6 email design tips for marketing automation

Email marketing automation is a strategy in which marketers send activated or timed promotional emails to their mailing list subscribers. The approach enables digital marketers to send personalized emails to prospects and customers on a regular basis or when particular events are triggered along the buyer journey.

While automation can drive efficiencies for your email marketing program, it pays to invest time upfront, particularly in the look and feel of your emails. In this article, we’ll take you through 6 effective email design tips for a successful campaign to maximize the impact of your email marketing automation strategy.

What is email marketing automation?

Automated emails are also referred to as triggered emails or behavior-driven emails. They’re emails that are sent to your customers and prospects when they take–or don’t take–a particular action. 

For example, when a customer leaves your online store without completing a purchase, you might set up an abandoned cart email to automatically hit their inbox within a certain period of time. Or, when a visitor subscribes to your product or service, they could receive a series of automated onboarding emails.

You can use email marketing automation to inform customers on subscription renewals, re-engage lapsed buyers, or solicit feedback and reviews. 

What are the benefits of email marketing automation?

The main goals of email marketing automation are to automate your workflows, and ensure you’re sending the right emails to the right people at the right moment. Email automation can save you time and effort, as you don’t have to manually send campaigns in response to typical customer milestones such as signups, onboarding, abandoned carts, and cancellations. 

Research has shown that brands and businesses that have an email marketing automation strategy can increase leads by 80% and conversions by 77%.

Other benefits of marketing automation include:

  • Be more personalized: By segmenting your automated emails for different types of customers, you can tailor your message and avoid annoying subscribers with irrelevant information.
  • Convert prospects into customers: You can use automated emails to keep your leads engaged throughout the sales cycle, and ultimately convert them to customers.
  • Improve engagement: By sending relevant, personalized, and timely messages to your subscribers, you can increase engagement and strengthen brand loyalty.

How to design automated emails

Any email you send to a customer or prospect should make a great first impression and motivate the receiver to open all future emails from you. As with your website, social media, or other channels, design is critical to email marketing success. In the context of an automated email, design can include everything from the layout and structure to the Call-to-Action button, and brand elements.

Incorporate your brand colors

To promote consistency across your touchpoints and ensure your subscribers can easily identify where an email has come from, keep your brand color palette in mind when designing email templates for marketing automation. You may wish to deviate from your most frequently used colors to create an accent, trigger emotion, or highlight the most critical information you’re sharing. For example, ensure the color of your CTAs stands out against the rest of your design. 

For example, this email from cosmetic brand MAC showcases a classic red lipstick from the company’s collection, which is then featured within the CTA design to really stand out.

Source: MAC Cosmetics

Overall, whether it’s your colors, fonts, or other brand codes, ensure your emails connect to the rest of the assets you’re using across channels, including instore collateral and online imagery.

Opt for clean and clear layouts 

To avoid unnecessary distractions and keep your readers’ attention from beginning to end, keep your emails clean and simple. 

It’s a good idea to start with a simple sketch of the general layout of the newsletter using a template, and then plug in the necessary content elements as you refine your design. Remember that white space helps to direct your readers’ attention, and without it, a design can become cluttered and difficult to navigate the headline, images, and body copy.

Speaking of imagery, clever use of visuals is a great way to break up blocks of text in your emails and keep your subscribers engaged. Stock photos are great, but you can take your emails to the next level by adding illustrations or customers graphics to reinforce your message. Online community Girlboss does an excellent job of incorporating original photos that highlight articles on their website within their email design.

Source: Girlboss

Finally, when adding images to your emails, be sure to add descriptive alt text so that readers can grasp your message even if the images don’t load properly on their devices.

Get clever with typography

As a general rule, you should use no more than two fonts in your emails: one for headlines and subtitles and another for body copy. This will give your emails a clean look and keep them from appearing confusing or overwhelming.

Standard fonts for readability include Arial, Times New Roman, Tahoma, Verdana, Courier, and Georgia. While you can experiment with different fonts, keep in mind that your customers’ computers may not support less-commonly-used options.

You must also ensure that your font is readable. It’s recommended that email body copy should be written in a font size of 14 to 16 points, but you also need to ensure that the font size you choose is right for your overall email design.

Your email fonts will be influenced by your industry and the nature of your business. For example, the elegant jewelry brand Laura Lombardi Jewelry features graceful and stylish script fonts within their email newsletter. 

Source: Laura Lombardi

Finally, don’t mix regular, bold, and italic font styles in emails. If you use more than two, emails can look somewhat messy and unbalanced. Normally, one font style is enough, and, if you wish to highlight certain elements, you should apply a bold font style.

Use responsive email templates

If you’re designing an email in 2022, it absolutely has to be responsive. Responsive email templates automatically adjust their formatting to fit the device they’re viewed on, be it mobile or desktop.  The email server will do this via media queries, by scaling images, and using browser data to choose which version to render based on the device.

Text sizes are expressed which makes the text scalable to the device size, and images and videos also scale up or down as the layout rearranges to respond to the screen. 

All this adds up to a natural user experience as the email is either optimized for scrolling on a mobile device or fills the screen on a desktop monitor.

A single-column design is often the most practical solution, as it adapts to small screen sizes.

Source: GAP

Include engaging visual content

One of the most difficult challenges in email marketing is making the content of your posts stand out from the crowd, and providing a unique experience to the subscriber. Including relevant and engaging visual content will make your emails more attractive and can increase the chances of your subscribers reading all your content and, eventually clicking on your CTAs. 

Email trend: 3D images

3D images are a current visual trend that can be used in email design. A standard image, whether printed or digital, is only two-dimensional since we can only detect height and width. There is no depth, which makes the picture look flat. 3D content introduces depth, making us believe we can move inside an image or photo.

Recently, we’ve seen an increase in brands using 3D techniques such as 3D illustration. This type of imagery is said to trigger emotion, generate intrigue, and create dynamic experiences that make your emails jump from the screen.

Source: Detour Coffee Roasters

Detour Coffee Roasters achieves a 3D effect in this welcome email by using isolated product photography shots from strategic angles. They then add shadows to help the imagery stand out. The off-grid placement also contributes to the illusion that the product is protruding from its 2D surroundings.

Consider interactive elements

Another strategy to capture your reader’s attention is to include GIFs, which will give your campaign “movement”. There’s evidence that using animated GIFs in email marketing can increase user engagement:

A great example of a brand that uses GIFs effectively in emails is meditation app, Headspace. While their emails are pretty straightforward, the high-quality GIFs featured immediately catch your attention. Headspace does a great job of mixing animated photography and illustrations to add some excitement to their subscribers’ inboxes.

Source: Headspace

However, some email clients, such as several versions of Outlook, don’t support animated GIFs. This means when loading an email containing an animated GIF, show it as if it were a static image, showing their first frame. Therefore, it is critical to take your time to choose which platform is best suited for your email campaigns.

Focus on the customer experience

With email marketing, you have a unique opportunity to dig even deeper into the customer experience in a way that you can’t always do with websites. This is where you can really begin to stand out from your competition. 

Clear and visible CTAs – (not too many, keep it focused)

A call to action (CTA) is a button or link prompting readers to click. These buttons generally use bright colors and thoughtful placement, but the best ones use precise, actionable phrasing to draw attention.

To increase the chances of your readers clicking on your CTAs, it is highly recommended to:

  • Use action-oriented text: Avoid words like submit, enter, and even click here in favor of more enticing verbs like “Get”, “Read”, and “Try”. Then, pair those with text about your specific offer.
  • Make your text large and legible: Your call-to-action button text should be large enough to read easily, but not so large to be considered obnoxious.
  • Keep it short and simple: If you have a lot of actionable text, you’ll want to keep the copy short. It is preferable to use two or three words, but no more than five or six.
  • Create urgency: Incorporating a sense of urgency into your CTAs helps in achieving high click-through rates. Even using the word “now” creates a sense of urgency increasing the curiosity of your subscribers to learn more about a specific offer or promotion.

Take for example how apparel brand J.Crew designed their email to lead their subscribers to the “25% off” offer. The typography size, the background gradient, and the copy together take you from a position of being interested in their brand to taking action upon their offer.

Source: J.Crew

Color-blocking, zig-zag, or an inverted triangle technique

The visual hierarchy of emails establishes the relationships between various elements and subconsciously guides the reader’s attention. This is due to the fact that our brains are wired to focus on a few details while ignoring the rest in order to make sense of what we perceive to be the most important information we’re receiving. 

Knowing where your readers’ attention is most likely to be drawn allows you to place the content in the most appropriate place on an email.

Inverted triangle pattern

This Apple Arcade example makes excellent use of a hero image and places a call to action button at the tip of an imaginary inverted triangle. It’s an effective way to naturally draw the reader’s attention while also making the click-through process simple. 

Source: Apple

Zigzag pattern

The Z or Zigzag pattern is a popular visual hierarchy principle in email marketing. As you can see, Greenbank applies this zigzag eye movement pattern allowing the reader to easily skim through the message. 

Source: GreenBank Network

The color scheme used throughout the message is consistent, and they have made excellent use of multiple fonts as well as bolded call-to-action buttons. This layout works wonders for including a lot of information into an email that doesn’t look crowded.

Use these email design tips for effective marketing automation

Emails should be about more than just readability. Visuals are important for both aesthetic appeal and conveying your brand language. 

All of the principles mentioned above may not be applicable in all cases, so you must determine what works best for the given email design. If you use them correctly, you will get beautiful email designs that work flawlessly for your subscribers.

About the Author 

Lily López is a Content Writer and Marketer at Envato by day and a Spatial Design student by night. She has worked with several global clients for the past 7 years developing projects involving Content Operations, Data Analytics, Copywriting, Outreach, and Voice-over productions.  When not working, Lily can be found hanging out at the nearest flea market.