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With the justifiable obsession surrounding search engine optimization (SEO), conversion rate optimization (CRO) and other digital marketing trends, it’s easy to forget the value of an old fashioned email marketing. Though consumers sometimes don’t like them conceptually, these kinds of emails remain an important element in any digital marketing toolbox.

The lesson isn’t that you should abandon all those social networking opportunities. It’s just that a return to basics can yield serious dividends.

As Clickz contributor David Bakke put it in 2014, “Pinterest might be flashy and Twitter might be trendy, but old-school email is still the best in the business when it comes to generating customer interaction and sales. When you send an email to a list of customers or clients, you’re reaching targeted individuals who opted-in to receive your content. That means they’re already primed and ready to follow through on whatever you’re offering.”

Yes, email campaigns may not be the best way to expand your customer base. But they’re a tried and true means of turning existing customers into the repeating or lifelong variety. And remember that building relationships with your existing customer base can certainly increase your brand awareness over the longterm. The more your current clientele does business with you, the more likely it is to spread word of mouth, vouch for you or even contribute testimonials. None of that should be discounted.

Nor should the fact that generating repeat business is generally more cost effective than attracting new customers.

“There is no definitive answer to this question, but most sources say the answer is that it costs between 4 and 10 times more to acquire a new customer than it does to keep an existing one,” Ian Kingwill explains on LinkedIn. “Some sources say cost of acquiring a new customer is over 30 times that of keeping an existing one. A key element in the cost is probably the industry or market sector your customers are in.”

So even if building better customer relationships weren’t useful in expanding brand awareness, it would still contribute to your bottom line in important ways. The key is developing an email strategy that encourages further customer interaction rather than turning your biggest fans away.

Indeed, your primary concern with email marketing may well be the risk that you’ll actually frustrate and annoy your most reliable customers. That’s a real risk if you don’t execute an email marketing strategy correctly. But the rewards of a properly orchestrated campaign are too great too ignore.

“Over the years, email marketing has gotten a bad rap because of spam,” Entrepreneur’s Kimanzi Constable explained in 2014. “Realize that spam is everywhere, even on social media. People still respond to the right kind of emails. Smart entrepreneurs use email marketing to create new business and turn customers into repeat customers.

“Email marketing done right is the best tool in your marketing arsenal. The frustration with email results when entrepreneurs use dated techniques or have relied too heavily on social media.”

So how do you get it right? Much depends on your industry and brand identity. However you go about formulating an effective email campaign, don’t forget your voice or uniqueness. We’ve scoured the web for some of the best tips and strategic considerations so that you can integrate some best practices into the marketing principles you’ve already established for your business.

As is the case with other digital marketing strategies, it’s always worth consulting with experts to craft a specially tailored strategy that works for you. A little extra research certainly won’t hurt, though.

The Sign-Up

We could spend an entire article covering the optimal tactics for getting consumers to sign up for your mailing lists. The good news is that Content Marketing Institute’s Aaron Orendorff did just that last year. When the time comes to get your email marketing campaign off the ground, check out his recommendations or work with a digital marketing firm to utilize some best practices.

Though a seemingly mundane and obvious part of the process, securing sign ups is obviously one of the most important steps. Given some consumers’ reluctance to join mailing lists, it can also be one of the more difficult challenges. Getting your campaign right will first require you to develop a winning subscription strategy.

The Personalization Paradox

You’ll find plenty of advice recommending that you personalize the front end of your emails by using a recipient’s name. Take that advice with a grain of salt. Those kind of tactics can seem awfully gimmicky and turn more sophisticated recipients off.

That said, you don’t want to abandon the concept of personalization altogether. Buffer Social’s Kevan Lee explains the difference.

“A significant element of email marketing is relationship,” he writes. “Does a recipient trust you? Does a recipient even know who you are? When an email jumps the gun by forcing familiarity too soon, the personalization comes across as skeevy. Intimacy is earned in real life, and it would appear to be the same way with email.”

So what does that mean in terms of what to do or not do?

“Faking familiarity with the subscriber turns many wary email readers off,” Lee continues. “But this isn’t to say that all forms of personalization are off-limits. In fact, a particular brand of personalization can pay off big time: Sending email that acknowledges a subscriber’s individuality (e.g., purchase history or demographic).”

In other words, if you really want to personalize, put some thought into what a particular recipient wants or needs to hear. They’ll likely be able to tell that some effort when into crafting a specially tailored message. And at minimum, that message is far more likely to resonate.


Resource limitations may tempt you into sending generalized email blasts to anyone who’s listening. But there are good reasons to target your customers in more customized fashion via segmentation.

As Bakke puts it, “To personalize your message further, segment your email lists into smaller, niche customer groups. Email marketing services make it easy to set up this type of list, creating groupings based on location, gender, past purchases, and more. The goal here is to provide a particular customer group with deals and updates likely to resonate with them.”

Though software can facilitate this process, it never hurts to think through your customer segments in much the same way that you’d build marketing personas. Insofar as you have different types of customers, it pays to better understand each segment’s interests and characteristics.

From there, targeting certain kinds of email (including specially tailored content or offers) to segments will make your clientele happier while reducing the risk that you’ll turn anyone off with stuff that doesn’t seem particularly relevant to them.

“For instance, if you own a sporting goods line that markets primarily to coaches and teams, you could segment your list into groups based on sport—football, basketball, baseball,” Bakke continues. “Then, when you’re running a deal on football helmets, you could send out an email targeted only to football coaches, rather than to your entire list. Not only is this likely to make the football coaches happy, but you’re less likely to annoy the other coaches on your list by sending them information they don’t care about.”

There’s a science to segmentation itself—and crafting the right kind of emails for those segments. Simply splintering your customer base and making minor tweaks to a base email template probably isn’t the best way to follow through with this kind of strategy.

Moreover, there are any number of ways in which you can think about segmentation. The more refined your segmenting models, the better you’ll be able to tailor your emails themselves.

EmailMonday’s Jordie van Rijn describes four categories of segmentation data, including preferences (“the likes and unlikes of a user”), demographics and profile (“age, location, gender”), psychographics (“What will they be prone to do and react to?”) and behavior (“purchases, opens, clicks, website browsing, etc.”). Combining or layering these kinds of data when segmenting can create especially useful targeting techniques.

And those techniques can be pretty lucrative.

MailChimp recently assessed data on clients who used their segmentation software, comparing the effectiveness of their segmented campaigns with campaigns that didn’t utilize the tools. Generally speaking, segmented campaigns included 14.45 percent more opens and an impressive 63.71 percent more clicks. Segmented campaigns also led to 8.68 percent fewer instances of users unsubscribing from the email list.

Segmenting may mean some extra work or reliance on additional software, but this is the kind of thing that makes the difference between effectively targeted correspondence and annoying spam.

Getting Content Right

Your email content starts the moment you compose a subject line. First impressions are important even if not especially in the world of email marketing. Whether someone reads on or clicks “delete” depends in large part on how you initially couch your message.

In terms of subject length, the data goes both ways. Longer subject lines (70 characters or more) can be beneficial for clickthrough rates. Shorter subject lines (49 or fewer characters) have contributed to better open rates. The important thing is ensuring that your subject line actually says something and appeals to its target audience. Generally speaking, that means crafting something that’s direct, descriptive and encourages your recipients to read on.

Oh, and you’ll also want to change those subject lines up from one blast to the next. Repetition may be tempting once you find something that works particularly well. But the same subject lines will see declining returns when used over and over.

Of course, a great subject line won’t count for much without the rest of your content also being up to par. The nature of that content will depend in part on where a particular recipient is with respect to his or her relationship with your business. The first email or two that you send someone should focus on building trust and incentivizing some initial repeat business.

“Very shortly after someone new has subscribed to your email list, you’ll want to reach out to them to begin building your relationship,” explains iAcquire’s Amanda Gallucci. “This can get tricky if you have one place to subscribe but you want to send different initial emails for different segments of people.

“If you want to go the route of automation and have a welcome email sent immediately, make sure you include a broad overview to which any persona can relate. If you want to be more personalized, set a goal for a reasonably quick turn around time to add your new subscriber to the appropriate list and make that first contact.”

Aside from special considerations associated with making first contact, many of the same rules will apply to any and all of the emails you send. Email marketing services (e.g. MailChimp, Constant Contact, AWeber, etc.) can help you design professional and well-organized formatting. You can also work with digital marketing experts to ensure your campaign has the right look and feel—particularly for the audience you’re trying to reach.

“Whether or not you use a preset template, keep your format simple,” Gallucci adds. “Don’t fall into the temptation of using too many colors, images or videos, and don’t write a novel. Putting user experience at the forefront, think about how appealing a neat and concise email will be. Certainly use branded images and styles, and incorporate visual aids as necessary, but don’t overdo it. If you can quickly grab the reader’s attention, get to your point (which is relevant and exciting) and direct the user to the next steps they should take, you don’t need anything flashy.”

Alright, so now you probably have a better sense of how an email should look and be structured.

The bigger question is what you should say and how you should say it. That’s something your business will likely have to think about internally. Correspondence should reflect your unique voice and expertise, the things that define you within your industry and set you apart. But it should also focus primarily on your recipients and their interests.

Just as you’d attempt to provide a service with a blog, email should serve a similar function. You may be more interested in directing recipients to such a blog, but there should still be some substance to the email. No one wants to open an email only to be immediately directed somewhere else.

While it’s good to have some meat on the bones, it’s also good to be concise. Your average recipients are almost certainly overwhelmed by email. They very well may be willing to check yours out, but there’s a real limit to their attention spans. When composing email content, a constant consideration should be how to hook your reader and maintain their interest.

The written word isn’t your only tool for doing so.

“Images should be part of your content strategy, not your conversion strategy,” explains Content Harmony’s Kane Jamison. “Images should add context or help readers visualize your ideas. This enhances the reader experience. Including stock images or other unrelated visual content in your emails is a distraction.”

Packing video into emails can be a more complicated endeavor, but directing recipients to helpful and engaging video is never a bad idea. And when it comes to images themselves, think beyond the photograph. Infographics, charts and other visual elements can go a long way toward catching the eye.

Of course, an important caveat applies to all the bells and whistles. While they can serve an extremely valuable function by enhancing content, they shouldn’t get in the way of that content.

At the most basic level, your emails have to provide a valuable service—pure and simple. That’s the argument that designer Nathan Barry made in 2013.

“The best way to market online is to teach, to regularly deliver valuable content to your audience so that they will trust you and eventually want to purchase from you,” he writes. “So when you send an email, what part of the communication delivers the most value?

“That’s right, the content. So we should be stripping away everything else that isn’t necessary in order to focus on the content. Multi-column layouts, background images, logos, and all the other nonsense that typically fills marketing emails doesn’t deliver value to the recipient. Instead it is all about you, the sender. Flip that around and start delivering value.”

Understanding your readers (via personas, segments, etc.) will help in this respect. You can’t write effectively for an audience if you don’t really understand that audience. From there, be direct and engaging—and be yourself. You’ll likely find yourself hiring a writer or small staff to write copy, and you’ll want to be sure that writer can communicate your brand and identity.

That’s the surest way to build a relationship and make your readers lifelong customers (perhaps even brand ambassadors). For email to accomplish to goals you have in mind, paying attention to content is an absolute must.

Coupons, Specials and Deals

Important as content may be to your email marketing bottom line, a few goodies never hurt, either. Coupons and other specials remain one of the most intuitively effective means of increasing business and building relationships with consumers.

“In 2013, RetailMeNot said, ‘Coupon usage is ubiquitous,’” notes Convince & Convert’s Emma Bostwick. “They revealed that 93 percent of Americans shop with coupons with 29 percent of Americans using mobile coupons. Consumer shopping habits have most certainly changed over the years, with many consumers becoming more price-conscious and opting to purchase one brand over another if they are offered some sort of a discount coupon. It is even reported that on average, consumers will spend 2 hours a week dedicated to hunting for deals online.”

Coupons may ostensibly seem to be all about getting a customer’s foot in the door. But it turns out they serve a far more long-lasting function, too.

“More and more brands are using coupons to build a loyal client base and this has so far proven effective,” Bostwick adds. “A staggering 91 percent of coupon redeemers have said they will purchase from a retailer again after they have been offered a coupon. A fair percentage (57 percent) of shoppers revealed that they would not have not have made a purchase had they not been offered that coupon in the first instance.”

It’s one of the most human instincts one can imagine when it comes to commerce. People appreciate a good deal. And they appreciate the gesture behind that good deal.

Remember that you can make a number of different kinds of offers, and it’s worth spending some time to determine which kinds are right for your business and current or potential customers. You can offer consumers discounts in the form of percentages off or dollar amounts. You can also sweeten deals with free shipping or free gifts. And rewards programs (think Starbucks) have become increasingly popular, especially when it comes to sustaining a longterm relationship with customers who are already inclined to purchase your products or services.

Think creatively about what makes the most sense and feel free to check out how others from your industry are enticing buyers.

While regularly issued offers are a nice touch, you can also associate offers with any number of special events—prelaunch deals, seasonal specials, referral offers, first-time shopping deals or even incentives for sharing or liking your activity on social networks. Shopify’s Richard Lazazzera recently broke down a variety of ways in which you can couch such offers.

And yes, you likely have other channels through which you can make these offers. But don’t forget the appeal of email (and social media).

“Social media and digital campaigns are by far the easiest to track the uptake, spread and profitability on, which sees them gaining popularity with businesses,” Bostwick explains. “More importantly, they are easier for consumers to share, so their spread is wider with less effort by the business.

“Forty percent of consumers will share an email offer with their friend and 28 percent of consumers will share deals via social media platforms—it is of course beneficial for brands to have built a sizable email mailing list and as well as a following through social media channels.”

Regularly packaging offers with your emails is good for business—and it’s also encourages recipients to open those emails in the first place. Content may be king, but a few smart offers are royally awesome in their own right.

Encourage Sharing

Offers may encourage social sharing, but they aren’t the only means of doing so. News, informative material and otherwise original and engaging content often spur recipients to share what you have to say on social networks (or by simply forwarding your message). Given the force multiplying reach of social media, however, buttons that enable convenient sharing are a particularly effective solution.

“According to statistics provided by Impact Branding and Design, emails that have social sharing buttons generate a 158 percent higher click-through rate than those that don’t,” notes Bakke. “If your goal is to initiate action from your reader, then you absolutely must include a means for the reader to share your newsletter with their own social following, as well as a means for the reader to follow you on your social networks. Many email marketing service providers make this step incredibly easy—all you have to do is add the social widgets and include any appropriate links.”

This is an important reminder that you don’t have to choose between an email marketing campaign and social media. These strategies should complement each other. Email offers the unique ability to reach those who’ve opted into a mailing list. But social media helps you expand that reach naturally and effortlessly.

If taken seriously, making social sharing a part of your email marketing can actually become a pretty sophisticated effort.

“Integrating email and social media is becoming increasingly vital for marketing campaigns and is also surprisingly achievable,” argues Smart Insights’ Jade Tanner. “Embrace social media and take the opportunity to get creative—don’t just add social share buttons to your email. After all it is unlikely recipients will want to share your entire email. Instead opt for adding social share links on individual articles and pieces of content, this way recipients can pick and choose what they share to their network.”

Beyond sharing your email or portions thereof, email marketing also enables you to direct recipients to interact with your social media presence. Email can serve as a direct prompt reminding readers that your business has an online presence worth exploring. The earlier you send that message, the better.

“When recipients sign up to your newsletter they are in a state of high brand engagement,” adds Tanner. “Take advantage of this by sending out an instant welcome email, suggesting that they check your brand out on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or Pinterest. Recipients are far more likely follow this call to action when your brand is fresh in their minds.”

It should go without saying that you don’t want to beat your readers over the head with requests of any kind. It’s one thing to make sharing easy—it’s quite another to make it feel compulsory. In other words, don’t forget the importance of finding the right balance between self-promotion and providing those services (content, offers, etc.) that users appreciate the most.

Mail Gone Mobile

The importance of mobile users shouldn’t come as news to any business that’s updated its website in the last few years. Consider this a simple reminder that the same principles apply to the emails you send.

Shorter subject lines are generally advisable given mobile users’ lack of a wide screen. Rather than forcing them to scroll horizontally, ensure that the important parts of the subject line appear early on—or that the subject line is shorter than average in the first place. Similarly, concise copy is especially important for mobile users. In addition to screen limitations, those checking their email via mobile device are often on the move or otherwise preoccupied. Get to the point and don’t delay any important calls to action.

Also, be careful with your use of images.

“Not all mobile devices display images by default so it’s best to plan for an ‘images off’ experience and make sure your email will still make sense if your images don’t show,” explains Campaign Monitor’s Kim Stiglitz. “WebMarketing Today says, ‘blocked images remain a challenge for image-heavy emails. Descriptive body copy has to do the heavy lifting. It’s useful to think of images as optional, supporting the surrounding text, rather than the reverse.’”

Another important design consideration is how you position button and links. Given space limitations, you don’t want buttons clustered together in such a way that attempting to tap one results in tapping another. You also want to make sure those kinds of things are highly visible and not lost among clutter or text.

Finally, remember to test the appearance of your emails on multiple devices and email clients. Even—if not especially—when you’ve put a lot of work into preparation, you’ll want to make sure there aren’t any glitches or unforeseen mishaps.

Timing Is Key

Granted, many of your recipients may not check or acknowledge your email the moment it’s sent. But timing still matters.

CoSchedule recently aggregated data from 10 different studies and found that the best days to send marketing email were Tuesday, Thursday and Wednesday (in that order).

Timing during those respective days plays a role, too. The ideal time was 10 a.m. or 11 a.m.—just in time for recipients to check their email during their lunch break at work. The second best time was between 8 p.m. and midnight, when recipients are likely to check email before going to bed. Other good times included 2 p.m. (as the work day starts to drag on) and 6 a.m. (when many begin their days by checking and answering email).

Despite the data, a number of variables go into determining when the best timing may be for your business or industry. Younger clientele may respond to certain times better than retired segments. Parents staying at home with children will undoubtedly have email habits that are significantly different from those going to work. You can make some educated guesses about what works best for you, but it may also be wise to test different days and times while using Google Analytics to determine which email blasts generate the most traffic to your website.

You probably shouldn’t get too caught up in timing issues right away, but it’s something to think about as you look to refine your email strategy.

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