November 22, 2011
Case Study

Email Marketing: Helzberg Diamonds garners 288% sales lift with animated, personalized promo

SUMMARY: Personalization is a tried-and-true email tactic, but what about animation? Can emails move your images and the bottom line? Judging from this case study, the answer is a firm "yes."

See how Helzberg Diamonds boosted online sales 288% with an email that featured a personalized and animated image. We list the rules and tactics the team used to turn this campaign into a gem.
by Adam T. Sutton, Senior Reporter


Charms jewelry was such a strong seller at Helzberg Diamonds that customers were almost too familiar with the little pendants. The retailer's online marketing team wanted to promote them throughout August but needed to make these well-known products more enticing.

"We knew this year that we really had to step it up and make it exciting, because if you send five or six emails about charm bracelets, people are going to get tired of it," says Laura Schraeder, Email Marketing Specialist, Helzberg Diamonds.

The marketers needed an email promotion to not only show off the charms, but also grab subscribers' attention and speak to them directly.


The team designed a promotional email that spelled a subscriber's first name using images of Helzberg's charms. To make the campaign really sparkle, the team animated the charms to swing back and forth on a necklace in the email.

The team took four steps:

Step #1. Design the email layout

The goal of this promotional email was to encourage subscribers to visit Helzberg's charms page and to purchase. The design included:
  • Subject line: "This free bracelet has your name on it."

  • Personalized charms animation

  • Offer: "Buy five beads, choose your free bracelet"

  • Call-to-action button: "Shop Now"

  • Secondary feature: Helzberg's personalized jewelry

The team emphasized the animation by making it the largest part of the email (check the useful links section below for a link to the message). Although designed to grab attention, the email had to include a compelling offer and a clear call-to-action.

"At the end of the day, we are still trying to sell products and promote our offers. Personalization and animation are just the extra attention grabbers that we use to really set ourselves apart from the competition and just 'wow' our customers," Schraeder says.

Step #2. Set a default message and rules

With so much emphasis on the animation, the team needed to make sure it looked professional. The animation displayed "friend" for any subscriber whose profile broke one of the following rules:

Rule 1. Name must be from two to nine characters in length

The animation could not accommodate more than nine characters, so anyone with a particularly long first name saw "friend" instead. The team also served this default to any subscribers who did not have a first name listed or who had a single-character first name (the animation looked awkward as a single letter).

Rule 2. No foul language

People can type anything they want into an online form, and many of our readers have likely seen real shockers. The team scanned its database for any offensive words before launching the campaign. Any offenders were shown the default "friend" message.

Otherwise, "we'd have screenshots floating around the Internet saying 'look what Helzberg sent me,' and we don't really need that," Schraeder says.

Step #3. Create a GIF animation

GIF stands for Graphic Interchange Format, and it's a format typically used for simple images. However, your resident designer can take a series of GIF images (such as three or five) and turn them into an animation using Photoshop or similar software (check the useful links section below for a how-to video).

Here are a few tips for creating a GIF animation:

First frame is vital

Most popular email clients can display GIF animations, but Microsoft Outlook 2007 is not among them. Incompatible platforms load only the first frame of the animation as a still image.

This makes your first frame very important. If it is blank, some subscribers will see nothing at all. Helzberg's team addressed this issue by designing its first frame to function as an effective static image if necessary.

Enable images or else

Email marketers have long combated the tendency of many email clients to disable images by default. This challenge applies to GIF animations as well. The animation will be blocked or removed unless subscribers click to agree to display all the email's content.

Helzberg's email included a link in its header to view the email as a webpage. Any subscribers having trouble loading the animation could click to see the full message in a Web browser.

You may need a server

An animation's quality depends in part the number of images (or frames) it uses. For example, 24 frames-per-second is a common standard in television production and provides the appearance of fluid movement. Animations using too few images will appear choppy and awkward.

Helzberg used 20 images for each animation to provide a good experience. This meant the team had to host many thousands of images on an ongoing basis since subscribers could open the email at any time. Rather than put this demand on its current servers, the team established a dedicated server to host the files.

Test thoroughly

Helzberg always tests emails before sending, and its marketers took extra steps to ensure this complex message did not have hiccups. They manually checked more than 100 emails to ensure the personalization was accurate, the animation rendered well, and the default displayed when necessary.

Step #4. Set up the landing page

Clicking almost anywhere in the body of the email brought subscribers to a charms category page that featured images and links to more than a dozen subcategories.

The team later realized the campaign might have benefited from a landing page that focused on Helzberg's alphabet charms since they were so prominently featured in the email. Sending subscribers to a broader category page might not have been optimal, but the campaign's results were strong regardless.

"It was not a horrible user experience, but we could have made it better, and that is something we learned from this campaign and are going to use going forward," Schraeder says.


The campaign was solid gold. Engagement rates were much higher than the team's average, and charms sales shot up more than three times higher than previous weeks.

"Just the personalization was cool enough for a lot of people, and the animation on top of it just gave it a big wow factor," Schraeder says.

The personalized animated email achieved:
  • 288% increase in sales compared to an email sent the previous week promoting the same
  • collection to the same audience

  • 55% higher open rate than Helzberg's average for promotional emails

  • 85% higher clickthrough rate

"This had a big impact on our customers and we are looking into doing similar personalization and animation combos for the holidays," Schraeder says.

The "shop now" button was the most-clicked link in the email. Here are the top links in descending order with the percentage of clicks on each:
  1. "Shop now" button: 21.6%

  2. "Learn more" link: 12.5%

  3. Personalized/animated image: 11%

  4. "Get started" button (for personalized jewelry): 10.7%

  5. "View as webpage" link: 8.1%

Not for every email

Looking at the results, Schraeder and her colleagues have joked about sending personalized animations in every email. However, the team is careful to avoid making such campaigns the new standard.

"We can't animate everything and have it not be special anymore," Schraeder says. "We have to pick and choose where it can be the most impactful, and the animation has to be the icing on the cake. We don't want it to be the only focus."

Useful links related to this article

1. Personalized and animated email promo - static version

Animated version of the email

Email Marketing: Groupon’s segmentation strategies across 115 million subscribers

Test Your Marketing Intuition: Which email achieved 104% more clicks?

Interactive Email: 6 tactics to leverage the influence of social reinforcement

YouTube: How to make an animated GIF in Photoshop

Digital Evolution Group - helped Helzberg create and launch the personalized animated email and strategy

Helzberg Diamonds

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