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

Email Avatar: Why It Can Make a Difference for Business & How to Add It
06 September, 2023 • ... • 19510 views
Eugene Vasilev
by Eugene Vasilev

“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 above the message, next to the sender’s name and address, and it helps recipients identify senders. It’s also called a profile picture or a profile logo.

The top part of an email from Eugene Vasilyev with the subject line “Ain’t it a good avi?” and an avatar that is a picture of the sender in a small circle, the avatar on the screenshot is highlighted in green

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.

An inbox screenshot with emails from Morning Brew (with a logo as an avatar), Lifehacker Newsletter (an autogenerated avatar, the letter L in a blue circle), Mike Allen (a picture of a bald man as an avatar), and Axior (an autogenerated avatar, the letter A in a light green circle)

Which messages did you notice first? The chances are, your gaze went to emails from 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. According to the latest Consumer Email Tracker report by DMA, 61% of people decide to open the email because they recognize the brand, and 39% do so because they recognize the brand logo. For you, it means that an email avatar, especially with a brand logo, will increase your open rates — it will make you more recognizable and trusted as a sender.

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.

A Lifehacker Newsletter email screenshot that shows what autogenerated avatars look like: here it’s the letter L in a blue circle

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

An email from Mike Allen with an autogenerated avatar: a white human-shaped silhouette in a light gray circle
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. This helps recipients quickly identify marketing messages from their favorite brands in a cluttered inbox.

An inbox screenshot with an email from Morning Brew, the avatar is the brand logo, which is a blue coffee mug with a white arrow that represents a growth diagram

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 inbox screenshot with an email from Mike Allen, the avatar is a portrait of a bald man in a business suit

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

A screencast that shows how to add an avatar in Google Workspace

Google Workspace  allows users with different addresses belonging to  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.

A list of email senders using the same domain but having different avatars: a picture of a cat, an autogenerated avatar which is the letter M in a light blue circle, and a portrait of a man wearing sunglasses
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 the desktop.

A screencast that shows that the Buzzfeed logo avatar is only seen if you click to open the email from Buzzfeed Shopping
On the desktop version, logos only appear inside opened emails

Outlook

At the Outlook home page, click on the avatar at the top of the page, choose Edit profile, and add or change the profile picture in the settings. It will only show up in the mobile apps and inside opened emails on the 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.

An Outlook inbox screenshots with emails from Mike Allen, Morning Brew, and Buzzfeed, all of them have autogenerated avatars (letters in circles) despite having custom avatars in other email clients
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 main page and, depending on the device (desktop, web app, or mobile), change the profile picture to your liking.  Default Yahoo avatars are stylized letters of the sender’s name but you can always replace them with a profile picture.

A Yahoo inbox screenshot with emails from senders: Morning Brew, a chat with Eugene Vasilyev, Axios, and Evgenia, Selzy. Axios and Evgenia have bold stylized letters in different display-style fonts and colors as avatars

Once you set a profile picture, you can’t remove it and revert to stylized letters — you can only replace an old pic with a new one. Your avatar will be displayed in all Yahoo services — for example, in Yahoo! News comments. Other users can choose to not see senders’ profile pics in their inboxes — they can be replaced with checkboxes for simplicity.

Apple Mail

Having your brand’s logo displayed in Apple Mail is impossible unless subscribers assign it by themselves. They have to add email addresses to contacts and choose avatars — which can be any picture. The senders won’t see them.

An instruction on how to add an avatar in Apple Mail: Create New Contact, Add Photo, and in this tutorial an owl memoji is used as an example of a custom avatar
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 gives you a logo and better protection from phishing attacks.

BIMI is an extra method of email authentication, in addition to DKIM, DMARC and SPF. “In addition” is the keyword — to get BIMI, you need to set up the DMARC authentication.

Sounds like a great deal but there’s a but — BIMI costs at least $1,299 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 twelve hundred bucks to spend on a 32 KB pic.

Moreover, BIMI is not universally supported yet. By now, Microsoft doesn’t even plan to implement it, and some email clients like Yahoo! Japan, Seznam.cz, Comcast, and Qualitia are only considering it. Keep that in mind if the majority of your audience is not in the US.

In short, BIMI is about email security as well as brand identification. So, if you don’t have that much money and are not concerned about authentication, keep in mind that 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. Once you create a Gravatar profile, you’ll have avatars and profile information from contact details to a short bio automatically uploaded to all WordPress-based websites each time you want to leave a comment — and, of course, all the avatars you’d like to use are available in one place too.

Here’s what the process looks like:

  1. Sign up on Gravatar with your email address.
  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 at least $1,299 a year though while avatars without BIMI are free.

 

This article was updated in September 2023 to include the latest industry developments and new data.

06 September, 2023
Article by
Eugene Vasilev
Content writer on all things email marketing at Selzy. Writing, editing and illustrating over the last 5 or so years. I create simple texts with examples to inform or entertain readers. In love with the semicolon. Boring language merchant. Egg came first. My favorite bands will never come to my city. Let's play beach volleyball.
Visit Eugene's

Latest Articles

Selzy Selzy Selzy Selzy