There are a staggering 3.9 billion email users worldwide, meaning there are 124% more email users than Facebook and Instagram users combined. Yep, you read that right. Email is the most commonly used digital channel, even today.
Marketing emails are 3 times more likely to drive conversions than social media posts. Email marketing also has a massive ROI—as much as $44 for every $1 (or a 4,400% return on investment). Hands down, email marketing is the most cost-effective way to promote products and services, communicate with customers, and achieve marketing goals.
The best news? These benefits are just as accessible to small businesses as the mega-brands. No matter your budget, email marketing can provide major benefits for your small business.
What are you waiting for? We’ve created a step-by-step guide and collected our top 7 success strategies to jump-start your email marketing strategy today. Keep reading for our free list of 90 call-to-action ideas that will boost your email marketing results.
Step-By-Step Guide: Creating Your First Email Marketing Campaign
Generally, email marketing campaigns are quick and easy to set up. Sometimes this leads new marketers to underestimate the time needed to set up a truly effective, profitable campaign. Don’t make this mistake!
The only way to ensure you’re not missing any of the amazing opportunities email marketing provides is by thoughtfully crafting email campaign strategies. Not sure where to start? Follow our step-by-step guide to creating your first email marketing campaign.
- Choose Your Objectives
We love email marketing because it’s easy to get started. Unlike some other digital marketing tactics, there’s no jargon to learn or acronyms to decode.
It’s tempting to open your email marketing program and start sending emails right away. However, we recommend taking some time to consider how email campaigns can support your larger business and marketing goals.
Email marketing is extremely versatile, allowing you to achieve nearly any objective. Popular email marketing objectives include:
- Drive website traffic
- Sell products/services
- Raise brand awareness
- Communicate with customers
- Shorten the sales cycle
- Drive foot traffic to brick & mortar locations
- Increase event attendance
- Collect referrals
- …and more
Whatever your objective, defining it ahead of time makes it much easier to determine what to send and who to send it to. This clarity helps you create targeted, high-performing email campaigns that are sure to achieve your marketing goals.
- Define Your Audience
Next, clearly define your audience. Understanding your demographic is an essential task for any small business, so hopefully you already have a strong foundation of audience research.
Clearly defining your audience and audience segments is essential to email personalization, which is one of the most powerful email marketing techniques available today.
If you’re not confident in your audience data, start gathering as much information as possible on your ideal customer (demographics, pain points, family life, interests, etcetera).
- Choose the Right Email Marketing Tool
In order to conduct email marketing properly, you’ll need some kind of email marketing tool or service. Fortunately, there are hundreds of options to choose from. With such variety, you’ll want to invest some time into researching the best fit.
We know affordability is crucial for small business owners, but also consider the long-term— the right email marketing tools can dramatically increase your ROI. As you shift through your options, pay attention to these important features:
- Mobile-optimized templates: Nowadays, over 60% of all emails are opened and read on mobile devices. Most emails that aren’t mobile optimized end up in the trash folder. Partner with a service that provides high-quality, mobile-optimized templates to make sure your emails always look great.
- Intuitive interface: Your email marketing tools should be straightforward and intuitive. Unlike other digital marketing channels, email marketing really shouldn’t require technical knowledge or the ability to code. More specifically, you’ll want easily editable templates, straightforward automation sequence building, and easy segmentation tools. Invest in a program that saves you time and does the heavy-lifting for you.
- Personalization tools: As you’ll read later, personalization is one of the most powerful advantages of email marketing. Make sure you’re working with a tool that allows you to personalize messages with names, interests, and more.
- Maximum deliverability: There’s no point in crafting the perfect email marketing campaign just to end up in the spam folder. Good email marketing programs guarantee high rates of deliverability, ensuring your content arrives in the correct inboxes. Check out reviews and ask for recommendations to be confident your program can really deliver… literally.
- Email analytics and tracking: Most email marketing tools will provide complimentary analytics. These are essential for refining your strategy over the long-term to maximize your financial ROI, so don’t conduct email marketing without them.
- A/B Testing abilities: Running A/B tests is the best way to increase campaign efficiency and learn what copy, CTAs, and visuals your audience responds to best. We highly recommend working with an email marketing system that makes A/B testing a breeze, so you can collect these crucial results.
- Third-party integrations: If you’re already using other digital marketing tools, like a CRM (customer relationship manager), Google Analytics, or WordPress, examine how well different email services work with them. Integrating with third-party tools can provide much a fuller picture of campaign impacts.
- Build an Email List
Now that you’ve created goals and defined your audience, you’re ready to start building your email list.
If you already have emails from existing customers, your first step will be to import known contacts into your chosen email marketing tool. After that, it’s important to continuously grow your email list to gain new leads and customers.
Import Known Contacts
First, check that you have enough permission to email these customers. In the U.S., we must follow the 2002 CAN-SPAM act, which stipulates that businesses must have either implied permission or express permission
Before emailing your known contacts, ask yourself if you have implied permission. Implied permission refers to the people who have given you their email for some other business purpose, but haven’t specifically requested marketing emails from you. It expires after some time (usually about 2 years).
As long as you’ve come by the contacts ethically, you probably have implied consent. Most commonly, this will include current and past customers, leads who have filled out a “contact us” form, and people that gave their email to access gated contact.
Create Compelling Sign-Up Forms
Whether you have a huge email database or are starting from scratch, it’s important to continuously collect more email subscribers. This can be done in a variety of ways, but online signup forms are the most popular by far.
Your signup forms should also be plentiful and simple. Make it as easy as possible for people to opt-in to your email campaigns by placing signup forms throughout your website. There are many types of email sign-up forms, and they can easily be created in most email marketing tools.
In the example above, Tasty has created a bright, visually appealing sign-up form directly in the footer of their homepage. The copy speaks directly to readers and clearly outlines the benefits of subscribing—who doesn’t want to be a better cook?
When collecting new email subscribers, be sure you’re also collecting express permission. It’s given when someone explicitly gives consent to receive marketing emails from you. Recipients must manually opt-in to your emails by giving one of the following: oral consent, written consent, clicking a checkbox on a form, or a double opt-in (confirming their sign-up via an emailed link).
Signup forms allow you to offer valuable incentives in exchange for customers’ email. There’s a lot of competition for customer emails, so your offer really needs to be unique and offer high value.
Common examples of email signup incentives include:
- Lead magnets- (long form content like e-books, templates, in-depth guides, and more).
- Email “courses” – educational email series
- Discounts / special offers
- Exclusive content
- Free trial memberships
There’s more competition than ever for people’s email addresses, and Americans are less and less likely to share their email with companies (down to 54% in 2019, a 7% decrease from the year before). The good news is that once you’ve earned their email, unsubscribe rates are fairly low; the average unsubscribe rate was just 0.1% in 2019 (Campaign Monitor).
Your copywriting and CTA need to really shine in your sign-up forms. Establish credibility, clearly communicate what kind of emails they can expect to receive from you, and make readers excited for your email content.
And when it comes to email sign-up incentives, you get what you give. Put some time and thought into what you can realistically give that your audience will love.
- Email Segmentation & Groups
Next, you’ll want to examine your audience. If you haven’t begun collecting emails yet, this step will require some educated guesswork until you’ve built a sizable contact list.
Email list segmentation lets marketers create targeted emails, which consistently drive increased revenue—by as much as 76%. Segmented campaigns are incredibly efficient, earning 14.3% more opens and 64.8% more clicks than non-segmented campaigns (NeilPatel.com).
Segmenting involves identifying smaller groups of people within your contact list. There’s no one-size-fits all segmentation strategy, and each business has their own methods of creating segments and groups. Here’s just a few ideas for email marketing segmentation, but the possibilities are truly endless.
- Geographic location segmentation helps promote store-specific information and targeting specific markets, while ignoring subscribers outside of your location.
- Demographic segmentation allows you to customize messaging to subscribers by individual or combined demographic factors, such as age and gender.
- Customer/buyer personas are documents including demographic and psychographic information on your ideal customer. Each customer persona should explain what makes this group tick and how your business solves their problems. Segmenting by customer personas allows you to address each customer persona’s unique needs and offer the most relevant content.
- Industry/market segmentation helps you personalize emails and content to industry interests.
- Past activity segmentation can be extremely powerful. This allows you to group subscribers by past click-through, purchase, or engagement activities.
- Buying frequency segmentation allows you to reward frequent shoppers and encourage others to buy more frequently.
- Content topic groups contacts by the products, services, or topics they’re most interested in so you can deliver relevant email content.
- Shopping cart abandonment is one of the most popular and profitable forms of email segmentation. The Baymard Institute recently found that an average of 69.6% online shopping carts are abandoned before purchase. E-commerce sites that run abandoned cart email campaigns consistently see increased sales.
You can manually segment subscribers based on their provided data, or you can customize sign-up forms to automatically segment subscribers based on the content they’re engaging with.
Even if you’re just starting to build your email list, it’s never too early to start thinking about audience segmentation.
Now it’s time to dig into the email campaign itself. As you start to craft your campaign and messaging, remember to keep your audience and objectives in mind.
Select Campaign Type
Next, you need to decide what type of email campaign you’d like to send your subscribers. The objectives you identified in step 1 should guide this decision. We’ve briefly listed a few common types of email marketing campaigns below but the options are limitless, so feel free to get creative.
Quick disclaimer—since newsletters typically run indefinitely, they’re not exactly a “campaign.” However, they’re one of the best uses of email marketing and a great asset for all small businesses.
At their best, newsletters function as positive communication touch points with your subscribers. By providing valuable resources, updates, and information, you can build loyalty, increase brand awareness, and stay top-of-mind.
- Abandoned Cart Series
Again, these aren’t strictly a “campaign” since there’s no end date on these, but they’re too profitable to ignore. This automated campaign encourages subscribers to complete their “abandoned” online purchase. These often have higher open rates and conversions, and e-commerce sites always see a healthy ROI on these.
- Welcome Email Series
Introduce your business to new subscribers with this automated email series. Sending a few (staggered) emails just after opt-in builds familiarity, educates them on your brand, and helps you learn more about your new subscriber.
- Standard Promotional Campaign
Chances are, you’re receiving several (or several dozen) of these emails a week. These promote some kind of product, service, or special deal in order to drive sales.
- Seasonal Campaign
Holidays and special events are great opportunities for a new email marketing campaign. These campaigns create a build-up before the holiday/event and typically follow up afterwards.
- Social Campaign
The social campaign cross-promotes your social media channels to your email list. These email marketing campaigns push to drive social engagement, often through social media competitions or events.
When creating your first campaign, make sure it’s achievable and relevant to your campaign objective.
Select an Email Frequency
There’s no golden rule for email frequency, but we all know what happens when businesses send too many emails. Avoid the dreaded unsubscribe by setting an appropriate sending frequency.
For example, The Hustle sends a daily newsletter to its subscribers, collecting the day’s top headlines across business, culture, and technology. Since they’re focused on delivering the latest news, a daily rhythm works perfectly here.
On the other hand, Moz’s newsletters highlight their “top 10” helpful articles from across the web. Since SEO and digital marketing trends move slower than the daily news cycle, the semi-monthly frequency is a perfect fit.
Generally, once a month is the minimum frequency that keeps readers engaged, but it’s important to start with a rhythm that you’re comfortable with.
Don’t forget to plan ahead. You may want to send more emails around holidays, special events, or product releases. Avoid confusing people with dramatic shifts in frequency—it’s not always a pleasant surprise to start getting daily emails from a company you only used to hear from monthly.
Create a Schedule
Setting an email schedule can help you consistently create and send your marketing emails. Small businesses probably benefit most from the structure of a schedule; with lots to juggle on a daily basis, email marketing is probably one of the first tasks to drop off the radar. Ideally, you can integrate your email marketing campaign schedule into your content calendar so this important marketing activity isn’t neglected.
- Write & Design Objective-Achieving Emails
Finally, you’re ready to craft your email marketing content.
Remember: your emails are competing against all of the other brands in subscribers’ inboxes, plus work and/or personal correspondence. Write strong, clear copy with clear CTAs. Make sure any long-form content you link to is high-quality.
If you’re craving inspiration, dig through your own email and really examine those marketing emails you’ve received. Which ones did you open? Why? What messaging do you find persuasive?
Don’t underestimate the importance of a strong call to action. They’re one of the most important elements to a successful campaign. If people don’t understand what’s being asked of them and why it’s beneficial for them, it doesn’t matter how convincing your other copy and visuals were.
Learn more about what makes a powerful CTA and be inspired to write your own by downloading our list of 90 compelling call-to-action ideas for email marketing.
- Test Emails Across Clients and Devices
After you’ve designed your campaign, resist the temptation to smash that “send” button. First, test your campaigns to ensure they are beautiful and functional across different email clients and devices.
Your subscribers probably won’t tell you if they’re having troubles accessing your content, so proactivity is key. Most email marketing tools offer testing functions that allow you to preview your campaigns. Make any adjustments before pressing send.
Finally, send a test email to yourself and a few others. Check content load time, readability, functionality, and make sure that the CTA is easily actionable and smoothly brings readers to the correct landing page.
- Sending Campaign and Analyzing Results
You’ve set objectives, defined and segmented your audience, conducted strategic planning, and then created and tested your first email marketing campaign. You’re finally ready to press that “send” button.
Actually sending your email campaign might be the easiest part of the processes, but don’t stop there!
Nearly any email marketing service will provide analytics, and they’re all important to understanding the success of your campaign. All that data can be overwhelming, so it can be helpful to focus on a few key metrics at the beginning.
We recommend monitoring the following, at the very least:
- Open rate: Percentage of all subscribers that opened your campaign.
- Click through rate: Out of the people who opened your email, what percent then clicked on a link (typically your CTA).
- Unsubscribe rate: The percentage of unsubscribes through a particular campaign.
- Shares: Number of people who forwarded your campaign to a friend (using a forward button in the email) or shared it to social networks.
We hope you now feel confident and ready to begin your email marketing journey. Keep reading for our top 7 email marketing success strategies to take your campaign to the next level.
Top 7 Email Marketing Strategies
- Format for Skim-ability & Easy Reading
Considering the fact that the average adult’s attention span is just 8 seconds, you should assume that most people are skimming your campaigns for points of interest.
So, although there’s no official character limits, you should still refrain from long, text-heavy emails. Keep your objective the primary focus of each email. Your emails should be structured to capture attention, draw readers in, and quickly guide them to the call-to-action.
The inverted pyramid structure can help you focus your email marketing copy and format by leading with the most important information--typically in your headline. Supporting text and graphics then lead readers to a call-to-action button.
Finally, make sure your CTA button is large, easy to read, and eye-catching. CTA buttons are a major advantage of email marketing, so make the most of them.
- Use Images and Graphics to Strengthen Engagement
In fact, people can remember up to 65% of visual information after three days, compared to only 10-20% of written or spoken information. More importantly, people follow visual instructions much better (323% better, in fact) than written instructions.
Visuals communicate information faster and easier than text. Using as many visuals as possible in your email marketing campaigns will help readers consume and remember your content.
- Make It Personal
Marketing emails including a customer’s first name in the subject have a 29% higher open rate and 41% higher click-through rates.
Why? It’s simple. Personalization is the quickest way to convince subscribers that the email is relevant to them and their interests. It doesn’t have to stop at names, either—effective personalization methods include location, time, behavior, interests, and more.
Thanks to marketing automation, segmented lists, and modern email marketing tools, personalization has never been easier or more profitable to implement.
- Reduce Friction to Increase Conversions
In marketing, friction refers to anything that negatively impacts a customer’s journey through the marketing funnel. In email marketing, this could be a slow-loading email, broken links, or too-small CTA buttons.
If you want subscribers to click through from your email campaigns, you’ve got to make it as easy as possible. Email subscribers might be a warm audience, but they still have obstacles you must overcome before they’ll take action. Make sure your emails aren’t another barrier to be overcome.
- Employ a Content Mix to Foster Relationships
No one wants to be flooded with non-stop promotional emails. People opt in to marketing emails for their own benefit, so create email campaigns that provide interest, entertainment, and/or resources your audience will enjoy.
Many marketers define a specific content mix that determines the ratio of promotional to valuable content. In the infographic below, you can see a brief explanation of the three most common content mixes.
In summary, consistently share valuable content to keep interest and engagement high. Whenever possible, craft promotional messages that still deliver a degree of value.
Maintaining this balance is the challenge of every digital marketer, but it’s essential to fruitful email marketing campaigns.
- Keep it On Brand
Your email subscribers aren’t consuming your email marketing campaign in a vacuum. They’ve likely visited your website or social media to opt-in to your email campaigns in the first place.
Since they’ve already encountered your brand, it’s important that your email campaigns meet their expectations. This includes aligning your content with the same colors, fonts, tone, and branding used across all other touchpoints.
Maintaining a consistent brand experience across email and other digital channels to conveys credibility, fosters brand loyalty, and prevents your emails from being labeled as spam.
- Unlock Valuable Insights with A/B Testing
A/B testing (aka split testing) lets marketers compare different email marketing elements to measure how well subscribers respond. Email tests provide rich, actionable insights on your audience and email campaigns. Consider testing different email elements, such as:
- Subject lines
- Pre-header (first line of text in your email, seen in the preview pane of email browsers)
- Delivery day and/or time
- Call to action (copy, color, design, etc.)
In email marketing optimization, A/B testing is the absolute best way to learn what works well and what doesn’t. Start simple, and make sure to collect and use the data you find to make each campaign stronger than the last.
Email marketing is an extremely powerful digital marketing tool, with a larger reach and return on investment than any other digital channel. In addition to its high ROI, its ease of use and versatility make email marketing a no-brainer for any small business.
Follow our guide and apply these email marketing strategies, and you’ll be able to create a campaign that captures attention, provides value, and drives conversions.
Once you’ve started your email campaign, let us know—we can’t wait to see it in our inbox!