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What makes a winning email? (good email examples)

good email examples

The first day of winter is tomorrow. Christmas is just… if you’re unaware, I wouldn’t worry about countdowns at this point. 

Ok, wouldn’t it be nice to know what brainiacs at Target and Zillow think makes a winning email? We happen to have those expert thoughts, awards they helped hand out, and good email examples.

Litmus ran a competition using experts and live polling to judge emails in 4 different categories. 

  • Most Innovative Personalization (B2B)
  • Most Innovative Personalization (B2C)
  • Best Data-Informed Email Transformation
  • Best Onboarding Email Series

Being one myself, I love judgmental people. So we’re going to dig into winning email tips from those judges. Then peel back the layers of good email examples from all 4 categories. Take notes, scribble a few doodles, whatever it takes to make use of the following award-winning emails.

Big Brand Rulings

Three judges were from Emerson, Target, and Zillow. A fourth was from LMTS but didn’t get much press from Litmus. So we’ll focus on the judges with something to say. Starting with Alice Li (Zillow).

Her top tip – “Marketing is a conversation, so remember there’s a fine line between being delightful / helpful and being creepy.”

Alice remarked how we expect some companies to know us like a book. Amazon – kindle data. Spotify – music’s personal. However, your first email to a new business shouldn’t scare the pixels out of them with details you scraped off their LinkedIn page. 

Good tip, Alice (note to self: don’t hack subscribers’ Amazon acct. despite weak passwords).

Email Design Judging

The next judge runs the email shop at Target. Shani Nestingen says you can’t use a one-trick pony to drag an email from good to great. Lots of layers.

“Design of the message provides focus and support of the content, along with a dash of delight and personality of the brand or sender.” 

Also, Shani loves design but says functionality is as vital as a slick design. Be pretty while being clear. (note to self: clarity + continue being good-looking)

Winning Email Onboarding

Lisa Wester of Emerson knows a thing or 500 about email automation. Grab your pen for her thoughts on that very first email to a new subscriber.

 “A great onboarding experience tells a story and starts the relationship off right. It sets expectations, but it’s also relevant, personable, and frictionless.”

A welcome email is mandatory. But way too many mediocre welcome emails get launched into the world. Baffled and uninspired subscribers will delete email #1 if it’s a letdown, unclear, or useless.

Now it’s time to look at good email insights inside each category’s winner.

Winners → Good Email Examples

First up, Zendesk took the prize for Most Innovative Personalization (B2B). “The campaign followed a funnel approach, where emails were personalized and featured dynamic content based on the recipient’s buyer stage.”

What did Zendesk use to do all this personalization?

  1. Database audit
  2. Listen to non-email team members (all the teams)
  3. Recipients’ email history with Zendesk

One of their goals with the campaign was a boost in engagement. Success → unique open rate, unique click-through rate and click-to-open rate went up. Plus, the email linked to landing pages where bounce rates decreased by nearly 27%.

Strange times → talking to more people in the company is considered “innovative.” Employees don’t just drink wine, they know things.

What about B2C though?

Good Emails Should be Personal – But How?

good email examples

HH Global won for Most Innovative Personalization (B2C). They created a Purina campaign using pet owners’ love of animals to their advantage. Not hard to gather personal data when your customers can hand it over in a fun way.

Purina made it easy for its users to create personalized pet avatars. Which the brand fused inside this email campaign. 

“In addition to the Avatar image, copy was personalized with the pet’s name and breed.”

Now, if you’re selling Dunder Mifflin paper this tactic won’t be so easy. People would carve out their own kidney to save their K9 (not a match). But paper won’t excite them to create a stapler avatar and give you data you can use in emails.  

This is where innovation and creativity come in:

  • What does excite your customers?
  • What irritates them?
  • What charity would they mail a kidney to?

Think, people, I can’t do it all!

*This strategy enabled Purina to send over 400,000 personalized emails each month, with up to 14,000 combinations of content via a single dynamic email template. 

Raise the Bar with Data

Next winner is InVision for Best Data-Informed Email Transformation. They used every trick in the book to test, then improve their email performance. But not all in the same email – don’t test too much at once unless you like migraines and useless data.

InVision looked at the usual open / click data but also:

  • Core product actions
  • Product logins
  • Product use cases for individual subscribers

Then tested:

  • Content
  • Layout
  • Sender name
  • Language within the emails 

*Tip – Of those, sender name is the easiest to test. Layout, 2nd easiest.

One of their key learnings? Get users to engage with the product asap. Because users become ex-users if they get distracted and try another tool.

3 winning emails to go.

Good Email Example Welcomes

Best Onboarding Email Series went to a video gaming company. NCSOFT ramped up user logins by 46%. Don’t think gamers have time for emails? These games are advanced though (not for dumb-dumbs). So instructions on diving into the digital reality help, lest you go in unprepared and get crushed by smart-alec 9-year-olds.

NCSOFT even used dynamic CTAs based on where the player was in their game journey. Again, getting distracted and trying a different game is a threat to any game producer. This brand went all out to ensure they kept players in their world – emailing them every single day with nudges to educate them on steps to take.

This tactful onboarding email series not only kept players logging in but boosted incremental sales by 48%.

There’s a fine line between a subscriber getting hooked on your game / product versus forgetting it in days. Make sure your onboarding series isn’t mediocre. Set the hook.🐟

Learn from These Winning Designs

good email examples

We’ll bundle the last two winners. Ally Financial (B2B) and Lev (B2C) won for Best Email Design (voted by Litmus audience). These winning email features included “clear layout & hierarchy, enticing imagery, easy-to-read fonts and typography?”

Being independently wealthy🤥, I get lots of bank emails. So let me tell ya… Ally’s emails could not confuse the biggest dumb-dumb on this 4th rock from the sun.😉 Ally is clear and to the point with friendly, guiding pictures. See what I mean here with their winning email.

Lev’s email was a sonic boom of dynamic email – readers could change the Sonos Speaker color right in the email. The message didn’t overwhelm you with words + gave you three different opportunities to hit a buy button (each button w/ different copy). 

A weaker person would have bought every color speaker but not this guy! You be careful looking at Lev’s tempting design if you’re over budget on Christmas.

Winning Email Competition Wrap Up

Look, I don’t expect small business emails to be as on-point as Target’s or reverberate like Sonos’ great emails. Your audience is yours. Still, we can learn from testing advice from the big brand experts we started this post with. 

Test ways to clear up your messaging by taking a look at Ally’s example and sign up for their emails. Tighten up your onboarding series so your users don’t slip away into the million other activities available.

Like that city in Georgia, winning email campaigns aren’t built in a day. Get small wins by testing then tweaking your sends. Good marketers copy, great ones steal. (All rights reserved on this email🤗)

Knowledge Base 

Knowledge isn’t power without motivation. I’m tired. Enjoy.

Email marketers’ holiday wishlist – some are wishful thinking but see what you think.

Is cold email the dumbest way to try to scale a new agency? Or so crazy it might work? 

Seth says being the hot thing doesn’t mean a thing… for long. How do you plan to stay on top once you get there? (it’s a lotta work🥱)

How did crafts kingpin Michaels up their email CTR by 25% (SMS 📱 by 41%)?

Self  Help 

“If you had only one metric you could look at in your business?”

“Honestly, I think it would be media hits. When I am quoted, do an interview, or land a piece in another publication, good things happen.”

Just one of many mega-bytes of smart business intel from successful creator Tara McMullin.

I recommend reading her story if you’re running yourself into the ground with work or have ambitious goals to do so. 🛑

Reconsider! And don’t get up at 4:40 a.m. for 28 days straight, like yours truly, unless you wanna feel like a 28 Days Later character.

More from Tara → “At its peak, my coaching and training business generated over $500k per year.”

Clearly, she’s a success story. Not because of all those zeros 💲, but because she had sense enough to stop, drop, and roll away from her biz when her mental health melted down.

Hard workers inspire me. You too, I bet. But working hard can be done in a healthy fashion. 

One way is to go after what so many grinders and hustlers will never have.

Enough. (Joseph Heller)

*Shout-out to Inbox Hacking Subscribers → Lisa @ CouncilRock (Private Networks) and Eric @ LearnToCopywrite (←Obvious, no?)

Tackle non-profit email challenges with Inbox Mailers’ technology

Facts & Stats  

  • 37.9% of survey respondents said they wished brands used more email (MediaPost)
  • 82.4% of consumers received communications from brands they never heard of during Black Friday+Cyber Monday (68% welcomed them)
  • Marketing platform Insider says its AMP emails have 130% higher form submissions

*Pre Inbox Mailers Quote Circa 1875… “Sliding down a chimney takes perfect timing. And a fire-retardant suit.” ~ Santa ‘St. Nick’ Claus

For emails that land in inboxes with perfect timing, try Inbox Mailers. Book a demo now.

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Marketing Musings

I won’t stand in your way if you wanna invest (waste) time using AI to write your emails.

Let ChatGPT write your campaigns if you like. Heck, let your robot vacuum write them for all I care. 

Just know this. Connecting with a human is not easy. Not even in person! Inboxes, harder.

So how are AI writing tools gonna do that? Yes, I know they’re improving day after blah, blah…

They will always lack the “it” factor though. The “it” factor that can’t even be explained by the most complex entity known – a human being.

I’m considering a series of word-cage-fights with an AI writer and I feel perfectly safe.

Because this is what ChatGPT spat out when I logged on to “its” website.

ai emails

Holy hell that was bad! AI will never have a sense of humor or spit out consistently good email examples.

Get Hacking

It’s not too late to tweak your holiday popup forms. Unless you’re shutting your business down on December 26th? Keep gathering holiday email addresses, whether someone buys now or not. Also, look at all your popup forms to see what can be improved.

Analyze your form data too (how to here). Because Christmas is not the only holiday – here’s 2023’s list. And check this Drip article out to find ways to make your popups more effective → My quick breakdown:

  • Short forms w/ 1-2 fields convert best
  • Exit-action popups annoy, so lessen that effect
  • Add your USP to forms because, you’re not the lone seller of “socks”
  • Sidebar popups for recommended products

Don’t wait on me to blow a whistle or something. Let’s get after it!

📝Please click on the quick survey below. Yes, it’s life or death.🙂

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