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Today's inboxes are more crowded than ever. But the silver lining for marketers is that whether you're a marketing team of one or a thousand, it's possible to compete with the emails of the biggest brands out there.

How so? With smart design and strategy, marketers from companies big or small can become the heroes of their firms by building email campaigns worth celebrating.

We've compiled an overview of some of the best emails from the past year, along with some tips to ensure yours stand out in the inbox and you're able to maximize engagement and conversion rates to achieve the highest possible email ROI in 2018.

1. A Design Strategy That Scores Major Points: Vanderbilt Athletics

Fully 80% of people are only scanning your email, according to the Nielsen Norman Group. People are busy, which means they're checking their email quickly while waiting in line at the coffee shop, say, or if they get to a meeting a couple of minutes early. You have only a few seconds to make a big enough impression for them to engage right then or remember to revisit your email later.

The email from Vanderbilt Athletics follows the playbook on how to share a lot of content in a scannable, digestible way. By breaking up the design into clearly defined buckets with compelling headlines, the company has given fans easy access to all the information they need to know; plus, the email is easy to scan on a mobile phone.

This is a tactic that B2B marketers would be wise to emulate: Instead of stuffing every newsletter with a wall of copy and text links, organize your email content into an attractive, scannable format like this one.

2. Tease Subscribers With a Compelling GIF: Southern Proper

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image of Colby Cavanaugh

Colby Cavanaugh is the senior vice-president of marketing at Emma, a digital marketing platform that makes it easy to create beautifully designed emails that drive results.

LinkedIn: Colby Cavanaugh

Twitter: @colbycc