Find Your Email Inspiration: 4 Creative Tactics

Anna Pfeiffer, Senior Marketing Strategist

Anna Pfeiffer, Senior Marketing Strategist

Before I came to Bronto I managed an email marketing program for a major online retailer and I’d have to say that one of the most challenging aspects of the position was trying to continually come up with engaging and fresh campaign ideas. Figuring out how to position the product in a way that stands out among a cluttered inbox is something that every email marketer must (at least attempt!) to master. But being creative on an ongoing basis can be difficult when you’re dealing with the general nature or nuances of a product that may be limited in terms of presentation.

One thing that always helped me get the creative juices flowing was to peruse blogs and other sites featuring winning (and sometimes losing) email examples. The Retail Email Blog is a great site to see and learn from many different email campaigns. WhichTestWon helps visitors see how creative changes can make big differences in results. These are great resources to see what email campaigns are standing out and what marketers think of them.

But I’d have to say that my number one suggestion for how email marketers can improve the creativity of their program is: SUBSCRIBE! To everything you can! Any retailer out there that you’ve heard has a good email program or whose other marketing efforts impress you could be a gold mine in terms of inspiration. Subscribe to all of your competitors’ programs. Subscribe to retailers completely outside your industry. Make sure that your inbox has a wealth of examples to draw from, which probably means creating a dummy account just for this purpose.

In looking through my own inbox recently, I’ve selected some examples that I’d like to share with you. These emails, for one reason or another, stand out. They are engaging and they give something back to the subscriber. How many of these ideas can you run with?


The first type of campaign I’d like to highlight is what’s considered a value-add message. Instead of simply presenting a product as new or featured, these retailers are being helpful to the consumer – and pointing out product features cleverly while painting a bigger picture as to how they can positively impact some aspect of your life.

Crate&Barrel emailConsider this email from Crate & Barrel. Instead of just featuring the products, C&B is telling a story and creating an atmosphere of fun. They’re showing how their products can improve your tailgating experience and even offers recipes, and tips and tricks for getting the most out of your afternoon pre-gaming. I especially love the personalized feeling they created by including suggestions from their Facebook fans! This message is a win because it’s engaging and informational, yet fun. It gives value to the subscriber and doesn’t come across as overly promotional. Kudos, C&B!

Container Store emailHere’s another example from The Container Store that has the same appeal – relating storage solutions to an experience (in this case summer camp) was a great way to feature products while pointing out how they can help by giving “camptime tips.”


Another campaign type I come across every now and again are emails containing games. These can be really fun, lighthearted and engaging if done right. Sometimes you might have to sacrifice best practices to try something new but if it works, it might just attract a fair amount of attention!

Locals Know emailConsider this message from The Canadian Tourism Commission. Many marketers are familiar with this example, as it really stood out and had us taking note due to its unique approach. This email goes WAY beyond the standard best practice for email width, as it features a side-scrolling scavenger hunt of sorts, which ends with a request to participate in a contest. But it’s very different, which catches subscribers’ attention and engages them to participate.

Here’s another example of an email game – this message gives a sneak peak of the Spin & Save game with a cute animated GIF, leading the subscriber to a landing page where they can spin the wheel to collect a discount. This is a quick & easy way to engage the subscriber, make them feel like a winner and prompt them to shop. I have seen occasional games like these, peppered into an email program, make a big difference in terms of both overall engagement and conversions. When engagement is becoming increasingly important with regard to deliverability, offering these nuggets of entertainment can be a real win when it comes to improving open and click rates!

Animated GIFs

Speaking of animated GIFs – this is another trend I’m sure you’ve noticed popping up in email lately. Using video and animation to catch the subscribers’ eye is increasingly popular. It’s a subject that has been much debated in the email marketing world, as technical limitations have influenced what options we have available to us. While there are options to play true video in email using HTML5, I would strongly suggest against auto-playing a video with sound in an email, regardless of the method used. I think the more tasteful, muted animated GIFs are currently the best way to go and they are also supported by more email clients than actual video. Done correctly, using animation in email can be a playful and/or helpful way to make your messages more engaging.


Consider this example from Banana Republic. I love the way that the bouncing heart leads your eye through the important parts of the message and lands you at the primary call-to-action.



And check out this one from Bed, Bath & Beyond too – it’s more on the informational side of things, educating subscribers as to how a particular product works and drawing attention to the main point of the message.


The last trend I’ll reference is one that isn’t necessarily all that new in concept but I’ve seen it used more recently. That’s the idea of using current events, news celebrity gossip, etc. to bring relevance to a product or pitch. If it’s trending on Twitter, a playful spin that relates to your business could make for a great subject line!

cb2 EmailSee this first example from CB2 – they have a line of office furniture called “Dwight” which was a perfect fit for playing off the TV program The Office and Michael Scott’s departure from the show.




This example fPiperlime emailrom PiperLime is similar – it uses the recent gossip around the life of celebrity Charlie Sheen to reference the “sheen” of its shiny new shoes!

There are lots of ideas out there to help inspire creative campaigns! Keep your eyes peeled and see what makes sense as a fit for your business or product. And tell us how YOU come up with great email fodder: What sources do you like best for examples and ideas? What email programs are a must for subscribing to? Where do you get your inspiration? Let us know by commenting below!


Anna Pfeiffer

Marketing Strategist at Bronto