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The 10 most innovative emails of 2014

Christopher Marriott
The 10 most innovative emails of 2014 Christopher Marriott
At The Relevancy Group, we live and breathe email marketing. We work with some of the biggest email marketers in the industry, as well as all of the top ESPs. And while we try to act as honest brokers in the work we do, we are still consumers when the work day is over. As consumers who receive a lot of commercial email, we are just as likely as anyone else to engage with great emails and ignore those that aren't so great. So once again, as the year approaches its ending, we bring you our list of the 10 most innovative emails of the year. 

Like last year, this wasn't a contest you could enter. (However, we might change that in 2015, so stay tuned.) Email marketers had to get into our email inboxes, or get noticed and shared with us by people whose opinions we respect. And again, there are no prizes other than bragging rights. The categories reflect our thoughts on which types of emails are most strategic in nature and, when done right, can have the biggest impact on a marketer's business. We've included the email services provider used by each of the winners, because on some level either their services and/or their platforms helped these emails get into our inboxes, get noticed by us, and ultimately, get on this list. So, without further ado, we bring you this year's winners.

Best abandoned cart email

FTD: Salesforce Marketing Cloud (ExactTarget) 

Research conducted by us during the last 12 months uncovered that only 23 percent of enterprise marketers 17 percent at the mid-market utilize abandoned shopping cart emails. So maybe everyone who does should get an innovation award! What makes this email from FTD stand out, however, is the quality of the design. A lot of these types of emails can end up looking cobbled together as a result of what might have been left in the cart. FTD's puts the item left behind in the hero position in the upper left corner. The friendly body copy exhorts you to "Come on Back!" and thanks you for having visited in the first place. Of course, it hopes you didn't have any problems at check out. Topping it off is the personalized salutation, and a handy reminder at the bottom of your payment options.

Well-designed, well-written, and just the right length make for a compelling abandoned cart email -- the only thing that could improve on this email is a promo code for 10 percent off the order.

Best coupon email

Macy's (Epsilon)

We thought CVS's email coupons were going to be hard to beat after having taken this award last year. And it was hard to beat! The ability to either print out the coupon or send it directly to your loyalty card continues to be one of the best coupon emails we see on a regular basis. However, we had to acknowledge Macy's for its email that thanked new email subscribers with a coupon for 15 percent off (and free shipping) that could with be used online, or printed out for use in the store. Coupons that can be leveraged either online or offline signal that the marketer values your shopping preferences rather than trying to force you into one channel or another.

What else did we like? Well, the noted the actual store location where we signed up for email, and the warm and friendly tone -- a nice "thank you," a coupon to encourage immediate engagement, and a simple request to also sign up for texts. And why not? Signing up for the email got us a 15 percent off coupon! What next?

Best request for feedback email

Live Nation, Salesforce Marketing Cloud (ExactTarget)
Lots of marketers follow-up a purchase with a request for feedback, but let's face it -- unless it's in a category you are somewhat passionate about to begin with, you're not likely to share your thoughts with them. Music, on the other hand, is an area where people have passionate opinions and are other eager to share them. We chose this specific email because of the simplicity of the message. It's short and to the point. You liked the show? Here's a big button you can click to go post a review! The email services three important functions -- it reminds you that you went to the show, and who provided the tickets, it encourages post-purchase reengagement while crowdsourcing content for the website, and lastly, gives you the opportunity to browse for future events, leading to the possibility of another sale.

Oh, and the Goo Goo Dolls did rock!

Best "deal of the day" email

Rue La La, eBay Enterprise (eDialog)

As a category, the Daily Deal emails that hit our inboxes aren't generally the nicest ones to look at. Oftentimes they only consist of as many products and offers that can be jammed into the email. This is why we selected this email from Rue La La as this year's winner. The clean and simple layout of the email is in line with the fashionable branding of the company itself. The copy is also right on target, both in reflecting the brand and in speaking to the audience. It's fun, decidedly unserious, and also hard to resist, from the subject line talking about "gasp-worthy prices" to the "You have 24 hours. And... go" body copy.

Lastly, we liked the fact that the header telegraphs that there is going to be more than one night of "Freak-Out." Sure enough, this email was followed by a second one touting the second night of the event. Get your shop on!

Best "welcome" email

AllRecipes.com (Lyris)

The Macy's email we reviewed earlier was a finalist in this category, as well, but the nod went to this email from Allrecipes. There's a lot to like about the welcome email. It's a simple layout (yes, you can see a trend in our winners this year -- we tend to like simple) that reminds you your membership is "free" (always a good thing), and that there are five things you can start doing right away as a benefit of your membership.

What makes this approach so compelling is that the subscriber doesn't walk away thinking they've merely signed up to receive emails from Allrecipes, but rather they've joined a community of like-minded individuals, with email as the tie that binds -- which is exactly what they have done. And the sooner they start interacting with this community, the higher the likelihood that they will stick around for a while.

Best triggered email

Allen Edmonds (BlueHornet)

What do we like about Allen Edmonds' triggered emails? Just about everything. Before we get into that, we know that purists out there reading this are going to say that most of the previous categories were also triggered or automated emails, too. And they're right -- abandoned shopping cart, welcome email, and request for feedback all fall under that description. This category is meant to recognize a highly original use of triggers to increase ROI for a marketer.

So back to Allen Edmonds. This winning email is just one of a series of emails sent post-purchase to buyers of shoes. The upsell begins with the purchase transaction email, and stretches 365 days into the future. Our particular favorite is this belt offer, as it seems very logical that someone who just dropped several hundred dollars on a pair of shoes might be interested in a nice new belt to go with those shoes.

Best drive to retail email

CVS, eBay Enterprise (eDialog)

Last year CVS took home the trophy for best coupon email, a type of email in which it still excels. This year it gets the nod for the best "Drive to Retail" with -- you guessed it -- an email about coupons. In addition to the ongoing emails CVS sends, where you can print the coupon or send it to your loyalty card, it also has this email, which alerts you to the fact it's sent you a coupon in the mail for use in the store. (You can also use it online, but that is played down in the messaging.)

For those customers not in the habit of printing out coupons to bring to the store, this direct mail coupon followed by email alert is a great way to broaden your base of coupon redeemers. And the email is a very small investment to increase the awareness of the costly direct mail effort, and thus the coupon redemption.

Best newsletter

Olympus Cameras, Salesforce Marketing Cloud (ExactTarget)


Newsletters are a very tough category. Most product and service categories can't even support e-newsletters because there's no available content that is of the slightest interest to the potential subscriber. Of course that hasn't stopped a lot of marketers from trying. Fortunately for Olympus, there's a lot of interest in photography, which it's leveraged in its "Anywhere Classroom" series, a video photography class where Olympus user share professional advice. As a new episode is posted on the site, the email is sent to prompt the subscriber to click through and view. Some might argue this doesn't fit the strict definition of e-newsletter, but it fits ours -- it's content-focused, it's episodic, and it's a great way to engage customers between purchases.

Best re-activation email

Home Made Simple (Epsilon)

Joining CVS as a two-time winner is Home Made Simple, which captured the crown for best e-newsletter last year. What makes this email stand out from so many of the "we want you back" reactivation emails is its approach to getting to the bottom of your disinterest.

Broken into two categories of four each are simple-to-click responses to either your issue(s) with the content of the emails, or how your preferences have changed. You can't still simply just unsubscribe, but we suspect that the opportunity to fine-tune the content of the e-newsletters you receive works well to re-engage a number of subscribers who otherwise might just have unsubscribed. We also like how they highlight the opportunity to engage in social channels if your channel preferences have changed over time.

Reactivation campaigns are never going to be hugely successful. In most instances your subscriber has merely "silently unsubscribed" from your email. But it's less costly to reactivate than get a new subscriber. Home Made Simple is putting itself in the best place for success with this email.

Best timed email

Lands' End (Yesmail)

The other name for this category could be "best impulse purchase email," because the award goes to that email that hits the mailbox with the right offer at the right time. We especially liked this email because of its embrace of the Halloween spirit in its design, and in the special "31 percent Off" offer. Good thing October doesn't stop at 28 days like poor February! Halloween day isn't necessarily thought of as a heavy shopping day, unless it's to get last-minute candy supplies. This is exactly why we liked this so much! You're sitting around Halloween night, giving out candy -- what are you going to do to pass the time? Well, with this high-value coupon showing up in your inbox, you can do some shopping and save a lot of money -- the perfect complement to giving out candy to the neighborhood kids!

So there you have it -- our top 10 emails from 2014. Like the winners last year, you may have noticed they have one big thing in common -- they are all relatively simple layouts, and are single-minded about the message being delivered. We, obviously, like that because they make it easy to do business with the companies that sent them. And the easier you are to do business with, the more business your customers will do with you. Remember that when designing your company's email templates. And as this is my last contribution of the year, let me also wish everyone a very Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah, and a great New Year. See you in January! 

Chris Marriott is the vice president of services and principal consultant at The Relevancy Group.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"Email" image via Shutterstock.


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