Three Deal-killers In Bank Email Marketing Design

Here is a screenshot of my actual email client (Mail for Mac OS X) at the size I run it on a daily basis. A legitimate email from CitiMortgage is displayed in the window. For my 3 deal-killers, I will be referencing this image throughout.


1. It all starts with the subject

Our inboxes are becoming increasingly more difficult to manage. Even if we have the best spam blocking in the world, we're still getting more and more legitimate emails every day. Credit card statements, payment due notifications, order confirmations, shipment notifications, and Facebook updates just to name a few. Pruning your inbox in this day-and-age could take hours.

Which brings me to my first point. Create a compelling Subject line that will keep me from deleting your email at first glance. Try to keep it short as well, as you can see in the screen shot, you can only see the first few words: "Getting solid information. M..." If I see an email from my mortgage company that says "Getting solid information." I'm deleting that immediately because I don't have time for it.

Try to pack as many details about your offer in the first few words of the subject as you can. For example, if you were offering a Home Equity Line of Credit for 4.49% with no application fee, which of these two subject lines is better?

Subject: Free Application for Home Equity Line of Credit, Rates at 4.49%!


Subject: 4.49% Home Equity Line of Credit - No Application Fee

The second subject line example wastes no time telling you the rate, which we all know is what everyone really cares about. That rate might just be compelling enough to get your banking email opened - it all starts with the subject.

2. Design around your window of opportunity

No, this has nothing to do with timing, although that could be a blog post all on it's own. The window of opportunity I'm referencing is the actual email window that displays your banking email.

This topic is the actual reason I took the screenshot of this email. Take a look at what I actually saw when I opened it. Sure I scrolled down a little, but do you think the designer of this email actually used the space effectively? The majority of the window is taken up by a graphic.

Graphics take time to download, and in some cases are turned off by your customers or their email service. Also in this case, the text below the graphic is also actually just a graphic of text. If I didn't have images turned on, I wouldn't even see the text.

When you design a banking email that you actually want your customers to open and read, make sure not to:

  • waste their time with large graphics
  • use graphics in place of properly formatted (actual) text
  • waste large amounts of space with no real "content value"

Needless to say, this email left me feeling like the company sending it had no respect for my inbox or bandwidth and that results in the email being deleted.

3. To stock photo or not to stock photo

I think if I were the creative director at CitiMortgage, I would never have let this email leave the servers. What exactly does this image show me? For some reason they've decided to take an arial photo and mess with the color and saturation. Probably to make the blue text that sits on top of it stand out more. But in doing so they have inadvertently created a disaster scene.

If you haven't noticed it already, doesn't that photo look a little bit like a nuclear explosion has gone off? This email is trying to get me to join a service to see what houses in MY NEIGHBORHOOD have sold for. Is that supposed to be MY NEIGHBORHOOD being covered in radiation? I don't need a service to tell me those houses aren't selling.

Even assuming you picked the perfect stock photo for your offer, you should question your choice to even use stock photos. Is it respecting your recipient? Do you really need to clog their pipes with another photo of a happy, smiling family (or worse, a nuclear disaster)?

I'm not saying that you need to resort to a text based email. You should still include your branding and some style to the email to make it visually appealing. Think about it this way: how many times do you glance at your US Postal Service mail and toss all of the glossy photo ads into the recycle bin without even reading them? You probably at least glance at the letters that look like professional correspondence to make sure it's not something you're interested in. Take the same approach with your banking emails; make them the equivalent of a professional correspondence, not a glossy photo ad that gets tossed in the bin.

We recently sent out an email campaign to our clients to let them know about a potential spam filtering upgrade for their email accounts. We didn't use any stock photography, but we still used images, such as:

  • Our logo
  • Screen shots of the new service to help illustrate functionality
  • 1 fancy horizontal rule (repeated multiple times) to help make the content easier to digest and add some style to the email


I don't think any of our clients would feel that we've wasted their bandwidth with the few images we included in our email because they are all of value. The logo helps them easily identify who the email is from. The screen shots are used to help show them the service and the horizontal rules help add to the design and readability of the email.


While these tips are no guarantee your offer will be read by every recipient, they should at least help keep you shooting yourself in the foot. So, to sum up:

  1. Pick a killer subject line, not a deal-killing one - make sure it's short and to the point and includes as much real offer text as possible
  2. Once you've won your reader over with the subject line, keep them from having a meltdown - respect your recipients and only use graphics where appropriate and necessary, use real text instead of graphical text, and don't waste space.
  3. Never ever ever ever use stock photos - that may be over stating it, but only use stock photos when you feel it is absolutely crucial to your offer. Use screen shots or real photos to illustrate your offer or images to embellish the email and save the stock photography for the recycle bin.

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