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Industry • Best Practice

The Best in Beauty: Analyzing Urban Decay's Unmistakable Emails

Urban Decay’s bright, loud, and unapologetic emails are a masterclass in branding

Is there any online space more fraught (for marketers, at least) than the email inbox? Dozens of messages fight for your attention every day, and so often it feels like none of them deserve it. That’s where Urban Decay bucks the trend. Their subject lines grab your attention, teasing you with something new, flashy, or — if we’re being honest — on sale. The emails themselves are brief, beautiful, and fun to read. And never once does brand identity slip. Urban Decay is always on.

If you’re interested in email marketing, it’s a style worth scrutinizing. Let’s figure out what makes it tick.

What makes Urban Decay emails sparkle?

Urban Decay benefits from a strong brand built up over many years, but its essential elements remain the same as they’ve always been. High contrast, purples, black and white — they create a distinctive visual palette that complements the brand’s conversational copy. They’re unbelievably stylish in a bold way, but they’re still your bestie, and they want you in on their alternative style adventure.

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Image source: Urban Decay

The subject line is the first line of contact with your customer, and Urban Decay makes full use of that moment. Their subject lines grab customer attention immediately, either by leading with a new product or sale, or by addressing the customer directly. The next section of the subject provides just enough information to pull customers into the email itself, rather than shunting it into the garbage.

“Hey boo-tiful. Here’s how to rock orange this Halloween,” reads one from October. The direct address draws the customer in, the pun makes them smile, and the chance to improve their style entices them to learn more.

On opening the email, the customer comes face to face with that powerful Urban Decay visual branding. The images are big, splashy, and a kind of gritty glamorous, reinforcing that branding for the customer. They also show the products themselves in action, on diverse models, giving customers a sense of how they’ll perform in the real world. These images are both aspirational and, in concert with the copy, conspiratorial — come join our club of glamorous weirdos. Let’s be in on this together.

And how do customers get in on this club? By following one of the many “Shop now” links distributed throughout the email. Every image, whether it’s a model wearing a product, or the product itself, is accompanied by a link that takes the customer to Urban Decay’s online shop, making the pipeline from interest to purchase as smooth as possible.

How marketers can recreate this experience

Subject lines should pop

The first key takeaway from Urban Decay’s style is making sure your subject lines get straight to the point. Marketers know most people won’t make it past your headline, so you need to get the most exciting information out as quickly as possible. Even if your brand doesn’t have the conversational tone of Urban Decay, leading with key info — a new product drop, an event announcement — will make sure readers give your emails the time of day.

That doesn’t mean cramming all the info into your subject line. Too much will weigh the subject down, preventing it from landing with the snap you need. Once the reason for the email has been made clear in a few words, you can add a little more detail. Urban Decay subject lines average around 51 characters; you likely won’t want to go much higher than that, or you risk losing customer interest.

Master your brand’s identity

Just because it’s easier said than done doesn’t mean it isn’t vital. If you want customers to click on your emails, you need them to be consistently high-quality and instantly recognizable, from the imagery to the copy. If your imagery pops and your copy is concise, customers will bring positive associations to every email you send. That relationship is crucial to effective email marketing, as it predisposes customers to open and enjoy your content.

Offer offramps aplenty

Having a strong visual identity also makes it easier to convert email readers into customers. Emails can be full of links to your products and services, but as long as they’re well integrated into your brand’s palette they can be obvious without being obtrusive. These links should be as close to their corresponding products as possible, making it clear to customers where they’re headed when they click. They should be easy to find, but avoid disrupting the customer’s enjoyment of your beautifully designed email. And they should be plentiful.

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Image source: Urban Decay

Why email market at all?

Given what it takes to stand out in the endless inbox avalanche, it may seem like more trouble than it’s worth to pursue email marketing. But there’s a reason nearly every major brand invests in it. Well, several reasons, really.

First of all, the return on investment for email marketing is outstanding. With an ROI of $44 per dollar spent, it’s massively efficient, and email marketing revenue is projected to hit nearly $11 billion by 2023. Data suggests that 99% of email users check their inboxes at least once each day, and more than half of those users check their emails before they log into any social media. When you consider that 91% of Americans aged 15-24 use email, it’s easy to see how email marketing’s impressive ROI comes together.

So what is it about email marketing that makes it so effective? Email marketing gives you a direct line to your customers. There’s no barrier between your messaging and their eyes. Often, customers who sign up for email lists are also more motivated to buy your product or service than the average customer, making them more likely to respond to the focused calls to action you can send their way. 

Those calls to action don’t always need to be a purchase. Emails can just as easily push surveys to customers as products, allowing you to hear from your customers on any issue you can imagine. From refining your email style to gauging interest in new products, email marketing builds a foundation for better understanding your customers.

Another great way to gather information from your customers, even without their explicit input, is to operate A/B tests using your emails. Curious which style of subject line converts into more clicks? Wondering if certain customers are more likely to read certain emails? Email marketing gives you fine-tuned control over which customers receive which emails, and there’s no limit to what you can learn with a little careful testing.

Finally, for customers who aren’t already loyal to your brand, email marketing provides a way to build that loyalty. If you can make a customer smile or learn something with your emails, you’ve already earned a small victory. Every positive interaction they have with your brand makes them more likely to buy from you, and email marketing lets you stake an ever-increasing claim to their mental real estate.

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