Email marketing is a form of direct marketing; successful campaigns can yield a high ROI as their overheads are not significant. However, email marketing is notoriously difficult to get right. With so many email messages arriving daily it can be hard to get yours read and acted upon, and there’s also the danger of being seen as ‘spammy,’ which can seriously affect your reputation.

Email marketing is a form of direct marketing; successful campaigns can yield a high ROI as their overheads are not significant. However, email marketing is notoriously difficult to get right. With so many email messages arriving daily it can be hard to get yours read and acted upon, and there’s also the danger of being seen as ‘spammy,’ which can seriously affect your reputation.


What is an email marketing campaign?

Broadly speaking, any email that is sent to potential or current customers can be considered email marketing. However, the term generally refers to an organised campaign of mail that is sent out with a unifying aim, such as developing relationships with existing customers or bringing new customers on board. The campaign will generally have a start and end point, and key metrics will be used to judge its overall effectiveness against the original aim.


Benefits of email marketing campaigns

  • Highly customisable: Emails can be customised depending on a range of factors including the target demographic and the reason for emailing. This helps keep focus your efforts and enhance the chance of success with the best possible materials
  • Measurable: Key metrics associated with email marketing (read rates, bounced emails, unsubscribe rates) can be inexpensively measured. These allow you to constantly improve your email marketing materials cost-effectively.
  • Receptive audience: some studies suggest up to half of all internet users check their emails at least once a day
  • Large audience: companies can reach an enormous number of users, making email marketing particularly cost-effective
  • Environmentally-friendly: No paper is used in email marketing campaigns making them particularly environmentally friendly. The associated environmental costs of offline delivery are also avoided
  • Scalable: email marketing campaigns can be scaled with limited costs compared to more traditional marketing methods


Step 1: What do you want to achieve?

Before building an email marketing campaign you must know what you want to achieve. This will generally be one of the following:

  • New customers: you may be emailing potential customers in the hope of acquiring new business
  • Retention: sending special offers and loyalty programmes to current clients can help keep them on board
  • Increase site traffic: you may want to increase traffic to your website after launching a new design or new product
  • Launch a new product: emailing your current customers with details of a new product is a great way to promote loyalty.

There are hundreds of different reasons you may wish to roll out an email marketing campaign. It’s important you decide what your target is right from the beginning. If you don’t, it will be difficult to measure the success of the campaign as you won’t be able to select your metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs).


Step 2: Choose an email marketing tool

There are a huge range of email marketing tools out there, all with advantages and disadvantages. The important thing is choosing one that is suited to your aim and has the functionality you need. Look for free trials so you can appraise the product before buying it. If you have any colleagues or friends who have used any email marketing products, ask them for recommendations. Once you have chosen a tool, make sure you are comfortable with its functionality; you don’t want your campaign to be sub-standard because you didn’t take the time required to fully understand the tool.


Step 3: Decide on the specifics of your campaign

You need to decide exactly who you are going to contact, when you’re going to contact them, and what you want to say to them. These are essential things to decide on as early as possible, as everything else – the design of your email and your copy – will depend on these decisions. And don't forget these decisions will be directly related to your aim, which you'll have chosen in step one.


Step 4: Compile your contacts

Decide who you are going to email, and group them by a quality that is relevant to your metrics e.g. age, location or history with your company. If you then decide to personalise emails according to these qualities (which you should do), it will be easier for you to keep track of what each recipient is doing and therefore track your metrics.


Step 5: Design your email and write your copy

Email design is a technical art; research suggests that certain colours and designs turn people off and so it is important that you make your design – and your copy – as easily digestible as possible. In other words, you need to do the hard work. Usability theory is a great place to start, if you’re not sure. Copy should always reflect your audience and your message. And don’t forget that internet users are time-poor; use fewer words to get your point across.

Beautiful emails matter - but how do you balance making an email beautiful and using your data?


Step 6: Test your content in-house

Basic testing will involve viewing your email in a range of browsers (e.g. Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome), and at a range of different screen resolutions, to ensure it is formatted correctly and looks professional. If your email has both HTML and non-HTML options, both should be tested in all environment.

More advanced testing might involve usability testing, for example bringing in members of the public to give you information on which parts of the email they find engaging and which parts they don’t. Eye-tracking is growing in popularity as it helps companies judge what information to keep in their content and where to put it. However, this will ramp up the costs of your marketing campaign and may not be cost-effective.


Step 7: A/B test your emails

Email marketing is a bit of a catch-22: it is very difficult to know before you start your campaign if your emails will be successful, but you’ll naturally be wary of sending our unproven collateral. A/B testing can help solve this; you’ll need two different versions of the email so you can judge, using your chosen metrics, which version is more successful. After this initial test has been carried out you can then roll out the more successful version to a greater number of recipients. Please see our guide to A/B testing for more information.

A/B testing is a “good way to get high volume and real user statistics in a relatively cheap and quick way,” according to Trenton Moss, MD and Founder of Webcredible.


Step 8: Send out the emails

Once you’ve finalised the email design and copy, it’s time to send out the emails to your list of contacts. Your email marketing software should help ensure this can be done headache-free. Make sure you keep track of exactly who you’re emailing and when you are emailing them.


Step 9: Analyse the results

Regular analysis of your email marketing results is essential. You want to maximise your ROI so ensure your key metrics allow you to improve your future campaigns e.g. the best time of the day to send emails to achieve the highest read rates. Tweak your emails over time as you see what does and doesn’t work. Discover which demographics respond best and increase your coverage. Email marketing doesn’t end when you send out your emails; that point is simply the beginning. Make sure you’re aware of your key aims and metrics throughout the entire process so every decision is working towards your final goal.


Legal considerations

In many jurisdictions, legislation dictates how businesses can target users via email. In 2002 the European Union launched the Directive on Privacy and Electronic Communications. Article 13 prohibits the use of email addresses for marketing purposes. However, the Directive establishes the opt-in regime, which allows unsolicited emails to be sent only if the recipient has given prior agreement.

In the UK, these laws are codified in the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003. They apply to all organisations that send out marketing collateral via electronic means.

Simon Halberstam, Head of E-Commerce Law at Kingsley Napley LLP, told “The so-called ‘soft opt-in’ regime introduced by the E-Privacy Regulations in 2003 is anything but soft in practice. One of the keys to compliance is ensuring that everyone on your mailing list has consented to receiving emails from your business, rather than the business from whom you purchased your mailing list.

“Compliant methods of obtaining consent to marketing emails are varied and will depend on how your business engages with its potential and actual customers. Marketers should seek legal advice if they are in any doubt as to whether their methods are compliant. Ultimately, it could prevent a hefty fine from the Information Commissioner’s Office.”

You should also consider individuals who have registered with the Email Preference Service (eMPS), which requires organisations that are members of the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) to purge their contact lists of eMPS-registered addresses when sending unsolicited email.


Email marketing tips

  • Personal touch: the personal touch is important when using email marketing. Bulk emails tend to have low read-rates as their content will not be as relevant to the end user. Always tailor the heading, message and content to the audience
  • Be easily identified: send all emails from a reputable, brand name email address. ISPs can employ quite harsh spam filters so you want to do all you can to ensure you look legit. You should also make sure the domain you use is configured to enable authentication
  • Quality over quantity: Highly targeted campaigns to fewer recipients are always better than sending out thousands of bulk emails to a non-receptive audience
  • Never use bulk data: using email addresses you have bought will most likely lead to high bounce rates and perhaps spam complaints. Your email domain may also become known for sending spam. Using bulk data may also be illegal if the original compilers did not receive consent from the email address owners to receive marketing collateral.