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.
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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
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:
The answers to these questions should help you determine the type of campaign that best suits your needs.
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]
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.
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.
An email is an opportunity to connect. If you plan to do the copywriting yourself, apply best practices.
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:
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:
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:
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.
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:
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:
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If your company already uses a dedicated CRM, see if it offers any add-on tools to streamline your email marketing.
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.
Jennifer Dublino and Mona Bushnell contributed to this article.