2018 Sparky Award Winners

Another year, another great awards season! Each year that we host the Sparky Awards, we see some remarkable submissions from our community. You folks are doing some awesome things with email to engage your recipients and nurture valuable relationships. With the buzz around Interactive Email and our own introduction of HEML earlier this year, we decided to add that category to the mix with some truly stand out projects.

Without further ado, here are the winners in each category for the 2018 Sparky Awards!

Best Email Subject Line

Winner: Zillow
Submission Recap: Repeat winner alert! Zillow continues to impress us with their timely and clever emails. This simple subject line “Spaces (and Jokes) Dads Love” went out on Father’s Day and did a wonderful job combining the relevance of a holiday with relatable and engaging content – in the form of dad jokes!

zillow dad jokes 2018 sparky award winner


Best Triggered Email

Winner: Really Good Emails
Submission Recap: Really Good Emails was looking for ways to confirm or ask for subscriber’s information after opt-in that didn’t feel intrusive. Using Campaign Monitor, they set up a flow to trigger an email two weeks after sign-up to check and see if the subscribers had updated their personal info. If they hadn’t, the subscriber got a playful “this is awkward, we want know you better” email prompting for a quick opt-in and update of personal information with a “Hello my name is…” CTA. In addition to an incredible increase in basic subscriber info that can be used to personalize emails and interactions, the fun email really drove engagement on social channels – Really Good Emails got dozens of tweets praising the simple but effective email.

really good emails triggered 2018 sparky award winners email

Best Use of the SparkPost API

Winner: Charlie Novoa, InFocus Ad Agency
Submission Recap: Email delivery isn’t the most glamorous thing, but it is a critical element to almost all business operations. Charlie from InFocus Advertising Agency works with an ever-changing landscape of clients and software solutions, each with their own demands and hurdles.

“We’re using SparkPost to send form submissions from Single Page Applications or Landing Pages that we use for Pay-per-click and other marketing campaigns. Right off the bat, SparkPost became our go-to service. Not only did it come with a great suite of features, but we also benefited from the reliability and deliverability that we would have never achieved on our own. The API is extremely easy to implement and the documentation is very well written and extensive! There are so many neat features that we still haven’t even explored. As a result of implementing SparkPost, We’ve saved innumerable hours that would have been spent tinkering, debugging or spinning up servers.”

Best Product Email

Winner: GovX
Submission Recap: This timely email was sent to an active Air Force member on Valentine’s Day featuring products relevant to that specific demographic. GovX is a top member-based retailer exclusively for the men and women who’ve served our country. Featuring over 700 brands and more than 75,000 products, GovX sends over 300 million emails per year. In 2016, GovX partnered with Cordial and SparkPost to build, personalize and deliver email. The GovX team is now able to automatically pull relevant imagery and content from a library that is specific to their various user types, removing the need for multiple versions of the same email. This drastically reduced the time needed to create a campaign, allowing GovX to focus on developing new programs as well as more sophisticated and personalized product emails like the one featured here.

Best Interactive Email

Winner: SuperMailQuest by Aaron Simmonds @ CHS Creative
Submission Recap: This project quite simply knocked our socks off. SuperMailQuest (SMQ) is an interactive story game that allows you to choose your own path through a series of choices. The goal is to navigate your way through the story with the aim of defeating the “Warlock of Outlook mountain”. The creator, Aaron, not only taught himself CSS animation but also how to control those animations, scale multiple elements for mobile and additionally set fallbacks for non-interactive email clients. On average his project has a 58% open rate and 44% click through rate.

interactive email 2018 sparky award winner

Drumroll Please

The grand prize 2018 Sparky Award winner and recipient of up to $1000 in cash toward an industry conference is… SuperMailQuest! Congratulations on an excellent submission showcasing just some of the fun one can have with interactive emails!

Congratulations to all of the winners, you’ll all be receiving an engraved 2018 Sparky Award with your company name & category!

And special thanks to our judges: Irina, Alyssa, Jamie, Avi and Dan!


PS: If contests are your thing, watch this space in the coming weeks for an exciting contest we’re running to win tickets to Litmus Live!

Litmus is a software company that makes tools aimed at helping email teams design and optimize the emails they send. Their software helps with email layout, QA on design issues, testing email rendering against multiple email clients, and so on.

As a business, they mostly focus on email marketers, but I found the advice shared at the recent Litmus Live event in San Francisco to be useful for other teams that send email as well. If you’re a product manager designing email notifications for your SaaS product, you’ll find these four takeaways from conference sessions helpful.

Personalize to engage and retain users

“The BI [business intelligence] of today is the AI of tomorrow,” said Amazon’s Vicky Ge during her session, “Experimenting with Personalization.” She noted that businesses that personalize messages experience a 27% conversion lift. In fact, 79% of customers expect personalized experiences from the companies with which they interact—and 60% of them don’t mind sharing data if it improves their experience, such as quicker shopping or other incentives.

She also shared this intriguing chart:

Source: Vicky Ge, Amazon

In another session, Litmus employee Chad S. White, author of the book Email Marketing Rules, ran down seven ways you can personalize the emails you send:

  1. Who they are (name insertion is key, but don’t stop there)
  2. Who they care about, such as friends and co-workers (such as the emails Facebook and LinkedIn send to you)
  3. What they did (not just purchases but also browsing and other activity)
  4. What they didn’t do (abandoning their online cart or not completing a profile)
  5. What others did in reaction to their activity (responses to Facebook status updates, or the number of reactions to a product review)
  6. What they have (account balances, or care or service instructions for a purchased product)
  7. Where they are (geolocation-based messaging, such as a message letting a customer know about a sale at their local store)

Although White was talking about personalizing marketing emails, his seven points are frankly essential for email notifications.

Test, test, and test some more

MailChimp’s Alex Kelly advocated for testing not just subject lines and preview text but also the content itself, noting that 48% of her company’s high-performing accounts use a one-column template for their emails. In addition, the lower your text-to-image ratio, the better your click-through rates: 95% of MailChimp’s high-performing accounts use 200 words or less per image.

Source: Alex Kelly, MailChimp

You can also go beyond testing individual messages to testing a series of them, as Prezi’s Bonnie Combs explained. She led a revamp into the company’s onboarding messaging for its presentation software and worked on creating a new 30-day onboarding email series that ordered the content by how Prezi trains its own staff.

Prezi set 10% of its audience aside as a no-email control group and evenly split the rest of the recipients between the old series and the new one. They found that for those who received the new series, time in product increased 100% over the control group and 24% over the old series. Those results helped create a business case for using segmentation and license type data to help create six onboarding flows that match their different user types.

Pay attention to your from, preview text, and emojis

Emilyann Key and Erin Alemdar of digital agency Whereoware ran a session where they noted some intriguing stats:

  • 43% of email recipients click the Spam button based on the “from” name or email address in a message
  • 24% of respondents look at the preview text first when deciding to open an email
  • 56% of brands using subject line emojis had a higher unique open rate

When considering what “from” name or email address to use, think about the purpose of your message and the relationship between your company and the recipient. A presenter in another session elaborated on this point—notifications and other transactional emails should use a different address than traditional marketing emails.

Preview text is crucial because if you don’t use it, you could end up with something like this in recipients’ inboxes, as Key and Alemdar shared:

Source: Emilyann Key and Erin Alemdar, Whereoware

Preview text should complement the subject line and give the reader an extra incentive to open the message. It’s supported by nearly all modern email clients.

Finally, Key and Alemdar noted that emojis should be cautiously considered, but they could work in a subject line if: they’re truly the right fit for your brand; your audience’s email client supports emojis, and the subject line would make sense with or without an emoji or two. If they do make sense, use them sparingly, as in these examples:

Source: Emilyann Key and Erin Alemdar, Whereoware

Just remember that emojis render differently across platforms, so make sure you double-check your choices with a resource like Emojipedia.

Keep these email coding tips in mind

Litmus product manager Kevin Mandeville discussed what he called “alternative email facts,” using them to share his advice about some of the quirks and shibboleths of coding HTML emails.

  • You don’t need to choose between the HTML 4 strict doctype header and the XHMTL 1 transitional header – just use the HTML 5 doctype: <!doctype html>
  • Don’t worry about using attribute selectors – just use regular CSS
  • And while we’re on the subject of CSS, you don’t need to inline your CSS because 99% of email clients support embedded CSS (but ensure you can fall back on an embedded CSS-disabled version)
  • Emails don’t have to adhere to a strict 600-pixel width: designs that are 1200 to 1400 pixels wide work too
  • Responsive email is supported by 80% of today’s email clients in use
  • There’s no need to use tables in your emails because Outlook is the only email client that requires tables

That last point needs some additional explanation. There’s a “ghost table” hack you can use to ensure your table-less emails render properly in Outlook. Here’s what the code looks like. It only works for one-column layouts, but as Alex Kelly from MailChimp noted, that’s something that works pretty well.

Source: Kevin Mandeville, Litmus

(By the way, want to sidestep the vagaries of coding HTML email altogether? HEML is a cool project our team has been working on that removes all of this complexity. HEML is an open source markup language for crafting clean, responsive emails that works… almost like magic. Check it out.)