At the beginning of this year, Constant Contact sponsored the Office 2012 Small Business Online Marketing Contest hosted by the City of Chicago Treasurer’s Office. In part, it was a competition to see what kinds of awesome email marketing campaigns Chicago-area businesses were running.

The panel of judges looked at originality of concept, polish, clarity, and overall effectiveness as the four key factors.

Over a hundred contestants submitted their campaigns and the panel got to see a lot of amazing work by small businesses all across the city.

See what you can learn from the businesses that won 1st and 2nd Place, along with the entrepreneur who won the Rookie Award:

1st Place

Business: BellyBum Boutique

Challenge: In June 2011, Mother Nature wasn’t exactly cooperating with founder Ellen Sternweiler’s plan for a busy summer season. With temperatures in the low 50s, her customer base of mothers and mothers-to-be needed a little encouragement to visit the store.

The Campaign: In the second week of June, Ellen sent an email to her list of nearly 2,000 contacts announcing the “We Like it HOT” sale.

For each of the remaining days of the month, Bellybum Boutique offered a percentage discount equal to however many degrees the temperature rose over 60. Any day the temperature didn’t make it over 60 degrees—Bellybum Boutique offered a 15% discount.

The Result: Customers came to the store within a few hours of receiving the email and the trend continued all month. People came in regardless of the weather, checking their smartphones and seeing what type of discount they would receive that day.

A disappointing start to June turned into one of the busiest months of the summer for BellyBum Boutique.

“It started off as a joke with our employees and it turned into a successful campaign for us. People were flocking in—we were able to do more business and they were able to be distracted from the terrible weather we were having.” – Ellen Sternweiler, Founder

2nd Place

Business: Upshift Creative Group

Challenge: UpShift Creative Group wasn’t getting terrific results from their email marketing newsletters, so the advertising agency decided to completely redesign the newsletter in a way that would generate leads and educate customers about different services.

The Campaign: Upshift created a newsletter format that had one lead story, two sub-stories, and sample projects from each of the agency’s three core services.

“Our goal was to have a clearer takeaway and consistent format going forward,” says Design Director Nicholas Staal.

Sales spiked immensely after the new email campaign was sent out. Nicholas adds that all the new business wasn’t solely due to the newsletter, but it played a significant role.

The Result: An 8% increase in click-through rate and 800% growth in sales.

“We wanted to make the email more readable. With the redesign, we broke the newsletter up into small stories that promoted click-throughs to the website and to our projects. We also got to highlight our award-winning work, which helped further validate our business to our clients.” – Richard Shanks, CEO

Rookie Award

Business: R.O. Crockett Leadership Advisory

Challenge: Roger Crockett, the founder of R.O. Crocket Leadership, wanted to try using email marketing as a way to create an engaging newsletter that promoted thought-leadership to entrepreneurs and executives.

The Campaign: Roger consults with companies about how to effectively grow business by building diverse organizations with strong leadership. To promote these topics, he decided to start sending out email newsletters that include in-depth articles on global business, leadership and diversity, as well as LinkedIn surveys, and video interviews.

The Result: 30% average open rate—10% above average

“Every time I send an email out, I get about 10-20 responses from people who tell me how much they enjoyed one of the articles.” – Roger Crockett, Founder

Going for gold

When you’re racing against a deadline to send out your latest email newsletter, it can be tough to take a step back and think about what could really be effective in driving action from readers.

But, as each of these three small businesses show, rethinking your campaigns doesn’t have to take a lot of time – and it can definitely pay off!

Want to know some ways to help engage email readers? Check out 5 Ways to Make Sure Your Email Marketing Moves Readers to Action!