Email Inspiration Guide
What emails should I be sending? This is a question I have heard probably over 100 times working in the email industry for over six years. As an in-house marketer, and email consultant, I work with brands both long-term to set up scalable automations and also with them on a one-off basis to review and audit their existing email ecosystem. Email marketing, when set up well, has the opportunity to build a strong relationship with any potential, or existing customer, all while being scalable — allowing you, as a business owner or marketer, to focus on other things while email works on your behalf.
Tools like Really Good Emails, Milled, and Email Love, are all three of my go-to bookmarks for sourcing copy, design, and overall inspo — but what does a great email lifecycle look like for your subscriber from start to finish?
I normally look at an excellent email lifecycle as one with three pillars.
Activation → Monetization → Retention
These pillars can be applied to any organization or industry, and you can craft emails that will encourage a transition between the three pillars for all subscribers. Throughout this guide, I’m going to show off 5 foundational emails you should be sending, with an additional few ideas that I think are complimentary to any email ecosystem.
Within this email inspiration guide, I’m excited to share both strategy and inspiration from industry-leading brands.
1. Welcome Email
This, in my opinion, is the most critical email in any marketing program. Traditionally, this email takes the form of a Hello! We’re Brand Name. Thanks for subscribing! But more importantly, it will reach your user when they are most primed to engage with your company. The subscriber has remembered your name, they’ve opted in to hear from you, and whether you’re an e-commerce brand trying to make a sale, or a SaaS tool trying to educate your potential customer, every minute counts.
When should you send it? Immediately after you have collected a subscriber’s email address and opt-in preference.
What should I include? Although you may think it’s apparent, outlining the value your business brings to your subscriber is a great place to start.
- Are you a D2C company that sells non-stick cooking dishware? Tell your subscriber they’ll never have to scape off food from the bottom of their frying pan again!
- Are you a SaaS copywriting tool that generates captions for social media? Remind your subscribers that they won’t have to suffer from writer’s block much longer by using your service!
A welcome email is not just a greeting and a thank you to someone for joining your email list, it’s an opportunity to highlight your value. It’s also a great time to communicate expectations with your subscriber. What kind of relationship are you planning with your subscriber? Will you be communicating daily, weekly, monthly, occasionally, here and there? Introduce, set expectations, provide value, and voila, you have a great welcome email.
Welcome Emails and Why I Love Them
Welcome from Good Pair Days
This Australian wine pairing company is a company that will send you a selection of wine based on your palette. It coincides with an app that allows you to write down tasting notes, keep track of wines you’ve tracked, and set your next order up for success. Their welcome email is straightforward, but with their personality that doesn’t overwhelm.
Welcome from Bubble
Bubble is a no-code app and marketplace development tool. They’ve broken up their 3-key steps for success into bullet points and don’t go heavy on design or content that could detract from what they want their end-user to accomplish. I really like how they integrate a video thumbnail that links out to a Youtube guide on getting started. Whether I want to engage with it then or at a later date, it’s great to lean on as a resource.
2. Education Email
Similarly to a welcome email, an education email is an excellent play on that and should follow suit in the coming days after someone has opted in to hear from you. Ideally, you are continuing to drive an action that you’d like your subscriber to take, based on the needs of your business. For an e-commerce company, that could be the subscriber making their first purchase. For a SaaS company, it could be entering their credit card details to subscribe to a plan type.
An education email is a perfect email to continue to build a relationship with your subscriber. With most products, your customer could still be evaluating competitors and not yet ready to take the plunge and make a purchase (regardless of your buying cycle). Let’s use this email to try and nudge them toward that.
Take a look at our education email at Parcel. This email serves to introduce the product to our customers, by providing an outline of all our features and how to use them. It’s not a direct hard sell because we’d rather someone purchase a plan type with the understanding of what Parcel is and it’s capabilities (to decrease future churn potential).
If we’re looking at this email type through the lifecycle lens of
Activation → Monetization → Retention
This email is going to be sitting between Activation and Monetization.
When should you send it? The cadence for when you should follow up with a subscriber if they haven’t taken the ideal action you’re edging them towards is something that I highly advise you to play around with. Using audience splits to randomly split customers into two paths with different delays towards the same email can answer the question of “what type of delay converts at a higher rate?”. Although I’d encourage brands to stick to a maximum of 7-days, the difference between a 1-day delay, and a 3-day delay after the initial Welcome Email will both be successful for different brands, industries, and audiences.
What should I include? Tactics that can be used to nudge someone towards that monetization middle ground can include continuing to offer educational insights into the tool (Parcel’s example above), or offering a discount to purchase (if the buying cycle is shorter and the risk of churn is low).
Education emails and why I love them
Education from Treatwell
Treatwell is a UK beauty appointment booking app. I can easily book in for eyebrow threading at a local salon near me, or book in to get my nails done at a date a month from now, in a different borough. One thing that I love is the copy they use to specifically call out that this isn’t the first email I’ve received from them. Their introduction, followed by but you already know us is a great way to ease into educating me on some actions they clearly want me to take, but I haven’t yet. They promote their app which adds ease of use to their business, and bring in brand values that help build a strong customer relationship.
Education from Later
Later, is a SaaS social media scheduling tool, which allow marketers and social media managers to schedule social media across all major platforms. This email mocks the e-commerce abandoned cart which sends when someone “forgets something in their cart”. In an effort to translate a potential customer from free, to paid, they send this email out to further encourage a subscriber to commit with their credit card by outlining their top features and the value attached to them. Education emails can often work best as event-triggered. Hitting customers at the time that they are most likely to come back post-welcome email, and engage with your brand!
Newsletters, or emails that are sent with a predictable sending cadence are the perfect email to give brands an avenue to build a relationship over time with a subscriber by providing them with valuable, fresh content. When a subscriber signs up to any email program, understanding at which frequency they’re to hear from you is similar to setting expectations when you first build any relationship IRL.
Newsletters are a way to keep your brand top of mind next time they’re thinking about your niche. Regardless of whether you are an online coach, e-commerce brand, SaaS platform, or marketplace, you have an opportunity to provide broad, thought leadership content whether it be once a week, once a month, or even quarterly!
It can be an obstacle for marketers to feel like they need to find fresh, curated content that is diversified in topic, but fear not, newsletters and one-off emails don’t need to feel like they’re a full edition from the New York Times!
When should you send it? Also can be referred to “how frequently should I send a newsletter”? And this answer totally depends. The Morning Brew is famous for their daily newsletter, which lands every morning in their recipient’s inboxes. But some other brands, will lean on a quarterly approach where they deliver updates once every three months. As long as your subscriber is aware of what’s to come (cough cough, set expectations at time of signup, or in the welcome email), you’ll have the flexibility to play around with a cadence that works great for you.
What should it include? The answer to this question is it depends. When your subscriber opted in to hear from you, what did they opt in to?
- Were they signing up to be the first to know about special offers?
- Were they signing up for the latest political news, daily?
- Were they signing up for strategies on how to grow their business?
Newsletters take a lot of work to curate. Even those with one article, sent once a month. It’s easy to self-doubt, and overcomplicate when it comes to newsletters. But I assure you, if someone has opted in to hear from you or your business, they already believe you have value to provide them, so you might as well lean into it! Start with setting a cadence, and then continue to build your strategy from there.
Newsletters and Why I Love Them
Newsletter from Wealthsimple
Wealthsimple is a Canadian FinTech company that offers forward-thinking financial solutions. Their content marketing arm has launched a weekly newsletter called TLDR filled with relevant stories and articles on things that may have impacted the stock market, or countries’ political sphere over the past week. They take a playful approach with it that includes fun graphs and emojis. Their recurring presence in my inbox every week is a reminder to check my current investments. They have done a brilliant job at positioning themselves to remain top of mind, without a straight callout of “use our app”.
Newsletter from Wise
Wise, formerly known as Transferwise is an online money trading tool. They send a newsletter quarterly outlining app updates, or any relevant changes including in the example referenced, Mission Updates, and a call to refer friends and family to the platform. This is a great example of reusing content to leverage within a recurring email. Their brand mission has probably always existed and makes for a great piece to build customer loyalty. In the same vein, the uplift of telling subscribers to refer their friends and family is quite small. Although most likely both recycle content.
Newsletter from Parcel
Parcel, an email development tool, sends a weekly newsletter on Mondays called Important Tips. Subscribers opt-in to receive this newsletter from a website called emailresourc.es, which is a curated site of email-related tools and email-related websites. The newsletter, although it has self-serving aspects of promoting Parcel, primarily serves to outline one Important Tip a week that is specific to the email marketing, or email developing space. For those that may have a Parcel account, and no longer want to receive the weekly newsletter and only hear about Parcel account updates, subscribers are given the option to Pause or fully opt-out of Important Tips (as well as all other emails if they really want to).
Being ghosted after a purchase is a weird experience. Was my order placed, did I type in the wrong email address, has the brand forgotten my order? Those are all questions I’ve asked myself after experiencing email crickets from a brand.
By this point, if we’re again looking at the lifecycle of a customer:
Activation → Monetization → Retention
The customer is sitting right after the Monetization cusp, and close to Retention — but it’s emails like a solid post-purchase touch point that will really make or break this.
A post-purchase email in the customer lifecycle is another strong pillar. Similar to a welcome email, saying hello at the time of email collection, a post-purchase email is an acknowledgment that your customer has correctly taken an action. Despite the overall concept potentially being a bit transactional in nature, you have a large opportunity to make it your own and continue to drive any subscriber relationship forward.
When should you send it? Immediately at the time of purchase or within a short time frame of purchase.
What should I include? Another question you should ask yourself is “what are the need-to-knows?”.
- Are they able to get access to their purchase immediately (SaaS example) or will it take a period of time to arrive at their doorstop (eCommerce example)?
- How can the customer connect with you if they have any questions about their purchase?
Think of post-purchase emails, as a more specific, and personalized welcome email. If someone’s committed to giving you money, the least you could do is acknowledge it! You are no longer trying to sell with this email, you should be focused on how the customer can access your product, and look to the next stage of retention, which is building long-term trust with them and turning them into an advocate.
Post Purchase Emails and Why I Love Them
Post-Purchase from Etsy
Etsy kept this post-purchase email short and sweet. After ordering some fridge magnets, I was prompted to track my delivery and solidify my relationship with Etsy by downloading their app.
Post-Purchase from Native
Native did a fantastic job at blending the need-to-knows and their brand personality. I not only had a good laugh at the copy used, I was excited to receive my product just based on how excited the team was to get my order! In my books, this is an excellent blend of a receipt, and an opportunity to hype me up for what’s to come.
Post-Purchase from Formula Fig
Formula Fig is a facial bar with locations across Canada and soon to be the US. After a client has a facial, they send a “post-purchase” touch point with an outline of aftercare steps the client can take to ensure they get the best results from their recent treatment. It’s highly personalized, and gives the client an immediate opportunity to provide feedback to Formula Fig!
Check-in emails are a great way to extend a relationship post-purchase or continue to build a connection with the subscriber based on an action once taken. They can be categorized as more personalized than a newsletter, but less frequent than let’s say, a credit card statement (not a very fun check-in email, if you ask me). They can also be thought of as a push for re-engagement if your customer activity has fallen flat.
When should you send it? Define a key moment in the user lifecycle. And then think about your ideal customer-state post-action. Are they an advocate of you and sharing your business praises with friends? Are they repurchasing? For SaaS customers that have subscribed to an annual plan, maybe you just want the ideal customer to be sharing on social about how great your app is.
What should I include? Since this email should be relating back to how this subscriber is uniquely connected to your company, whether it be through their annual subscription, or something they’ve recently purchased, it’s crucial to tie copy back to that.
A Check-In email can be both broad, but highly personalized. It’s a great way to continue to build that 1:1 relationship with a subscriber by communicating in the format of:
I (the brand) see you’ve done x, I’m acknowledging it, here’s another piece of value from [brand] in relation to that action.
Check-In Emails and Why I Love Them
Check-in from Headspace
Headspace, my go-to meditation app has sold me on their annual subscription — and although I don’t meditate as often as I should, I love their email correspondence checking in on the amount that I do! In this example, Headspace compiled a fantastic end-of-year email similar to Spotify’s infamous end-of-year Wrapped recap that all of us eagerly await. Headspace acknowledged how much I’ve used the app over the past year, and then followed with supporting content that I might normally see in a newsletter. I thought it was really cool to see the # of sessions I’d had and the total # of minutes meditated! You don’t always need to provide endless amounts of data to the customer, keeping it simple is cool too!
Customer.io Pro-Tip:You can pull personalized customer attributes (like # of minutes meditated) using Liquid. To ensure you lead with the right tone, you can create if/else statements in our email editor to match content with a user’s experience (i.e. if minutes_meditated = 0, then omit meditation progress section)
Check-in from Outdoor Voices
Outdoor Voices, an e-commerce clothing brand in the fitness space, recently sent me this plain-text email. This is a dress I’ve been browsing for months, if not years. I’m consistently wondering if I need it, and my browser history will show that. This check-in email, although not correlated with a purchase event, is reminding me that yes, I do want this dress, and wow, it’s back in stock in two different colors. This unconventional Check-In from Outdoor Voices might be what convinces me to buy!
Check-in from Uber
When the weather is nice, I walk! And with that, I Uber less. This Check-In email is from Uber sending a classic win-back campaign trying to get me back to an avid rider. A great example of a simple win-back email is Uber telling me they miss me and encouraging me to take another ride. Simple, and to the point! Check-Ins don’t always have to be overcomplicated, or loop in previous statistics to still be a meaningful touch point.
Beyond the Basics
6. Account Usage
People are fearful of data collection these days. With Big Brother mentality being pushed by Apple (cough cough Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection), brands should proceed with caution when it comes to advertising how much data they collect, and why. But if you are going to collect handfuls of data, you might as well showcase customer statistics it in a way that your customer can take value from!
Showing session count, trends over time, and the performance of said customer are great ways to build a relationship with your subscriber and get your subscriber excited about seeing your name in their inbox.
These types of emails will take time to launch, and continual resources to upkeep. But when done well, they can become really great pieces of marketing content that will wow your subscriber base.
When should you send it? Similar to a newsletter, showcasing account usage as a success metric should be a piece of communication that has a predictable cadence. Whether it be a daily, weekly, monthly, or quarterly reports.
What should I include? If this is the first time you are thinking about creating an account usage email, start with the data you do have available to you. Can you include session count such as the Headspace Check In email? Or how long they’ve been a customer? What key events do you focus on as a marketer to try and encourage them to take? By choosing a select few events to focus on, the process of launching a recurring email such as this will be less overwhelming.
Account usage emails once set up, can be a great way to build retention with your subscriber base by reminding them that you exist, and that you have valuable information to provide them.
Account Usage Emails and Why I Love Them
Account Usage from Loom
Loom’s monthly account usage emails are a perfect way to be reminded of who I connect with frequently and potentially maybe even bring an element of surprise to my day when I find out that I have more people watching my Loom’s than I realized! It heavily promotes continuing to use Loom, which makes it a great piece for not only engaging with the customer but also generating referrals and re-engagement at the same time.
Account Usage from Grammarly
I have been using Grammarly for approximately three years now, and their weekly report that lands in my inbox is one of my all time favorites. The only time I am surprised by the results, are the weeks after I’ve been on vacation and haven’t touched my keyboard! Grammarly’s weekly performance report is packed with data including the total amount of works they’ve checked for me (over 2m… what?!), my top three frequent mistakes, and my tone of voice. I can pull a ton of value from this, that will not only make me a better writer, but appreciate Grammarly as the tool that encouraged me to be.
7. Birthday & Anniversary
Congratulating someone on another lap around the sun, or reminding someone that it’s been a year, or month since connecting, are both great ways of building a scalable relationship with your subscriber.
At a minimum, you should know when a customer has signed up, or the date that they first subscribed to you! This is a simple email campaign that often can result in great engagement — and it’s scalable, too!
If you collect birthdates, wishing someone a happy birthday based on a date condition is another opportunity to create a scalable email program that will build a relationship on your behalf.
Customer.io Pro-Tip: Build appointment reminders, event follow-ups, and anniversary-offer messaging flows with date-triggered campaigns in Customer.io.
When should you send it? These two examples work best as date-triggered, but if you are celebrating YOUR birthday (your brand’s birthday), a one-off email will suffice.
What should I include? Whatever makes your customer feel special on their big day! Hint hint, a gift?
Birthday & Anniversary Emails and Why I Love Them
Birthday & Anniversary from Sephora
If you have ever shopped at Sephora, you may know that they have one of the best makeup rewards programs on the market. This includes a birthday gift that can be redeemed once a year. By the time my birthday had rolled around to me this year, I had already redeemed my gift. In this birthday email, they’ve brought in some pretty fun dynamic copy that includes astrology (yes, I am a Gemini) as well as a dynamic footer piece that reflected how many reward points I currently have. A great, simple campaign in my books!
Birthday & Anniversary from Headspace
30-days is an anniversary not many people celebrate, but when it comes to forming a consistent habit, that is worth a hurrah in my books! Headspace sent a simple triggered email after I passed 30-days of consistent meditation. Sometimes all we need is a pat on the back, and this email did just that!
Customer.io Pro-Tip: Combine event, attributes, and page view conditions to build hypertargeted segments that trigger personalized campaigns the moment customers fit that criteria.
The more hoops a subscriber needs to jump through, the less likely they are to complete the action you’re trying to get them to take. Interactivity within an email, can emulate the same behaviour as web, and decrease the likelihood of drop-off. Form submissions, data collection, moving parts — what’s not to love! Interactive emails are also a fantastic way to make your emails stand out amongst the crowd.
When it comes to implementing interactivity, you’ll most likely need to lean on things like AMP for email to accomplish the below use cases.
Interactive Emails and Why I Love Them
Interactivity from Mailgun
When it was time to advertise and sign-up for an upcoming event, Mailgun brought the form field inside of the email. Check out the event invite and event confirmation. What might have previously taken minutes to complete, and risks the potential for dropoff, now only takes seconds!
Interactivity from Endy
Endy, an online D2C mattress company, makes providing post-purchase feedback easy with an interactive feedback form. I can easily select a star-rating for my newly purchased mattress and provide an additional commentary without leaving the email itself. As a consumer, I really appreciated how low-barrier this was to provide any feedback that I had, and as a brand, I suspect their submission rates are a whole lot higher than what might be if the consumer had to navigate to a landing page to take the same actions.