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There’s More to Email Marketing Than Being Really, Really Ridiculously Good-Looking

I think what Derek Zoolander was trying to say in his eponymous movie is that beauty is only skin-deep. And just as that holds true in life, it’s also an important tenet of email marketing.

Pretty emails do not a conversion make, and no company — no matter how big or successful — is immune to this truth.

So let’s take a look at two very pretty I’ve received over the past few weeks and figure out why I didn’t click on either of them.

Want an Apple iPad? iDon’t.

Subject: “Valentine’s Day and iPad. Made for each other.”

Valentine's Day Email - Apple

This email, like most Apple products, is gorgeous. And I don’t even think that’s a subjective, Apple vs. Android thing. It’s clean, well-spaced, colorful, and it has an ideal text-to-image ratio. All of its links are clear, and the whole email maintains a singular theme.

So why didn’t I click through?

Simply put, Apple is selling me something I’m not in the market for. Firstly, my wife and I already own iPads. Secondly, even if my wife didn’t have an iPad, she would look at me like I had 10 heads if I got her one for Valentine’s Day because, unless it was a chocolate iPad, I’d failed her.

Here’s the thing: Apple knows I have an iPad. They know my email address, which is the same as my iTunes account, which is linked to all my devices and serial numbers, so they know what I have and don’t have, what I need and don’t need. Or they would know that if their databases were fully communicational, and that’s your takeaway. What good is all that customer data if you don’t use it? What good is knowing what your customers’ wants and/or needs if you’re just going to send them generic content?

Sure, there’s more to this email than the iPad: headphones, Nike FuelBands, cases, and gift cards. Problem is, their hero image — as visually clever as it is — takes up two-thirds of the email. So even if I were interested in one of those things for my wife, I’ve already deleted it the email and moved onto something else.

Putting All Your Eggs in One Artisanal Hoodie

Subject: “Reconsider the Sweatshirt”

Everlane Email example

I’ve long been a proponent of Everlane’s email strategy. They don’t inundate their subscribers with emails — I’m looking at you, Banana Republic — and they often send preview emails about a new product in order to build anticipation and give their frequent buyers early access to sales.

But as sharp as this email is, as simple as it is to navigate, it’s done in by one fundamental flaw that Everlane keeps repeating: one email, one kind of product.

Every email focuses on one product or, at the very most, one kind of product. You won’t ever get an email from Everlane that promotes an entire outfit or a whole collection. It’s about sweaters or pants or Oxford shirts or ties, but never all of them together.

Perhaps that’s what makes them different from their counterparts. Perhaps they’re staking their campaigns on the notion that subscribers are burned out from unfocused, cluttered emails.

For me, it’s a fatal flaw, and it’s why I haven’t actually clicked on an Everlane email since I bought my first product from them more than a year ago. Unless I’m looking for something in particular, what good does an irrelevant email do me?


When it comes to email marketing, all the design acumen in the world can’t overcome a weak strategy or content that doesn’t speak to the subscriber. Even the most design-focused email marketers can miss the mark.

What are some examples of great-looking emails you have received that didn’t earn your click-through?

Harry Kaplowitz
Latest posts by Harry Kaplowitz (see all)
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  • by Alex
    Posted February 21, 2014 3:12 am 0Likes

    So unpack your better strategy here for me Harry. What should they have done instead?

  • by Harry Kaplowitz
    Posted February 21, 2014 8:58 am 0Likes

    @Alex, I feel like both examples coming with good teaching lessons. I’ll clarify them. In Apple’s case, their email would have been better served if they had a variety of Valentine’s Day emails highlighting different products. They ideally would have segmented their marketing list by products these recipients own, making sure to send them an email that highlights a product they DON’T own. If Apple had sent me an email about, say, an iPod Touch, I actually might have clicked through because, a) I don’t have one, and b) I’m actually looking for a music-based alternative to my iPhone. Now, obviously Apple doesn’t know the latter, but they do know the former, and utilizing the former could’ve made for a much more targeted, much more effective campaign.

    In Everlane’s case, the lesson is a little more simplistic. In a medium like email, you want make sure you’re maximizing your real estate. Focused emails (about, for instance, one product) are all well and good if they are served in conjunction with broader emails about more than one product. But if your emails are single-serving (one sweater or one kind of sweater), you run the risk of single-serving conversions (one sweater purchased instead of, say, a sweater, a complementary pair of jeans, and an accessory). Though I despise the cadence of emails sent by the likes of Banana Republic, they do one thing right — their emails take me through most of their line, not just one corner of their website.

    I hope I answered your question.

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