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It’s no secret that we love Basecamp, by the same team behind Highrise, Campfire and other well-frequented apps. But as savvy as their services are, I personally tend to get just as excited about their email campaigns.

Think your campaigns need to lighten up a bit? After Basecamp switched to a new, mobile friendly look and feel using Canvas, I thought we’d look at how they’ve balanced the brand’s business ethic with a healthy dose of fun. If this sounds like something you’re striving to achieve with your own campaigns, read on.

Putting it in plain English

How often do you get emails that use staid language and stale analogies when describing new features? Wouldn’t it be nice if more companies spoke to you like an ordinary person would?

Basecamp have always done a great job at communicating with their customers. Instead of say, saying “we’ve changed the icons in the app”, they’ve adopted a friendlier approach in their email, announcing that “we’ve made it easy to see what’s in your files”. Not only does it sound a lot more normal, but it describes an outcome and purpose, instead of the simply stating what’s changed cosmetically in the app.

The illustrated campaign

It goes without saying that the simple illustrations throughout the email add a sense of whimsy, without being there for simply whimsy’s sake. Created by Nate Otto, a Chicago-based illustrator, they’re kind of a cool way to project Basecamp’s down-to-earth image, while creatively reinforcing the email’s message.

You’ll notice the illustrations on the Basecamp site, as well as on The Distance, their digital magazine covering longstanding businesses and the people behind them.

Made lovingly for mobile

Finally, this newsletter looks great on mobile screens – really great. Jamie Dihiansan at Basecamp (who we interviewed the other month) mentioned Canvas‘ mobile-friendliness, saying, “I wanted to design a campaign that would for sure look great on all devices”. If you click on the screenshot above, you can see that they’ve achieved just that, through a one-column design that squeezes so much on to a small screen, without losing the ample white space.

Are shorter subject lines better?

Interestingly enough, an A/B test was run on subject lines, being:

  • New Feature: Preview PDFs, videos, and sound files
  • New: Preview PDFs

While I personally thought the “New Feature” subject line would be the clear winner, the ultra-short “New: Preview PDFs” version was much more popular, gaining 16.7% more opens. More testing would be required to determine whether the shortness of the subject line was an influencing factor, or if the word “feature” was potentially a turnoff – in the interim, we’d love to know what you think!

What can you learn from Basecamp

Basecamp consistently send engaging and memorable email campaigns; here are some of the techniques that you can adopt from them:

  • Focus on how you can improve your customers’ lives – mentioning that something’s changed in-app is one thing, but then saying, “We hope this update makes finding, sharing, and managing files in Basecamp a little easier” is so much more persuasive. Put the emphasis on the goal, not the change.
  • Be a friend – what makes Basecamp’s emails stand out amongst the many hard-sell marketing messages out there is how approachable they sound. Basecamp’s tone is a helpful one; guiding and encouraging, but never demanding. Think about the personality your email newsletters convey – reading them aloud, or to a friend can be very helpful!
  • Use images to support your message – as they say, “a picture paints a thousand words”. Skip the stale stock photography and look for images (or illustrations!) that either directly demonstrate what you’re trying to convey, or communicate it in a clever way.
  • Consider the mobile experience – how does your email campaign look on mobile devices? If you click on the screenshot above, you can see how readable and easy to navigate Basecamp’s campaigns are on the small screen. Like them, you can build mobile-friendliness into your email design workflow, either by studying up on responsive techniques, or simply by using a tried-and-tested email builder like Canvas.

A big thanks to Jamie and the Basecamp team for sharing their newsletter with us. Do you know of a newsletter that makes great use of the techniques above to share significant news without being way too serious? We’d love for you to share your examples in the comments below.

This blog provides general information and discussion about email marketing and related subjects. The content provided in this blog ("Content”), should not be construed as and is not intended to constitute financial, legal or tax advice. You should seek the advice of professionals prior to acting upon any information contained in the Content. All Content is provided strictly “as is” and we make no warranty or representation of any kind regarding the Content.
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