theskimm email marketing lessons


Unlikely Lessons Email Marketers Can Learn From theSkimm

By Jared Blank

Without fail, every few years something comes out that’s supposed to “kill” email. Whether its a new platform, like Facebook, or a new feature, like Gmail’s tabs, marketers are constantly rushing to figure out the next “new” way to connect with consumers.

But recent research actually found that consumers, especially Millennials, prefer email to other forms of communication from brands. While this may surprise some, there’s one company that has found tremendous success by solely engaging Millennials (particularly women) over email: theSkimm.

According to Tech Crunch, theSkimm has grown to more than 3.5 million subscribers worldwide – more than the number of New York Times digital subscribers – since its launch in 2012. But what’s most fascinating about theSkimm’s success is that it was achieved by rejecting many email marketing best practices and exploring aspects that are often ignored. Here are three unexpected lessons marketers can learn from theSkimm’s email strategy:

Emails Don’t Have to Be Short

When email consumption shifted to mobile, marketers assumed they needed to condense everything to fit within the smaller screen. But when you think about how people use their phones, shrinking everything doesn’t really make sense.

People don’t expect all content to fit within one snapshot on their phone screen. Instead, they expect to scroll. Because we’re all used to scrolling in apps (like Facebook and Instagram), email is no different. Scrolling isn’t a hassle, it’s simply how we navigate on our phones.

Although a recent study from Boomerang claims the optimal length of an email is between 50 and 125 words, a typical email from the theSkimm is between 800 and 1,000 words. Granted, one could argue that promotional emails will naturally be shorter than newsletters due to their purpose, the Madewell example below shows how both types of emails can be lengthy and still impactful.

On the right, a Thanksgiving promotional email from Madewell showcases various outfits for the holiday weekend. Although it is a visually-driven versus text-driven email, it is still lengthy and requires the reader to scroll almost the length of a full newsletter from theSkimm. Allowing the email to be lengthy lets Madewell tell a complete story instead of simply showing four small images of outfits.


Have a Voice

Retail is a visually-driven industry, and always has been. Since retailers are selling tangible products, it makes sense for them to lead with imagery. However because of this, most retailers have a distinct “look,” but not many have a unique “voice” or tone.

This is an interesting phenomenon, because tone has always been important in marketing and branding. Tone is expressing personality through vocabulary and it’s how your brand should make people feel when they read what you’re saying. But since many retail brands have focused so much attention on imagery, their tones have defaulted to become generic, with copy such as, “New Arrivals For You.”

Unlike most retail marketing emails, theSkimm’s are almost completely void of imagery, and because of this, they aren’t able to lean on visuals as a crutch to communicate its brand. theSkimm’s tone is the brand.

Let’s take a look at an example. The headlines below both cover the same story of Snapchat filing to IPO. One headline is from theSkimm and one is from The New York Times:

Headline #1

“What to say to your friend who overuses the flower crown filter…”

Headline #2

“Snapchat’s Parent Files for a Stock Offering”

Can you tell which headline belongs to theSkimm? Of course, headline #1. It’s immediately recognizable.

For marketers thinking about their company’s tone, consider what the brand represents. For example, compare a brand like Calvin Klein to a brand like Tommy Hilfiger. Calvin Klein’s style and branding is, “provocative, modern, sensual and iconic.” Tommy Hilfiger’s branding is classic “preppy with a twist” American fashion. The two brands could arguably be targeting a similar demographic, but the tone they use to represent themselves is very different.


Put Social Sharing Front & Center

Finally, just because theSkimm engages their audience through email, that doesn’t mean they don’t want to extend their reach to social channels. However what theSkimm understands better than most other marketers is how their audience uses email and how they use social media.

Their target demographic is happy to receive content from a brand through email, but they typically share content with friends through social media. Because of this, theSkimm delivers its content via email and heavily optimizes it for social sharing.


The takeaway here is that retail email marketing will continue to evolve, so best practices that were true a year ago, may not necessarily still apply today. Don’t be afraid to innovate, test and try new things in your emails. If anything, rejecting industry norms can differentiate your brand and make your marketing stand out even more.

jared headshot

Jared Blank

Jared joined the Bluecore team in 2016 after using Bluecore’s platform at two different companies. A true Bluecore evangelist, Jared has since shared his experiences using the company’s platform with the broader retail market through his role as Bluecore’s SVP of Marketing & Insights.

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