Trashy, spammy, annoying: email newsletters are perceived by many folk as a blight on their inbox. When you consider that a quarter of business email recipients say that they subscribed accidentally, and that almost half unsubscribe from mailers because they receive too many newsletters, it’s tempting to think of an email marketer’s job as the 21st century’s answer to the much maligned door-to-door encyclopedia salesmen.

But this isn’t necessarily the case. Get your company newsletters right and you’re looking at more sales, greater brand awareness, and the jewel in the marketing crown: customer retention. It takes some work to get right, but once you’ve nailed the concept of an effective newsletter campaign you’ll reap the benefits.

To help pick apart the key elements of a successful email newsletter we’ve enlisted the help of six seasoned email marketing professionals who lift the lid on their favorite newsletters and explain what makes them work so well, giving you priceless tips on how to create winning campaigns.

We’ve crafted an email marketing infographic too, which summarizes some of these points and contains some interesting stats based on our own GetData research. Scroll below this image to find out the anatomy of some the best campaigns in the business.

The best newsletters in the business

We asked some of the brightest minds in email marketing to pick out one of their favorite newsletter campaigns and tell us why they work so well. The only stipulation: they aren’t allowed to choose one of the campaigns they’ve worked on!

samThe Expert

Samantha Ferguson, Senior Demand Generation Manager, Campaign Monitor

The Newsletter

Buzzfeed Food

Why it works

Layout: Short, enticing headlines and concise copy beneath, with vivid images breaking up the content. The copy of your newsletter should be easily consumable, breaking up content with beautiful images helps readers digest your content.

Type of content: Content is very relevant to the season, picnic recipes for summer and healthy breakfasts to get you into summer shape. Very timely. Timely content appeals to readers, if you’re sending out recipes, products or anything else, they should appeal to the current season.   

Audience targeting: Targeting those who have shown interest in the food portion of their site. They send out different newsletters for each section of their site, so they’re only sending what’s relevant to that set of subscribers. Segmenting your lists is important when sending newsletters, you want to make sure you are sending the most relevant content to the right person at the right time.

Headings within content: You know exactly what you’ll be getting if you click into the headlines. Very concise. Benefit is clear. Headlines should always focus on the benefit of the content beneath or the benefit of the content where the headline is linked to. Be concise and clear with the benefit.

Use of images: Uses vivid images that perfectly go with the headlines and content. Everything feels very cohesive. When using images in a newsletter, don’t just throw in any image, make sure the image supports your main message and is cohesive with the content.


Jordie Van RijnThe Expert

Jordie van Rijn, eCRM and email marketing consultant, and founder of emailvendorselection

The Newsletter

Sephora Jet Set Essentials

Why it works

Subject line: They set the theme (holiday) and set it to pre-self-select. Meaning that people that are going on holiday are more likely to open this message and peek inside.

Layout: Just look how this email flows. Using a numbered list in your email and the layout like this is simply irresistible to the eyes. Normally alternating images and copy aren’t good for conversion, but here with the visual style and arrows it works very well.

Offer: I like this email very much, mainly because of the “pitch”. The offer is for three free samples with a min $25 purchase (but they always offer this!). Great way to turn perception around. And it matches perfectly with the holidays (if you are on the plane, you need minis). As long as the content gets you in a state of “I’d love to have this” you are on the right path.

Headings within the content: The headline instructs you to “choose 3”, which is an interesting approach. I would have  highlighted the offer and make the headers clearer, you have to read on to see the offer and know what samples are offered. But it does command attention and they all have a small joke, very crafty. With a high attention audience and high frequency the variance and tease factor of your emails is just as important.

Calls to action: All the products have their own CTA’s, with color to set them apart. The images should be clickable too. At the end of the list I would add one big CTA,  simplest would be to repeat the first one “Shop to redeem”


Jeanne JenningsThe Expert

Jeanne S. Jennings, Managing Director of Digital Marketing, Digital Prism Advisors and Author of More Effective Digital Marketing.

The Newsletter

theSkimm

Why it works

From field: It’s short and sweet – just the brand, nothing more, nothing less. Some people like to include a person’s name in the from line but there are pros and cons to this. In tests having a person’s name here has been shown to improve open rates a bit. But what happens when that person leaves? Suddenly there’s a new name, one which won’t necessarily be recognized by your audience, there. Better to include just the brand (but if you do include a person’s name be sure to include the brand name as well!).

Subject line: I love the subject lines theSkimm uses. They are all colloquial and fun. For a while they were using the names of songs, now they just seem to be using something interesting that’s tangentially tied to the content of the newsletter. The subject line isn’t perfect though. The first 12 characters (“Daily Skimm: “) are always the same. I get that they are letting us know this is the daily newsletter. But you can only guarantee that readers will see the first 25 characters of a subject line. So they are using up half of this with wording that is the same every issue. I’d like to see them shorten it a bit – since “Skimm” is in the subject line they could just say “Daily: “ which would only be 7 characters and free up more space at the start of the subject line to engage readers with something specific to this issue.

Social media integration: Almost every item in the newsletter has its own social share buttons – this is very smart. That way, if a particular article speaks to you you can share it and just it, not the entire email newsletter.

Audience targeting: I don’t think I am necessarily the target audience for this, even though I love it. I think it’s really written for young women, although I have older guy friends who like it too. That said it has a definite appeal to women, note the Skimm Reads section toward the end.

Layout of the content: There’s lots of white space in the layout making theSkimm easy to skim (pun intended), which I love. That said, some of the paragraphs are really long, which makes your eyes want to skip right over them. When I work with clients we keep paragraphs to a maximum of 5-1/4 lines (lines, not sentences) for online reading – I wish theSkimm did the same.

Type of content: This newsletter comes every morning – it’s a great way to get a quick update on yesterday’s news. They’ve also been running interviews with the candidates for U.S. President, which has been interesting. But it’s not so much the type of content that makes this great – it’s how they cover the news. There’s a definitive voice to the newsletter, a little snarky, a little fun – the New York Times and Washington Post cover the same stories but in a very different way.

Calls to action: There are hyperlinks throughout to go more in detail on aspects of the stories, but each story (they are short) appears in total within the email newsletter. The ‘brightest’ call to action is for readers to ‘Skimm Share’ toward the bottom. Asking readers to share the newsletter with their friends is a smart viral play – they take it one step further by recognizing those that do (“Skimm’bassadors”) and giving them a shout out on their birthdays (“Skimm Birthdays”). I think this is a smart way to go about viral – but I do worry that it’s not necessarily scalable. When will the birthday list get too long to be included? At some point it will…


Brett FarmiloeThe Expert

Brett Farmiloe, Founder, Markitors

The Newsletter

Bonobos

Why it works

From field: The From field of the Bonobos newsletter is tied to the Bonobos Ninjas (their customer service team)

Layout: The layout of the content in the Bonobos newsletter is in a single image type of format, which is perfect for mobile device optimization and fits in well with the trends we’re seeing that the majority of email opens today are on mobile devices.

Type of content: Bonobos sends out 20+ emails a month to their subscribers. There are always discounts, deals, and sales to be had within their emails. But they are doing a great job at using email for seasonality and to jump on trending opportunities. My personal favorite is the Open Letter to Jim Harbaugh email campaign.

Audience targeting: Bonobos is pretty specific in its target customer and speaks to them directly. One of my favorite holiday campaigns from them was around what to get family members for Christmas – ranging from Drunken Uncle to Dad. Pretty creative.

Headings within the content: All Bonobos headings have great copy to them. They could double up as the subject line, which is important for marketers to consider. Could the heading and subject line be used interchangeably? Do they both peak interest? If the answer is yes, then you’ve got some good copy to work with.

Calls to action: These are across the board, but most calls to action are to “Shop Now”

Social media integration: Bonobos does a nice job at occasionally integrating social media into their email marketing, like the time they offered a trip to Los Angeles in conjunction with the opening of one of their guideshops.

Images: Use of images is probably Bonobo’s strongest point. Take a look at their Instagram account. Most of the images are duplicated over the email in some form or fashion. They set the standard for retailers.


Lauren SmithThe Expert

Lauren Smith, Content Marketing Manager, Litmus

The Newsletter

What to Wear

Why it works

From field: From names are likely the first thing your subscribers see in the inbox, so they should be immediately recognizable. What to Wear utilizes the straightforward approach of using their brand name as the from name. Subscribers know exactly who the email is coming from—and they trust that source, so they are encouraged to open the email.

Reply-to address: Email is a 1:1 communication channel so your reply-to address should encourage interaction—it’s a great way to interact with your subscribers, answer questions, and receive invaluable feedback. What to Wear uses the founder’s personal email address as the reply-to. It encourages customer engagement—and replies will go to an inbox that’s actively monitored so responses back will prompt.

Social media integration: Including valuable social sharing links in your email can help expand your reach—and increase your conversions. What to Wear includes social sharing links throughout their email, allowing their subscribers to easily share helpful content, such as the hourly forecast for the day. If a non-subscriber sees a tweet or a Facebook post about the content of the email and finds it useful, What to Wear may have just obtained a new subscriber.

Audience targeting: 25% of people will unsubscribe from an email if they find the content irrelevant. Every aspect of What to Wear’s email is personalized. Not only is the weather forecast and events for the day customized based on location, but clothing suggestions are personalized based on gender and exercise tips are based on the individual’s preferred temperature range for physical activities.

Layout of the content: Subscribers are busy, on-the-go, and only glancing at the emails in their inbox, so your designs should be easily scannable—your subscribers don’t have time to read every word of your campaign. By including large headlines, content breaks, helpful images, and large text, the main takeaways of What to Wear’s email are clear and easy to consume.

Use of images: Not all email clients display images automatically, so it’s important to optimize your emails for both images-on and images-off viewing. What to Wear includes images throughout their email to help illustrate the content, such as rain showers, when images are enabled; however, it’s mostly text-based so it’s still legible and actionable without images present.


Nick MarvikThe Expert

Nick Marvik, Consultant, Distilled, and Founder at Northwest Tech

The Newsletter

GoPro

Why it works

Layout of the content: The layout of GoPro’s weekly video email is a single prominent header image featuring the video of the week followed by two columns that highlight additional pieces of content. The email is simple enough to respond and perform well across different devices and screen sizes also.

Type of content / use of images: GoPro does a great job of creating inspirational content – videos, pictures and stories that inspire users to “GoPro”. No pun intended. They do a nice job of providing “click worthy” images that users crave.

Audience targeting: Sporting activities / action sports / outdoor enthusiasts are the primary target for their emails.

Headings within the content: They say “a picture is worth a thousand words” and this especially holds true within email marketing. GoPro keeps it light on text, but heavy on what users really want.

Calls to action: They do a great job of making the video play button front and center seen in the header image.

Social media integration: It’s present in the header and footer but let’s be real – when is the last time you shared an email to social media? If a user is going to share/post to social media it’s usually achieved through the landing page, not from within the email client. Regardless, GoPro is still doing a good job of integrating social media call-to-actions within their emails.


So there you have it, the marketing experts have spoken. But do you have a favorite email newsletter campaign that you think trumps our panel’s selection? We’d love to know your thoughts. If you’re serious about creating immaculate email campaigns make sure you check out GetApp’s ranking of the best email marketing applications, GetRank. This independent ranking will help you discover which software you can use to help you manage your campaigns.