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  • January 22, 2009

Design Hall of Fame: 2008 Inductees

Welcome to the Retail Email Blog’s second annual inductions into the Design Hall of Fame, which recognizes standout examples of email design. With the number of permission-based emails sent every year climbing, design is one of the key ways you can stand out in the inbox. After reading more than 12,000 retail emails during 2008, here are my picks for the most inspiring uses of visual design, calls-to-action, FTAF and SWYN, animated gifs, video and web 2.0 in emails:

Great eye-catching design transcends great photography. Here are my picks for standout design from 2008:

HPshopping, 12/4 — Stay Connected on the Go! Check out the NEW HP Mini 1000!
Having the image of the laptop break the box of the email and stick out on either side really makes it stand out. And showing the laptop at its actual size invites you to reach out and put your hands “around it” or hold up your existing laptop to it to compare sizes, which gives it an interactive edge.

Click to view this Dec. 4, 2008 HP email full-sized


Norm Thompson, 12/8 — Bonus Days - 20% OFF extended thru Tuesday.
Considerably narrower (only 400 pixels) than your average email, this email immediately stands out as different. It’s long, skinny design encourages scrolling—and the gingerbread man at the end is a great finishing touch.

Click to view this Dec. 8, 2008 Norm Thompson email full-sized

Urban Outfitters, 10/6 — Right On.
I don’t know that the content of this email screams out for a side-scrolling treatment (Bluefly’s birthday timeline email and Dell’s widescreen monitor email seem like better candidates), but I give Urban Outfitters props for trying this alternative format. Side-scrollers are extremely rare, and therefore automatically different. UO has the additional benefit in that the readers of their blog will be familiar with side-scrolling.

Click to view this Oct. 6, 2008 Urban Outfitters email full-sized

JC Whitney, 8/1 — Save Fuel, Cash And Up To 15% Off Your Order!
Back when gas prices were breaking records, JC Whitney sent this timely email about products to help subscribers save gas. The Photoshopped image was eye-catching, humorous and well-designed so that it appeared in preview panes.

Click to view this Aug. 1, 2008 JC Whitney email full-sized

You should be testing calls-to-action in the same way that you do subject lines. Depending on your customer base, subscribers may respond better to something other than the oft-used “Buy Now.” Softening the sell, injecting humor or using a benefits-related CTA may be more enticing in the end. Here are some standout CTAs from last year:

Bluefly, 12/17 — 2 Hours Only - PRADA Wallets $169!
Bluefly’s new email featuring very limited time only deals had a very sexy, on brand name: The Quickie. It also had an on brand call-to-action: “Do It Now.” This is a great case of the CTA working well with the vibe of the headline, deck and other body copy.

Click to view this Dec. 17, 2008 Bluefly email full-sized

Old Navy, 1/14 — New Loungewear and Intimates, Plus Clearance Online & In-Store
“Break Hearts” is a great call-to-action for a Valentine’s Day email—succinct, active, seasonal, encouraging and aspirational.

Click to view this Jan. 14, 2008 Old Navy email full-sized


SmartBargains, 8/14 — Get our fave furniture find for $200 off - plus save 10% more
When many retailers still rely on “Shop Now” and “Buy Now” calls-to-action, SmartBargains’ approach to CTAs is refreshing. As demonstrated in this email, they use a mix of CTAs that are humorous or contain lifestyle or value messaging.

Click to view this Aug. 14, 2008 SmartBargains email full-sized

If your deals are enticing or content interesting, your emails are regularly shared by your subscribers. Providing forward-to-a-friend and share-with-your-network functionality reminds and encourages subscribers to share your emails and organically expands the reach of your messaging. Here are some standout uses of FTAF and SWYN functionality from 2008:

AbeBooks, 7/18 — Textbooks: Give a Student the Gift of Savings!
This is a compelling use of forward to a friend. They’ve made it the primary call-to-action of this email and instead of saying “Forward to a Student,” they used a much more compelling “Help a Student Save” call-to-action. Hitting the button takes you to a special forward-to-a-friend form with the student language on it. They wisely didn’t use their standard FTAF landing page. Sometimes I hear marketers saying that they only see forward rates of less than 1% and I always ask, “What have you done to try to boost that? Do you ever incorporate the forward-to-a-friend request into your primary message?” This is the kind of treatment I’m referring to. I’m sure they saw much more than a 1% forward rate from this (and that’s not including folks that forwarded it via their email client).

Click to view this July 18, 2008 AbeBooks email full-sized

Ralph Lauren, 6/18 — Explore The World Of Wimbledon
Ralph Lauren was the first major retailer to embrace SWYN functionality and in this email they pair a strong “Share This Email” call-to-action with video and article content about Wimbledon.

Click to view this June 18, 2008 Ralph Lauren email full-sized


Hallmark, 1/28 — FREE SHIPPING plus $10 off roses--last chance!
In this email, Hallmark uses a “Shop Now” call-to-action to appeal to their male subscribers and uses their forward-to-a-friend functionality to appeal to female subscribers, urging them to forward this Valentine’s Day email to their “wonderful guy.” If Hallmark had been able to gender segment their list, they could have sent a more focused email to their female subscribers using the FTAF link as the primary call-to-action. But without that segmentation ability, this email is a nice compromise.

Click to view this Jan. 28, 2008 Hallmark email full-sized

Animated gifs can amuse, extend screen real estate and draw attention to a message. Here are some standout examples from last year:

HPshopping, 4/28 — Get Down & Dirty With Mike Rowe and HP's New tx2000z Notebook
My favorite use of animation is to demonstrate product functions and this is a great example of that. The first animated gif shows you how the screen of the laptop can pivot and the second shows you how the printer folds up. You have to be careful not to overdo animation, but I think that the two animated gifs are far enough apart that it’s not an issue in this email.

Click to view this Apr. 28, 2008 HPshopping email full-sized

Here are the animated portions of this email:

Animated portion of Apr. 28, 2008 HPshopping email

Animated portion of April 28, 2008 HPshopping email

TigerDirect, 11/11 — 8gb USB $15...Samsung 61" HDTV $1099...4gb HP Touchscreen
This is another example of animation used for demonstration. The animation here shows you how you can use the touchscreen on this HP computer to interact with the images. This is a great “show, don’t tell” example.

Animated portion of Nov. 11, 2008 TigerDirect email


SmartBargains, 12/11 — Get an Extra 25% Off Your Entire Order!
SmartBargains gives us what I believe is a first—the first animated call-to-action button. Simple and very clever, it draws the eye right to where you want subscribers to click.

Click to view this Dec. 11, 2008 SmartBargains email full-sized

Here’s the animated portion of this email:

Animated portion of Dec. 11, 2008 SmartBargains email

Harry & David, 12/3 — TAKE 20% OFF your $125 order!
Animated gifs don’t have to beat subscribers over the head. Here’s a great subtle application, one that helps draw the eye down the email and encourage scrolling.

Click to view this Dec. 3, 2008 Harry & David email larger

And here’s the animated portion of that email:

Animated portion of Dec. 3, 2008 Harry & David email

A new category this year, video is becoming a more important element in email—especially since it looks like embedded video will finally become a reality this year. Here are some standout examples of video content usage during 2008:

Sears, 12/13 — Say Thank You to a Hero
This email sparked a huge debate about whether the VHD Technology solution used by Sears for this email was truly embedded video or just a streaming gif. (You can read more about the debate in the Dec. 15 AM Inbox.) Regardless of how it works, what’s undeniable is that the email contained the most impressive video quality ever seen in a retail email—and it’s just the beginning. With Goodmail Systems readying to launch its embedded video solution, this Sears email has set the stage for lots of experimentation with embedded video this year. (See the video in this email in action here.)

Click to view this Dec. 13, 2008 Sears email full-sized


Apple, 7/1 — iPhone 3G is coming July 11. Watch the guided tour.
This was the first retail email I’d seen where the main call-to-action was a video—in this case a 30-minute video tour of the iPhone 3G. The email’s design is very simple and to the point, with a clear call-to-action.

Click to view this July 1, 2008 Apple email full-sized

OfficeMax, 8/14 — Exclusive Penny Deals for Back to School
OfficeMax’ Penny Prank Videos areawesome!!! and a great compliment to their Penny Deals campaign. They are videos of a guy trying to buy things with pennies—sometimes hundreds and sometimes thousands of them. After being criticized for the very viral but not very OfficeMax-relevant ElfYourself microsite, this looked much more relevant because it dovetailed with their Penny Deals promotional campaign so well.

Click to view this Aug. 14 OfficeMax email full-sized

In addition to video, the other tools in the web 2.0 toolbox are also becoming more important elements of email design. Here are some notable examples from last year:

Urban Outfitters, 2/1 — All New: Skull Set + Urban Outfitters
In this email Urban Outfitters promoted a Flickr group where people can upload pictures of themselves styling Urban Outfitters clothing. It’s a novel community-building idea that I haven’t seen any other retailer attempt—and fits into UO’s artsy, indie image. Besides giving customers an outlet to imitate the photographic style of UO, I wonder if would be a fertile ground to find modeling talent. The Flickr group only has a little more than 1,400 members (compared to their 70,000 Facebook fans), but it’s novel and totally on brand for them.

On the downside, in this email, when you clicked through the Flickr banner you were dropped off on the Urban Outfitters site first and you had to locate and click on a small banner for the Flickr pool at the bottom of the page to actually get there. So it wasn’t very user-unfriendly.

Click to view this Feb. 1, 2008 Urban Outfitters email full-sized


Neiman Marcus, 3/18 — Where to go for insider fashion & beauty news
While most retailers rarely if ever mention their blogs in their emails (if they indeed even have a blog), here’s Neiman Marcus dedicating an entire email to promoting their NM Insite blog with a mock magazine cover creative. Very chic.

Click to view this March 18, 2008 Neiman Marcus email full-sized

Want more design inspiration? Check out the 2007 inductees into the Design Hall of Fame.
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