he is a writer. He knows that writers love to learn and we can never know enough, so an ebook or mini-course that doesn't cost a fortune is a GREAT way to hook us.
This mini-course was at an affordable price, even for people who were unemployed or without full-time work. The images were mostly videos, including a peek into the mini writing course he was selling.
He also had testimonials and I’d already read plenty of his articles on Medium, so I knew he knew his stuff. The CTA was direct: Learn more about [the course] here. So I bought the course before I could even process what I was doing.
Your clients may be overwhelmed and not natural learners, so consider that when you are writing your emails. Nick’s email was a bit on the long side, but he broke up the text with different sized fonts, sentences in bold, videos and images.
Also, writers are voracious readers, so a longer email to an audience of writers will work. A long email to a CEO who gets 1,000 emails a day will not.
As you may have figured out from these email marketing examples, the No. 1 item these companies had to nail was the subject line.
Much like a good social media post, a good subject line intrigues, entertains, and/or educates — or at least promises to do so in the body of the email — without being “spammy.”
Although you may be tempted to be creative, if people can’t tell what the email is about, they won’t open it. Know your ideal customer’s main problems and then use the subject line to clearly state the solution that awaits inside.
Once your customer opens the email, the body of the email needs to be all about them and their problems, goals, fears and dreams, not your marketing goals.
This means you need to know your customers. Segment your email list to send only relevant emails to the people on that list.
Use images to either add to the text or help the recipient quickly interpret the information in the text with a CTA that is clear and compelling.
Above all, to understand why some emails make it to the finish line while others don’t even get out of the gate, you need to look at the whole human you are targeting. The subject line, body and CTA will come much more naturally as a result.
Feel overwhelmed by it all? That’s why we’re here. It’s much easier to strategize with a group of people with your company’s best interests at heart rather than do it alone. Contact us today to find out how we can help.