The Ultimate Email Marketing Strategy Guide

This comprehensive guide will show you step-by-step how to create a plan that’s going to take your email marketing to the next level.

Don’t be fooled by anyone who tells you that email marketing is dead. As the experts of email marketing, we know that it’s very much alive and well.

With the potential to generate an ROI of up to 4400%, email remains the most powerful marketing channel out there. But in order to reap its many benefits, you need an email marketing strategy.

An email marketing strategy refers to the approach, tactics, and actions put in place to reach specific business goals using email marketing.

Not only does having a strategy help you plan your marketing emails in advance, but it also ensures that your emails are on-brand, relevant, and fulfilling a specific business purpose.

Before we get into the practical details of creating an email marketing strategy, let’s talk about why you need one in the first place.

Do I really need an email marketing strategy?

Yes, you do.

You can send ‘one size fits all’ email blasts to your entire contact base without any strategy at all. But by doing this, there’s a high chance your emails will be completely ineffective.

Think about all the marketing emails that flood our inboxes on a daily basis. Most of them aren’t even opened. What are you going to do to make your emails stand out in an already saturated inbox?

Remember: Your contact has opted-in to your emails because they expect to receive some sort of value from you. For your emails to provide value, they need to be personalized and tailored to the recipient’s individual needs.

To achieve higher open and click-through rates, you need to think carefully about how to connect with contacts. This is where your email marketing strategy comes in.

A strategy will define the ‘how’, ‘when’, and ‘why’ behind your email marketing efforts. Once established, this will give you the best possible chance of increasing conversions and achieving your business goals.

strong Create your email marketing strategy in 12 steps

1. Analyze your current situation

Take a critical look at the current state of email marketing and analyze the results. The idea here is to scope out the opportunities and challenges to make your email marketing more impactful.

Here are some of the questions you should be asking:

  • What have you been trying to achieve with this current approach?
  • How well has it been working?
  • How does the current strategy tie in with and contribute to the overall marketing and organizational goals?
  • What challenges have you faced?
  • How is email marketing organized? What processes are in place?
  • Who is your target audience?
  • How do you attract your subscribers? Where do they sign up?

In order to highlight areas for improvement, we suggest doing a SWOT analysis. This lets you define your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.

We also suggest keeping an eye on what your competitors are doing in terms of email marketing. Sign up to their newsletters and promotional emails. Consider what they do well and not so well. Think about what you can do better.

2. Define your email marketing goals and objectives

Answer this: What exactly do you want to achieve with email marketing?

Your email marketing needs to have specific goals. These goals should support the overall marketing and business goals.

Having goals gives you something to work towards and makes it easier to measure the success of your campaigns.

Think of each goal as a specific desired outcome. Typical email marketing goal examples include growing the email subscriber list, improving open and click-through rates, generating sales, or promoting a product.

For goal-setting inspiration, have a read of our article on where to focus email marketing goals.

Having goals is going to help you choose the right content to include in your emails.

Your objectives represent the steps along the path to achieving each goal. Make sure your objectives are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-bound).

For example, if your wider goal was to grow your subscriber list, then a corresponding objective could be to grow newsletter subscriptions by 1000 subscribers within a 12-month period.

3. Understand your target audience

Now, let’s focus on the ‘who’ behind your email marketing strategy.

For your marketing emails to be effective, you need to understand the person on the receiving end as well as their motivations for taking an interest in your product or service. This will help ensure your emails are personalized and relevant.

Think about all the information you have on your current customers. Note down all you know about their demographic and behavioral characteristics.

Consider their content preferences. What kind of emails gets the most engagement and conversions from your subscribers?

Compile this information in the form of buyer personas. These personas are going to be used as a reference point when it comes to creating content.

Once you have identified your target audience, next you’re going to plot the customer journey and define the different moments at which email marketing should intervene and with what message.

This is particularly important in B2B business as leads moving through the buyer funnel need a lot of information before making a purchase – how can you use marketing emails to grow their interest?

4. Understanding the different types of emails you’ll send

It’s likely that your business will send several types of email, each serving a different purpose. Let’s run through the typical ones.

Newsletters

The purpose of an email newsletter is to maintain and grow a subscriber’s interest in a company by sharing company news/updates or information on a specific topic. Newsletters are sent on a recurring basis (weekly, monthly, etc.) to people who specifically have signed up to receive them.

A newsletter brings many benefits. Firstly, it’s a means of generating brand awareness and staying front-of-mind for subscribers. Secondly, it nurtures relationships with existing customers and finally, it’s great for driving traffic to specific webpages and gently pushing calls-to-action (CTAs).

Promotional Campaigns

Promotional email campaigns are sent with a specific objective in mind, for example, to promote a particular offer, product, service, etc.

Such campaigns are easy to measure and are usually quite effective thanks to having very focused CTAs.

Our advice when sending promotional emails is to not the send the same message to all your contacts. You should segment your list and target each segment with a personalized and relevant message for maximum impact. More on list segmentation in Step 7.

Automated Emails

The purpose of an automated email is to send targeted, action-triggered emails to contacts.

The idea is that the emails are prepared in advance and sent automatically once a contact fulfills predefined ‘trigger’ conditions, e.g. sending a welcome email once a new subscriber signs up to your site.

Other examples include an abandoned cart, birthday, and reactivation emails. Automated emails typically contain a marketing message and require setting up automation workflows.

This is a great way of sending personalized and relevant emails. Naturally, it saves a LOT of time as there is no need for further intervention once the workflow is set up. Everything happens automatically.

Transactional Emails

These automatic emails are sent in response to a specific action and contain a specific piece of important information.

Essentially what transactional emails do is finalize a transaction between the business and the recipient. The goal is not to push a commercial message but to facilitate an already agreed-upon transaction.

The benefits of such emails include providing customers with useful information and building their trust in you.

Transactional examples include order confirmations, shipment updates, receipts, password resets, opt-in verifications, etc.

Lead Nurturing Emails

These automated and personalized emails are intended to educate and nurture a lead’s interest in your product or service. An example would be sending an email that contains a product case study.

It’s a great way to grow relationships and move leads along the buyer funnel towards conversion. It’s especially effective in B2B marketing where the decision-making process tends to be longer.

We suggest using marketing automation to implement a lead-scoring workflow which assigns scores once leads fulfill certain conditions. Here’s an example of a basic lead scoring workflow:

You can then set up a segmentation workflow which separates leads into different mailing lists on the basis of the lead score. This will let you target the leads on each list with specific messages.

Once you have a clear idea of the kind of emails your business is going to send, it’s a good time to start outlining some email content ideas. This will give you a headstart for Step 9 in which the email content is going to be finalized and formatted.

If you’re going to be sending automated emails, now’s a good time to plan your marketing automation workflows.

5. Invest in an email marketing solution

If you’re serious about email marketing and looking for an efficient way to manage and send emails, we strongly advise you sign up to an email marketing service provider.

Managing email marketing through one of these platforms lets you streamline and centralize your email marketing processes. You’ll be able to do everything from email design to list management to campaign reporting, all in the same place.

More importantly, an email marketing service provider gives you a means of checking that your emails have actually reached the intended recipients.

There are many such service providers on the market, offering a range of different features at varying price points. To choose the one best suited to your needs, here’s what you need to consider:

  • What are your budget limitations?
  • What type of emails do you plan on sending? Does the service have the necessary capabilities for these emails (e.g. marketing automation, transactional)?
  • Do you need additional features (e.g. sign-up forms and landing pages)?
  • How many contacts do you have? How many are you planning to gain in the next 12 months?
  • How many emails do you send each month?

The offerings differ mainly in terms of advanced features and prices. As far as we’re concerned, the must-have features are responsive email design, email templates, contact management and segmentation, marketing automation, A/B testing, and customer support.

6. Build a list of subscribers

You established your target audience back in Step 3. Your next step is figuring out how to get more of those people to sign up for your marketing emails.

We spoke earlier about how your emails should bring some sort of value to the recipient. Consider the needs of your target audience. Think about your value promise and how you’re going to deliver on it.

Once you’ve defined your value promise, plan the different tactics you want to use to get people to sign up. Maybe you’ll create a piece of gated content to act as a subscriber magnet on your site, like an ebook or case study.

The next big question: How easy is it for people to sign up?

Think about where all your opt-in buttons have been placed on your site. Are they clearly visible? Are they big enough to be easily clicked on a mobile device? Perhaps there are even more opportunities to promote sign-ups, such as through pop-ups and slide-ins.

4 Top Tips for List Building

  1. Always choose quality over quantity
  2. Never purchase lists
  3. Use a double opt-in process – i.e. when a new subscriber has to confirm their decision by clicking a link sent by email (this way you know the email address is valid and active)
  4. Clean the list regularly and remove unengaged subscribers as this can negatively impact your deliverability and spam score

7. Segment your contact list

Segmentation is the process of dividing your contact list into groups (or segments) according to interests, behavior, demographics, or other characteristics. This way you can send tailored marketing messages that match the needs of each segment.

Segmenting your contact list is something we highly recommend you do. Sending out a mass ‘one size fits all’ campaign is simply never going to have the same impact as one that addresses specific needs or situations.

Segmented campaigns have been proven to yield a 14.31% higher open rate and garner over 100% more clicks. Thus it’s confirmed: the more relevant the content, the more likely your contacts are to engage with the email.

Examples of ways to segment your contact list

  • Demographics (gender preference, country, language, age)
  • Source of acquisition
  • Level of engagement
  • Purchasing habits/history
  • Lead score
  • Stage of buyer lifecycle

The direct benefits of segmentation include stronger customer relationships, increased deliverability thanks to high engagement, and the ability to identify segments with the highest revenue potential.

We advise that you gather segmentation data from the very beginning by asking subscribers to state their content preferences on the subscriber form.

If it’s too late for that, you can always ask your contacts directly by sending a user-friendly preferences form by email.

Automate your segmentation processes

To make your segmentation a whole lot faster and efficient, update your contact segments automatically with marketing automation software.

You can easily set up a marketing automation workflow that automatically adds contacts to specific lists once they fulfill predefined conditions. For example, adding a contact to a ‘most loyal customers’ list once they’ve made a certain number of repeat purchases from your site.

This is one of the reasons to keep the marketing automation feature in mind when choosing an email marketing services provider.

8. Design mobile-friendly email templates to be used over and over again

Having a folder of marketing email templates at the ready is going to save time and help you stay consistent. All you’ll have to do each time is to select the template and insert the content.

Ideally, you want to choose a design that’s engaging, on-brand, and memorable. The branding of your emails is what’s going to help them stand out.

It goes without saying that your logo, fonts, colors, and images should all be matching those of your brand. Try to implement the same style and layout in your emails as in your web content.

The more consistent your branding, the easier it will be for subscribers to recognize you.

There are some other important elements to be considered when designing your marketing emails:

  • Mobile optimization and responsive design: Your emails should look good and work properly on ALL devices.
  • Button position and size: Make sure they’re eye-catching and large enough to be easily clicked on a mobile device.
  • Unsubscribe link: Alway gives your contact the option to opt-out of your emails.

9. Create a content plan and start writing the email copy

You gathered some content ideas in Step 4, now it’s time to finalize your content plan.

If you’re segmenting your contact list (which you definitely should), define how you want to target each segment in terms of messaging and content. The same goes for leads passing through the buyer funnel: plan the content you’ll use for lead nurturing.

A few questions to consider: What type of content will satisfy your contacts’ needs? How will it drive conversions? What calls-to-action will you use?

You may have certain emails that can be entirely prepared in advance. These are typically the ones for which the message remains unchanged over time such as automated or transactional emails. Get these finalized and ready for deployment as quickly as possible. It’ll save a lot of time in the long run.

Writing the email copy

There are several elements to email copy. Each one should be crafted carefully to achieve maximum impact.

Here’s what you need to take into account when writing email copy:

  • The ‘From’ name: Using the name of an actual person from your company is going to generate higher engagement. The ‘no-reply’ email should be avoided at all costs.
  • CTAs: Write the CTA before any other part of the email so that you have a clear purpose and end-goal. It has to be compelling so think carefully about its wording.
  • Subject line: extremely important as it’s what motivates the recipient to open your email. It needs to be catchy and grab the reader’s attention. Personalization also works well here. For pointers check out these subject line writing tips.
  • Preview text: The little piece of text in the inbox that tells you what the email is about. Use it to evoke the reader’s curiosity.
  • Headline: Should include important words and tell you what the email is about.
  • Main email body: Keep it short and ensure the main ideas are clearly presented, following a logical structure.

Top tips for writing effective emails:

  • Personalize the email content for individual contacts: This works in conjunction with an email segmentation strategy. For example, adding a recommended products section that makes product suggestions based on the customer’s purchase history.
  • Write for your audience: Address your audience’s pain points and specific needs.
  • Write for the web: Make sure the text is scannable. Avoid too many words, keep sentences short, and use paragraphs or bullet points where appropriate.

10. Establish the best send times and create a sending schedule

Define the best sending frequency for your audience, whether it’s weekly, monthly, or quarterly.

Once you promise a certain frequency, be sure to commit to this schedule. Otherwise, you risk losing trust in your brand.

Keep track of which particular day and time of day your emails get the most engagement and use this for future campaigns.

you can plan for your emails to be automatically sent at the best time based on previous analytics.

11. Set up KPIs and track results

Set yourself targets that are going to help you achieve your email marketing goals.

The following is a list of what we consider to be the essential email metrics you should be tracking:

  • Bounce rate: The percentage of emails that failed to be delivered to the recipients’ inbox. This could be due to a permanent error such as an invalid address or a temporary error such as an email server being down.
  • Open rate: The percentage of subscribers that opened your email.
  • Click rate: The ratio of users who click on the links in the email to the number of emails sent.
  • click-to-open rate: This takes a look at the rate at which people who already opened your email end up clicking through.
  • Unsubscribe rate: The percentage of subscribers opting out of your marketing emails. You should investigate any sudden increases to see what went wrong.
  • Spam complaint rate: The percentage of subscribers who report your email as spam.
  • Conversion rate: The percentage of subscribers who follow your CTA and accomplish the specific goal you had intended for them.

A good email marketing tool will provide these metrics in a comprehensive analysis of your email marketing performance – yet another reason why you should invest in one.

In order to set realistic KPIs for your email marketing, it’s good to know the average open and click-through rates for your industry. Use these as a benchmark to compare your performance as time goes on.

12. Carry out A/B testing to highlight areas for improvement

A/B testing is a process which aims to improve your subscriber engagement and in turn, your email deliverability.

It gives the opportunity to improve your email marketing tactics through data-driven decisions.

The idea is that you divide a subscriber list into two groups – A and B. Both groups will receive the same overall message but the difference will lie in the presentation. You may target each group with different subject lines, CTAs, layouts, graphics, etc., in a quest to find out what attracts the most engagement.

We recommend that you carry out regular A/B testing and get yourself into a rhythm of continuous optimization.

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