Welcome to the Retail Email Blog’s fourth 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 nearly 16,000 retail emails during 2010, here are my picks for the most inspiring overall designs, best animated gifs, and greatest multichannel messaging in emails:
MOST EYE-CATCHING DESIGN
Great eye-catching design combines great copywriting and inspired imagery. Here are my picks for standout design from 2010:
Banana Republic, 2/16 — What to Wear 7 Days a Week
This inspired design plays off the human curiosity to see the entirety of something that’s partially obscured. Using a partial image is a novel way to encourage clicks to the landing page, which contained the full 7-day lineup of looks.
That’s the male version of the email and here’s the female version of this email, as shared by Anna Yeaman of Style Campaign via Twitter.
Urban Outfitters, 10/14 — Must-Haves: Coats, Boots, Bags
There are lots of ways to display products, but the way Urban Outfitters photographed the boots in this email is eye-catching and delightful. Very fun and on-brand for UO.
JCPenney, 8/18 — Get Down With Our Low Prices-School Styles Starting at $6.99!
JCPenney has been doing a great job of breaking the grid to visually break up the blockiness that plagues most email designs. In this email, they not only have the kid’s elbow poking out on the right, but they use spiral notebook-inspired edging along the left-hand side of the email and as the top border of the bottom banner. These elements—along with the diagonal headline and call-to-action button—add a lot of texture to the email and make it more inviting.
CB2, 8/17 — Blueprint for affordable modern. New CB2 fall catalog is here.
I love the fresh, aerial view in this email. It allows subscribers to appreciate some of the products in a new light—particularly the teepee dining table, red club rug and lantern arc floor lamp. The “blueprint” design is also refreshing and fun. This image was repurposed from a catalog cover, which doesn’t always work, but does here.
SmartBargains, 9/29 — A special offer for you! Thank You for 11 years of SMART.
Most “final day” emails tend to add a dot-whack “sticker” or a corner fold to the previous sale announcement for continuity. But this SmartBargains email takes a simple and unique approach by having some fun with their birthday candle design. Here’s what it looked like in the first email…
SmartBargains, 9/30 — FINAL HOURS! Additional 20% Off EVERYTHING
…and here’s what the candle looked like the next day:
BEST USE OF ANIMATION
Animated gifs can amuse, extend screen real estate and draw attention to a message. The percentage of retail emails that included an animated gif last year more than doubled vs. 2009, which made it even more difficult to narrow it down to the best of the best. But here are my picks for standout examples:
J. Jill, 12/25 — Happy holidays from J. Jill.
This email from J. Jill was my favorite season’s greeting email last year from retailers, 23% of which sent a season’s greeting email, up from 19% in 2009. Using a simple illustration style, the animation tells a nice story to support the season’s greetings and thank you message for supporting the J. Jill Compassion Fund. This is a non-repeating animated gif so you'll need to refresh your browser to see it from the beginning.
Neiman Marcus, 1/15 — Always explore your options! Manolo Blahnik Spring
This is a fun and flirty use of animation that evokes a shopping trip where you try on lots of shoes. Plus, the “explore your options” pun in the subject line likely resonated with subscribers ahead of Valentine’s Day. Neiman Marcus is somewhat unique in that they are big fans on non-repeating animated gifs, so you’ll need to refresh your browser to see this animation from the beginning.
Harry & David, 3/22 — Ear-resistible! Exclusive Easter Gifts They'll Love ...
Veterans of the animated gif, Harry & David give us another really clever, fun design to add to their list of animated gif hits. It works in several ways: First, the ears poke up into the header area, which is unusual and likely got folks’ attention in preview panes. It actually pokes so far up into the header that they made the header a little taller to accommodate the ears. For me, it’s a faint echo of HP’s Ginormica email (see 2009 Design Hall of Fame). Second, the animation brings your eye down the email, enticing you to scroll. And third—and perhaps most importantly—it makes me want to emulate the animation and eat one of these bunnies myself. One knock on the design was that the animation disrupted some of the navigation bar links in some browsers, but that’s a small price to pay for this out-of-the-box email design.
And here’s the animated portion of this email:
Bed Bath & Beyond, 8/23 — Sherwin-Williams helps complete any Bed Bath & Beyond room.
To support their messaging about how they’ve partnered with Sherwin Williams, Bed Bath & Beyond uses animation in this email to demonstrate how their bedding is complemented by three colors of paint. It’s a great concept executed well.
And here’s the animated portion of the email:
Bed Bath & Beyond, 6/1 — Clip. Snip. Buzz. Gifts for the well-trimmed Dad.
A fun subject line and a fun animated gif support what most would consider a not-too-exciting Father’s Day gift. The right messaging and creative can definitely change someone’s impression about a gift, making the staid seem interesting.
And here’s the animated portion of this email:
BEST USE OF MULTICHANNEL MESSAGING
More and more retailers are coming around to the fact that email marketing is a great partner for catalogs, store campaigns, Facebook messaging, mobile tactics and other endeavors. Here are some inspired examples of multichannel engagement from 2010:
Sports Authority, 11/26 — Sports Authority - Black Friday Doorbuster Deals – All Day
A handful of top retailers used check-ins via Foursquare, Yelp and Facebook Places on Black Friday, but only Sports Authority brought the viral crowd behavior into the store by entering people who check in into a sweepstakes and then announcing winners over the PA in the store that they are in. Done well, that should encourage other store shoppers to also check in. I definitely expect to see more check-in campaigns on Black Friday this year.
Sephora, 12/23 — Last Call
For a long time now, Sephora has been ahead of the curve on integration with Facebook. In this email, they give their subscribers a new last-minute option: to post a gift on a friend’s wall on Facebook that they can redeem online or in store. I suspect that this year we’ll see more retailers using Facebook to deliver gifts and gift cards like Sephora and Sears (see Dec. 21 AM Inbox) did last year.
Petco, 8/15 — PETCO Summer Scavenger Hunt! Win Prizes + FREE Shipping on $25
Reminiscent of Buy.com’s Tweet ’n Seek campaign (see May 28, 2009 AM Inbox), Petco ran a scavenger hunt campaign that exposed participants to four of their Facebook pages, two of their Twitter accounts, and their blog. It was ambitious and asked a lot of subscribers, asking them to go to many sites on specific days. But even if someone didn’t participate, there was still the likelihood that they checked out one of Petco’s social sites.
B&H Photo, 5/25 — The B&H insights Blog - Now Out of Beta!
In this email, B&H announced the launch of their blog, B&H insights. The launch comes with an appeal to join them on Facebook and Twitter, plus a video announcing the blog launch. In addition to including a bulleted list of benefits, I like how they include a list of popular posts, each with a prominent link to “Read & Discuss” or to join the discussion on Facebook. Including that real-world activity, takes this email message from telling subscribers what the blog will be about to showing them and inspiring immediate engagement.
Kohl’s, 8/11 — We still have all this money to give away.
In this email, Kohl’s makes a strong share call-to-action in connection with a campaign that gave away $10 million to the schools with the most votes on Facebook. The call-to-action to share the message via email, Facebook and Twitter was placed prominently above the primary message, whereas most retailers are still placing share calls-to-action below the primary message. The message was clear: Tell your friends to vote on Facebook.
Want more design inspiration?
Check out the 2009, 2008 and 2007 inductees into the Design Hall of Fame, as well as the 2010 Email Design Look Book .
Also check out the other Halls of Fame: Subject Line Halls of Fame and Oopsy Halls of Fame.
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