40 free tips: How to build a better email marketing strategy

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Experts share comprehensive advice on building an email marketing strategy from the ground up.

With mobile devices driving email engagement and commercial returns rising, investment in email marketing is set for robust growth in the coming years. The Forrester Research Email Marketing Forecast, 2012 To 2017 (US), for instance, predicts that the next five years will see increasing investment. And with a number of key trends conspiring to drive email marketing to greater heights, there’s never been a better time to capitalise on the email channel.
However, those looking for a quick fix, will be in for a rude awakening. As with so many initiatives, email marketing demands a structured and strategic approach if campaigns are to succeed.
“Modern marketers are under increasing pressure to deliver significant ROI from their marketing campaigns and only by adopting a strategic approach can digital marketers truly enjoy the potential of this channel,” says Henry Smith, director of product marketing at Emailvision.
“All email marketing campaigns need to be tactical, but if they don’t form part of an overall marketing strategy marketers will never really gain insight into their broader customer base and how they interact with your brand,” adds Helen Taylor, data analyst at Experian Marketing Services. “Having an overall email marketing strategy is important to keep campaigns focused and relevant to customers, as well as ensuring a common trend throughout the emails.”
So with that in mind, where should marketers start when building a strategy?
“One of the main pitfalls that marketers fall into is creating a campaign before they really know what they are trying to achieve,” continues Taylor. “Before an email is even sent, marketers need to consider a number of elements of their campaign.”
She recommends the following:
  • Establish the aim or focus for your email campaign. Is it to inform customers? Are you trying to sell products? Are your campaigns multi-faceted? In any case, marketers need to ensure that all campaigns have clear aims and achievable goals that create a benchmark for success.
  • Consider how you plan to target your customers – does your strategy warrant a cover-all-bases approach, or should more time be spent making emails much more relevant? ROI is often higher on targeted and tailored campaigns, so be sure to allow sufficient time for this.
  • Gain an understanding of your customer base if possible; what type of person are they? What is the age range and gender split? How often are they likely to want contact – daily, weekly, monthly?
  • Consider the type of content they receive - would they appreciate a more luxury email or a more fun email etc.? What type of template will appeal most? Are they heavily socially engaged or show high mobile usage?
  • Think beyond the desktop - establish whether you want to join up your social and mobile interactions to your emails and make sure you research these capabilities carefully.
In addition, Joel Book, principal, marketing research & education at ExactTarget, believes strategic consideration also needs to be given to the following:
  • Who do we need to communicate with?
  • What information or offer would be of greatest value and importance?
  • Why is this information relevant to the individual?
  • When would this individual be most receptive to this information or offer?
  • Where will the person to go to respond to the offer (i.e. landing page)?
  • How will email program effectiveness be measured?
“By answering these questions, the email marketing professional will be able to plan specific programs that can be aligned to each stage of the customer lifecycle,” suggests Book. “This process will provide a strategic plan for using email to engage the customer more effectively and avoid falling into the ‘one size fits all’ trap of sending the same email to every customer regardless of where he or she is in the relationship with the brand.”
So what should the strategy contain?
Email is much more than email creative and the landing page where customers will respond to the offer. Other essential components of your strategy should include:
  • Subscriber acquisition plan.
  • Email and landing page design (for both desktop PCs and mobile devices).
  • Offer and message testing plan.
  • Usage of customer data to personalise content based on subscriber preferences.
  • Email delivery and sender reputation management.
  • Messaging rules to ensure delivery of relevant content based on lifecycle stage.
The number one priority for an email marketing strategy is goals, according to Sylvia Jensen, director of EMEA marketing at Eloqua.
“Consider what the purpose of email marketing is for your company,” she says. “Is it to drive demand, generate leads or upsell the customer base? Why are you doing email at all? Define this first.” From a high level, the planning steps for email are:
  • Define the goals (includes audience).
  • How are you going to reach the goals? What is the strategy to get there? (Do you need new technology? Do you need to create more content?)
  • Build a content library / content calendar.
  • Map out the experience of your recipients (what email will they get first? What's second? etc.).
  • Measure, track and optimise (email marketing is not 'set it and forget it' - it requires constant monitoring and optimisation).
Other pieces of advice to ensure a robust email marketing strategy include:
  • Ensure you’re following best practice in growing your subscriber base and obtaining permission. “An effective email marketing strategy should not be built in isolation of other marketing efforts,” Smith says. “Consider all your different subscriber touch-points and optimise their effectiveness, not just on your website but through all of your marketing channels – online and offline. Make sure the context is appropriate to gain subscriber permission, and clearly explain the benefits to subscribing and providing personal data.” “There should be a strategy for sustained list growth that is focused firstly on quality then quantity and aligned with legal and permission best practices,” adds Daniel Harari VP client services emarsys. “Segment the clients or subscribers using recency, frequency and monetary values (RFM) or other methods.”
  • Create a campaign strategy based upon the customer’s lifecyle with your business. “For example, create an effective welcome programme - this is essential in creating trust with subscribers and building loyalty from the start,” recommends Smith. “Recognise customers when they have shopped in-store as well as on-line and reward customers for loyalty. In our second UK retail email benchmarking study – ’Giving your customers a welcome they deserve’ - we found that 64% of the top 100 IMRG UK online retailers send out their first email communication within 15 minutes of a customer signing up online to obtain a maximum on return whilst the brand is still on the mind of the consumer.”
  • Examine the email marketing mix to determine factors such as the combination of occasional batch campaigns i.e. seasonal sales, special promotions or recurring campaigns i.e. weekly newsletters and lifecycle communications to deploy i.e. welcome messages, first-timer feedback or reactivation campaigns.
  • We all strive for higher converting messages so spend time on the content strategy. “Clearly map out the type of content to send to what segment in what type of campaign (batch, recurring and lifecycle) to achieve the highest level of relevancy for the intended recipients,” advises Harari.
  • Focus on longer term customer objectives rather than short-term campaign objectives – this will be more beneficial to the overall business. “Rather than measuring your performance in opens and clicks, analyse how your campaigns effect average revenue per user, customer lifetime value, advocacy and customer satisfaction or net promoter score,” says Smith.
  • For those that need to outsource to experts, choose a partner carefully. Harari recommends: “Ask if they can provide me with both the technical solution and consulting services to implement my strategy and help me on an ongoing basis to achieve my goals.”

But an effective email marketing strategy should also not be limited to marketing alone, advises Book. In formulating your company’s email strategy, he recommends taking into consideration how and where email can also be used for sales and customer service.

For marketing:
  • Deliver relevant and timely information and offers to customers and prospects.
  • Promote events that generate leads; Link to your brand’s social media sites blog.
  • Fuel Word-of-Mouth! Invite subscribers to ‘share’ email with work colleagues and friends.
For sales:
  • Nurture leads; provide information that aids purchase decision.
  • Drive repeat purchase or renewal.
  • Deliver offers triggered by customer behaviour or customer insight.
For service:
  • Keep customers informed of product updates and special offers.
  • Deliver information that enhances the product use experience.
  • Use email to respond to inquiries, questions and problems.
Finally, testing should of course also be built into the strategy. Only by ensuring that rigorous processes are in place for digital marketing teams to regularly test and monitor success throughout all email campaigns can optimisation be driven.
“Testing should cover all areas of the email campaign including, subject lines and time and frequency, to certify that all communications are properly resonating with customers,” notes Smith. “Sending the right messages with the right offers to the right customers at the right time is critical to achieving a positive response. Once you base your email campaigns around the knowledge you have about your customer, email has the power to create stronger customer relationships, establish deeper brand loyalty and drive revenue.”
And Taylor has the following pieces of final advice for those building a strategy. “Start small - don’t try to implement everything straight away, work through the things that you want to do one by one. It’s better to take your time and have strong campaigns and emails rather than rushing through the set up and alienating customers with mistakes,” she says. “And don’t be afraid to try different tactics on your inactive segments, doing something different can be the perfect way to re-engage customers.” 

About Neil Davey


Neil Davey is the managing editor of MyCustomer. An experienced business journalist and editor, Neil has worked on a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites over the past 15 years, including Internet Works, CXO magazine and Business Management. He joined Sift Media in 2007.


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