The Beginner's Guide to Email Marketing

September 05, 2017

Email marketing is one of the best ways to reach a large audience. Create an effective email marketing campaign by focusing on branding, audience, and email design.

Newsletters can increase site traffic, sales rates, and user engagement, but crafting the perfect newsletter campaign is difficult.

I both love and hate getting emails. I delete most emails because the subject line isn’t interesting, or my inbox is too full. But as a freelancer and weekly contributor at Designli, I value their usefulness in marketing—and enjoy crafting email marketing campaigns that bring my clients results.

Sure, emails and newsletters require effort: you’ll have to sink time, energy, and maybe even money into your email marketing efforts. But if you don't spend time on your campaign, how can you expect your consumers to spend time reading it?

I’ve compiled the ultimate guide to email marketing in this article. This way, you’ll get it right the first time around.

What Email Marketing Can Accomplish: A Case Study

Communication via email is a surefire way to reach a large audience, so take advantage of email opportunities.

In college, I was the head of a committee charged with planning the first week of events for 6,000 incoming freshmen. Emailing was one of the only ways to reach them. Through successful email marketing methods, we managed to have 500 participants at each of the ten events we held.

At the time, we didn’t know much about proper email strategies or branding, but we tried. We sent out mass emails with fun designs to all freshmen and teamed up with other campus organizations who helped sponsor events.

In addition, we sent thank-you emails to those who came and informed them about our loyalty/rewards program for people who came to 4 events or more. Ultimately, 100 people came to 4 or more events, and we gave those people prizes.

Because we got to know our audience and sent them personalized messages, we succeeded in creating an email marketing campaign.

Email marketing works, especially when it’s personalized and customer-targeted. The open rate for emails with a personalized message is 18.8% (Statista), compared with 13.1% for non-personalized emails. Additionally, brands that personalize promotional marketing emails can boast 27% higher unique click rates than those that don’t.

Let’s examine three ways to craft emails that will net you similar success.

1: Branding and Strategy

People are much more likely to open an email if it’s from a company they know and trust.

I believe in a vision-based branding model, which places emphasis on branding and strategizing for marketing campaigns. Email marketing is part of a holistic approach to reaching out to, and engaging with, customers.

The biggest influence on your email’s success is your brand - that’s who the email comes from. Are customers familiar with your business, or are you still building a reputation? You can strengthen your relationship with consumers through emails.

Branding is about letting potential consumers know what’s happening in the world of your business. Through branding, you can ensure a consistent message, increase engagement, and build lasting relationships.

A brand is not just a transactional or a fundraising tool – it is a relational tool. Make sure that you maintain focus on the services, initiatives, and behaviors that your users value.

Before you get started, you need to make sure you strategize. Consider the following questions:

What is the intention behind your email marketing?

Make sure you’re sending emails for a clear, specified purpose.

Hubspot explains how nonprofit charity:water used an email marketing strategy that showed donors how effective their contributions were:

“Once someone donates to a charity: water project, her money takes a long journey. Most charities don't tell you about that journey at all -- charity: water uses automated emails to show donors how their money is making an impact over time. You know immediately where you are in the whole process so you can move onto other things in your inbox.”

charity:water figured out what its audience wanted - proof that the nonprofit was using its donated funds to provide clean water - so it made that information easily accessible through email.

Is your message consistent?

Consistency is key in all marketing communications. Try to use the same tone and language, and send emails on a regular schedule. By doing so, you further the story of your brand.

If your current message isn’t working, don’t worry. It’s okay to re-brand.

When and how frequently will you email?

Time of day is crucial. Try early morning so it’s one of the first messages your customers see. You can also target their lunch break, or the end of the day when emails are dying down.

If you’re trying to sell specific products, try the evening, when customers are more likely to shop online (around 8pm), and on Mondays.

Furthermore, decide how often you want to send out emails. Frequency is less important than quality content. It’s better to send out fewer emails with fresh content than many repetitive emails.

How will you measure your email campaign’s success?

Metrics, such as the open, click-through, and conversion rates, are key for testing and retesting your email newsletter strategies.

Campaign Monitor and MailChimp have A/B testing built in, but if you don’t utilize a service with A/B testing, simply send one email (A) to one part of your list, and another (B) to the rest of the list of subscribers. Then you can gauge which email approach is more effective by measuring the rates discussed above.

Your organization type will determine which numbers to monitor. If you’re an e-commerce site, then click-through rates show how many potential consumers click on your products. If you’re an awareness-raising, politically-bent organization, then open rates are most important. If you’re a blogger, then conversion rates are crucial for driving people to your blog.

An example of a well-branded message is Parabo’s MailChimp email:

Parabo email marketing campaign

The message is sweet and to-the-point. The colors are calming, and the CTA button, located right under the headline, is on prominent display. Follow-up text assures readers that Parabo is an email brand people can trust.

2: Getting to Know Your Target Audience

You can craft personalized communication for your customers using email marketing. This usually means segmentation, or targeting various customer groups with distinct messages.

Understanding your users’ behavior helps you craft an effective and consistent marketing message while building a stronger relationship with your customers.

The goal is to write a set of emails containing similar content which accomplishes the same intent. However, each email is slightly different. Depending on the segment, you might:

  • rearrange the email layout
  • change your language
  • send emails less or more frequently

That’s because people are more likely to engage with marketing if they feel it’s tailored to their interests. But how do you get to know your audience when you can’t learn much from just their email address?

The answer: social media.

Social media provides a free means through which to gather information consumers have already willingly listed. If you use social login in your app or website, then you’ve already found a way to connect to a user’s digital ecosystem.

You can gather data on information a customer has elected to share, including their physical location, Facebook likes, organizations they follow on Twitter, restaurants they frequent, and brands they wear.

Use social login on any landing pages you provide in your emails, and invite people to like you on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. These three networks have the most active users and contain the most information.

Even if your customers don’t use social login, you’ll be able to show up in their targeted ads after a like or a follow by driving them to your social media account

Furthermore, maintaining updated social media accounts ensures a (free!) marketing channel you can use to keep up with user behaviors, preferences, and location.

3: Considering Your Email Address and Subject Lines

You want the reader to know exactly what they’re getting in as little time as possible, so make sure your email address, subject line, and headings communicate your message quickly and effectively.

An overlooked component of email marketing campaigns is the email address itself. In the case of @gmail email addresses, most promotional materials are sent to the promotions tab, a potential dead zone with a whole list of emails just waiting to be deleted.

It’s crucial to have your brand omnipresent throughout all marketing materials, and your email address is no exception. Ensure that your email address is professional and promotes your website or business.

Furthermore, encourage two-way communication. For example, the email address “[email protected]” is much more effective at engaging users than “[email protected]” The latter implies a one-way, impersonal presence, while the former encourages engagement.

In addition, write attention-grabbing subject lines and headers to entice the user to open up their emails. Focus on incentives (sales or coupon codes) or updates (you’re rolling out a new product line). This is why the subject line “Get 25% Off Our Newest Products” is more effective than “Product Updates” or the generic “Newsletter.”

Incentives are crucial for getting people to engage with your emails. People are largely concerned with what they’ll get out of something. “What’s in it for me?” is the number one question on everyone’s mind.

And don’t forget about your headings and subheadings. Use strong verbs, persuasive language, and descriptive, yet short phrases to get your point across as quickly as possible, like:

  • Buy Now – Sale Ends Tonight
  • Only We Can Stop Global Warming
  • Donate to Save a Child Today
  • You’re Running Out of Time and We’re Running Out of Stock, Fast

4: Including Standout Text and Images

To keep your content fresh, ensure that each email has a distinct purpose. You don’t want to send out the same email with slightly different graphics three times a week. That usually results in users hitting the ‘unsubscribe’ link.

However, don’t let your visuals slide. Design and navigability are crucial to the success of an email campaign in today’s digitally-driven world. As always, think of brand consistency. It should dictate each image and word you pick.

Consider these strategies to boost your copy and imagery.

Optimize for Every Kind of Device

Many people read emails on their phones, so make sure your online presence is mobile-optimized.

It’s helpful to keep mobile optimization in mind from the beginning. During development, double-check your website and emails’ performance on phones or tablets. It’s crucial that you cross-reference on a variety of devices, so try opening test email on your own phone and those of your employees and friends.

Keep Your Visual Identity Constant

Your web site or app’s visual identity should match your email design.

A website that doesn’t look like your emails, or a newsletter that’s hard to read, is more than enough to turn potential customers away.

The following is an example of a clean, simplistic design I used when creating email campaigns for a client.

EditingWorm email marketing campaign

The client liked this design because it's in line with current design trends. The design use:

  • negative space
  • eye-catching color
  • sparse text that gets to the point

Something like the above can go a long way in grabbing the reader’s attention.

Organize and Pare Your Copy

Like your images, your text should be neat, short, and expressive.

Make sure you’re using both images and lists. These pop out at the reader and make navigation easier because they follow information hierarchy.

When it comes to images, minimal text works best. Don’t obscure your graphics by overlaying them with adjectives and adverbs.

Let's Make Something Together email marketing

Allow the images, such as this one I designed, to speak for themselves.

In the body of your email, share stories of impact and focus heavily on navigability.

If you’re a charitable organization, try telling the story of a particular person your group has helped. If you’re a political organization, then tell the story of somebody impacted by the policies you’re either supporting or fighting against. If you’re an e-commerce business, then stress reviews from people who have used your product.

In addition, use a legible font. Five of the most readable email font faces are Serif, Georgia, Verdana, Calibri, and Times New Roman, according to Bloomberg Business. Include enough empty space to prevent text crowding.

Include a Call to Action

Emails should always include ways for readers to get involved, ideally by buying what you’re offering. This is the call to action, or CTA.

For instance, a “Buy Now” button, a “View Our Products” button, or a giant blue banner advertising a “Donation” button show readers why they opened the email in the first place. They pull attention to the ultimate goal that you hope to achieve.

Make your text skimmable and your CTA enticing, and you’ve got yourself a killer email.

Email Campaigns: Get It Right the First Time

Don’t overlook email campaigns as a way to connect with your customers.

People are on their phones, checking email, for a significant portion of the day, so use that to your advantage. Reach out to your consumers on a personal, human level through email, and remind them of your brand, your commitment to them, and what you can provide.

Customers are looking for solutions to their problems, and emails are great ways of letting them know that you have exactly what they need.

Email campaigns infographic Designli

About the Author

Headshot of Keith Shields Designli

Keith Shields is a partner with Designli in beautiful Greenville, South Carolina. Designli strives to empower digital relationships, helping businesses engage with their audience more effectively through the design and implementation of custom mobile software.