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The 5 most engaging email campaigns of 2016 (so far)

The 5 most engaging email campaigns of 2016 (so far) Chris Marriott

Every year come November/December, my team and I select the top 10 most innovative emails of the year. It's always been tough coming up with the final 10, and in preparation each year, we start filing emails in January that catch our attention for one reason or another. Then at the end of the year we review them all and select the winner in each of our 10 categories.

Oftentimes there will be more than one email example for particular brands, which got us thinking as we turn the corner on the halfway point of 2016. Which brands so far this year are turning up the most in our file of emails to judge at the end of the year? Whose emails are we noticing more than others? While the end of the year is based on a single email example, I thought it would be interesting to discuss those brands who are standing out most often as we do our email examples and explain why I think that is the case. So what follows are the five most engaging email campaigns of 2016 from the perspective of your humble Marketing Democracy team, in no particular order.

CVS Pharmacy

CVS Pharmacy is a perennial favorite of the team. Members of its loyalty program receive a steady stream of email coupons throughout the year, whether as in the case of this example, it's a percentage off, or it's an actual dollar value. A simple click on a button in the email sends the coupon directly to your card, ready to be used a checkout. For a brand with notoriously long paper receipts at check-out, it's an incredibly simple and easy way to get your savings. These email coupons come at a steady enough pace that subscribers can time their in-store purchases around when they expect to see one show up in their inbox.

But CVS isn't just about coupons; its entire email program is smart, but more importantly useful, to its subscribers. Communications directly from the pharmacy itself keep one informed about prescriptions. And special offers on products CVS knows you are buying round out a program that likely gets very high engagement from the most loyal, and even not so loyal customers. It's an ongoing dialog that few brands master.

Bare Necessities

Another perennial favorite of the team is Bare Necessities. It's a frequent emailer (up to twice a day – yes, you read that correctly), and that could get tiresome quickly if the company didn't quickly begin to send emails pertaining to brands and products you've bought through its site previously. Somehow all of that email volume feels less intrusive when a brand actually knows what you might or might not be looking for at a particular moment. Sure, there are also a lot of more general "sale" emails thrown into the mix, but who doesn't like a "25 percent off and free shipping" email offer?

Like CVS, Bare Necessities has taken individual email awards from us, but it also stands out for its body of work. (No pun intended!)

FTD Flowers

I've written about FTD previously, but it had more to do with a specific customer service issue and a poorly-timed email than it did the brand's email program in general. Let's face it -- if you're FTD, you send big around the holidays and spend the rest of the year sending triggered emails to individual subscribers around birthdays and other events they've asked to be reminded about. And then what? What struck us in the number of "sale" emails around "just because" occasions that were grabbing our attention. After all, someone who likes to send flowers can be expected to do so around the typical sending occasions, but if you're FTD and you can induce one or two other "just because" orders via email, you are really doing good things for your bottom line. And those are the emails that are catching our attention -- and, I'm not going to lie to you -- leading to us sending some flowers to loved ones… just because!


Seeing the words "Staples" and "most engaging email campaigns" in the same sentence was probably not something you expected, but here they are, making our top five for 2016. How does the company do it? Two words: subject lines. The Staples team has perfected the art of "we've got something special just for you" subject line. Here are just a few examples that caught the team's eyes:

"Open ASAP! You're getting unbelievable promotions."
"Good thing you checked your inbox. 1 cent paper -- and the deal is real."
"$5, $500, even $1000 could be waiting for you."

It's no coincidence that each of these subject lines comes across as speaking directly to the subscriber -- all of them address the subscriber in the first person "you." If you ever needed more proof of the power and importance of an email subject line, here it is again.

Staples is a great example of a brand that might never crack the top 10 at the end of the year, but who consistently show up in the running. And when you think about email marketing, would you rather be the home run hitter who strikes out a lot, of the guy who bats for average? It's safe to say that the email program that bats for average is probably the one making more money.


If your first reaction to the final brand on our list was "who?!," we don't blame you. But it's not just the big, well-known brands that have mastered the art of email engagement. And besides, you'll probably thank us for turning you on to these guys.

Personalizationmall.com, like FTD Flowers, is a brand that does big business at certain times of the year, and then reverts to lower volumes of business the rest of the time. And in similar fashion to FTD, personalizationmall.com sends timely emails to remind us it's there, with high-value offers to encourage "off season" engagement. Even more so than FTD, a brand like this needs to keep your attention all year so that you don't forget to use it when it is in season, like around graduation. Wisely, it doesn't bombard the subscriber year-round – the company sends just enough email to keep one engaged, and more importantly, to keep itself top of mind.


So there is your first-time ever list of the top five most engaging email campaigns (or 2016, so far). Will any of these brands also make our top 10 list at the end of the year? You'll just have to wait until then to find out! But what can you learn from these five brands to use in your own email campaigns? Four things stood out for us, and you'd do well to incorporate one or more of them into your email strategy:

  • Provide me with things of value, not just a constant stream of emails selling what you want to sell. CVS is great at this.
  • Related to that, make it all about me in the subject line. Staples has nailed that.
  • Be able to predict what I might want -- or don't want -- at the moment you are sending the email. This is an area where Bare Necessities shines.
  • Remind me that you are there in between the times I expect to hear from you, and give me a good incentive to do extra business with you. FTD and Personalizationmall.com have both mastered this.

There are lots of other brands who are doing great jobs engaging their subscribers. These were the ones that caught our eyes. If you think there's a brand we missed, let us know in the comments section.

Chris is the President and Founder of Marketing Democracy, LLC. Marketing Democracy provides email marketers with a range of consulting services around vendor selection (RFPs), vendor migration, and email marketing optimization.  Clients...

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