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Designing On-Brand, Engaging Email Newsletters in Mailchimp or ConvertKit

Email marketing remains one of the most effective digital marketing channels. In fact, for every $1 spent on email marketing, the average return on investment is $42. But crafting emails that engage your audience and accomplish your goals requires strategy and skill.

Below I’ll walk through the key steps for designing on-brand, engaging email newsletters using two of the most popular email service providers, Mailchimp and ConvertKit. Follow these best practices and you’ll be well on your way to email marketing success.

Why Email Newsletters Are Still Essential

Before jumping into newsletter design, let’s look at why email is still so important in today’s crowded digital landscape.

Reaches a Large, Engaged Audience

Over 4 billion people worldwide use email. And email open rates average around 20%, much higher than most social media platforms. When done right, email marketing not only reaches a lot of people, but engages them too.

Drives Sales and Conversions

Email generates around $44 for every $1 spent, the highest of any marketing channel. It’s extremely effective at driving conversions, including sales, sign-ups, downloads, and more.

Provides Personalization

Email allows you to segment your audience and customize content for each subscriber based on their interests and behaviors. This personal touch helps strengthen relationships.

Delivers Relevant Content

Through your newsletter, you can share blog posts, guides, product updates, promotions, and other information tailored specifically to each subscriber’s needs.

Builds Loyalty

When subscribers get consistent value from your emails, you build trust and loyalty. Newsletters nurture relationships over time.

Gathers Valuable Data

You can track open rates, click rates, conversions, and more. This data helps you continually refine your strategies for greater success. Email provides powerful insights.

Reliable Channel

Unlike social media algorithms, email reach does not fluctuate. As long as you gather express consent, you can reliably contact subscribers. It’s a dependable way to engage your audience.

Cost-Effective

Email is one of the most budget-friendly marketing channels. You can create and send great emails with very little financial investment. The potential ROI is extremely high.

Key Steps for Designing Engaging Email Newsletters

Now let’s explore the crucial steps for planning, creating, and sending effective newsletters.

Choose the Right Email Service Provider

First, select an email service provider (ESP) to manage your contacts, create emails, and track results. Two top options are Mailchimp and ConvertKit.

Mailchimp

With over 13 million users, Mailchimp is the most popular ESP. It makes email marketing easy for small businesses with its drag-and-drop builder, automation tools, detailed reports, and generous free plan.

ConvertKit

ConvertKit focuses on bloggers and online businesses. It offers landing page builders, automations based on tags, superior deliverability, and excellent customer support. Pricing starts at $29/month.

Once you select your ESP, integrate it with your website and store for smooth data flows. Then import your contacts.

Set Your Goals and KPIs

Every email campaign needs clearly defined goals. These will guide your strategy, content, design, and success metrics.

Common email marketing goals include:

  • Generate sales or leads
  • Increase website traffic
  • Grow email list
  • Drive event registrations
  • Increase engagement
  • Share product updates
  • Build brand awareness

Also determine your key performance indicators (KPIs)—the quantifiable data points that measure performance against your goals. Common email KPIs include:

  • Open rate
  • Clickthrough rate
  • Conversion rate
  • Unsubscribe rate
  • Bounce rate
  • List growth rate

Define what target numbers you want to hit for each KPI. This gives you something to optimize towards.

Identify Your Target Audience Personas

Who specifically do you want to reach with your newsletter? Defining subscriber personas is key.

First, segment your list into logical groups based on demographics, interests, and behaviors. For example, you may have one segment interested in yoga products and another focused on healthy recipes.

Then develop one or more representative reader personas. Give each a name, photo, background information, goals and challenges. This helps humanize your audience so you can create relevant content.

Choose Your Newsletter Format

What style of newsletter aligns best with your goals, brand, and audience? Common formats include:

The Skimm

Named after the popular news curation service The Skimm, this compact format highlights a handful of key stories, products, or tips. It’s best for audiences with limited time.

Magazine Style

This popular format includes a branded cover image, short snippets of varied content, and links to full articles. It feels like flipping through a magazine.

Curated

With this format, you only send emails when you have something worthwhile to share, such as an in-depth guide, special deal, or important company update. Keep it focused.

Traditional

The traditional newsletter leads with one prominent story or offer, then includes additional short snippets below. It works well for promotions.

Also decide on your newsletter length and frequency. Monthly and weekly are common email cadences. Test to see what resonates best with your subscribers.

Craft Attention-Grabbing Subject Lines

Your subject line is the first impression recipients get of your email, so make it compelling. Use these proven tactics:

  • Address the reader directly
  • Ask an intriguing question
  • Include the recipient’s first name
  • Refer to urgency or a special deal
  • Convey the primary benefit
  • Keep it short, clear and scannable

A/B test different subject lines to determine which get the highest open rates.

Design a Consistent, Branded Look

Your newsletter design should align with your brand strategy and visibly connect to your website or store.

Make sure each email has:

  • Company logo
  • Brand fonts, colors, and graphics
  • Consistent header and footer
  • Links to your site, store, and social channels
  • Clear branding throughout

Maintain this cohesive look across all campaigns and segments for brand reinforcement.

Craft Quality Content

Content remains king. With emails, stick to 20% promotions and 80% valuable information tailored to each subscriber group. Consider including:

Relevant Articles: Share your latest blog posts on topics that interest each segment.

Product Updates: Highlight new arrivals, restocks, or sales on products each group wants.

Curated Links: Provide links to other helpful resources like articles, videos, tools, or deals.

Company News: Communicate news such as awards, events, donations, or milestones about your brand.

Expert Interviews: Feature Q&As with industry experts relevant to your audience.

Success Stories: Profile customer wins and transformations from using your product or service.

Behind-the-Scenes: Give a peek at what happens behind the scenes at your company, such as at an event or photo shoot.

User-Generated Content: Showcase customer photos, reviews, stories, or videos with their permission. This builds trust.

Lead Magnets: Offer free resources like checklists, guides, templates, courses, or webinars in exchange for an email address.

Curate or create content that provides genuine value for each subscriber segment based on their interests and needs. Avoid overly promotional language.

Optimize Your Email for Scannability

Since people scan emails quickly, optimize yours for readability:

  • Use short paragraphs and bullet points
  • Bold key information
  • Include ample whitespace
  • Use descriptive headers and subheaders
  • Add relevant images and graphics
  • Link important text to more details
  • Start sections with the most important info
  • Craft a clear, scannable layout

Make your main call to action or offer prominent. Eliminate distractions and clutter.

Personalize the Message

Personalization boosts open and clickthrough rates. Wherever possible, incorporate the recipient’s:

  • First name
  • Location information
  • Purchase history
  • Browsing behavior
  • Interests
  • Name of their company or organization

Even small personal touches make emails feel more relevant. Segment your list so you can tailor content to specific groups based on their attributes and preferences.

Automate Your Emails

Marketing automation saves time and enhances consistency. Set up sequences triggered by specific user actions. For example:

  • Welcome series when a contact joins your list
  • Browse abandonment series if someone leaves your site without purchasing
  • Re-engagement series for inactive contacts
  • Behavior-based series that sends related content based on interests
  • Date-based series like happy birthday messages or yearly reviews

Automate emails whenever possible, but make sure they still feel personal.

Include Clear Calls-to-Action

Every email should have one strong CTA that tells the reader what to do next, like “Download the guide,” “Listen to the podcast,” or “Find Out More.”

  • Place your CTA prominently near the top and bottom of emails
  • Use compelling action-oriented language
  • Link the CTA button to the target webpage
  • Make the CTA button stand out visually
  • Test different phrases to optimize clickthroughs

Guiding recipients to take your desired action boosts conversions.

Test and Optimize Your Emails

The most successful email marketers continually test and refine their strategies. Here are some key ways to optimize:

A/B Test

Try different subject lines, content, layouts, images, CTAs, and more across email split tests. The open and clickthrough rates will reveal what resonates best with your subscribers.

Analyze Metrics

Dig into the data on opens, clicks, conversions, etc. Look for trends to identify winning approaches and areas for improvement.

Review Analytics

Assess your email analytics to see which links get the most clicks, which posts or products attract the most interest, when people open or click, and other insights you can leverage.

Gather Feedback

Use surveys or conversations to learn what subscribers like and want. Get input on the content, frequency, format, and types of emails they find valuable.

Check Deliverability

Ensure your emails reliably reach subscriber inboxes by monitoring deliverability metrics like bounce and spam rates. Aim for the inbox!

Continually Refine

Email marketing is an ongoing process. The best results come from continually testing new ideas while perfecting proven tactics that engage your audience.

Design Tips for Building Emails in Mailchimp and ConvertKit

Now let’s look at some best practices for designing great looking emails in Mailchimp and ConvertKit using their drag-and-drop builders.

Create Visually Engaging Emails

Images and graphics catch readers’ attention while conveying information quickly.

  • Use large, high-quality photos
  • Insert branded graphics and illustrations
  • Include logos, icons, charts, or diagrams
  • Balance images with ample negative space
  • Ensure proper image sizes and formats

Visuals make your emails more appealing and scannable.

Craft Effective Headers

Headers provide the roadmap for your content.

  • Start with an H1 header featuring your main topic or offer
  • Use H2 subheaders to organize content sections
  • Add H3 subheaders to break up long sections
  • Keep headers short and descriptive
  • Use numbered or bulleted headers for lists

Well-structured headers guide readers smoothly through your emails.

Layout Content Strategically

How you position content impacts readership.

  • Lead with your most important content or offer
  • Place primary CTA near top and bottom
  • Use columns, stacks, and grids to segment info
  • Position images to draw attention
  • Leave ample whitespace between sections
  • Put related content in close proximity

purposeful layout attracts readers’ eyes to what matters most.

Emphasize Key Text

Make important text stand out.

  • Bold primary headers and action phrases
  • Use larger font sizes for critical text
  • Italicize or underline text judiciously for emphasis
  • Limit font styles and colors for cohesion
  • Avoid dense paragraphs of bold or italicized text
  • Don’t capitalize long phrases or overuse exclamation points

Thoughtful formatting makes your main points immediately visible.

Choose Fonts Carefully

Font selection impacts aesthetics and readability.

  • Use your brand fonts consistently
  • Limit to 2-3 complementary fonts
  • Ensure body text is large enough to read easily
  • Use clear, professional fonts over stylistic ones
  • Rely on sans serif fonts for online reading
  • Verify fonts render smoothly across devices

Strategic font choices reinforce branding while enhancing user experience.

Incorporate Branded Colors

Colors bring your brand to life while conveying mood and meaning.

  • Use your primary brand colors consistently
  • Choose a neutral color for your background
  • Add accent colors to highlight key items
  • Limit the palette to 2-4 complementary colors
  • Avoid software’s default color schemes
  • Ensure sufficient color contrast for accessibility

Purposeful color use makes emails distinctly on-brand.

Check Mobile Responsiveness

With over half of emails opened on mobile, responsive design is essential.

  • Use a mobile-first email builder
  • Preview emails on actual devices
  • Pay attention to how sections stack and resize
  • Adjust spacing, text size, and layout as needed
  • Simplify design for small screens
  • Link CTAs and dates to calendars or maps
  • Avoid horizontal scrolling on mobile

Mobile-optimized emails provide the ideal experience for subscribers on the go.

By combining strong design with value-driven content that engages your audience, you gain the foundation for email marketing success. Apply these best practices in Mailchimp and ConvertKit to take your communications up a notch. With regular testing and refinement, your newsletter becomes an indispensable asset for growing your business.

By Dani Davis

Dani Davis is the pen name of the writer of this blog with more 15 years of constant experience in Content marketing and informatics product, e-commerce niche.

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