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Updated Nov 03, 2023

Everything You Need to Know About Email Marketing Campaigns

Don’t let your email blasts go unopened. Here is how to develop an email marketing plan that works.

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Sean Peek, Senior Analyst & Expert on Business Ownership
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Email marketing campaigns are one of the cheapest ways to advertise your business, but email blasts can easily become lost in the inbox shuffle. To get the most out of your email marketing campaigns, take time to develop a concrete process that attracts your subscribers’ attention and leaves them wanting more. This guide will walk you through the basics. We’ll cover how to set goals and create a campaign idea, as well as details like crafting a subject line and choosing the images that best represent your business.

Editor’s note: Looking for an email marketing service for your business? Fill out the questionnaire below to have our vendor partners contact you about your needs.

How to develop an email marketing campaign

1. Identify your ideal customers.

Your profile of potential customers should be specific enough to do your market segmentation for you. Let’s use a fake lawn company called Great Greens as a case study. The first thing a good marketer would note is that anyone who hires Great Greens is someone with a lawn to maintain, so homeowners and property managers are immediately the main targets. Since one of those groups is B2C and the other is B2B, you may need to create two profiles.

The other obvious segmentation is location. A lawn company is probably operating within a certain radius, so collect the applicable ZIP codes and rule out everything outside of those areas. You can identify every property management company within a few ZIP codes with a little online searching, which leaves the B2C profile.

The profile of your B2C company depends on the service or product you offer and who you want to offer your service or product to. For example, if you decide you want Great Greens to be a high-end landscaping service, not one that offers small contracts, you should account for that in your customer profile. Then, you need to imagine how that person makes buying decisions and how they like to gather information.

Here is an example of a Great Greens customer profile, and how you can use a customer profile to tailor email marketing campaigns:

Great Greens individual client

  • Age: 40s+
  • Gender: Irrelevant
  • Career: Upper management or highly skilled service provider (attorney, accountant, doctor); established in career
  • Lifestyle: Has a family or very active social life, works often, travels a lot, dines out frequently, used to high-end services, and does not have the time or inclination to care for a lawn; not price-sensitive if they feel they are getting the best service
  • Education: College-educated, possibly with a master’s degree or Ph.D.
  • Home: Owns a single-family home with a lawn
  • Communication preference: Text and email updates about services in progress are key for this busy professional. Phone calls should only be made as a last resort.

2. Outline a clear goal.

The first step in creating a successful email marketing campaign is to outline a clear goal. Unfocused email campaigns, like any type of unfocused marketing campaign, are destined to fail.

These are some questions you may ask your team as you launch your first email campaign:

  • What is our primary goal with this email campaign?
  • Who is our target audience, and what types of language, offers and information do they care about?
  • Is the goal we have set measurable? If not, how will we determine the campaign’s success or failure?
  • What action do we want prospective clients to take upon viewing our email?
  • How long are we going to use this campaign before reevaluating it?

The answers to these questions should help you determine the type of campaign that best suits your needs.

3. Compile a mailing list.

For transactional and reengagement emails, your mailing list will be self-generated from your existing customers’ contact information. New email campaigns intended to target a new patron, rather than existing or past customers, will require a fresh list. You can obtain mailing lists in several ways.

Buying a mailing list

Lots of companies sell mailing lists. Large companies targeting small businesses, like Vistaprint and DirectMail.com, offer mailing lists at affordable prices. The best email marketing services and top list broker services like these usually offer somewhat customizable lists. So you may be able to choose between targeting individuals and targeting businesses, specifying factors such as ZIP codes, ages, industries, sales volume and gender.

If your business is well suited to cold emailing, these big-box lists are not the worst place to start, but you get what you pay for. Boutique and high-end email marketing and mailing list firms offer tailored lists that fit your business, and such firms usually offer other marketing services, such as copywriting and graphic design.

Gathering leads online

If your website has decent traffic, you can gather leads directly by asking for users’ email addresses. Many businesses do this by offering a newsletter or a discount for new customers (for instance, “Sign up for 20 percent off your first order”).

To create a web form that captures contact information without any coding, you can use a drag-and-drop style like the one Mailchimp offers. If you use an easily shareable form, you can link it to online advertisements and cast a wider net for leads than you would get directly from your website.

Creating your own mailing list

Some businesses are better suited to smaller, more focused mailing lists, and these lists can be partially or fully self-compiled. Networking events and trade shows are excellent opportunities to make contacts for your mailing list, but research also works well.

Market segmentation is the first stop on the path of creating your own mailing list. Many marketing departments begin creating a campaign by identifying one or several profiles of the ideal customer. The idea is that if you cannot describe your potential customer, you cannot sell to them. [Read related article: 7 Ways to Build a Quality Email List]

FYIDid you know
Most email marketing services frown on purchased lists and will prevent you from using imported lists that result in a lot of unsubscribe requests. Instead, focus on building your list via opt-ins.

4. Determine the type of email campaign.

You may deploy any of several types of email campaigns, depending on the nature of your business and your current goals. Below are the most common types of email campaigns.

  • Sale or promotion: A sale or promotional email alerts current or prospective customers to a time-limited offer. You may also use promotional emails if your business or sales are seasonal.
  • Newsletter: Newsletters are not appropriate for all businesses, as they tend to omit a direct call to action (or CTA) for the reader — with the exception of directing them toward online communities. The goal of most email newsletter campaigns is to become a source of trusted information and raise the business’s overall profile.
  • Reengagement email: When an existing customer stops patronizing your business, you could deploy a reengagement email to win them back. Reengagement emails can help you increase brand awareness and remind former customers of your services, especially if your business is seasonal.
  • Transactional email: While transactional emails are not always considered in email marketing, they are important, especially for online businesses. A transactional email, also called a trigger email or behavioral email, is sent to a customer in response to a transaction. This transaction might be a confirmation of an order, a response to a specific question or a confirmation of a refund in progress. Another common trigger email scenario is an abandoned cart email, which can be helpful for online retailers that want to reduce the number of abandoned carts at checkout.
  • Lead nurturing email: A lead nurturing email can be a transactional email or a promotional email. However, lead nurturing emails are usually typed individually by salespeople who are attempting to move leads through the customer journey, rather than sent en masse as promotional and transactional emails often are. Many companies use sets of customizable form emails for lead nurturing scenarios to ensure consistency and streamline communication for sales staff. 

How to write effective email marketing campaigns

An email is an opportunity to connect. If you plan to do the copywriting yourself, apply best practices.

1. Craft a great subject line.

Emails with attention-catching subject lines are more likely to be opened. The key is to keep your subject line short and to the point. Consider what your customers want to hear from you, not vice versa.

If you’re writing a subject line to notify potential customers of a sale, for example, focus on the sale itself. Amateur writers have a tendency to overwrite, but subject lines are short by design.

Remember that most of your potential customers will read the subject line and nothing else. If you only have one sentence to make your sale, what do you want to say in that sentence to increase brand awareness? Focus on what you can do for the patron rather than how you want your brand to be perceived. You can convey your brand identity in other ways, like through word choice and design.

Here are some specific examples of catchy subject lines:

  • 50 percent off local luxury swimwear line!
  • Now through August: 50 percent off luxury swimwear!

2. Maintain focused clarity.

Focus is the name of the game when you’re building a workable email marketing strategy. Each email you send should have only one purpose; don’t try to make your customers aware of every service and every promotion you offer in one email.

If you have a lot of ground to cover or your services are complex, consider creating a full email series with targeted emails that cover different topics. Plan your topics from the first time the customer is made aware of your services to the day they finally make a purchase from you. A long-form newsletter is another option if you have a complicated customer journey compared to the typical B2C retailer. Whichever route you take, use an organized approach.

Ideally, targeted emails should be brief and to the point, much like cover letters for job applications. What are you offering or showcasing, why is it better than the competition, and how can the customer get it? Don’t become so caught up in gimmicky taglines that you forget vital information like where your business is located, your hours of operation or links to your website.

If you are not a natural writer, start by writing in simple terms and adding finesse later. This can help you determine which information is important and establish the right order in which to present it.

Using the local swimwear line example, you could start out with something like this:

  • Our swimwear is a luxury product. Our brand is Swim Elite. Our swimwear is locally designed and handcrafted. We are having a 50 percent off sale. The sale lasts through August. You can order items on our website link listed here. People should order soon, while they can.

That’s not much of a sales pitch, but it illuminates the important information. For example, the mention of the 50 percent sale should happen earlier, since that is the main purpose of the email. Plus, customers need to know the product is both high-end and local, and you want to promote the name of the brand.

Once you’ve covered the basic information, you can brighten the message. Here are some examples:

  • You’re going to look great in Swim Elite’s luxury swimwear, now 50 percent off through August. Order this locally designed swimwear now!
  • Act now: Only two more weeks to get Swim Elite’s luxury, locally designed swimwear at 50 percent. 
Did You Know?Did you know
Certain words and punctuation activate spam filters and will negatively impact your deliverability. Avoid the words “free,” “clearance,” “be your own boss,” “$$$” and excessive exclamation points.

3. Include a CTA.

One of the most common mistakes novices writing targeted emails make is not including a CTA. The CTA is a staple of copywriting and exactly what it sounds like: a call for the reader to do something.

Keep your CTA short and clear. If you can’t figure out what your CTA should be, it may indicate that your marketing strategy is unclear. Without a clear goal, it’s impossible to create a successful marketing campaign. 

These are some examples of CTAs:

  • Order now!
  • Register for this event today.
  • Request a price quote now!

4. Focus on engagement.

Prioritize higher engagement over the short-term goal of the sale. Direct your readers to additional content, like your blog posts or social media accounts, and offer them engaging content within the campaign itself. Your language should directly reflect your brand’s voice and provide insight into your industry that no one else can offer.

These are some of the ways you should engage your audience:

  • Add links to subscribe to your newsletter.
  • Include the option to follow your social media pages.
  • Include thought-leadership content in your emails.

5. Personalize the emails.

Personalized emails tend to perform better than generic email blasts. This entails more than inserting the recipient’s name in the subject line. Below are a couple of ways to create personalized emails:

  • Send targeted email campaigns based on a group’s interests, needs or demographics.
  • Follow up on any replies you receive.

6. Don’t spam your email lists.

Don’t flood your clients with too many emails, or they will end up in the spam folder. Instead, limit the emails you send to important notifications. Use the format to advertise special events, sales or new product offerings.

7. Watch your language.

The type of language you use in your marketing email influences the response your campaigns receive. For instance, write in the second person to give a personalized feel, and use actionable language to increase response rates. Phrases such as “brand new,” “limited time,” “today only” and “last chance” can create a sense of urgency for readers to open your email and follow your CTA. Here are some sentences you could use in the email:

  • You don’t want to miss this offer.
  • We have something special just for you.
  • Check out this brand-new item!
  • Today is your last chance to download our free content calendar!

8. Test your copy first.

An expert marketer knows that all email advertisements need fine-tuning before their release. Use A/B testing to get the best responses from your campaigns, and test each feature separately — including the subject line, body and CTA.

9. Keep your email lists up to date.

Maintaining your email distribution lists is worth the time and effort. Make sure addresses are inputted correctly and updated as needed. Although you want to attract new subscribers, you also want to make sure current subscribers receive your mailings.

When should you hire a copywriter?

If the only emails you intend to send are transactional emails, like abandoned cart and order confirmation emails, you can likely handle that yourself. However, copywriting is a profession for a reason. While everyone can technically write an advertisement or even an email campaign, people who write for a living — and do it successfully — tend to be more skilled with language than the average professional. They are also often more aware of best practices for branding and marketing. The more marketing you intend to do via email and newsletters, and the more sophisticated your audience is, the more strongly you should consider hiring a copywriter.

One alternative to hiring a high-priced copywriter is to cultivate internal talent. You may already have a receptionist with a marketing or English degree who would love the chance to hone their skills, or a moonlighting graphic designer who is usually busy answering basic IT questions all day. Get to know your team and see if there is any internal potential.

How to include images in your email marketing campaigns

Words are only part of the marketing email equation. Effective images for email campaigns can be simple or sophisticated, original or obtained through a paid service. Ensure the images are not violating any copyright laws, are of high quality, add to the overall message and identity of the brand, and look good on mobile devices, laptops and desktops.

These are the main ways to get images that support your email message, along with their pros and cons:

1. Hire a graphic designer. 

Good graphic designers can be pricey, but a real pro should be able to create a beautiful finished product for you. Graphic designers can provide a variety of services — such as designing the company logo or creating the email layout — and they can work with you to create a consistent image across your brand, which is invaluable in image-conscious industries.

2. Hire a photographer. 

Hiring a photographer to take pictures of your product is one way to obtain professional, original images. Photographers often include retouching and resizing services in their packages. If you only need general images of your business or a one-off, the service is often affordable. However, if you will consistently need a photographer to create new images for you, hiring an in-house photographer may be worthwhile. Keep in mind that many photographers will not create a layout for the email or perform general design work.

3. Do it yourself. 

Going DIY is not the worst idea if you have a creative and skilled workforce at your disposal. Even an amateur photographer can usually manage to take decent pictures of a pizza restaurant or an event venue, and thanks to social media, lots of people are design savvy. Unless you are marketing your services exclusively to creative professionals or high-end clientele, DIY email marketing design is sufficient.

4. Buy a subscription to an image service. 

A great in-between option if you want partial DIY design is subscribing to an affordable and simple image service. A subscription to a service like Shutterstock or Getty Images can grant you access to professionally shot stock images.

Using email marketing automation for your campaigns

Once your marketing strategy is established and your first email is complete, consider using marketing automation software to streamline your future email campaigns. Email templates, including design templates, are a staple of many SaaS marketing products. Another useful feature is the option to schedule emails, customize them with customer names, track deliverability and open rates, track click-through rates, and automatically send trigger emails. Mailchimp and Constant Contact are popular marketing automation email products, but there are dozens of others.

Some email marketing automation tools are also linked to larger popular CRM systems (like in the case of HubSpot and Salesforce), which can help your sales staff track the customer journey through your sales pipeline. Learn more in our review of HubSpot and our Salesforce review.

TipBottom line
If your company already uses a dedicated CRM, see if it offers any add-on tools to streamline your email marketing.

Our best picks for email marketing services

The right email marketing service can help your campaigns become more effective by providing you with sophisticated design tools, robust analytics, A/B testing and the ability to pull customer data from your CRM. Our team has analyzed many popular email marketing services and chosen our top email marketing services. Below are some of the ones we think can best help you you create effective email campaigns.

  • Constant Contact: With a 97 percent delivery rate, Constant Contact offers affordable plans and easy-to-use tools. This service allows you to send an unlimited number of emails to the right inbox. It includes A/B testing and a large library of professionally designed email templates. Read our Constant Contact review to learn more.
  • Benchmark Email: This service offers a range of plans to suit your budget. Perfect for your small business, it boasts key automation features, responsive templates and an easy-to-use email editor. Its real-time analytics can help you tweak campaigns to be more effective. Find out more in the Benchmark Email Marketing review.
  • Mailchimp: A popular choice for beginners, Mailchimp is free software that offers a lot of tools and a user-friendly interface. The service allows you to segment your audience, schedule emails, and create campaigns with its templates. 
  • Brevo (formerly Sendinblue): This service offers multiple pricing plans companies can choose from, based on their budgets. Its automation features also increase efficiency, and the service provides round-the-clock support and ensures GDPR compliance. 
  • monday.com: This service allows you to manage your email campaigns from a single customizable dashboard and gives you informative reports to help you fine-tune your future campaigns. It even has an online bulletin board where your team can post campaign ideas and requests. Discover more details in our monday.com review.
  • Freshmarketer: With Freshmarketer, you can develop warm leads by having your email campaigns specifically address customers’ interests based on their behavior. The platform is also good at omni-channel communication, integrating with text and other channels. 

Jennifer Dublino and Mona Bushnell contributed to this article. 

author image
Sean Peek, Senior Analyst & Expert on Business Ownership
Sean Peek co-founded and self-funded a small business that's grown to include more than a dozen dedicated team members. Over the years, he's become adept at navigating the intricacies of bootstrapping a new business, overseeing day-to-day operations, utilizing process automation to increase efficiencies and cut costs, and leading a small workforce. This journey has afforded him a profound understanding of the B2B landscape and the critical challenges business owners face as they start and grow their enterprises today. In addition to running his own business, Peek shares his firsthand experiences and vast knowledge to support fellow entrepreneurs, offering guidance on everything from business software to marketing strategies to HR management. In fact, his expertise has been featured in Entrepreneur, Inc. and Forbes and with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
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