Email Avatar: Why It Can Make a Difference for Business & How to Add It

“Why bother writing about something so trivial as an email avatar?” you may be wondering. You’re right, I thought so too before diving in.

But it turns out there’s enough chaos about this whole thing. Avatars don’t show across mailbox providers, Gmail allows many pics, Yahoo won’t let you delete avatars — and then there’s BIMI.

And yet, this whole mess is worth it because profile logos impact metrics. Let us explain everything.

What is an email avatar and why do you need it?

An email avatar is a small circle with an image that appears next to the sender’s name and helps recipients identify senders. It’s also called a profile picture or a profile logo.

email avatar

By default, mailbox providers assign generic nondescript avatars to new users. Usually, it’s the first letter of the sender’s name.

Unlike on social media, profile pics in emails don’t seem to be a must, even service emails from Google or Yahoo don’t have an avatar. That’s why emails with an avatar tend to stand out more.

Try for yourselves — scroll down and look at this pic.

emails with and without avatars

Which emails did you look at first? The chances are, your gaze went to Morning Brew and Mike Allen (worked just like that on my wife but our cat only gave an emphatic yawn). Only after, it went to generic L and A.

Email avatars aren’t just visually striking, they also bring tangible value, and a recent survey confirms that. The survey was done with BIMI logos only (more on BIMI later or in a separate article), it focused on the visual aspect of a logo, not BIMI as a security technology.

Here’s what having an email logo does, as per the study:

  • Increases brand recall by 18%.
  • Improves open rate by 21%.
  • Boosts purchase likelihood by 34%.
  • Reinforces confidence in email by 90%.

Different avatar types

Automatically generated avatar

That’s the default option. Usually, a mailbox provider assigns a logo with the first letter of your or your brand’s name.

autogenerated avatar as a letter

It can also be a neutral human shape. It’s different from a letter but still just as nondescript.

autogenerated avatar as a human shape
Great haircut, Mike

Company logo

Company logos as avatars are a solid option to increase brand recall and stand out among competitors in an inbox.

an avatar with a company logo

Personal picture

Personal pics — usually photos — help subscribers recognize you faster. An example: journalist Mike Allen uses a photo in his Axios newsletter. Interestingly, emails from Axios as a company don’t have a logo.

an avatar with a photo

How to add email avatar for different mailbox providers

Adding a profile pic is simple and consistent across all mailbox providers: go to account settings to do it.

The tricky part is that avatars don’t get displayed across different mailbox providers. If you send from Outlook to Gmail, Gmail recipients won’t see an avatar you set in Outlook.

If you want to send bulk emails with an ESP (for example with Selzy’s email builder) and have your profile pic displayed everywhere, create a corporate email domain and link it to each mailbox provider. Then, set a profile pic everywhere for this domain in each mailbox provider separately.

Let’s see how you can add profile logos in different mailbox providers and which tricky parts exist.

Gmail

Go to account settings, choose a pic from your computer and crop it. Gmail doesn’t have demands for pics in terms of size or format.

adding an avatar in Gmail

Gmail allows users of the same email domain to have unique profile pics. It’s useful when you send thematic newsletters and want each newsletter to have its unique logo.

different avatars for the same domain
Ana, Mary and Johnny send emails from the same website.com domain but each has a different avatar

Avatars in Gmail are displayed on the mobile app (including in push notifications) and inside opened emails on desktop.

Gmail avatars only display in opened emails
On desktop, logos only appear inside opened emails

Outlook

Go to Outlook’s profile settings to add a pic from your computer as an avatar. It will only show up in the mobile apps and inside opened emails on desktop.

Although Outlook is a big email provider, not many seem to use it to the fullest. No one in my Outlook inbox has a profile pic and that includes big newsletters. Maybe I’m just unlucky — or maybe it’s your opportunity to stand out in Outlook a bit more.

Outlook doesn’t display avatars
None of my subscriptions uses a profile logo in Outlook. It’s not in the pic but even Outlook’s support team doesn’t have one

Yahoo

Go to Yahoo account settings to add and change avatars. Default Yahoo avatars are stylized letters of the sender’s name.

Yahoo’s autogenerated avatars

You can’t remove Yahoo avatars and revert to stylized letters — you can only replace old pics with new ones.

Yahoo avatars are only displayed in Yahoo’s mobile app and inside an opened email on desktop. So, just like the rest.

Apple Mail

Having your brand’s logo displayed in Apple Mail is impossible unless subscribers assign it by themselves. They have to add a new contact and choose an avatar — which can be any picture. The senders won’t see it.

ow to add avatars in Apple Mail
By default, Apple Mail shows an auto-generated profile pic with the letters but the avatar can be anything a recipient wants it to be. For example, an owl memoji

Avatar vs BIMI

One more way to add an email avatar is BIMI — Brand Indicators for Message Identification. On the surface, it looks just the same but in essence, it’s about logos and security.

BIMI is an extra method of email authentication, in addition to DKIM, DMARC and SPF. If you implement BIMI, you get a logo and better protection from phishing attacks.

Sounds like a great deal but there’s a but — BIMI costs at least $999 per year. That’s because you have to buy a digital certificate that proves you own your logo as a trademark. That’s a bummer for businesses that don’t have ten hundred bucks to spend on a 32 KB pic.

Moreover, BIMI is not universally supported yet. Gmail and Yahoo started to implement it but not Outlook or Apple Mail.

In short, BIMI is about email security as well as brand identification. It also costs a pretty sum but it may be worth it for brands that are concerned about security. Meanwhile, just adding an avatar without BIMI is free.

Avatar vs Gravatar

Gravatar can occasionally be seen in conversations about email avatars. However, you can’t set an avatar for a mailbox provider (Gmail or Yahoo) with Gravatar because it has a different use.

Gravatar is a service that helps you set profile pics for websites that work on WordPress. The main benefit is that it saves you the time and trouble of uploading a new profile pic for each WordPress website where you leave comments.

The process is this:

  1. Sign up on Gravatar with your email.
  2. Upload a profile pic you like.
  3. From now on, you’ll have your profile pic displayed on every WordPress website — provided you sign up with the same email address as on Gravatar.

Conclusion

  • Avatars help emails stand out and impact open rate. Unique logos look more pronounced than generic ones, recipients also trust them more.
  • You can add company logos or your photos for avatars. Your company will stand out in subscribers’ inboxes while a photo helps subscribers immediately recognize who sent the email.
  • Avatars are only seen within the same mailbox provider. Create a corporate account in each mailbox provider and set an avatar. Otherwise, if you only have Gmail with a logo, your Outlook subscribers won’t see it.
  • Use BIMI to add logos and improve security but be ready to pay. BIMI gives you a trademark logo and protection from phishing attacks. It costs $1,499 a year though while avatars without BIMI are free.

Do you use email avatars?

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