Successful e-mail campaigns

E-mail marketing has become essential for companies. Thanks to the internet, you can reach your customers quickly and cost-effectively, and inform them about new products and campaigns. E-mail campaigns should therefore be considered when planning a comprehensive marketing strategy.

But: online marketing is in full swing, which means customers are being constantly bombarded with advertising e-mails. If your e-mails don’t stand out from the rest, they will quickly find themselves in the recipient’s spam folder. To avoid this, marketers should stick to the basic rules for e-mailing customers.

What are e-mail campaigns?

When an e-mail campaign is planned, e-mails are sent to numerous (potential) customers at random intervals. The company’s aim is to get in touch with interested parties and customers through these advertising campaigns, creating or strengthening customer relationships.

In e-mail marketing, there are different kinds of advertising mails: welcome e-mails after completing registration, regular newsletters with an extensive overview of products or company news, and also one-time e-mails about new products or campaigns.

Tip

Don’t confuse e-mail campaigns with traditional newsletters. While newsletters are sent to customers at regular intervals, e.g. once a week, advertising e-mails are sent irregularly as part of e-mail campaigns. E-mail campaigns are particularly useful for companies who want to present their new products or draw attention to their latest promotions.

10 steps to a successful e-mail campaign

Are you planning a winter discount sale? Or have you developed a new product that you want to introduce to your customers as soon as possible? The internet offers numerous possibilities. However, your competition could also be using them, which means that your customers are being confronted with advertising from all sides. This is why it’s necessary to stand out from the crowd. Successful e-mail campaigns require a structured approach in addition to preparation and creativity. Even miniscule errors, such as an incorrect link or a spammy-sounding subject line, may cause the recipient to send the e-mail straight to the recycle bin before even reading it. For this reason, we explain the most important steps for successful e-mail campaigns.

Step 1: Create the basis for successful e-mail campaigns with detailed planning

With a well-thought out concept, you already have the foundation for a successful e-mail campaign. The planning phase, in this respect, is the most important part of project development, since it affects all subsequent steps. In the first step, you should write down all questions relevant to your e-mail campaign and set your goals. Answering the following questions can make planning much easier:

  • Which goals do I want to achieve with my project? (Customer loyalty, customer acquisition, increase in sales, etc.)
  • Which success measures are realistic? (How many new customers can be expected at best, which sales increases are possible, etc.?)
  • Who is my target group? (Private people, business customers, adolescents)
  • Are there necessary pre-requisites for sending e-mails (a well-structured address database, legal requirements)
  • What incentives can I use to attract customers? (discounts, free shipping, welcome gifts, etc.)
  • What should the content look like for the specific target group?
  • Which design is best suited to my e-mail campaign?
  • When should I send my e-mails?
  • What optimisation measures can I take to increase the chance of success?

Depending on the project, you should consider other criteria in your planning. When it comes to discount campaigns, for example, you should calculate the costs to avoid surprises. The more accurate and detailed your concept is, the better you can put your plan into action.

Step 2: Identify the target group

Identifying the target group plays a part as early on as in the planning stages. However, it is so important for an e-mail campaign’s success that it deserves separate analysis. All steps from here on out have to be coordinated with the specific target group – when you create content as well as choose the design. So, you should definitely think about whom you want to target with your project plans

A simple example: If you plan to offer a discount on women’s clothing, you should limit the target group to female customers and address them appropriately. If, for example, you send out an advertising e-mail to men explaining the disadvantages of wearing an ill-fitting bra, this comes across as a joke and not serious at all. If your garments are more suited to teens, you should limit your e-mails to the younger audience. Only by targeting the needs, interests, and desires of the target group, will you be successful in e-mail marketing.

Gather information about your target group

The easiest way to gain information about your target group is to evaluate your own customer data. With suitable data sets, you can quickly determine what kinds of products are purchased by which gender and age group.

By carrying out web analyses, you can also gain valuable information about your target group. To do this, you can use special analysis tools such as Google Analytics. The social web also provides valuable information on the needs and interests of your target group. Through so-called social listening – i.e. active listening on social networks – you can determine exactly what content interests your potential customers and the questions they have. After evaluating all the data, you won’t just know who your target group is, but also how best to reach them.

Tip

When collecting customer data, be sure to follow the data protection law! There are strict guidelines on which customer data you may and may not use for marketing purposes.

Buyer Personas

If you’re interested in a personalised e-mail campaign and don’t mind putting in the effort, it’s recommended to create buyer personas. This involves creating fictitious characters whose needs and interests correspond to those of potential customers in a target group. For each persona, an extensive profile is created with a fictitious name and goals depending on their life situation. Profiles like these enable you to obtain a much more comprehensive customer understanding than through a statistical target group definition. This method will help you better understand your target audience and tailor content to their needs.

The more precise you define your target group, the more personalised and successful your e-mail campaign will be. Numerous psychological studies have shown that personalised advertising is more positively received by the target audience than non-personalised advertising. If the advertising content matches the potential customer’s interests, they will feel personally addressed. The e-mail will be seen as more favourable, so there’s a higher chance that the recipient will devote attention to it.

Step 3: Design the e-mail’s content so that it is relevant to all recipients

The more relevant the content of your e-mail campaign is to recipients, the more likely it is that they will actually open and read it. However, if the content is not relevant or not appealing enough, your e-mail will quickly find its way into the recycling bin.

Two basic conditions must be met to make your e-mails relevant to the recipient: you must have defined the target group (otherwise you can’t know what is relevant to the potential customers) and you must have adapted the content to your target group.

Always keep the order in mind. You first need to define the target group of your e-mail campaign before you can deliver more tailored, relevant information to your customers.

Step 4: Create unique, personalised content that stands out

Good content is the be-all and end-all in e-mail marketing. If you aren’t able to deliver interesting and appealing content, no-one will read your e-mails. Be creative! Try to do something different than what your competition’s doing. Your goal is to stand out from the crowd. Almost all creative ideas and resources are allowed, but there are, however, some criteria that you should consider when creating your content.

What should your content deliver?

The minimum requirement for good content is that it should be relevant to the target group. It shouldn’t need to be said that texts in your e-mails should be reader-friendly and not contain any spelling or grammar errors. Ideally, your content should also be:

  • Unique – the recipient shouldn’t find any similar texts in their e-mails or on the competitor’s website
  • Entertaining and informative
  • Formulated concisely and precisely to reveal the core message
  • Adapted to the tone of the target group 
  •  Linked to your own company
  • Visually appealing – images and graphics should not distract from the actual content, but support it

It is best when your e-mails provide recipients with significant added value, which means interesting tips or information that they didn’t know before, or maybe a link for discounted products that they are interested in. This way, your e-mail will come across positively and the recipient will be more likely to make a purchase.

Dos and don’ts regarding the subject line

As far as content creation is concerned, the subject line needs extra consideration, since it’s the first thing the recipient reads and what makes them decide whether to open the e-mail or not. If the subject line is boring or too long, it will probably be deleted without being read. It only takes the recipient a few seconds to decide whether to click on the e-mail to see its contents, which is why the subject line should never be underestimated. It needs to draw the reader in and make them curious, but at the same time hint at what the content’s about. Keep it short and precise, since the subject line should not include more than 50 characters. Incorrect grammar and spelling errors are taboo!

Tip

Here are a few examples of how subject lines for e-mail campaigns could look like:

Winter sale – 50 % discount on everything!

Treat yourself! ✈ 20 % off your dream holiday ✈

£10 voucher! Finally buy yourself some socks! ☺

Dos: Like the examples show, the subject line should be kept short and sweet. If you want to include more information, you can use the pre-header in addition to the subject line. This offers you a few more lines underneath the subject line, which give your readers a preview of the main content. However, the subject line gives the first impression and influences the success of your e-mailing campaign. Make sure you include the most important keywords: if you’re planning a discount or voucher giveaway, this is where you should make it clear. Customers are usually much more interested when they can save money. The call-to-action (e.g. buy now) has a positive effect on buying behaviour.

Announcing discount and vouchers will get the reader’s attention. If your subject is still entertaining and fun, this increases the chance that your e-mail will be opened. Indicating a specific period such as 'only until the end of the month' is a good idea, since the urgency makes the reader act more quickly. The subject line appears even more personal when you mention the recipient’s location.

Don’ts: An unprofessional choice of words or using spammy phrases, means that you e-mails will most likely end up in the spam folder. There are some simple rules to follow to make sure this doesn’t happen. You may think of using slogans to gain the customer’s attention, but modern spam filters have been designed to recognise such word combinations. Typical spam characteristics include excessive use of insistent phrases, uppercase letters, symbols, odd gaps, the use of multiple exclamation marks, currency signs, and advertising terms.

Tip

Negative examples:

SUPER CHEAP OFFERS!

Get it now before it’s too late!!!!!!!

♥♥♥ HOT DATES for you and him ♥♥♥

£££ Do you need cash? £££

FREE offers – only for you!

FREE products forever!

Click HERE ☞☞☞

Using symbols is generally fine, but just make sure you don’t go overboard with these special characters. Keep in mind that some of the icons may not always be displayed correctly by some clients and will therefore be classified as junk mail. They can also distract from the core message. Choose a symbol that supports your main message if you do want to use one.

You should always avoid unnecessary duplication in the subject line. Do not include the sender, recipient, or company name, since all this information is already displayed separately in the sender field and also in the main body of the text. It’s therefore not necessary to mention everything again in the subject line. Besides, unnecessary repetition robs you of precious character space.

Check list: the perfect subject lines

Most important keywords first
Core message included
Length doesn’t exceed 50 characters
Discounts or vouchers with specific figures and/or expiration dates
Integrated call-to-action
Recipient’s location included
Spelling checked
Spammy phrases avoided
No repetition

Dos and don’ts when formulating the main content

If you have formulated the subject line properly, you’ve already overcome one of the hurdles for a successful e-mail campaign. The next step is to formulate your main content. Many of the rules that apply to the subject line should be adhered to here as well. When it comes to the length of the main body, there are no restrictions, but make sure to focus on your core message in the main text. Briefly summarise and structure longer sections using paragraphs. Avoid using complicated word constructions, difficult specialist terms, and foreign words. Write in your target group’s language and make sure there’s a clear text structure.

The better you tailor the content to the recipient, the more relevant it becomes to the reader. You’ve already achieved the first step of individualisation by narrowing down your target group. This means that only those who have a fundamental interest in your offer will receive your e-mail. Now you have to personalise the content and adjust it to the recipient.

Dos: In e-mail marketing, the personal form of addressing is used as much as possible. Recipients who are directly addressed in their e-mails are more likely to respond to them. Therefore, you should use the customer’s name, but whether you simply use their first name or full name, depends on their age group and social class. Companies with younger target groups often use first names since it comes across more informal. In addition, you should also address the reader personally in other parts of your e-mail campaign and use a personal greeting at the end.

There are many professional tools, specialising in personalized content, which can help you create a successful e-mail campaign. These usually offer automated personalised greetings that you can adjust using an input mask. For example, female recipients over the age of 50 are referred to as 'Dear Mrs. [surname]', and males are referred to as 'Dear Mr. [surname]'. You can, of course, simply write their first name 'Hello [first name]'. These can be easily implemented with free tools. Some fee-based variants enable you to personalise your e-mail campaign even further.

Tip

You can find great beginner tools for free or fee-based at MailChimp, GetResponse and Campaign Monitor. Just browse through their offers (this was an example of a call-to-action.)

Don’ts: Make sure that the programme also correctly implements your personalization. It would be very annoying if a female recipient was addressed with 'Dear Mr. […]' or even given the wrong name. Obviously, you can’t check the accuracy of every single e-mail, but do check the entries in the tool. You should also check your recipient list to ensure you’ve selected the correct target group. Great-grandma Ethel certainly doesn’t need a vouchers for an X-Box or a Playstation. By thoroughly checking, you can avoid mistakes like these.

Check list: the perfect content:

Personal title and greeting
Core messages in the foreground
Text length is appropriate
Clear text structure, no complicated word constructions or technical terms
Language matches the target group
Entries in the tool are correct
Recipient list is correct

Dos and don’ts regarding design

In addition to the content, design is one of the most important elements of an e-mail campaign. A good design can significantly increase the reader’s attention. Neurological examinations have shown that the human brain processes visual stimuli (e.g. images and videos) more quickly than other information. Reading and understanding a text requires more effort than simply viewing an image with the same meaning. For you as a marketer, this means that you don’t only need meaningful content, but also an appealing layout for a successful e-mailing campaign – in the ideal case with informative images. This is because images increase the reader’s attention and greatly increase the reaction potential.

Dos: Personalised images and graphics are important when it comes to the layout, so make sure your design is suited to your target group. In addition, image elements and colors must match the content. The image you use should support the core message of your project. If your e-mail campaign leaves a positive emotional impression, it increases the chance of the recipient responding to it.

Tip

If you’re providing a discount on women’s clothing, it makes sense to present part of the collection. To do this, select an image that shows models with trendy outfits. The information and the company logo should be integrated into the image. Matching content and a call-to-action shouldn’t be forgotten.

Don’ts: Don’t just choose any old layout! A badly-selected image can annoy customers or even offend them. If the reader associates your e-mail campaign with a negative experience, they will treat your e-mails with skepticism in the future or ignore them all together. Do not use too many images since they would divert the reader’s attention from the main content. It’s important to find a balance between image and text elements.

Check list: the perfect design

Personalised image elements match the target group
Core message can be recognised
Enhances positive emotions
Balanced relationship between image and text elements

Step 5: Legal protection: the double opt-in process

In the UK, you have to obtain permission from a customer before you send them an e-mail. You can achieve this by having them tick a box or by using the double opt-in process. For this procedure, the user receives a confirmation e-mail after having entered their e-mail address on your website. In this confirmation e-mail there’s a link that the user has to click on to show that they’ve consented to receiving e-mails from you. You also need to provide an opt-out option in case they stop wanting to receive news from your company.

Step 6: Send a test mail

Before you send your e-mail to the selected recipients, you should first send a test mail to yourself. By doing this, you can check how the e-mail looks and whether the links work. Keep in mind that different e-mail clients display content differently, and that it will look different on mobile devices than on desktop computers. Nowadays, most e-mails are opened on mobile devices, so take this changed user behaviour into account in e-mail marketing. If it’s possible, perform the test on different devices.

Step 7: Dispatch: check the most important information

Before you finally send your e-mails, check that all the important factors are correct. The smallest error can mean the difference between a successful and a failed e-mail campaign and whether all your efforts were in vain or not. The following points must be checked before you send the e-mails:

Correct target group

Many programmes allow you to create different recipient lists, which allow you to select specific target groups. Before you send your e-mail, check that the correct target group has been selected.

Correct sender

In addition to the subject line, the first thing the recipient sees is who the sender is. If this doesn’t appear very trustworthy, the e-mail will be deleted immediately. Make sure that the sender address is correct and that it starts with your company’s name.

Dispatch time

When you send your e-mails out plays a part in how effective they are. You can determine the day of the week as well as the time of day depending on the target group. For business customers, for example, it is best to contact them during normal business hours from Monday to Friday between 9am and 6pm. On the other hand, private customers usually respond to their e-mails in the evening. The best time to reach them is Friday evening.

Step 8: Optimise success

Once your e-mail has been sent, you can measure and optimise the success of your campaign. Many programmes contain analysis tools that help you check the success. Thanks to integrated tracking, all the key performance indicators (KPIs) for sending an e-mail are provided. These include:

  • Delivery rate (percentage of sent e-mails)
  • Bounce rate (not received e-mails)
  • Opening rate (opened e-mails)
  • Mobile rate (e-mails opened on mobile devices such as smartphones or tablets)
  • Click rate (opened links)

These metrics allow you to work out exactly how successful your e-mail campaign was. You can also use the data collected to optimise future actions.

Step 9: The reminder e-mail

There are many different reasons why advertising e-mails aren’t opened or haven’t been successful in encouraging customers to make a purchase. It doesn’t necessarily mean that your e-mail campaign wasn’t of good quality. In many cases, it is worthwhile sending out a reminder e-mail in case customers forgot to respond to the e-mail. Start again with this new e-mail and try to make it more interesting with more creative ideas. A reminder e-mail is a good way to let your customers know of any upcoming events which you already mentioned in previous e-mails i.e. an opening ceremony.

Step 10: Whitelists

Whitelists are very important in e-mail marketing. If your company is listed on an e-mail client’s whitelist, you can be sure that your e-mails won’t automatically end up in the spam folder. Being on a whitelist indicates that your company is trustworthy. Advertising e-mails from companies included on the list are sent to recipients without needing to be checked first. However, if several complaints are received about the company, or it breaches the law in some way, it will be removed from the whitelist and placed on a so-called blacklist. Companies listed here are considered extremely untrustworthy and are immediately screened by spam filters.

For companies, it is extremely beneficial to be listed on a whitelist. This is because marketers can be sure that the advertising e-mails are being sent directly to the recipient. Bear in mind that the conditions you need to fulfil to be on a whitelist vary from client to client. Avoid spam tactics and errors that make your e-mails looks untrustworthy. Making these mistakes is a surefire way to end up on a blacklist where you’ll have no chance of reaching your target group.