Email marketing campaigns are one of the cheapest ways to advertise your business, but email blasts can easily get 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 to read more. This guide will take you through the basics, and 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.
How to develop a marketing campaign
1. Outline a clear goal.
The first step in creating a successful email marketing campaign is to outline a clear goal. Unfocused email campaigns, like unfocused marketing campaigns of any type, 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.
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2. Determine the type of email campaign.
There are several types of email campaigns that you may deploy, depending on the nature of your business and your goal. These 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 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 not always considered in email marketing, transactional emails are quite 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. A transactional email might be a confirmation of an order, a response to a specific question, or a confirmation of a refund in progress. Another common triggered email scenario is an abandoned cart email, which can be helpful for online retailers looking 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.
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 ZIP codes, ages, industries, sales volume, and gender, for example.
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% off your first order").
To create a web form that can capture 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, casting 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 such 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 works well too.
Market segmentation is the first stop on the path of creating your own mailing list. Many marketing departments begin the process of creating a campaign by identifying one or several profiles of the ideal customer. The thought 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]
4. 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, two profiles may be necessary.
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 that. Identifying all the property management companies within a few ZIP codes is a matter of 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 it to. For example, if you decide you want Great Greens to be a high-end landscaping service, not one that offers small contracts, account for that in your customer profile. Then you need to imagine how that person makes buying decisions and how they like to be informed.
Here is an example of a Great Greens customer profile, and how such a profile may be used 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.
Using market segmentation like a marketer
With a little imagination, it's easy to picture Great Greens' ideal client, and similar profiles can be constructed for any type of client. The information above provides clear guidelines for gathering leads based on home type (detached, with a lawn) and proximity to Great Greens. This ideal client also has relatively high income, so a good marketer would tell you it makes sense to focus on neighborhoods with a high median home price. Median home prices are a matter of public record and easy to obtain on websites like Trulia and Zillow.
A broad email marketing campaign, targeting high-income homeowners with lawns in your area, is a good way to begin your advertising. You have three options here:
- Purchase email addresses for people in the areas you've identified.
- Do research online, starting with physical addresses and names, and working your way back to email addresses – which is time-consuming and requires some digging skills.
- Consider a well-placed local advertisement or snail mail marketing campaign, since physical addresses are easier to find.
How to write marketing emails that get results
An email is an opportunity to connect; however, if you are going 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. There is a tendency among amateur writers 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? Always focus on what you can do for the patron, not 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% off local luxury swimwear line!
- Now through August: 50% off luxury swimwear!
2. Maintain focused clarity.
Focus is the name of the game when it comes to 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 doing a full email series, with targeted emails covering different topics. Plan your topics from the first time the customer is made aware of your services to the day they finally buy it. A long-form newsletter is another option for your business 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, similar to 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 get so caught up in gimmicky taglines that you forget vital information like where your business is located, links to your website, or your hours of operation.
If you are not a natural writer, you might begin the process by writing in simple terms and adding finesse later. This can be helpful for clarifying which information is important and establishing 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% 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% 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 now brighten the message. These are some examples:
- Swim Elite is offering 50% off our luxury swimwear line! Our sale on locally designed swimwear only lasts through August. Order now!
- Swim Elite's luxury swimwear line is now 50% off through August. Order our locally designed swimwear while the offer lasts!
3. Include a CTA.
One of the most common mistakes novices writing targeted emails make is not including a call to action (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.
Higher engagement should be a priority over the short-term goal of the sale. You can achieve this by directing your readers to additional content, like your blog posts or social media accounts, and offering 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 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. Personalization entails more than inserting the recipient's name in the subject line, though. These 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 box. It is more efficient to limit your emails to important notifications. Use the format to advertise special events, sales or new product offerings.
7. Watch your language.
The type of language used in your marketing email influences the response to your campaigns. 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. These 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.
Choosing images for marketing emails
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, it may be worthwhile to hire an in-house photographer rather than contractors. Also 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 pretty 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. With a subscription to a service like Shutterstock or Getty Images, you gain access to professionally shot stock images.
Email marketing automation 101
Once your marketing strategy is established and your first email is complete, you may want to 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 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.
Our best picks for email marketing services
Our team has analyzed many popular email marketing services. These are the ones we think are best for a variety of businesses.
- Constant Contact: With a 97% delivery rate, Constant Contact offers affordable plans and easy-to-use tools. With this service, you can send an unlimited number of emails to the right inbox. Constant Contact is our pick for the best overall email marketing service.
- 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. Benchmark Email is our pick for the best low-cost email marketing service.
- 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. Mailchimp is our pick for the best free email marketing software.
- 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. Sendinblue is our pick for the best email marketing service for larger businesses.
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.
Mona Bushnell contributed to the writing and research in this article.