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Emma Lee
30 June 2020
Reading time: 8 min.

Email Marketing & Gen Z: Email Design Tips and Other Best Practices

The idea of the classic generational divide is slowly getting out of favor. We have so much content centered around Baby Boomers or Millennials being entitled, lazy, and ruining the world that it’s hard to believe any stereotypes at all.

While some stereotypes about generations are just that, misrepresentation, others are based on facts. You can’t deny the difference between the people who grew up before the technological boom and during it. They have vastly different approaches to technology and the world as a whole.

Take the statements you see in this article for what they are, approximations about young people based on research. If you read that Gen Zers love humor in ads this doesn’t mean every person under 20 would give their right hand for a good joke. It means that people under 20 are more likely to find that kind of advertising interesting than the 40-year-olds.

You must have heard about Gen Zers’ love for social media as well as their anxiety about phone calls. It’s true that many people from the generation Z prefer to talk to brands over social media. However, you may be surprised by the fact that Gen Zers are on good terms with both social media and email.

Consider the fact many of them will be entering the workforce soon, and you’ll see that email marketing is far from dead. There’s an opportunity you have a chance to leverage. However, you’ll need to know the peculiarities of Gen Z and how to tailor your emails to suit their interests.

Here’s everything you need to know to achieve this.

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Few emails these days are sent in the form of a text message. Most B2C emails are full of imagery like this.

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When you’re designing an email template, you shouldn’t be just mobile-friendly. Gen Z is a mobile-first generation, most of them grew up with mobile technology and studies show the majority of emails are now opened on a mobile. The trend is shifting to cover all demographics, but young people are the most affected.

This means you should specifically design an email to be opened on a small screen.

First off, you should keep the size of the email to the minimum. Especially so, if you’re marketing to an audience that lives outside of metropolitan areas and doesn’t have access to a fast internet connection. This includes optimizing the images for the web and minifying the code.

Include the gist of your message on the bottom half of the template. Even if the image doesn’t load, the audience can see the important part.

Make sure that images can be rescaled to a rectangle that matches the phone screen. Test the outcome on multiple devices. You can do that with the Chrome Inspect tool, but asking your colleagues to check it from their device is also a good idea.

Keep your CTA buttons so big they cover a whole row. Make sure they’re visible and contrast well against the background and against white, in the rare case that the background doesn’t load.

This is what a good email looks like on mobile.

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Most people grow to despise bland corporate messaging. Younger audiences labeled as Gen Z are taking the lead in this respect. Send them a soulless template that everybody else gets, and you’ll end up in the spam folder in no time.

Maybe they care about personalization because they’re entitled, maybe because they don’t want to interact with brands that don’t care enough about them. Whatever the reason, the research shows many Gen Zers value personalization. You should consider it and leverage it to your advantage.

Get the lead’s name on newsletter sign-up or on social media and use it every time you send them a letter. What is even more important, use specific personal names in the ‘send from’ field. Emails that contain a name in them are up to 30% more likely to be opened, so you’re not doing it just to make Gen Z feel good.

You have to keep in with the audience’s interests and segment them accordingly to what kind of content they want to see. There are multiple ways you can do that. The first one is a blunt but sincere approach. Just ask your newsletter subscribers what kind of content do they prefer to see. Most Gen Zers are fully on board with sincerity, so it’s guaranteed to work.

The other way to do that is to track your customers’ behavior on the website and suggest content based on their preferences. Then, you can calculate what stage of the sales funnel are they on and offer content they would enjoy and that would convert them to the next stage.

Don’t forget about the most basic, but the most flattering kind of personalization, the time-based one. Send the lead an email notifying about a birthday present, and you’re likely to build a long-standing relationship.

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While many young people tend to respond positively to personalization, they’re careful about sharing personal information and want to be in control of their digital lives. So it’s a good idea to offer a message like this when they subscribe.

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If you run a retargeting campaign, it’s another solid personalization idea.


Few people are big fans of email. It’s easier to picture a person spending three hours in a row on Instagram than in their inbox. Gen Z tend to be even more averse to checking their email. Most Millennials and Gen Z report checking their inbox once a day, usually during lunchtime or after work.

If you’re targeting working Gen Zers, you’d be in a favorable position if you send emails around this time. The message should be on the top of the inbox when your leads have a free minute to read it, so the open rate would increase.

Short and to the point

Most people who make up Gen Z are brought up on short YouTube videos, and the evidence suggests the attention span is shortening. It’s getting harder to attract audiences with  long texts. Even if it’s exciting, very few people will have the time to read your text in its entirety. This means that whether you’re starting your own blog, writing a product description, or an email, your writing should remain short and up to the point.

Keep your message compact and make sure that everything important is in the first part of it. You should aim for the subject line and the first sentence of the email because it’s displayed in the preview. That will take care of the open rate.

To keep the readers engaged, cut down your prose. Here’s what you have to do:

  • Cut the filler
  • Avoid adjectives and adverbs
  • Rephrase passive voice
  • Break down sentences over 20 words
  • Use bullet points

Keep in mind that Google actually often rewards detailed content. So if you are after SEO traffic, you’ll have to strike the right balance between thorough content that is still very easy to scan and comprehend.

Be less formal

While most Gen Zers won’t appreciate you sliding into their DMs with a shady “hello, fellow kids” line, they don’t like business cliches either. Tell them about the “amazing product” you have or greet them with “I hope this email finds you well,” and you’re almost guaranteed to fade into obscurity.

Keep your style less formal, but not to the point of slang. You can use Grammarly or a similar tool to check your text and to review the tone of the email. This will help you rate your style by how official it is.

Don’t be afraid to add a bit of humor to the subject line or the message. The bored Gen Zers will love your brand for making their day fun and may be more likely to share the ad with friends.

Clickbait is dead, long live clickbait

No matter how good of online business ideas you have, you need to show it to your audience to get a profit. However, this is becoming harder. Not to mention the fact that we’re living under information overload, more and more studies show that Gen Z hates ads.

Does this mean the era of ads is over? Not at all! It only means that the ads most marketers are using right now just don’t work for the young people. They recognize it for what it is, another ad, and skip it.

What do you do with that? You try to attract this generation with what they respond to.

Why do Gen Z disengage with an ad? One of the possible reasons is boredom. Your job is to spice up your ads. This doesn’t mean you have to include emojis, that’s lazy marketing. You need to make your ad a form of entertainment.

Gen Z, like most people these days, is constantly bombarded with dozens of boring ads. Give them something interesting for a change, and they will engage.

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Your primary focus should be the subject line, though. If you make it boring, nobody will see the engaging content you have inside. Here’s what you may use to make Gen Zers click:

  • Fear of missing out
  • Freebies
  • Social proof
  • Newsjacking
  • Curiosity

The last point works especially good with Gen Z because it promises them something fun. Try working rhetorical questions, storytelling, or popular topics into the subject line. It can also be something obscure like this.

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Many Gen Zers are particularly fond of social causes, as the increasing support of School Strike and similar projects shows. If you have the budget to make a donation to Team Trees or another charitable organization, an email announcing that would be more than welcome.

Speak with visuals

A short attention span means you have to grab every opportunity you see to get your audience’s attention. The most obvious way to do that is by using imagery in your emails.

But don’t just include a cute image to grab attention. Communicate your message with imagery.

Here’s how Apple does this in their ad. Instead of telling the user about all the features the app has, they just show it.

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You can evoke emotion with imagery as well. This one is intended to appeal to the Gen Z Christmas spirit. They may say “Happy Holidays,” but everyone loves gifts.

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Keep in mind, though, that you should add alt-text tags to your images in case they don’t load.

User-generated content

Since most Gen Zers don’t fall for advertising that easily, many appreciate authenticity. This means you can’t use stock photos and your professional photoshoots can only get you so far. Include UGC into your email advertising, and you’re more likely to strike a chord with Gen Z.

The easiest way to do this is to include photos of real people using your products. If you’re selling digital goods and that’s not an option, consider including testimonials. Make sure you mention the reviewer’s Instagram handle so the audience knows it’s genuine.

A/B test every decision

This may be the most important tip in this article. Even though there’s significant data on Gen Z purchase behavior, you have to remember that this generation is anything but monolithic. It’s more like a field of wildflowers than it is like a corporate-owned one filled with tulips only.

For every statistic about Gen Z, there’s a demographic that defies it. Don’t rely on somebody else’s data entirely. Test every marketing decision you come up with and see how they perform. Study your audience before you talk to them and keep learning as you do.

This is the only way you can succeed with Gen Z.

Wrap up

Make your email marketing more entertaining, more visual and mobile-first, and you will engage more Gen Zers. Keep your approach scientific and split test everything you do, and you’ll convert them.

But no matter what you do, you have to remember this. We haven’t passed the digital revolution. We’re in the middle of it. Nobody knows how the technology and the way we experience it is going to change.

The only thing you can do is keep your hand on the pulse and learn about novelties and change of attitude every day.

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Emma Lee

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