Email Marketing Campaigns: How to Drive Positive Results

Recent research from eMarketer estimates that there will be 248.2 million U.S. email users this year. That’s 76% of the American population. So if you’re not including email marketing as part of your customer acquisition strategy, you’re leaving money on the table.
Email continues to be a great medium for branding and driving traffic, whether to your website or a physical location. But success comes with understanding what works and what doesn’t work in email campaigns. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, but there are best practices for email strategy in general, as well as industry or niche-specific best practices. It’s important to understand these in order to maximize your ROI.

List quality and source

The quality of your email list can vary greatly, and along with it, the results of your campaigns. Email addresses gathered on your website (also known as your prospecting list) are the gold standard, because these users have self-identified as interested in your products or services.

There are three main ways to build a solid prospecting list these days: opt-ins via your website, finding a respected partner to run a third-party email campaign for you, or investing in a lead gen program. Let’s take a closer look at each:

  1. Build your own list — A list created via your website is a warm list. Those opting in are already familiar with your brand and are inviting you into their inbox, thereby agreeing to a relationship with you. They are already engaging with your brand and looking to go deeper. Very often, we’re asked, “Why can’t I just buy an email list?” Be extremely wary of lists available for purchase. The quality is poor at best, the data is not CAN-SPAM compliant, and you run the risk of being labeled a spammer because none of these recipients have opted into your communications.
  2. Third-party email marketing — In this type of email marketing, consumers have opted in to receive information, offers and promotions. So you get the reach of a proven, targeted list without having to worry about spamming anyone. For best results, select your sourcing/data provider carefully. Factors to look for include a strong industry reputation, clean deliverable data, deep targeting, and the ability to match back files for attribution. In third-party email marketing, you’re “renting” a list of email addresses for a certain number of uses. Anyone who responds to your campaign can be added to your prospecting list for future communications. Once they sign up on your site, you own that name. A quick note about CAN-SPAM if you’re not familiar. Enacted in 2003, CAN-SPAM legislation spells out the requirements for sending commercial messages via email. If you’re sending email for business, you — or your data partner — need to know the rules for complying or risk significant financial penalties.
  3. Lead gen campaign — These types of campaigns drive traffic to a landing page on your website via programmatic advertising on targeted sites, including blogs and social media. Prospects respond to an ad, visit your site and complete a form for more information. You pay only for new leads that fill out the form, so lead gen is a cost-effective way to add fresh names to your prospecting list in a short period of time. As with third-party email marketing, anyone who opts in by filling out your lead gen form can be added to your prospecting list.

Understanding your buyer’s unique journey

In addition to knowing the source of your list, it’s important to know your industry, your particular audience in that industry, and how they buy. Are they typically impulse buyers or methodical researchers? What steps do they take to move from one stage of interest to the next? More importantly, what information will get them to move closer to buying? This knowledge should inform your email campaign design and the “cadence” or timing of your communications.

For example, more complex or expensive products will require longer sales cycles, which means sending multiple emails over the course of a few weeks to a few months to build interest. If you send an aggressive “buy now” message too early in the sales process, you might scare them off.

You also need to understand your audience’s frequency preference. In some industries, you can email daily; for others, that frequency would cause mass unsubscribes and flag you as a spammer. People guard their inboxes carefully, so it’s important not to overstay your welcome.

Finally, keep in mind that not all verticals are well-suited for email or lead generation. For example, high-end or lesser-known brands may do better with SEM or targeted programmatic campaigns. There is no one universal solution for all. If you’re not sure what’s right for you, talk with a reputable digital marketing professional. You can ask them to give you recommendations based on your budget and goals.

Best practices for better outcomes

How can you drive the results you need from your next (or first) email marketing campaign? Consider these industry best practices when designing your campaign:

  • The right reach and frequency — Response to an email campaign builds over time. So don’t get discouraged and stop short of success. A minimum of three emails are required for a third-party email campaign or it’s a waste of your budget. Increasingly, more touch points are a necessity before a prospect becomes a buyer. In terms of reach, 50,000 is considered a small test, and may not deliver accurate results. So be sure you’re emailing to at least 100,000 names.
  • Clean creative with strong calls to action — A confused mind doesn’t take action. Your emails should feature clean design, consistent branding and strong calls to action. What next step(s) do you want the buyer to take? Make sure your design and content clearly guides them in the right direction.
  • Optimized landing page — Campaigns should drive traffic to optimized landing pages. Once a subscriber clicks through, they receive a focused, relevant message rather than being simply dropped on your home page. Landing pages should have tracking in place to be able to gather visitor activity and measure campaign results. If you’re not sure how to set up campaign tracking, get advice from the pros. Don’t launch a campaign you can’t measure — it’s a waste of time and money.
  • Mobile-friendly design — In most market segments today, people open emails in a mobile environment. So if your message isn’t mobile-friendly you’ve lost an opportunity. Email and landing page designs should be responsive, meaning that they look good on any size device or screen. To ensure success, test your campaign on a smartphone or tablet to identify any potential issues. With close to 70% of emails viewed on a mobile device (depending on your target audience), you can place an offer in someone’s hand at exactly the right time.

Turning digital traffic into store traffic

If you have retail locations, ask your data provider about using geo-targeting in your email campaigns to drive traffic to your stores. For example, you can identify prospects within a 15-mile radius each store, and send them an offer for in-store redemption. This tactic is useful for supporting grand openings of new locations and increasing attendance at in-store events. Although your primary objective in these campaigns is to drive traffic to retail, don’t miss the opportunity to sell online as well by making the offer available to shoppers who prefer to shop on your website.

Converting casual visitors into enthusiastic buyers

Well-designed email campaigns can engage visitors and help move them into a relationship with you, as well as convert them into buyers. Today’s technology offers excellent tagging and tracking capabilities. This allows you to design campaigns that draw a subscriber into an acquisition funnel, and offer them appropriate content for each action they take until they become a buyer.

But email does have its limitations. Even the best list can go cold without consistent, relevant communication over an extended period. So if you use your house data, consult with a list professional to see how you might clean it up up or augment it to increase your chances for success. One suggestion might be to run a reactivation campaign to energize the list before presenting specific offers.

Before implementing an email initiative, run a sample test to get a sense of campaign performance. As marketers, we often know our audience and have good intuition about what will work, but our audience is quick to tell us by their actions. Many providers offer built-in split testing. This allows you to compare and contrast how two subject lines perform, and run the full campaign using the best one. Armed with your sample test results, you can tweak and refine your campaign, feeling confident that you are running a well-optimized campaign that will deliver the intended results.

With a thought-out strategy,a well-designed email marketing campaign, and the right digital marketing partner to guide you through the process, some of those 248.2 million U.S. email users will soon have a new name. You’ll be calling them your customers.