Does anybody still need convincing that email marketing is amazing?
Well, maybe, but certainly not us marketers — we already know email is wildly effective (for instance, average ROI is $38 for every $1 spent, according to VentureBeat).

There’s still a slight problem, though, as explained by media planning and research firm BRAD Insight: “The challenge is not getting people to open your emails, but to actually engage with them: The average click through rate sits at just 2.3%.”

The message is clear: For all our efforts, it’s still difficult getting customers to engage with our emails.

As always, though, there’s room for improvement. Take a look at these tips to pump up your email marketing for today’s savvy customer.

1. Toss the stockiest of stock images

I know — it’s tough to find knock-your-socks-off images. And you’re probably still angry about the last time it took 25 minutes to find one decent image for your email blast.

Here’s the thing: You should try your darndest to avoid using stock images. Sure, maybe those stiff stock images worked during the dawn of the internet. But today’s consumer is more discerning — cookie-cutter anything doesn’t fly anymore.

Why are stock photos such a drag? Because they’re inauthentic. Nowadays, authenticity is one of the top factors that attract consumers to brands, and cheesily staged images don’t build trust because they 1) imply you’re selling lifeless products and 2) give you a brand-personality score of zero. So, resolve to ditch those stock photos reminiscent of impersonal corporate wastelands.

boring stock photo

Oh man… I’m sorry if you have to use this one!

Instead of using cringe-worthy stock photos, try these ideas instead:

Get a designer to make a graphic for you. If your budget allows, hire a professional designer. The difference you’ll see could be night and day. Check out 99designs and Upwork for great places to find quality designers.

Whip something up yourself. Canva is a really cool drag-and-drop tool you can use to create beautiful graphics. If you’ve got a bit of technical know-how, bust out the trusty Adobe Photoshop or, for a free alternative, use GIMP.


Go for the “good” stock photos. You’re going to avoid those stark-white-background, obviously staged stock photos. But the stock-image space has really upped its game recently, and you might want to take a gander at a few newcomers to the party. You can find some really pretty (and free) stock photos from sites like Pexels, Picjumbo, Unsplash and Stocksnap.

This might be a stock photo, but it’s still artsy and compelling. (Thanks Pexels.)

Put your photography skills to use. Nowadays it’s pretty difficult to find a phone with a sucky camera. This means casual photographers, armed with just their smartphones, can shoot beautiful photos. Think about using an original for your next email!

Oh, and you don’t have to be the only one taking photos for your company — you can use photos taken by your employees, fans and customers. Which leads us to our next tip…

2. Tap into a universe of community-generated content

Do you ever feel like you’re treading water trying to come up with new content? Many of your fellow marketers feel the same way. In fact, 44% of B2C content marketers say they have trouble creating content regularly.

Luckily, you don’t have to do it all solo! You have an army of brand ambassadors out there — your employees and your customers — and they would be thrilled to help you. An added bonus to using community-generated content is you’ll create emails that are a million percent authentic.

Use content from your employees. For content that captures the essence of your brand, why not collect it from the people who know you best? Your staff is an essential part of your company and can create some awesome material if you just ask.

Brands like Reebok actively curate employee-contributed content for huge boosts of authenticity.

Let your employees know you’d be ecstatic to see content from them. According to SocialChorus, 93% of employees think they would be great at promoting their companies. Tell your staff you welcome any content they have (blog posts, photos, social media posts, etc.) and give them easy channels to submit content (dedicated email addresses, a designated point person, etc.)

Give them something in return. Consider offering contests and incentives to kickstart employee-generated content. On the other hand, you might not have to offer any extras at all — oftentimes the opportunity for fun and recognition is a great reward in itself. For a cool example of employee-generated content, check out the Urban Outfitters blog. The company’s US@UO series publishes behind-the-scenes features from various employees and stores to promote the Urban Outfitters lifestyle.

Urban OutfittersUse content from your customers

Why should you start using user-generated content? Simple: Because people trust people. The numbers back that idea, showing that customer-generated content creates 12 times more trust than brand-generated material.

For a crazy-effective way to collect user-generated content at scale, check out our tool called Fanreel — it lets you collect photos from sources like Tumblr, Twitter and Instagram (the last of which works especially well in combination with email). To see how Fanreel can pump up your brand, hop over to our case study on how luxury fashion brand Rebecca Minkoff collected more than 10,000 user-generated images in three months.

3. Promote your email blasts in-store

If you run brick-and-mortar stores, you have the perfect opportunity to integrate your email marketing. Every person who walks into your store is a good lead — they were interested enough to sail through, so that makes it much more likely they’ll be receptive to hearing from you in the future. Consider implementing these ideas for in-store email magic:

Ask for email addresses at the register. Your customer just bought something — ka-ching! But don’t stop here. Ask for permission to follow up with them via email, armed with the knowledge that they already love your brand. Sell your email list by mentioning that you send info about exclusive promotions and events.

Collect email addresses through text. Consider building your email list through a method perfectly tailored to millennials: Joining your list through text. After you set up your text-to-email service, all customers have to do is text a keyword to a unique number, and they’ll be texted back with instructions on how to receive emails from you. For a text-signup service, check out Textiful or see if your email provider has any text-to-email app integrations.


Run a contest or raffle. Ever seen those fishbowl promos at restaurants where you throw in your business card for a chance to win a free meal? It’s tried-and-true lead collection. You can leverage the same concept: Set up a display in your store promoting an irresistible contest. It’s a total no-brainer for your customers to sign up, and you can collect emails cost-effectively at volume.

It’s time to ditch the email marketing of yesteryear. The internet has evolved, and it’s brought a bunch of tools brands can leverage to revamp their email marketing. What does your email strategy look like right now? Take a good look and see if you can upgrade it to create a galaxy of customer engagement.

For help keeping up with today’s consumer, take a look at our guide Marketing to Millennials: Engaging a Generation of Visual Buyers. And if you want to see how brands have used Curalate to collect some amazing user-generated content, grab our case studies on Urban Outfitters and Rebecca Minkoff now.