When it comes to the best examples of email marketing campaigns, you could say the SendGrid marketing team is a rather opinionated bunch. And although we’re happy to talk about email marketing best practices, we wanted to let some of SendGrid’s favorite brands do (most) of the talking for this guide.

The hand-picked email marketing examples below illustrate some of the best things happening in email right now. The list covers all aspects of email best practices, including:

  • Personalization
  • Testing
  • Subject lines
  • Copy & content
  • Branding & design
  • Best overall

Learn how you can take these email campaign examples and execute them in your own program.

Subject lines

1. The Hustle (and how they get me to open their email…every day)
Review by Ellie Johnson, Marketing Operations Associate

The Hustle is a daily email newsletter that curates some of the day’s most important headlines in business, tech, and culture. They send a healthy dose of news that I don’t necessarily get reading the BBC that keeps me opening every day. Their tone is casual, and their writing is witty without dumbing down the content or making light of heavy topics.

I like The Hustle for many reasons–one of which is their subject line copy. I chose an example of two of their subject lines that show why I look for them in my crowded inbox:

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I’m a giant email nerd. Because of that, I’ve subscribed to several email programs with both my work and personal email address to keep an eye on interesting tests that senders are trying. The Hustle constantly tests subject lines, which always tie back to their first story of the day, and are often creative and funny.

Take the example I’m using from March 5th—their first story was about new technology trying to bring Internet access to remote areas using satellites. They sent “Big problem, small solution” to one address and “Cat videos for all mankind” to another. I like their idea of testing something relatively safe and something a little “out there.” I also like cat videos…so their creative subject line won for me that day!

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Subject lines are the first thing your subscribers see each time you send them an email, and they’re often the reason they open (or don’t) your email. Not all senders can get away with using the subject lines about cat videos, but all senders can extensively test their subject lines to make sure they resonate with their subscribers.

You can test tone, like The Hustle, or you can take a different approach by trying out different word counts, capitalization, and punctuation. The possibilities, like cat videos, are endless!

best-email-marketing-campaigns-2018It’s about to get personal

2. Airbnb
Review by Austin Whiting, Email Marketing Associate

Airbnb is an online marketplace for short-term lodging and vacation rentals. Self-described as ” A Community Built on Trust,” they have built a strong reputation which supports that.

The following email I received from Airbnb stood out to me as a great promotional email example for various reasons, but right off the bat, what stood out to me was the use of personalization.

Personalization

My favorite aspect of the personalization used in this email occurs within the subject line. They didn’t include just one piece of personalization, but two!

“Austin, how about a weekend getaway from Denver?” it asked.

While those of us who work in marketing or related fields know it was probably pretty simple to include a first name and city within the subject line through basic substitution tags, it gave me a sense of curiosity that inside that email there might be something picked out specifically for me. Maybe it was something I didn’t even know I wanted or needed.

So I immediately knew I was going to open that email. Once I did, I was told to “Get inspired for the weekend” and then shown where my fellow Denver travelers were headed for their weekend getaways. This is also a fairly straightforward way to pull together some data to share what my fellow “Denverites” were planning for their weekend, and to give me just what they promised–some inspiration.

This email marketing example does a great job of using data in a simple and logical way to create a personalized experience. And my favorite part, which was really the simplest, was the twice personalized subject line which is easily executable through substitution tags within Marketing Campaigns.

Keep up the good work, Airbnb and thanks for the inspiration!

3. Medium
Review by Matt Rushing, Manager of Conversion Marketing

Medium(.com) is an online publishing platform featuring articles ranging from personal finance, to sports, to humor, and much, much more. It also serves as a blog hosting service, allowing users to create accounts featuring content of their own. Rather than focusing on unique visitors to their website, the company optimizes its business around time spent reading the site–a testament to the quality of the content provided.

best-email-marketing-campaigns-2018Medium’s “Daily Digest” is one of the best email examples because of its use of personalization. (Disclaimer: I don’t work for Medium, so the following contains assumptions about the inner-workings of their personalization!)

Medium doesn’t hide its commitment to content personalization. Upon signing up for a free account, your first task is to select subject matter that most interests you. Those interests are then plugged into their magical personalization engine, which goes towards generating your “Daily Digest” email.

As your consumption of Medium content continues, the personalization in the digest sharpens, making it the epitome of my “wanted mail” every morning. What better way to engage with recipients than by giving them all of the content they explicitly asked for?

In addition to personalization, this email has a lot of other cool stuff going on:

  • Featured article: Each digest features one story at the top, which is also included in the subject line of the email.
  • Read time: Before choosing to click on an article, recipients are given a heads up with an “X min read” warning (The Full Send also does this!).
  • Author recognition: A lot of Medium’s content is user-generated, and they do a great job of recognizing their contributors. Not only is the author listed under each article, but the author of the featured article also gets a shout-out in the subject line.
  • Categorization: If I’m not in the personal finance mood today, I can continue to scroll down to another category that better aligns with my current mood.
  • Surprise me: Finally, the digest closes with a little gamification in the vein of Google’s “I’m feeling lucky.” By clicking “Surprise me with a story,” you’re directed to a random story, still likely aligned to your interests, that’s not included in the digest.

I encourage you to sign up for a Medium account (if for no other reason) to start receiving your Daily Digest emails. You’ll begin to look forward to the content picked just for you and may get some email campaign ideas for your own program.

Emails that leverage testing

4. Bookit
Review by Mike Pace, Director of Demand Generation

I’ve used the travel company Bookit.com to book multiple vacations to Cancun. Since those trips, I routinely find emails on current deals at resorts throughout Mexico and various Caribbean destinations in my inbox.

I often find myself perusing their deals and desperately fighting the urge to plan another impulse vacation. “What? An all-inclusive resort in Cancun for less than $100 per night? Tell me more.” Here’s what works.

Let’s start with segmentation
Now, I can only assume that I have been added to some sort of Mexico/Caribbean destination email list segment. Why? Because I have already booked multiple vacations through their website, to these locales, and now I receive email deals for the same area.

This email marketing campaign has essentially become a retargeting campaign. They know I like to vacation in a specific region, so they keep showing me the current offers.

Next, the subject line

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Before I even open the email, I have an idea about what deals are inside. Often, I find them describing the offers in different ways. This tells me that they are experimenting with subject line testing. This specific subject line tells me that they are testing a time-based incentive: “Today Only!” (talk about FOMO), along with a low-friction commitment: “$1 to Book It”, coupled with the deal.

Each week I notice a different variation of their subject line. Sometimes they lead with the deal, other times they push the time-based offer. This indicates that Bookit constantly tests and tries new things to see what works best.

Then we look above the fold

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When looking at the opened email, something specific stands out to me. I know what you are thinking: The picture, right? I agree, it’s beautiful and grabs your attention, as it should.

However, the thing I like the most is the branding of the search box at the top. Even though you aren’t able to enter your destination and check in/check out dates, the email is branded the same as on the website.

The marketer in me appreciates this for two reasons: 1) it maintains consistent design across multiple experiences, and 2), more importantly, it subtly implies what the desired CTA (call-to-action) will be on the website.

It works as a way to help guide people to the conversion event you are hoping they will take, once they click through to your site. I know that if I want to book a new vacation at one of these stunning resorts, I will need to look for that search box.

Finally, the body

As I stated, previously, I look at these emails a lot. Probably far more than my bank account would like. And throughout my browsing, one thing I have noticed is the differences in the body copy and design.

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It becomes apparent that Bookit is also testing various templates and elements in their email campaigns. In one variation they are testing the impact that larger pictures have on CTRs (click-thru-rates). In the other, they are testing the concept of “social proof” through customer quotes.

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The concept of A/B testing in your emails, not unlike website pages, is an essential part of understanding what truly resonates with your customers and can drastically improve conversion rates.

Through the use of segmentation, strong CTAs, branding elements, and A|B testing, Bookit.com is a perfect example of a strong email program. Now if you’ll excuse me, there is a tropical resort I need to look into.

Copy & content

5. Yelp
Review by Dustin Hovey, Sr. SEM Manager

There are two things that almost always catch my attention: creative, witty alliteration and savory, delectable desserts. Yelp, a leading customer review site, managed to incorporate both in one of the many themed newsletters they recently sent me.

Yelp’s weekly newsletter titled, “Bangin’ Beignets!” tempted, and ultimately, persuaded me to try the powdered sugar delights at a few of my local restaurants.

What works
This particular edition of The Weekly Yelp newsletter for “Bangin’ Beignets!” provides an email campaign with a well-balanced image to text ratio. The newsletter depicts a delicious assortment of beignets to catch the reader’s attention followed by concise and creative copy that is straight to the point.

Just below the primary copy, I am presented with three local restaurants that serve delicious looking beignets. A picture of these amazing delicacies, along with a customer review of how they are served, accompany the copy for each restaurant.

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Remember that many ISPs look through keywords to determine whether an email is spam or not, so if your emails are too image-heavy (with little use of text), it may raise a red flag to spam filters.

What can you do? Test and evaluate image to text ratio of your newsletter performance within SendGrid Marketing Campaigns. SendGrid offers users the ability to view metrics such as:

  • Overall engagement stats – open rates, click-through rates, link performance, and unsubscribes
  • Engagement comparisons – against past issues
  • Notable content – were special pieces of content promoted, and if so, how did they do compared to other items in the newsletter?
  • Interactive heat map – displays a visual where recipients are clicking the most.

Whether you are pushing “Bangin’ Beignets!”, “Tasty Tacos,” “Quality Queso,” or something less salivating if you’re not in the food business, incorporating a healthy image to text ratio is paramount in keeping your readers engaged and ensuring your emails stay out of the spam folder.

Branding & Design

best-email-marketing-campaigns-20186. Birchbox
-Jill Guest, Sr. Engagement Marketing Manager

This example of stellar email design comes from one of my guilty pleasures, Birchbox, a service that sends personalized beauty product samples to your door every month. This email is telling me about options to customize my April box by choosing some specific samples—and giving me a little shopping break in the middle of my day!

The design of this email is both gorgeous and super effective for a few reasons:

  • Bright colors and bold font: the yellow is very eye-catching, and the limited use of text makes the email very skimmable.
  • They broke up the content into 3 main sections that clearly show what the email is trying to accomplish (getting me to choose the way I want to customize the box). Despite needing to scroll a little, I can interpret the goal of the email instantly.
  • There is also a ton of valuable intel given right in the email, from photos of the actual samples to my loyalty program level, and my point balance.

Everything about this email is eye-catching and engaging. They’ve made it personalized to me using the substitution tags in the header and subject line, and made it super simple for me to take action. Plus, I got to shop!

Generally, just a great email

best-email-marketing-campaigns-20187. Mint
Review by Jessy Sweet, Associate Product Marketing Manager

Mint is a leading personal finance app from Intuit. Offering easy budgeting, bill tracking and payments, free credit scores, and personalized advice for money management, Mint makes it simple to stay on top of your finances.

This email from Mint makes our top email list because it has:

  • A headline that catches your eye. Let’s face it: credit can be a scary topic. The headline of this email gives a reader pause (“Am I being fooled by credit myths? How much do I really know about my credit?”), encouraging them to continue to the content below.
  • A clean, simple design that doesn’t overwhelm you. Pops of colors and high-quality images are on-brand and reflect the simplicity of the Mint platform. And by using SendGrid Marketing Campaigns, the Mint team can quickly add and fine-tune pictures, buttons, and more to achieve their email vision.
  • A place to provide feedback on the content of the email. Including a preference center where recipients can update their information or unsubscribe from emails is critical for ensuring you’re only sending wanted mail. Mint takes this a step farther with a link to a simple, anonymous form for readers to explain why or why not they found this email useful—what a great way to source feedback and learn from your recipient base!

I love this example because the email campaign unselfishly delivers value. Mint’s mission is to help people understand and improve their financial habits so they can meet their financial objectives. By serving the reader with useful, educational content, Mint reminds the reader of their financial goals and why they created a Mint account in the first place.

8. Autopilot
Review by Kate Schmeisser, Creative Content Manager

We’ve all said things that we truly meant in the moment, but then our actions didn’t follow suit. For example, you intend to read newsletters from a company that you *know* sends great content.

Have you opened an email from them in the past three weeks? Not even one.

Time is a precious commodity. But what’s an email marketer to do about recipients who say they want their communication (by expressly opting in) but then go dark?

Hit them with a re-engagement email! Check out this example from Autopilot, a company that empowers others to create remarkable marketing journeys:

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Autopilot produces killer content, and I initially signed up for their email anticipating that I would devour every asset they sent my way…but, apparently, it’s been a while since I opened or clicked. (My bad, Autopilot! Hope we’re still cool.)

Let’s run through a few highlights of why this email deserves a hat tip:

Mysterious subject line

Using a cliffhanger subject line that leaves the recipient wondering/wanting something more is a great way to encourage and increase opens. But it’s a tactic that needs to be used sparingly—I’d recommend saving it for an important 10% of your messages. You don’t want to earn a reputation for using clickbait!

Personal approach

This email technically is HTML (note the big blue button with the CTA), but it has an overall plain text look and feel. Because it addresses me by name, is a similar font to what I would see from a friend that’s writing me an email, and closes with the sender’s name and title (that also matched the from address), it makes the overall recipient experience feel more like a 1:1 conversation.

What’s in it for me?

This re-engagement email outlines what people will continue to receive by re-opting in to receive their mail—new articles, industry leading reports, and Oscar-worthy webinars. Seems like a no-brainer, but it’s often overlooked content! Remind those subscribers what hooked them in the first place and get them excited to start engaging again.

Although this email campaign example isn’t the flashiest from a design perspective, you can tell that the Autopilot team put thought into their recipients’ experience and crafted their message with the end goal in mind—to get their sleepy subscribers to wake up…or excuse themselves from their list.

And if those well-meaning, but busy subscribers don’t opt back in, Autopilot will be better off for it! (Because non-engaging subscribers are worse for your sending reputation than un-subscribers.)

9. Artifact Uprising
Review by Lauren Parsell, Associate Media Buyer

Artifact Uprising is a premium quality, custom photo print company that is very intentional about every aspect of their business, from the initial photo capture to the materials they use for printing. Their marketing emails don’t falter in intention either, as their style is a condensed replication of their site.

In this top email campaign example, Artifact Uprising’s design style is so tranquil that it screams their name. Ironic, huh? Successful branding doesn’t always require a big bold logo.

The fonts and imagery in the body of the email are pulled directly from the guide they’re promoting, which creates a seamless experience for the user as they click through. I find this important because there is absolutely no deception about what you’re getting once you arrive at the actual guide.

I appreciate descriptive copy that accentuates design and style, without overshadowing it, and since Artifact Uprising is a photography focused company, it makes total sense that they’d design this way.

Each section of copy complements each photo with concise, digestible tips. The clever part here is that the promoted guide is titled “6 Tips to Photograph Spring,” yet the email only provides two tips, leaving the reader hungry for the final four.

Three very different, yet obvious clear calls to action are sprinkled throughout the email copy. The most obvious, “Get The Guide,” is at the top (likely for those who don’t need any additional coaxing to their site). The following, “Start Here,” is a great way to keep eyes navigating down the email. The final is at the end of the content, as a final closer. All three CTAs are positioned as actionable buttons, but they’re subtle; not pushy or repetitive.

It’s no surprise that this email’s design speaks volumes, as it’s a consistent theme of beauty and finesse which ultimately is Artifact Uprising.

Takeaways from the best email campaign examples

Many elements go into creating a knockout email marketing campaign. But don’t let that overwhelm you. Focus on providing simple and friction-free experiences for your recipients and tailor your ideas, experiments, and optimizations around this single notion.

If you’re starting out with email marketing, consider focusing on one element such as design, testing, or copy and add a focus area with each campaign. And if you’re already creating emails, but are looking for ways to improve, start trying to get more in depth with additional testing strategies or enhanced branding and design. When in doubt, take another look through the best email marketing examples above for new ideas to try in your campaigns.

Feeling inspired enough to start creating your own campaigns based on the email marketing examples above? Check out SendGrid’s Free Email Marketing Templates to create your next email marketing campaign!

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