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Email Creative: Standing Out From the Crowd

by Karen Talavera  |  
September 15, 2011

In this article, you'll learn...

  • Three ways your email messages can grab attention
  • Why less is more in email design

With email inboxes more crowded than ever, your message's successful arrival in the recipient's inbox is half the battle. Assuming you routinely have good deliverability, the second half of that battle is standing out from the crowd.

The majority of email users (more than 70% by some estimates) view the lineup of email messages in their inboxes via preview panes, so only a snapshot of each message is visible either on the right side or on the lower half of their screens. Checking email via a mobile device can be even more limiting, eliminating previews altogether.

Like it or not, that is the reality for email marketers today, which is why it's essential that your email messages not only pop and get straight to the point but also make a memorable entrance!

What follows are three tried and true creative tactics that'll always boost your message appeal. Although you may have seen these tactics applied to marketing and advertising in offline channels, they can have a greater impact online than offline—especially because of short attention spans and email's deliverability and rendering issues.

1. Compelling, Colorful Headlines

Compelling and colorful headlines stand out and are easily readable in preview panes. They immediately draw the reader to the main point of your message.

Don't rely solely on a graphic header, such as the one that may be topping your blog or site, to do the job of a headline; they're two different things. Though a graphic banner or "masthead" may be fine for e-newsletters, other marketing messages require more punch and relevancy. Each deserves a unique headline.

Take a look at the following example from restaurant group Bonefish Grill (which has a history of great email headlines, by the way). Notice the great headline copywriting and how each section of the message has a sub-headline to draw the reader in.

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Karen Talavera heads Synchronicity Marketing and writes about how to successfully use email, social, and content marketing on the Enlightened Emarketing blog. You can also follow Karen on Twitter (@SyncMarketing) and Facebook for daily tips and links to emerging email and social media marketing trends, facts, and research.

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  • by Jon Dickens Thu Sep 15, 2011 via web

    One thing not mentioned at all in this article is the balance between graphics and text in order to get through spam filters. I've heard that emails heavy on graphics are often snagged before reaching their audience.

  • by Todd Baker Thu Sep 15, 2011 via web

    The Bonefish Grill would have a hard time, as it looks to be almost exclusively graphics, while it looks good in a screen shot, when put to the test in a wide variety of email inboxes, how does it come across. With over 60% of email inboxes opting for "images off", the view will only see the alt tags. I thins the FreeConference would look to have the best balance as @ Jon Dickens says, many SPAM filters would capture both of the other emails before the intended recipient ever noticed.

  • by Andrew McNees Thu Sep 15, 2011 via web

    These e-mails are going to existing clients, from what I would assume. Thus the graphic heavy design. The receiver has already accepted / requested to get these communications and the style and format would make it past spam filters.

  • by Kate Lee Thu Sep 15, 2011 via web

    How do you add graphics when you're marketing a professional services firm? The istock photos of people pouring over paperwork and pointing and smiling at graphs is a little tired. Any ideas on how to do something different so that readers don't skim over the whole thing?

  • by Pooja Thu Sep 15, 2011 via web

    I agree with Todd to an extent. I personally have my inbox images off and turn it on if I and interested in a newsletter to get the full scoop. I do it for MarketingProfs by the way. Yet there is no guarantee a recipient will accept mine with full images on.


  • by Ed Alexander Fri Sep 16, 2011 via web

    Yikes. The examples above are great for PC users, but these days, when (a) mobile devices outnumber PCs, (b) most of us have our mobile device within reach 24/7, and (c) we read email on that small screen, the email examples shown above could likely fail to deliver, render, make sense visually, or stimulate anything above a 50% conversion rate.

    Designing and pre-testing for small screen results should keep you out of the weeds.

    Paraphrasing the article: less is more. Extrapolated: small screens force you to strip out all the clutter, redundancy, confusion, indirectness, fluff, etc. and just focus on the basics:

    WHAT is the main goal?
    WHY should the reader care?
    HOW do you want the reader to respond?

    Make these three elements the stars of your email. Better: make them the ONLY elements of your email. Then, and only then, should you even think about graphics. Your email should s focus on the audience's needs, wants, communication style and short attention span. Graphics are secondary, and should be A/B tested.


  • by Tyler Fri Jan 6, 2012 via web

    Kate: Working for a consulting firm, I can relate to your graphic dilemma. One thing I found that works well is simply photographing the personnel here and during client interaction (when appropriate), then, using the photography in promotional material. Rather than purchasing stock photos, spend a little money on a photographer or a camera. This helps leads understand what they can expect as well as showcases our current clients' successes. Current clients love seeing their achievements used as promotional material... plays to their egos.

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