Aug 9, 2016

Designing actionable emails


Receiving beautiful, functional emails from companies and services that we we use is hard to come by. We reviewed emails from our favourite products to see how their transactional emails looked, we were often surprised and disappointed by what we saw.

There’s a discrepancy between stellar marketing sites (or interface design) and crucial communication mediums. What’s being forgotten is that the latter is a core part of product design that should be treated with equal importance (after all, this is how you talk to your users!).

After successfully gathering a list of examples worth following (hello Trello, Slack and Stripe, just to name a few!) we’ve decided to set some key improvement areas we’d focus on for Calibre email redesign:

  • brevity
  • clarity
  • connection
  • context

Here’s a few important details that we think make for really great emails from your app to customers.

Make it short

It’s tempting to make use of a medium that doesn’t have character count on it. Sneak in a reminder on what the product is. Embed a tweet. Quote a blog post. Unfortunately, especially in the realm of the tech industry, we get a lot of email and we’re not particularly great at dealing with it.

At Calibre we want emails to be short and sweet. It shouldn’t take more than 2–3 minutes to skim over the content, which is why many of transactional communications are two liners.

Make one, distinct call to action

As an extension to the previous principle we believe each transactional email should offer a single call to action. With less distractions you might observe more conversions.

The action you specify should be relevant to both your business and customer goals.

Make it contextual

Context is a very powerful concept especially in the world of design. With the right amount of information we can make well-founded decisions. In the world of product email communications we encounter several types of recipients:

  • Newsletter subscribers (might or might not be users)
  • Trial users
  • Invitees (yet to have an account)
  • Paying customers with accounts

Each of these groups expect (or don’t!) a certain number of mail notifications. To avoid surprises and reassure the relationship with the product we diversify our footnotes.

By offering enough context to why someone’s receiving an email as well as prominent notification opt-out we extend respect towards users’ time and privacy.

Make it personal, but don’t fake it

Most of us have probably received drip email from the founder of a product we use semi-frequently at least once. We believe that it’s obvious that the CEO of a prolific company probably didn’t hand-write a note to each Jane or John Doe from their user base, and our technical audience feels the same.

While personalisation and maintaining a healthy level of real human interaction is an admirable goal it becomes impossible at certain scale. At Calibre we believe customer communication should be genuine and direct, which is why we implement the following strategies:

  • Automated emails are personalised with customer data (i.e. names)
  • Provide direct, friendly and helpful personal customer support outside of transactional emails

These little touches create a more than superficial bond with your customers and are worth investing your time in.


Further Resources

  • Good Copy — Email copy from great companies.
  • Great Email Copy—A dose of well-crafted emails from around the web.
  • Email Toolbox—Hand-picked resources for email marketers and designers.

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