Make sure you are winning at email marketing this year with our expert advice.

2020 was quite something wasn't it? Consumers and businesses went through a systematic shock, which created real challenges for email marketing. Everything from copy tone to code was re-analysed, and previous processes had to be adapted in order to fit into the new working climate.

But, from adversity grows opportunity. And this year could present a lot of them. We've put together some ideas on how your email marketing can win 2021.

Building for Dark Mode

Hattie Howard - Customer Marketing Lead

Everyday more people are using dark mode to view email, so the emails you send need to be Dark Mode ready. Ensuring your beautiful emails are rendering on both formats has been one of the biggest challenges for email marketers. And because email rendering is complex, the reversed colour scheme means not everything will display the way you intend. Plus, each email client treats dark mode in its own way which can present additional challenges during the QA and testing process.

With this in mind, here are a few resources you might find helpful:

Put your messaging and tone first

Matt Parsloe - Content Marketer

2020 was the year of the message-focused email. Quickly created and sent to subscribers, these were commonly associated with announcements and updates about business operations affected by Covid-19. What shone through was the empathetic and 'human' tone used.

Matt Parsloe

Even without images or more interesting visual aspects, emails still proved to be connecting with subscribers. With shrinking budgets perhaps limiting creativity in 2021, it's going to be crucial that your copywriting carries a tone that engages and connects with your customers on a human level, rather than just pushing a transaction.

Work on personalisation, but only with a reason

Elliot Ross, CEO

It’s easy to recommend personalisation. Every piece of technology that has anything to do with email will be talking about it. But here’s the thing — Personalisation is more than remembering some data someone told you, and hoping they’ll be impressed with it.

When used in a sensible and practical way, personalisation can achieve great results, but only when it’s useful. So we need to move beyond just “dear firstname”. Think about two things: how can we use this to help people, and what data do we have available. We have lots of useful data, both from things people tell us, and behaviour that we know.

Conversely — if you have a message that works for everyone, and it’s beyond someone’s personal circumstances — then it’s ok not to over-complicate things. Everything has it’s place.

Finally, if you do use “dear firstname” — make sure your data is correct: There’s nothing worse than getting someone’s name wrong — in real life as well as digitally!

Be mindful and conscious to the reader 

Hattie Howard

Having an awareness of the outside world and using a human tone helps to communicate with your customer in a relatable and trustworthy way. This could be acknowledging social or environmental issues going on such as climate change or highlighting how your business is making a change. Some great brands such as Patagonia and Rapha switched up their email strategy for Black Friday last year to shine light on sustainable and mindful purchasing. These are a great example of brands showing the value they can bring, rather than trying to produce value through sales. And it isn’t always about sales - customers want to buy into the brand both through purchases and morals.

Hattie Howard

How your business reacts to news, social and environmental subjects or even global pandemics will be picked up on. Ultimately how you respond is up to you but be mindful of your tone, intentions and how you communicate this to your reader. It’s likely your customers might feel anxious around these topics, so treat them with extra care where you can

Unlock your team by using an Email Design System

Elliot Ross

Email Design Systems (you might also use things like a modular template) are one of the biggest wins you can have to transform how you execute email. Instead of designing and building every campaign from scratch — make a system once, reuse it, continually improve it, repeat. That means you raise the quality of your campaigns, massively shorten the turnaround time, and help everyone on the team deliver more value.

Elliot Ross

I spoke with Crystal Ledesma about how implementing an Email Design System at Zillow (and then using Taxi to help the team use it) helped revolutionise their email marketing

Use emotional intelligence to make your email more relatable

Matt Parsloe

Understanding your customers is one thing, but realising their needs and values will make your email resonate with them. Balancing focusing on customer-centric marketing with building relationships over short-term promotions will secure long-term benefits.

Customers connect more so with a brand that shares their values and ethics, and if they trust that brand they stay loyal to it too. In 2021, regular customers could be more vital than before, so building that brand trust, and demonstrating shared values, will help you succeed.

Make your email accessible for all

Elliot Ross

EmailGeeks have made great inroads making email accessible in the last few years, but there is more we can do. We started by adding code to help support screen readers — that’s great, and it improves the experience for people who have visual challenges.

But there is more we can do; Microsoft’s Inclusive Design toolkit talks about four considerations: Audio, Visual, Dexterity and Cognitive. There are email design implications for all of these. Do our emails cause challenges for people with epilepsy, autism, dyslexia or anxiety issues? This is more than a code consideration — it goes back to design, copywriting and even strategy.

Why should we do this? Aside from avoiding excluding people with disabilities, inclusive design improves the experience for everyone. Everyone’s abilities have limits. Sometimes those limits change situationally, temporarily, or permanently. Making your email easier for people to understand and act on will help you get your message across. Also you risk getting sued if you don’t.

Be more human

Hattie Howard

There’s more to email than just a collection of text and links, as Ann Handley pointed out at Litmus Live 2020. We are gradually seeing a shift in newsletters, which one came from the brand, to now being sent from an individual, or author. Ios Dev Weekly and Ann Handley's newsletter are a couple of great examples to subscribe to and draw inspiration from.

If you don’t have time to subscribe, here’s a few pointers from Ann which you can start adopting to your email strategy:

  • Where you can, try to deliver a narrative around your links, imagery and copy you have pasted from an external site. Try guide your reader through the story of the email
  • Be relatable - your readers want to form a connection with the author so injecting personality is always a strong way to engage
  • Find an “author”, someone your reader can form a human connection with
  • Try to steer clear from using script-like emails where you can, these can be seen as generic to the reader

Go further with mobile optimisation

Matt Parsloe

Chad White, on a recent EmailTalk podcast (which we urge you to check out), said that even though people have been at home mostly in 2020, mobile usage for email didn't change. Habits die hard, and people are still picking up their phone to read their emails despite being in front of desktop computers / laptops. Surely this shows optimising your emails for mobile is now a necessity? A lot of us may do this, but only in basic terms.

Matt Parsloe

Is there more we can do? Creating content that is easy for people to understand on a mobile device, rather than just changing the design and images to help readers digest the content better, rather than just rearranging or re-sizing it, is one example. Making sure you have an Email Design System that supports responsive designs is a great first step to better mobile optimisation.

There is some great advice out there on how to successfully optimise your emails for mobile devices:

Follow strategy first, solution second

Elliot Ross

There is a lot of talk at the moment about shiny new things — interactive email, AMP4Email, AI driven hyper-personalization. These are really interesting tools that may well help us do better, more meaningful work. But they’re useless without a strategy first. Fancy new things are only successful once they improve things for the recipient, more than the marketer.

Elliot Ross

When looking at these things, think about what it delivers for the end user. Not just what does it look like - but how does it help them? How does it get the message across better? (spoiler: making the design more flashy isn’t an answer). The most successful implementations of new tech are solving a problem; the key is to understand what you’re trying to achieve first.

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