What does a great email look like?

I often end up with my head in the data and need to check myself to ensure that the basics are happening. This was a deck that I pulled on getting a marketing email right.

Why email marketing? Because it still works and provides relatively good value in terms of marketing spend. We might be getting ever lower open rates over time in aggregate, but that means as marketers we need to be more focused on what makes a great email.

So what does success look like, what constitutes great? If you work in digital marketing you probably have heuristics in the back of your mind based on an article you’ve read or how previous projects have turned out.  The reality is that it changes by country and by industrial sector.

What does success look like

There are some interesting variations, such as the US / Canada or UK / Canada click to open rates for email.

What does churn look like

Or the comparatively high of churn rate in the UK vis-a-vis the US and Canada.

Getting to open

There are a number of factors that can aid getting to open. Some of them will be hygiene when the General Data Protection Regulations kick in across the EU next year.

Before opening

A lot of the basics seem obvious, yet there is a lot of unpersonalised, unrequested, irrelevant mail is still sent out. For business-to-business relationships in particular having a phone and online double opt-in is desirable. For consumer marketing an online opt-in followed by a confirmation email and opt-in link.

Before opening

In some ways we have gone back to the early web. Lean download sizes for email are really important. There have been so many times I have been deleting marketing email on the tube, as the mobile device and spotty wifi can’t download the image heavy communication in a timely manner. For some reason clothing and shoe e-tailers are really bad on this.


Back when I started in digital marketing, people laboured long-and-hard over crafting highly clickable message subject lines, but preview is as important now; especially in ‘three pane’ email clients like Outlook or Mail.app on Mac and iPad.


Design is a key part of getting an email viewed. The design needs to be responsive because of the variation in possible device display sizes and the foibles between email clients, web email clients, web browsers and mail providers. Previously one would have worried about not being black listed (still important), plain text and HTML options. Business to business marketers used to get stressed over will the email work on Lotus Notes (historically no, unless it was in plain text).

Inverted pyramid approach

When you are thinking about content and design layout the inverted pyramid approach is a good place to start from. With the call to action what kind of behavioural cues would work best? This is where A/B testing can be employed. Marketers aren’t great at intuitively picking these.

Here are some examples of effective email design, notice the vertical alignment that makes them mobile friendly

Effective design examples

And here are some examples of effective personalisation (in both these cases based on previous behaviour on-site).

Effective personalisation examples

The biggest mistake that organisations fail to do is internalise learnings from previous campaigns. This isn’t just about improving numbers over time but learning what has, and hasn’t worked. Often this knowledge will disappear when the marketer responsible moves on, or when the agency responsible has a similar change on their side.

Constant learning

Thanks for making this far, here are my details if you want to find out more.

About me

You can find this presentation on Slideshare.

Links of the day | 在网上找到

Great rambling essay by my friend and former colleague Audrey Li. Audrey’s family live in a small town / village in Sichuan province. Sichuan is in the west of China. The essay covers WeChat, payments, crime and the party’s fight against pollution. The battle against pollution has hard costs, which Audrey goes into – Smart Phone, No-cash Society, and Jobless — A Short Conversation with My Mother

Line loses users in 3 of its most important countries – interesting changes in Taiwan, Indonesia and Thailand

Dissecting the Jimmy Choo Michael Kors Deal | News & Analysis | BoF“I think Michael Kors is trying to build up a portfolio of accessible luxury brands. This development strategy is very similar to the one of Coach, rather than to LVMH and Kering which are focused on true luxury brands. Moreover LVMH and Kering are at a more advanced stage of development: they already control dozens of brands and have central structure to exploit synergies among them,” adds Mario Ortelli, European luxury goods analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein

Is Beijing getting serious about selling off state firms? | SCMP – Tencent and Alibaba buying into Unicom could be an interesting dynamic

Kaspersky’s stellar antivirus finally goes free | PCWorld – feature limited but powerful

Five for Friday | 五日(星期五)

Things that made my day this week:

Dubliner Rosemary Smith is a 79 year old woman who owned her own driving school. But from the 1960s through the 1970s she was one of the world’s foremost rally drivers. With the right support, she could have done so much more. Renault decided to put her behind the wheel of a single seater racing car. Rallying and racing are different disciplines, but Smith still had some of the magic as you could see in this video

Westbam featured in a short film talking about how he started off and the intersection of music and culture in Berlin during 1989

American Petroleum Institute has put together a video reminding the public of all (ok just a small amount of) the stuff that oil actually goes into. When Teslas rule the roads, we’ll still need oil

The sound track of my week has been various mixes from DJ Nature

Campfield Futon – Snow Peak – I love the design and quality of Japanese outdoor brand Snow Peak. The Campfield Futon is an amazingly flexible piece of furniture that would be great outdoors or in an apartment

Links of the day | 在网上找到

Apple’s iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus Are More Popular Than Older Models | Fortune.com

Inside Andy Rubin’s Quest to Create an OS for Everything | Wired  – wasn’t that a historical Windows vision, there is a tension between general purpose and specialist

In China, Herd of ‘Gray Rhinos’ Threatens Economy – NYTimes.com – Chinese conglomerates who have grown based on cheap bank loans. It hasn’t been said yet, but there must be similar implications for Chinese businesses who have benefited from state bank supported vendor financing to win customers abroad (paywall)

Xi’s Sign-Off Deals Blow to China Inc.’s Global Spending Spree – WSJ – this impacts people like Wanda. I was speaking to a technology start-up who talked about raising their funds and getting them in just in time from Chinese investors, right before ‘the door shut’ (paywall)

The government should fight ‘corporate villainy’ in tech, Senator Cory Booker says | Recode – this isn’t the Silicon Valley that I grew up with and supported through the early part of my career

A Privacy Choice | Rands In Repose – on browsers

Korean Broadcasters Launch U.S. Streaming Service, Taking on Warner Bros.’ DramaFever | Variety – and Netflix is running great K-drama like Secret Forest aka Stranger

One Family, Many Revolutions: From Black Panthers, to Silicon Valley, to Trump – NYTimes.com – interesting reading (paywall)

Three Reasons Abercrombie Has (Finally) Jumped on E-Commerce in China | AdAge – paywall

Twenty years,20 visualisations | SCMP – great step back to pre-internet living

Jargon watch: generation glass

I noticed this descriptor appear in an article about iPad obsessed children and how Mattel was looking to adjust to the market.

M, using iPad

The name relates to the ‘pictures under glass’ interface that these children have grown up with.

More information
How Toymaker Mattel Plans To Win Over iPad-Obsessed Kids | Time


Links of the day | 在网上找到

In conversation with Japan’s 82-year-old porn star | This Week In Asia | South China Morning Post  – What motivates you to continue this work? Tokuda: It’s very simple; I feel very grateful when I get a request to work on a particular film and when a director requests me to be the male lead. I take pride in my work and whenever I have an offer for a part I try my best to make sure I am available and to give a good performance. It is very nice to feel wanted for my skills and I will continue to work for as long as I am wanted

The Dark Side Of “Friendly” Design | Fast Co. Design

Why Vinyl’s Boom Is Over – WSJ – not exactly but it does go into the foibles of mastering vinyl and overcompression of mastering for Spotify et al

Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture – The Agency Review – interesting and disturbing read

Marcel Is Just a Baby Compared to JWT’s Pangaea | Agency News – AdAge – narrow usage case versus Marcel’s ambitious general purpose platform. It also provides an idea of the steep ramp that Publicis will have to climb from the development perspective, let alone the degree of culture change required

Internet of Things or Internet of Sh__?

Wearables as a category has not met the (perhaps unfair) expectations of the technology sector. Smart home products have had issues and consumers have rightly been concerned about the implications of ‘cloud with everything’. Here is what some of Silicon Valley think

Links of the day | 在网上找到

IDM model no longer viable for Japan semiconductor industry: Q&A with Socionext CEO Yasuo Nishiguchi – fascinating read

Sky Garden (Stoned Moon) | Robert Rauschenberg Foundation – my favourite work from Rauschenberg’s commission in 1969 by the NASA Art Programme

Amazon.com: Spark – Amazon creates a social network to showcase its products

Moscow spooks return to Hungary, raising NATO hackles – POLITICO  – “Back in 2014-2015 [the Russians] went from maybe 50-100 intelligence officers up to 300 plus” in Hungary, said the former embassy official.

“Generally we expect they are openly capturing telecoms, running HUMINT [human intelligence] sources all over Europe, planning and staging all kinds of cyber sabotage, linking up with organized crime and supporting folks in parties like [the far-right] Jobbik with fat sacks of cash and maybe even some intel-sourced dirt,”

Yandex open-sources CatBoost, a machine learning library that can be trained with minimal data– interesting rival to TensorFlow et al

How’s an investor in The Peninsula’s holding company linked to Xi Jinping’s right-hand man? | South China Morning Post (dead link) – this won’t play well in Beijing. It makes the princeling’s wealth look excessive, the article was taken down 24 hours later

China Merchants Bank has got out-of-home adverts in high footfall parts of central London aimed at Chinese consumers shopping in the UK point out a promotion on their Visa credit card.

Those are extremely aggressive promotional offers, 5% back on what they spend. 3,000 yuan (£340) worth of rewards for spending abroad and $5 cash back if they spend $50 via Visa PayWave (contactless payment). The mind only boggles at how much customer acquisition and retention costs are for Chinese high net worth credit card users.


Five for Friday | 五日(星期五)

Things that made my day this week:

A new Blade Runner 2049 trailer, the suspense is killing me

McDonald’s seems to be going hard on supporting national service in different countries. Here is the Singapore treatment for the ‘Nasi Lemak’ burger. There is also a coconut pie (a bit like the fried apple pie), Cendol McFlurry (presumably containing green rice flour jelly and coconut ice cream) and a Bandung McFizz (rose syrup flavouring). It would be hard to get more Singaporean.

In Korea, they are giving free meals to conscripts whose parents can’t visit them and providing a special menu in the Seoul Station branch so that parents travelling to see their sons in the early hours of the morning by train could have something more substantial than the breakfast menu.

In both cases, it’s a canny move to catch families at a crucial life stage.

Great radio adaption of Lem Deighton’s Ipcress Files – slightly different to the Michael Caine film version you may have seen which deviates from the book (I am guessing due to budget considerations)

Why do graffiti writers get sent to prison for so long? | Dazed – On the same day that known graffiti writer Vamp was sentenced to 3 years for vandalism, a BBC presenter, Stuart Hall, was given 15 months for the sexual assault of 13 young girls over 20 years, between the ages of 9 and 17 – hard questions indeed.

Chinese digger company LOVOL had mandarin pop act Chopstick Brothers, dance troop and a wheeled loader dance along to their hit ‘My little Apple’ at a trade show (i’m guessing in China).

Living with the Apple Watch

I got the first iteration of the Apple Watch and managed to put up with it for about 48 hours before giving up on it. I have managed to persevere with the the Apple Watch 2.

Apple managed to speed up the performance of glanceable content, but it still doesn’t have the use case nailed. Watch 2 tries to go hard into fitness, which is a mixed bag in terms of data and accuracy. I am not convinced that it is any better than Fitbit and similar devices.

They did improve the product in two design areas. The Nike straps make the watch less sweaty to wear on your wrist. It is now comparable to wearing a G-Shock. They also managed to life-proof the Watch. You can now wear it swimming (but I wouldn’t advise snorkelling or scuba diving) and in the shower.  The battery life is still meh.

I upgraded the OS to watchOS 4 public beta but haven’t managed to use the Siri powered contextual face yet. As a concept it promises to be a step in the right direction to provide the kind of transformation wearables needed.

watchOS 4 made me realise something that had been nagging me for a while.

The Apple Watch doesn’t have any personality, or at least traits of a personality that I’d care about. It’s a detail that disappoints me. Mostly it’s invisible as a device, with the occasional glances. It gives me the occasional messages that sound like a vaguely resistant teen or like bursts of micro-aggression.


It wouldn’t take that much effort to have a bit more manners or personality in the copywriting. How about some icons?

Susan Kare was the icon designer for original Apple Mac, back in 1984. She came up with icons that were useful and gave the machine a personality. You got a sense of the personality behind the developers who created the machine. This was the kind of detail that Apple was known to obsess over.


Some of the icons like the dogcow, the bomb and the sad mac became iconic shorthand amongst Mac users. The dogcow was used in printer utility to show page orientation.

Like the early Mac, the Apple Watch doesn’t have a clear killer app and defined use case. It would benefit from manners, humour or even a bit of Siri wit. What’s more using well designed icons would reduce the effort in terms of product localisation.

You could argue that limited device resources don’t allow it. But I don’t buy that theory, an Apple Watch has more memory and computing power than the original Mac. I think its about that legendary attention to detail that Steve Jobs had (and drove everyone else made with. Apple has tried to codify this in their process, but you can’t bake in quirky obsession.

I guess I am old school Apple. I use an iPhone because it works well with my Mac, rather than the other way around. I still come across things where I see ‘Ahh, Apple’s thought about…’ in my Mac. My iPhone is a portable extension of my data, and doubles as a mobile modem for the Mac as needed; it gets in as the Mac’s plus 1.

By comparison the Apple Watch has less of a connection to the Mac and leeches off the iPhone. For a product that has little use case, it needs to work harder at building loyalty through my relationship with it as a device.




Links of the day | 在网上找到

China Disrupts WhatsApp Service in Online Clampdown – The New York Times – I didn’t realise that WhatsApp worked in China unless you were roaming on a foreign SIM

AI and Wall Street | WSJ City – Robotic Hogwash! Artificial Intelligence Will Not Take Over Wall Street. I guess it depends which Wall Street jobs that you mean

Apollo – Baidu’s automotive OS for self driving cars

Oprah time: Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

I took the opportunity in June to re-read Daniel Kahneman’s work Thinking Fast and Slow. Kahneman uses storytelling from key points in his career to take the audience on a journey through biases and better decision-making. From a book that is obviously aimed at a consumer audience it has an outsized impact on marketers.

Presentations now talk about behavioural economics. What this meant in practice was revisiting the interface of psychological cues and marketing communications to encourage a desired behavioural change – like a purchase. It brought a renewed focus on A/B testing of call to action copy and images based around known consumer biases.

Thinking Fast & Slow

This isn’t necessarily a marketing handbook however, it is designed to make the average person more aware of their decision making process. It reminded me of Dan Ariel’s Predictably Irrational.

The key difference is that Kahneman’s work provides more of a learning structure in the book. Ariel is closer to the ‘ain’t it cool’ style of Malcolm Gladwell (though more rigorously researched).

I’d recommend that marketers start on Thinking Fast and Slow at the back. There is  summary of the book and then some supporting white papers. Once you have them read then go to the front and work your way through. The reason why I suggest this approach is that marketers use case is different to that of the man in the street (who buys his books from the non-fiction section of the New York Times bestseller list).


Links of the day | 在网上找到

Perkbox raises $8.6 million for its employee engagement platform | Tech.eu – well deserved funding round that isn’t Tech City BS

brandchannel: Mercedes-Benz and SXSW Bring meConvention to Europe – is it just me or does this feel like marketing festivals have jumped the shark?

Hard Drives Started Out as Massive Machines That Were Rented by the Month | Vice – and the industry is moving back to this approach with cloud services

Publishers are switching affections from Snapchat to Instagram | Digiday – similar moves with creators

Confessions of a former agency innovation head: ‘It’s all smoke and mirrors to get more money’ – elements of the truth with a dose of skepticism

This Is Why China Hasn’t Jumped on the Smart Speaker Bandwagon – Bloomberg – interesting comments on conversational Chinese, AI also struggles with many variants of conversational English

China’s economy grows 6.9 per cent in second quarter, beating market expectations | South China Morning Post – mixed news here. Top line number is good, the problem is that it’s reliant on steel production (where China has a glut in capacity) and construction – further inflating the property bubble. Coal production also picked up – again contrary to the direction the government has outlined in terms of high value growth

Most popular iPhone models in the wild: CHART – Business Insider – a couple of things on this. The iPhone is obviously a durable item, many of these handsets will be secondhand or hand me downs. Many people’s upgrade will be a newer secondhand model

Facebook Plans to Unveil a $200 Wireless Oculus VR Headset for 2018 – Bloomberg – scaling down from the gaming PC powered rig to compete with Google Daydream and the myriad VR headsets out of Shenzhen

Amazon Prime does more for northern food security than federal subsidies, say Iqaluit residents – North – CBC News – positive PR for Amazon, the question is whether it is worth their while providing Prime as a universal service or not?

The music industry according to super-producer Jimmy Iovine | FT – no amazing business insights but interesting commentary on Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run album – which Iovine engineered. Apparently getting the drum sound perfect had been an issue. Born To Run ended up being Springsteen’s breakthrough album

What was it like to be at Xerox PARC when Steve Jobs visited? – Quora – I hadn’t realised that Alto and the other Xerox PARC technologies had been so widely discussed in the mainstream media prior to the visits by Microsoft and Apple respectively

France wants hardest Brexit, says City envoy to EU | FT – makes sense. At least some countries would see the negotiations as something closer to a zero-sum game for a few reasons. Holding the EU together, and the opportunities for at least some new jobs in their country. As the UK economy slows down, the country becomes less attractive as a market for exports. So the calculus moves from partnership to strip mining. Finally, it will be traumatic for supply chains so there is an incentive to rebuild them in your favour (paywall)

Under the Hood of Shell’s $100 Million Loyalty Program | CMO Strategy Columns – AdAge – interesting read, especially on the decline in geographic penetration at the pump of (other) oil companies (reg wall)

QR code takes a baby step in world conquest as group adopts global cashless payment format | SCMP – interesting counterpoint to NFC solutions from Google and Apple

Apple’s ‘installed base’ of iPhones has stopped growing, says Deutsche Bank (AAPL) | Business Insider – basically the market is saturated and has reached its equilibrium

The Influence of the KPM Music Library | WhoSampled – great guide to the famous library music label

US and European leaders finally agree on something: suspicion of Chinese takeovers | Quartz

Weak pound helps bring record tally of tourists | Business | The Times – so basically tourism hasn’t improved the country is an arbitrage play for travellers

Silicon Valley on what they think are the largest trends

A panel from the VC firms based on Sandhill Road debates what they think is the biggest technology trends at the moment

It all kicks off at the 5:40 mark.