Interactive Emails: What They Are & Why You Need Them (+ Tips and Inspo)

Melanie Balke
March 3, 2022

Email marketing is an art form — a careful balance of content, engagement, and metrics. Regardless of what you’re selling, your email marketing strategies must be constantly evolving, and the days of using simple HTML knowledge to get by are long gone. These days, people are clamoring for something more. Technological advances have birthed a new category of marketing — the interactive email — and it’s time for you to get a slice of this pie.

A colorized photo of Los Angeles, California at night. Overlaid text reads, “Interactive Emails: What They Are, Why You Need Them, and Helpful Tips.”

For today’s blog post, I’ll be examining all things interactive. If you’ve wondered how to take advantage of this new technology, then join me! Let’s take a journey through the amazing world of interactive emails.

The Basics: Defining the Interactive Email

I’ll begin with the basics. What exactly is an interactive email? How do we define them, what do they do, and how can you — as an email marketer — use them to improve your campaigns? That’s a lot to cover in a short little blog post, so let’s start the deep dive!

A colorized photo of the ocean off the coast of Los Angeles. Overlaid text says, “The Basics: Defining the Interactive Email.”

What Are Interactive Emails?

To start things off, let me define the interactive email. Like any other email marketing material, these messages should rely on the same basic principles and standards. They are, in their most basic form, the same as simple HTML emails.

What sets them apart is interaction. These promo emails contain a variety of interactive elements, all of which are fine-tuned to boost email engagement. Static images may have been the norm five years ago, but the future is now, and it’s time to embrace it.

What Are the Interactive Elements?

Within the context of email marketing, an interactive element is anything that incentivizes users to interact with your content. Interactions vary, and they may include anything from simple swipes and taps to elaborate hover effects. All of these interactive features require user input, which sets them apart from a static image.

Let’s break it down even further!

In traditional email campaigns, users click on a link and are taken to a landing page. It is here — on your website — that the rest of the interaction takes place. Comparatively, interactive emails deliver relevant content directly to the consumer. The final destination is the email, and the bulk (if not all) of the interaction takes place in the recipient’s email client.

How Does It Work?

(Before I jump into this topic, I want to point out that I will be explaining the inner workings of interactive email marketing throughout this post. This section is meant as a brief overview of the behind-the-scenes magic, but it’s not the complete tour!)

All of this may seem very complex. How could emails possibly add interactive elements — which, in some cases, include live updates!?

A colorized image of the Golden Gate Bridge with overlaid text. The header reads, “How it Works: Interactive Emails.” Beneath is text, reading, “All interactive emails run on Google’s Accelerated Mobile Page framework. With this technology, marketers can create interaction-rich AMP emails.” A list below says, “An AMP email can include: image carousels, shopping carts, surveys, videos, … and more!”

Well, once again, we can thank Google for its dedication to technological advancement! Most major email clients utilize the tech giant’s Accelerated Mobile Pages framework — also known as AMP — to speed up their own platforms. This basic framework allows you, the email marketer, to embed a variety of interactive features into your emails, including image carousels, shopping carts, star ratings, video players, and more!

Keep in mind that AMP is not necessarily required for every interactive email. Depending on the complexity of your campaign, you can easily send fairly plain HTML emails, especially if your interactivity is limited to embedded video or similarly simple interactive content. But almost every business has some type of communication with their customer that would benefit from the interactions AMP makes possible.

Important Things to Know About Interactive Email Campaigns


A colorized photo of many overlapping postcards. Overlaid text reads, “Important Things to Know About Interactive Email Campaigns.”

Before you and your email developers dive straight into interactive emails, there are a few things that you should know about this technology. There are limitations to AMP emails, and knowing this information is essential to guarantee that every email element works as it should.

Always Have an HTML Fallback

First of all, you do not want to ditch HTML emails entirely. They still have their place, and many of the perks of interactive emails begin to wear off if you use them too often. An HTML version should exist as a backup for every AMP email that you send.

A colorized photo of a meeting room. Overlaid text is at the center. The heading reads, “What to Know: Interactive Emails.” The body text is, “You always need an HTML fallback! Not every email client can receive interactive emails. In fact, only four clients can currently display AMP content properly: Fair Email, Gmail,, and Yahoo Mail.”

Why? Well, it’s because interactive emails only last 30 days! After this countdown ends, the interactive elements break, and the email service provider will automatically revert the message to basic HTML code. If you have subscribers who are a little slow to pull the trigger on a purchase (and we all do), not having your HTML backup in place could cost you conversions and sales.

Some Email Clients Do Not Support AMP Emails

Another reason for having an HTML fallback is to accommodate outdated technology. As frustrating as it may be, some email clients are unable to support AMP emails. If this is the case, then your interactive emails will be delivered in the same format as their HTML fallbacks.

Two more considerations: all major email clients will remove the AMP-dependent interactive elements from a message when it is forwarded. And while interactive email clients cover a fair majority of today’s email audience, it’s worth knowing that Apple Mail cannot receive AMP content.

Remember to Give Users Incentives

One last thing that I want to point out: subscribers might not know what to do with this new email content. When you’re creating interactive email elements, be sure to integrate instructions into the design. Something like a “Click Here!” or an arrow showing subscribers to slide their finger across an image carousel will go a long way toward improving the user experience.

Now that you're aware of the minor pitfalls of interactive email marketing, it’s time to get to the exciting part of the post, starting with…

The Reasoning: What Are the Benefits of Interactive Email Marketing?

It’s fairly obvious that interactive emails will boost a business’ engagement rate. After all, these messages contain elements that require interaction! However, the benefits of thoughtful interactive email design don’t end there.

A photo of a downtown Los Angeles street. Overlaid text reads, “The Reasoning: What Are the Benefits of Interactive Email Marketing?”

As I begin to break the following benefits down, keep in mind that it isn’t enough to wildly add interactivity. Your email content must be planned out with purpose and thought. Moreover, different interactive elements have their own place, and it’s up to you and your email marketing team to find the best solution.

Interaction Gives Users Agency

Users click on regular emails every day.

Think about it this way: how many non-interactive emails do you get every day? Depending on how many places you’ve subscribed with, you might be receiving hundreds of emails every day. That’s a lot of content, and I’m willing to bet that the majority of it is packed with milquetoast HTML code.

Now, as a marketer, you should always be proud of your work. You strive to create relevant content that grabs the attention of any subscriber. By adding interactive content to your email marketing, you’re showing customers that you care about them, and you believe they are worth the time it takes to code and program a functional interactive email campaign.

People love to feel in charge, and even a small interactive element gives users the choice to engage with your marketing.

Interactivity Breeds Results

If you need to boil this entire post down to a single main message, then make it this: people love interactive emails. A Zembula study showed that a whopping 82% of recipients preferred interactive elements in their email marketing.

There are plenty of reasons for this, and I don't claim to be a marketing psychology expert. However, it doesn’t take an advanced Ph.D. to know that people are more attentive when they interact with content. Something as simple as an embedded video can make a huge difference, and trying out some of the tips I dole out at the end of this post might just help your engagement rates take off!

Variety Is the Spice of Life (and Marketing!)

This is by no means an extensive list of the benefits of interactive emails. There are plenty of other elements at play, and all of them will ultimately influence how your subscribers respond to a new feature.

Beneath the glitz and glamor of every interactive element is a sense of originality. When subscribers open an interactive email, they’re treated to something different and novel from the rest of their inbox.

It’s pretty damn hard to think of a new and fresh email body for every message. Fortunately, with the help of interactive emails, you can easily switch up your email marketing content.

Take a Look! Examples of Interactive Content

I’m sure you’re excited to make your own interactive emails by now. You may have some ideas for your future interactive email elements, too! If not, that’s okay, because I’ve scoured the web for some amazing samples. Take a deep breath, and let’s dive into the world of interactive marketing.

Catch Customers With Countdown Timers

If you’re offering an exclusive deal, then you want to imbue your message with urgency. You want your subscribers to pop things into their shopping cart now, and one of the best ways to encourage this behavior is to embed a countdown timer in your email.

One of the best examples of a countdown timer that I’ve ever seen is this amazing campaign from Wendy’s. The marketing email team combined a countdown with a salad, which resulted in this fantastic email! Oh! And — before I forget! — this example also demonstrates how you can use unique elements to create an interactive email newsletter.

Gamify Your Email Subscribers

Everyone loves a good game, and one of the more complex uses of interactive elements is to create a game. These emails may lead to the sender’s website, but they may be run entirely within email clients.

An email from Taco Bell. The header is, “How Fast Can You Find Your Friends?” Beneath the main message description are three images, which users can select from to start the game.

Here’s a great example of an email game. To boost its email engagement rate, Taco Bell has cleverly created a little game. In many cases, these emails will garner some brand loyalty as a fun bonus.

Hidden Details

When you have an email that might otherwise be too long, you can hide details behind clickable elements. In web design, these types of interactive elements are commonly called “hamburger menus,” and they can yield tasty conversions.

In the most simple version of this interactive content, email clients might display a solid bar with a small arrow and some text. When clicked, the bar expands, revealing the hidden content.

An email from BBC. The headline is, “A Perfect Planet.” Beneath this are five expandable tabs, each with a relevant image: “Volcanoes, The Sun, Weather, Oceans, and Humans.” Clicking on a tab expands the section.

If you want to get a bit more complicated, however, you can give subscribers a more visually appealing solution. In the above example, the BBC is showcasing new documentaries. Each category is defined by a gorgeous drop-down section, and users can easily expand the sections one by one. This keeps email content compact, while also giving users the choice of ignoring segments that don't interest them.

The Hover Effect Email

One of the simplest forms of interactive content is the hover. When added to a website or message, this effect will change an element’s state when a mouse hovers over a specified area.

An example of hover effects. The heading reads “Can You Guess Where We’re Going?” Beneath this and a long image are three circles, each labeled “Tap or Hover Clue to Reveal.” As the mouse hovers over each circle, it reveals a different image.

In the above example, we can see a delightful example of how this information can be applied to create interactive email newsletters. Users are drawn in by a clever subject line hook, — “Can you guess where we are going?” — and the images below provide the audience with clear instructions.

Now, if you want to send interactive emails with a hover effect, then you’ll want to make sure that users know that the content is dynamic. In this example, the email developers labeled the images. However, that isn’t exactly required. There are still plenty of ways to create interactivity and prompt user interaction, and the only limit is your imagination!

Interactive Images

Hovers aren’t the only way to play with images. With a bit of coding knowledge, any thumbnail image or header can be turned into an interactive element.

An email from Bose. A large gray circle is labeled, “Scratch Off and Unveil How Big You Can Save This Year.”

In the above example, Bose encourages users to “scratch off” their next deal. This is an amazing way to draw customers in. One of my favorite things about this particular brand of interactive content is its ability to reference real-life scratchers. It’s a clever way for email marketers to encourage audience interaction, and it looks so wonderful in an inbox.

The Conclusion: Interactive Content Rocks!

So, after all of that, what’s the TL;DR?

At the end of the day, as long as you create a well-planned campaign, interactive content is some of the most effective email marketing out there. It’s adaptable, innovative, and unique.

If you’re looking for more feedback and tips on how to create truly amazing email marketing, then stick around! I have plenty of tips and tricks on my blog, and I’m constantly updating this site with more information. If you need even more help, then don’t be afraid to reach out to me!