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How to Choose an Email Marketing Strategy

Updated on February 15, 2019
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Heidi Thorne is an author and business speaker with over 25 years of experience in sales, marketing, advertising, and public relations.


Email still reigns supreme as the most effective and cost-effective method to reach customers and prospects for a business. But using it properly can be challenging. Learn how to choose an email marketing strategy with these tips.

What is Email Marketing?

Email marketing is both similar to and distinctly different from traditional direct mail. Like physical postal direct mail, email marketing and promotional messages are sent to targeted populations. But they differ in the following ways:

The Mailing List

With traditional postal direct mail, marketers would compile or purchase a mailing list of potential buyers, based on a variety of demographic factors, such as ZIP code, household income or age.

Today, email lists can be purchased the same way as for postal lists. However, that is not usually the first choice either due to expense or concerns about non-compliance with CAN-SPAM regulations. More commonly, an email list is usually comprised of:

  • Current or former customers
  • People who have opted in to receive email from an organization
  • People who have expressed interest in the organization or its offerings

As one might expect, this severely limits the size of any email mailing list. On the other hand, the recipients are a warm audience, meaning that they are familiar with the organization and have demonstrated some level of interest.

Opting Out

Stopping postal direct mailings is quite a process! A person usually must register with the Direct Marketing Association's Do Not Mail list or other registry services. While that can help, with the overabundance of mailers out there, it's unlikely to stop everything coming to an address.

For email, every marketing message must contain an opt out option to comply with the CAN-SPAM Act. As well, the marketer must promptly remove the person's email from the list upon request. In addition to officially opting out, email recipients can automatically direct messages from certain addresses to their junk or bulk mail folders so that they never make it to the inbox. Then there's the chance that certain ISPs (Internet Service Providers) may interpret a message as junk and bounce or delete it. All of these email barriers present significant challenges to marketers.

Keeping it Clean

For postal direct mail, marketers use National Change of Address (NCOA) software to make sure they have a clean list that only mails to accurate postal addresses.

For email, email marketing systems will usually have reports for marketers on those addresses that have been bounced by an ISP or opted out. Most systems will automatically discontinue sending emails to those addresses.

Building an Email Marketing Strategy

In his book, Book Yourself Solid, author Michael Port suggests that one of the ways that businesses (even those that don't like sales and marketing!) can help build sales by pursuing a "Keeping in Touch" strategy. To keep in touch, businesses can send cards and, of course, email.

The key is to keep in touch on a consistent basis. This is where most email marketing campaigns fail. Early results can be small, making it tempting to quit. But as with any advertising or marketing program, repetition yields results. Measurable results can take several weeks, months or even years of consistent emailing.

How Often Should a Marketing Email be Broadcast?

While it depends on the content (discussed below), emailing more than a couple times a week usually begins to annoy recipients, causing them to opt out. Once a month or, at the very least, once a quarter is at the minimum end of the email frequency spectrum.

When Should a Marketing Email be Sent?

Again, the content of the email will determine the best time of day, week, month or year to broadcast.

To determine the best time to email, often split A/B testing is done to test different days, times and frequencies. One half of the list receives the message at one time and the other half receives it at another, then results are compared to determine optimal timing.

10 Content Ideas for Email Marketing

Once an organization is convinced that email is the best way to reach customers, prospects and other interested parties, it must decide what to broadcast. Email can be an effective way to pursue a content marketing strategy.

But what should be sent? Here are 10 types of content that can be winners:

  1. Newsletters. While paper versions still have a place in many markets, these days it is more likely that newsletters, whether for customers or in-house personnel, will be distributed via email. It is cheaper and more environmentally friendly.
  2. Sales Promotions. Instead of sending out coupons, special promotions and discounts can be sent via email. Like e-newsletters, emailing saves money and is greener since coupons are only printed if and when a recipient wishes to redeem them OR they are redeemed online with promo codes. Send at the beginning and just prior to expiration of the promotion period to maximize response. Always make an offer for a limited time to save money on the cost of the promotion and to more easily measure its performance.
  3. Blog Posts. Some email marketing systems allow for an automatic broadcast of new blog posts to subscribers.
  4. Event Invitations. Some email marketing systems not only allow announcements about upcoming events, but can handle the event registration process, too.
  5. Holiday Greetings. Though nothing can replace physical holiday cards for best customers, for those customers and colleagues who have limited commitment or purchasing levels, a holiday greeting via email can send wishes for mere pennies.
  6. Survey Invitations. Since email recipients are a warm audience, getting feedback from them on a variety of issues from products to customer service can help businesses correct problems or create new offerings. Some systems have built-in survey functions.
  7. Press Releases. Send press releases to both customers and editors to get the word out on newsworthy happenings.
  8. Changes in Policies, Pricing or Procedures. Use for both internal and external communications.
  9. Renewals. For products and services that are purchased on a subscription basis, email reminders about renewals.
  10. Brand Loyalty Programs. Put brand loyal customers on a V.I.P. list to receive exclusive offers and content.

The Most Important Part of the Email

The most important part of any email marketing broadcast is the subject line. It is the "headline" of the message which can either encourage or discourage recipients to open the email.

The book Tested Advertising Methods by John Caples is a great guide for writing headlines.

Measuring Email Marketing Effectiveness

Using an email marketing system makes measuring campaign effectiveness easy since many reporting functions are built in. But there are some things marketers need to do to make reporting more useful:

  • Segment Lists. Don't dump all customers and prospects into the same list! Set up separate lists based on types of customers and prospects.
  • Split A/B Testing. As discussed earlier, split A/B testing can be done to determine the best time to send broadcasts. But it can also be used to test subject lines, offers and lists.

What Email Metrics Should be Watched?

To measure the performance of lists, subject lines, offers and A/B tests, there are two primary metrics:

  • Open Rates. If people are opening the emails, this shows how effective a subject line performs.
  • Click Rates. Since marketing emails usually include links, monitoring the click rates tells marketers how effective the content of the email is in generating action.

Because email broadcasts can be sent for mere pennies (or less!) per message, sending costs are minimal. The major cost involved in email marketing is the staff labor and time required to plan and develop the broadcasts (even if done by a small business owner who is not salaried). This should also be considered when measuring results.

Popular Email Marketing Systems

Though there are many email marketing systems and services out there, the following are very popular with small businesses:

  • Constant Contact
  • AWeber
  • Vertical Response
  • Mail Chimp

The email marketing services noted above are well respected by ISPs, helping to ensure deliverability to an email list. While they are available at a cost, it is well worth the investment.

A Big No-No for Email Marketing

Never ever try to save money by using Microsoft Outlook or a regular email account for email marketing, especially sending to a large number of people as a blind carbon copy (or bcc:). Many ISPs see the long strings of addresses and identify these messages as spam.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2013 Heidi Thorne


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