Why You Don’t Need HTML For Your Marketing Emails


I don’t know about you, but every day I receive hundreds of emails.

I just want to start by saying — this is not an “email is dead” post. In fact, email marketing is alive and well. As we saw in our State of Conversational Marketing, email isn’t just sticking around — it’s growing. It’s still, after all this time, one of your best channels to connect with your customers. What’s happened in B2B, though, is we’ve lost our way.


Open rate. Click rate. MQLs. Email has become so mechanized and metrics-driven that we’ve forgotten that once we hit “send,” we’re landing in a real person’s inbox. Email is a personal channel — so it’s time we got more personal.

I sat down with Mark Kilens, VP of Content and Community at Drift, to talk about why you should move on from glossy, over-designed HTML emails and focus instead on making our emails a little bit more real with plain text.

We walked through real emails (and real results) that we’ve sent to our customers here at Drift so you can see exactly what we mean when we say “personal and authentic.” Here’s what you need to know so you can kiss HTML goodbye:

Authenticity > Perfection

Today’s buyers are inundated with HTML emails that look like they’re straight out of a magazine. Instead of focusing on something that looks sleek and shiny, consider stripping all that away to focus on the customer. Create a genuine, human connection in your emails. And the best way to do that: Be crystal clear.

Clarity > Persuasion

Focus on your copy in a plain text email instead. We’ve become obsessed with sending HTML email that requires so much effort and optimization. Emails have become all design and no substance. We’ve gotten so caught up in what we could do with HTML code that we didn’t think about whether or not we should. 


Keep your customers (past, present, or future) at the heart of your email. Remember that MQL is actually “Mark” or “Kate” who doesn’t just buy software from 9:00 AM until 5:00 PM. They are a person, just like you.


The best way to do that? Write like you talk. As DC says above, every email should feel like a personal letter to a friend. When your team talks to customers, that is what a conversation sounds like. So emulate that in your copy.

Conversations > Clicks

That’s why email replies matter more than clicks.

Wait, what?

I’m not saying clicks aren’t something to look for — they’re obviously great to see. But when someone actually reads your email and bothers to click through to your page, there’s no guarantee that they’ll actually convert.

Replying to your email, though? That’s a step past click because they’re actually engaging with what you have to say. That’s much more interesting than a click that might not go anywhere.

Our friends at Campaign Monitor gave us a rundown on some benchmarks for your email marketing program:


The thing that kills me about email is that you put all this effort into a campaign and maybe, just maybe, 18% of those people will open it. That’s what good looks like.

And then, of those people who open it, only 2.69% of people will actually click on it.


This is exactly why account-based marketing campaigns and conversational marketing have taken off. It’s an old marketing adage that a customer needs to see your message seven times before they’ll consider purchasing your product.

You can’t just rely on your email channel to deliver the next best action you want someone to take. You have to also provide it via social media, display networks, or on your website. You have to be consistent and welcoming on every channel.


Conversion rates for email are not that different from conversion rates on website. We know that being more conversational helps websites, so it’s no surprise that it will help your email marketing program.

5 Ways Plain Text Emails > HTML Emails

At Drift we like to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. So we put together some real examples (and our results!) to show you how to make plain text emails awesome. A quick summary:

And here’s some of our favorite real-life plain text email examples (no HTML needed):


Marketers — I’m guilty of this I think — start with “Hi, <FIRSTNAME>” in a lot of emails, but you wouldn’t ever say that to a friend. You would just get right into it. Our click-through-rate is almost triple the average on this email. So…just say what you want to say.


We use our long newsletters to tell a story. And no, it’s not HTML, it’s just a bunch of paragraph tags. The key is giving bite-sized chunks of information with plenty of white space to make it super scannable.

Plus, people love our newsletter. But don’t take it from me ??


Ashlyn recently launched the Drift Influencer Program with this email. This email is only three lines, but including a video led to a 12.3% click-through-rate. You don’t need effects, just yourself — Drift Video is one place you can start.


You won’t get what you don’t ask for. For this webinar, we just asked for a reply for anyone who wanted the recording or to register and used our Webinar Bot in the backend so that there’s no forms, no calendar invites, nothing extra.


Add a little humor and curiosity. We partnered with Gong on a recent webinar, so of course we used our giant gong in our office. What I love about this is that I can hear George (who wrote this email) saying this in my head.

Say Farewell to HTML

It’s not about GIFs, emojis, or video — it’s about conversations. Invest some time and effort into making your email copy real. A human connection will pay off more than any coded HTML email ever could.

Want to get better at copywriting? A few resources to add to your shelf:

You can watch the full webinar here. And if you’re interested in learning more about email bots, up an email bot, this page is a great place to start.