Banana Republic; Urban Outfitters Shine In Email Design Look Book

With email continuing to serve as a core hub for other interactive channels, it is becoming more imperative for retailers to leverage the channel to optimize engagement, branding and ultimately, conversion.

Digital marketing service Smith-Harmon, a division of Responsys, recently compiled an “Email Design Look Book,” bringing together 20 compelling emails, a large portion of which are retail-driven. The book includes visuals from leading brands including Ann Taylor, Banana Republic, Bumble & Bumble, Harry & David, Kenneth Cole Productions, Nike, Pottery Barn, Urban Outfitters and more.

“While some form of conversion is usually the primary goal, engagement is becoming an increasingly vital goal of email campaigns,” said Chad White, Research Director at Responsys. “With ISPs now factoring in engagement metrics into their filtering algorithms, email campaigns that generate opens and clicks are important to maintaining healthy deliverability rates.


Plus, the growth of social initiatives also means that email campaigns are often focused on getting subscribers to participate in a brand’s community by voting, uploading content, commenting or taking some other non-revenue-generating action.”

Among the book’s shining stars, Banana Republic’s February promotional email channeled a subject line “What to Wear 7 Days a Week,” offering an image-focused message to create clicks. By only revealing half of the third image, the only way recipients could view the full “seven days of outfits” would be to click through.

b_repub_sWith Valentine’s Day in mind, Uncommon Goods sent a promotional email in early February with a cutout “Do Not Disturb” sign with directions to “Print. Cut. Lock the Door.” “Very few emails invite physical interaction, so this email really stands out,” White said. “But even if subscribers don’ turn on their printers and pull out their scissors, the ‘Do Not Disturb’ messaging sets a great Valentine’s Day tone and the Take a Peak” call to action is enticing.”

To raise awareness around a new brand relaunch, Ann Taylor’s September email communication stressed “What You’ve Been Waiting For: Meet the New Ann” sending nine emails over 11 days, boasting the company’s new fabrics, new web site, new styles and new attitude.

For the busy holiday shopping season, Urban Outfitters kept it simple with an email that boasted “Gifts Under $50.” The innovative campaign employed lettering that resembled gift ribbon, bringing the message to life via creative typography.

In early June, the Kenneth Cole brand sent an apology email to customers after a technical glitch on the company’s web site. The email offered 41% off for a limited time after the original 40% discount was giving customers trouble while shopping online. The message? “We put our ‘Night Owl Sale’ Glitch to Bed.”

“We tried hard to have a good mix of different industries (BtoC, BtoB, nonprofit, etc.) and email types (promotional, newsletter, triggered, etc.) while highlighting a variety of key and novel trends in email design, such as animation, rendering, sidescrolling, personalization, and interactivity,” White said.

Trending to Trigger
White said along with segmentation and dynamic content, triggered emails are becoming critical to achieving a high level of performance. “For instance, we have one client that gets 45% of their email marketing revenue from 3% of their email volume,” he said. “That 3% is from their triggered emails. Another client gets 15% of their email revenue from their transactional emails. Those two clients are leading the way in what’s possible with highly relevant triggered emails.”

To nurture the ever-present problem of shopping cart abandonment, Pottery Barn aims to stay in the customer’s shopping mind by sending “Thanks for Stopping By” emails that don’t force a hard sell but politely remind customers of the products they viewed and offering click, call and visit options to complete the sale. earned a nod for its triggered emails, which remind the recipient of a friend’s upcoming birthday, complete with specific gift recommendations based on preferences and ideas.

Email Elements: What to Consider
White points to three major elements of email messaging that email marketers should hold a lot of weight to. “First, is the preheader text optimized and the header nice and tight, preferably with a navigation bar that’s composed of HTML text links?” White said.  “A preheader should ideally be one line — two max — and include a preheader message and a ‘view with images’ link. For some brands, a ‘view on mobile’ link also makes sense.

White also said rendering is important, especially when images are blocked. “This is more important for value brands like Wal-Mart and considerably less important for luxury and lifestyle brands like Harley-Davidson where images are critical to conveying the brand,” he noted. Lastly, White said email marketers should ask questions like:

  • How scannable is the email?
  • Are content blocks clearly defined?
  • Is the text easy to read?
  • Are calls-to-action clear and easy to spot?

“Consumers spend very little time looking at an email, so the design should aid them in quickly assessing the content,” he said. “If it’s not clear to subscribers what you want them to do then they’ll just move on to the next email in their inbox. In general, email marketers do a pretty good job with calls-to-actions in the email, but then fall down in following through on the landing page. If there’s not a clear continuity between the email and the landing page, conversion rates suffer.”


You can download the “Email Design Look Book” by clicking here.

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