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Three Tried and True Email Creative Tactics for Instant Visibility in a Crowded Inbox

by Karen Talavera

09 14, 2011 | Posted in Creative, Email Marketing, Messaging Strategy | 2 comments

Does your email creative stand out like this?

photo credit: shahsjunkie

With email inboxes more crowded than ever before, simply arriving successfully is half the battle.  Assuming you routinely have good deliverability, the second half of that battle is standing out in a crowd.

The majority of email users (more than 70% by some estimates) view the lineup of email messages in their inboxes via preview panes, so only a snapshot of each message is visible either to the right or on the lower half of their screens.  Mobile environments can be even worse, eliminating preview-ability altogether.

Like it or not that’s today’s reality for email marketers, which is why it’s so essential that your email messages not only pop and get straight to the point, but also know how to make an entrance!

What follows are three tried and true creative tactics that always up your message appeal.Although you may have seen these applied to marketing and advertising in offline channels, because of the short attention span, deliverability and rendering issues of email I think it’s even more important to adhere to them in the inbox, and that they have greater impact online than off:

1) Compelling, Colorful Headlines stand out and are easily readable in preview panes. They immediately draw the reader into the main point of your message.  Don’t rely solely on a graphic header like one that may be topping your blog or site to do the job of a headline; they’re two different things.  While a graphic banner or “masthead” may be fine for e-newsletters, other marketing messages require more punch and relevancy.  Each deserves a unique headline.  Take a look at this example from restaurant group Bonefish Grill (they have a history of great email headlines, by the way).  Notice not only the great headline copywriting, but that each section of the message has a sub-headline to draw the reader in.

Enlightened eMarketing Tip:  Headline font faces, sizes and colors are routinely tested, but you don’t need to go to such lengths if you simply follow the graphic standards of your brand and marketing communications.  So, don’t forget that headline, and try tying it into your message subject line too.

2) Pictures, please!  Eye-tracking lab studies measuring how people visually interact with email has proven that messages with images get higher readability than those without.  While including a picture of a product is an obvious tactic to increasing advertising effectiveness, much email marketing is not product or retail-oriented; it’s service or content-oriented.  Finding relevant photos and images for these types of messages is just as important as it is for clothing and furniture retailers, whose catalog-spread-style emails and sites consist largely of images alone.  See how much more interesting this B-to-B email for phone conference services looks with images vs. text alone.

Enlightened eMarketing Tip: Include at least one image in every promotional email.  Photos are ideal, but even illustrations, cartoons, caricatures, logos and icons are effective.  Experiment with different percentages of copy vs. graphics.  Editorial-style emails are usually longer on copy than graphics, but you might find a highly compelling photo with a strong headline and short intro paragraph working just as well or better as your meatier messages.

3) Less is so much more.  When it comes to effective email creative, simplicity rules. Too many marketing emails err on the side of needing more “white space” in their designs.  Don’t feel compelled to fill every pixel with color or content.  Give your readers’ eyes a rest, and remember that a few bold elements can draw curiosity (and are more visible) than many detailed ones.  Just try this J Crew email on for size to see what I mean.

In summary, harken back a moment to something I mentioned at the start of this article: we approach email with an incredibly short attention span, sizing up whether to open and act on messages in near sub-second timeframes.  So when it comes to your email marketing, let clean, clear, simple and to the point rule your design.  Show as well as tell, and don’t just tell in one way – use subject lines, headlines, subheads and message copy to tell and tell again. Not only will clear, uncluttered email gain the gratitude of your designer, but your customers as well.

Next month:  Three innovations in email marketing creative that will have your messages not merely standing out in a crowd, but gaining celebrity in-box status.

Creative Commons License photo credit: shahsjunkie

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