Let Email Marketing Tell Your Story

Caroline Riddle

I like a good story as much, if not more, than the next person.  Stories help ideas, sales, and brands “stick” in the minds of consumers.  If you want your marketing messages be heard, you have to tell your story.  The book “Made to Stick” by the Heath Brothers proves that when you really want to make your ideas stick, you have to construct your messages into relevant, interesting, compact and memorable stories.

That’s why I was completely drawn into a recent email message from Scandinavian modern furniture retailer, IKEA.  IKEA’s approach is that they can help in 1000s of ways. Subject Line “One IKEA 2012 catalog. 1000s of ways to improve your life.”  In this particular image-heavy email message, they give three bite-sized examples through the story of a family against the clock to make it to the movie theater: 

IKEA Email Start
IKEA Email 2
IKEA Email 3

Telling a story through email is a great way to engage email subscribers. Your story can help improve:


By telling a story, you’re offering a reason why the subscriber should click through. You’re not offering them deep discounts, and in turn you help to reinforce that your relationship with them is about offering them value in your products/services in addition to great sales.  Bronto Marketing Strategist, Steve DuBois, recently blogged about cases where you can’t discount frequently or at all, where offering value will help encourage subscribers to learn more, click through, and reinforce the expectations you set when you signed them up.


Keep them scrolling and clicking! By adding a little mystery with a subject line that leads them on “…find out how the story ends.” “…will they find their perfect match?” Everyone loves a happy ending.  Use that to help drive engagement.  Truth be told, IKEA’s subject line didn’t draw me in, and since that could make or break a campaign, be sure to use an engaging subject line that helps tease the story within. This also provides a great opportunity to A/B test subject lines, like trying a typical subject line vs. one that’s more story/suspense driven.


I normally don’t click through IKEA’s emails, but this message really got my attention. An email with a “story” can help you start telling a story in email that ends on your website. Drive subscribers to a story landing page, a YouTube video, a Facebook page, or Twitter hashtag #didtheymakeit (to the movie on time?). Or even better, turn the tables and get the readers to interact.  How do you think the story ends?  Or, offer ways IKEA has improved your life for a chance to win a prize or discount. This is an opportune time to drive engagement and interaction with not only the products you offer, but your brand and other fans, and again reinforce that you want to add value to their lives.

Think about incorporating a story in your email marketing campaigns. Use language and imagery that help set up ways to encourage subscribers to not only open and click through your messages but also engage with your brand and ultimately buy! Have you seen any great email marketing stories unfold? Comment below to tell us how the story ends!

Caroline Smith Riddle
Community Marketing Manager at Bronto

  • This is really informative Caroline. I agree that your offering value through your story. I do referral marketing myself and I like to give my clients something valuable than just a 5 dollar off for their next haircut.

  • Karen

    I love your example from the Swedish furniture retailer Ikea very much.

    As an Ikea customer myself, I would not appreciate getting this type of e-mail. This is not a story per se but clutters my in-box with pictures that are not that useful to me personally.

    I find it a good example of why putting pictures together does not mean you have a narrated case study that appeals to your target audience (i.e. my time is limited … is this e-mail of any value to me?)

    Maybe I am just too hard-nosed but I want an e-mail that provides me with information that I can use. This is trying to entertain me and as any parent will tell you, going to the movies does not mean the household and the teenagers’ rooms get tidied up before we go, does it?

  • Caroline Smith Riddle

    Sam – thanks for the comment!

    Urs – appreciate your thoughts. I agree that this tactic may not be ideal for everyone, however it does offer variety in what a retailer can promote in email. Maybe they can’t discount products in every email? By interspersing value-added content, product information, product reviews they can still send to their subscriber list, keep their brand top of mind, without slashing prices. But, to your point maybe they can take this a step further and do segmentation (with information gathered from a preference center) about what messaging you would find value from. I think that would provide a nice balance of extremely relevant content (ie. content you can help determine) and still provide value (without deep discounts).

    Sam and Urs – thanks for reading and contributing to the Bronto Blog!