Email Marketing: Strategy, Tactics, And How To Win With This Still-Crucial Channel

I get it: email just seems … well, kind of boring when you compare it with other channels on the market. Chatbots, automation, dynamic websites, account-based marketing. And then there’s email marketing, where you try to stand out among the 100s of other unread, text-heavy annoyances in everyone’s inboxes.

But I’d argue this is still a vital bedrock to a winning strategy for any company, no matter if B2C or B2B (though I will focus more on B2B here) – and it’s often underutilized by companies both large and small.

So, let’s dive in and find you some quick wins for your email marketing strategy and execution:

Click to jump to a section:

Is email still relevant? | Who’s the audience? | Tactics | What Good Looks Like | Avoid Becoming Junk Mail | Test!

Want more? Our free email marketing course is available now in Revenue Marketing University, and you can always get a helping hand with our Experts on Demand and Managed Services options!

A Few Things to Consider Before Starting:

Make sure you have the following locked in and ready to go as a foundation prior to creating your email marketing plan. After creating thousands of email campaigns for large-scale clients, I’ve found you won’t go as far as possible without these:

  1. Customer journey map (check out our blog on customer journey mapping here to get a deep dive)
  2. Marketing automation tool (we’ve got the perfect primer for that!) – don’t worry, if you’re working in an email service provider, this blog is still relevant to you!
  3. Lead management process (Build an effective process with seven key stages)

Got those squared away? If not, you should bookmark this page and put a block on your calendar to read in a couple of months. Go read those instead and get to work =)

Is Email Marketing Still Relevant?

Absolutely! That’s the short answer.

A longer answer: One single email campaign won’t get you to where you want to be, but it’s a great start. Becoming a master at email marketing will be an incredibly effective skill to apply to your revenue marketing toolbox.

In fact, shifting from one-touch, batch and blast emails to multi-touch email nurtures can make a big revenue difference. One of our clients saw a BILLION (with a B) dollar impact in switching to segmented, multi-touch nurtures for their risk investment advisors. 

We worked with this client to create an 8-month email nurture campaign to reach their target audience. The immediate result was $1.1 billion in asset value contributed to the sales pipeline and help in closing deals representing more than $100 million of net new assets.

Now, let’s start with a simple fix that way-too-many companies (even large ones!) still do … repeat after me:

DO NOT SEND A SINGLE EMAIL TO YOUR ENTIRE DATABASE! (This is often referenced as “batch and blast”)

Batch and blast is a TERRIBLE way to do email marketing

A single email should be a tactic in a multi-channel experience to truly engage your audience. A multi-touch email campaign enriches the customer experience and gets you the results you need:

A series of three emails performs better than a single email: 90% more orders for welcome emails, 63% more for abandoned cart emails, and 75% more for customers reactivation. (Omnisend, 2018)

With this said, there are A LOT of reasons why email marketing has consistently been identified as the most profitable and measurable channel for B2B marketers for the last decade.

Email Marketing Statistics

Just in case you need to make a business case to your manager, here are a few compelling statistics to show bring to the table:

  1. Half of the world uses email. There are 3.9 billion daily email users. This number is expected to climb to 4.3 billion by 2023. (Statista, 2020)
  2. We spend a lot of time in our inbox. Consumers spend 2.5 hours a day checking email (Litmus, 2019)
  3. It’s easy to measure. 90% of content marketers say email engagement is the top metric they track to measure content performance. (Content Marketing Institute, 2020)
  4. It’s an effective channel. 47% of marketers rate email marketing as the most effective marketing channel (39% for social media, 33% for SEO, and 33% for content marketing). (Get Response, 2019)
  5. It packs one heck of an ROI. Email marketing boasts a 4200% ROI ($42 for every $1 spent). (Litmus, 2019)
  6. You can automate email for higher engagement. Automated emails average 70.5% higher open rates and 152% higher click-through rates than “business as usual” marketing messages.
  7. It’s great for lead generation. 89% of marketers use email as the primary channel for generating leads. (Mailigen, 2016)
  8. It’s cheap. Unlike other channels, with email marketing, you can send as many emails as you wish with whatever platform you have at your fingertips. In fact, 35% of marketers send their customers 3-5 emails per week. (Hubspot, 2020)
  9. Email engagement is on the rise. 78% of marketers saw an increase in email engagement over the last 12 months (Hubspot, 2020)

When you think about it, it makes total sense: It’s ingrained in company culture as a primary method of communication, and it’s still effective… so it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

Who will (and should) receive your emails?

Segmentation and personalization aren’t a trend – they’re a necessity.

Your audience is smart and expects you to send emails that only pertain to them. If you don’t, studies show 94% of consumers take care of generic emails quick:

  • 68%: Automatically delete emails
  • 54%: Unsubscribe from emails
  • 45%: Categorize emails as ‘junk’ or ‘spam’
  • 29%: Become less willing to buy your product / service
  • 13%: Visit the website less frequently
  • 10%: Never visit the website again

Take the time to segment your target audience. Not only will you minimize the above, but you will be ahead of your B2B competitors. Research conducted by Janrain and Blue shows almost all consumers (96%) have received mis-targeted information or promotions.

Go above and beyond for your prospects.

An example

Once upon a time, I was working with a client to create an email nurture targeting an IT persona.

We found out quickly that not all IT professionals need or want the same thing. System admins need the how-to, in-the-weeds details, while IT leaders need to know the business case for why their tool was effective and efficient.

Two completely different messages sent to the “same” persona. We segmented these two audiences and created two completely separate email nurtures fo them with complimentary messages that made sense for each role: 

  • System Admin Message: This HOW you find the right logs you need to solve the problem. 
  • Direct of IT: Save your team HOURS of log management research with this platform. 

Going further, we decided to personalize the emails such that each email addressed the recipient by name and mentioned their company name based on the data we had in our database.

Here are a few tips to help you create realistic targets:

  • Marketable – Can I actually identify this group of people?
  • Measurable – Can I measure how many there are?
  • Meaningful – Are there enough people in this group to make it worth my effort and resources?

Now that you have a specific target audience, how are you going to email them?

What type of emails should they receive?

Okay, let’s get into the details. The following are definitions of different tactics and campaigns that you can deploy leveraging email as a channel.

One-off tactics are most effective when embedded into a multi-part campaign. The multi-part campaigns might seem complex, but always break down your email campaigns to deploy in smaller pieces… that is the beauty of email!

My rule of thumb is: if it takes you more than 30 days from ideation to launch, you need to break down the campaign into smaller components.

One-Off Email Tactics (Put these together to create an email campaign)

Offer Email: Provides a link to register or content download the offer. Typically, this type of email contains a single call to action (CTA) and can be embedded into a nurture campaign.

Resend Offer Email: Offers the same content but is sent if the recipient did not open first email. Change your subject line and email copy.

Thank You Email: Includes a link to the asset requested from the download. Typically, this is a shorter, simpler email than the offer email. Can include an additional CTA to get the lead to interact more and thus increase lead score.

This email is considered operational in nature.

Make sure your email marketing integrates cohesively with other emails ... and each's purpose

Re-Engagement Email: An email sent to a portion of your database who has not engaged in any campaigns for a set period of time (such as six months, but yours may be different). Goal is to re-engage the lead with an enticing offer.

System Notification Email: Email sent to customers to notify of any platform down time, notification, etc… This email is considered operational in nature and primarily for any company who has a service or section of the site requiring a user login, such as a health / insurance portal or use of software.

Multi-Email Tactics:

Drip Campaign: A set of multiple offer emails sent to a targeted audience over a period of time. The cadence is set on a schedule and leads may enter and exist based on list criteria. Consider this a static email campaign.

Nurture Campaign: A set of multiple offer emails sent to a targeted audience over a period of time. The nurture campaign can change in frequency or content based on the target’s interaction with the campaign. The goal is to progress the lead to the next stage of the buying process. Consider this a dynamic email campaign.

Newsletter Email: This email is meant to be sent on a regular cadence with multiple articles, links and helpful content to an audience. The newsletters of the past are company centric, while converting newsletters are customer centric.

Welcome Campaign: A set of multiple offer emails sent to a targeted audience over a period of time. The nurture campaign can change in frequency or content based on the target’s interaction with the campaign. The goal is to progress the lead to the next stage of the buying process.

IP Warming Campaign: IP warming is the practice of gradually increasing the volume of email sent with a dedicated IP address according to a predetermined schedule. This gradual process helps to establish a reputation with inbox providers (Gmail, Yahoo, etc.) as a legitimate email sender.

There are MANY MORE email campaigns to be listed, but the above covered the basics most marketers need to round out an initial email marketing strategy.

But what do you say in these emails – and how do you make it engaging?

How does email marketing help your multi-channel marketing? This quick list can help

What does an engaging email look like?

In order to engage your audience, you’ll need a few things:

  • A stand-out subject line
  • Simple and to the point email copy
  • Engaging graphics (or not?)

Subject Lines:

It’s very easy to gloss over the majority of the marketing email that enters your inbox, so getting your marketing email to rise above the rest starts with an engaging subject line. Here are some tips to consider when creating engaging subject lines for your messages. 

Do’s:

  1. Create three to five subject line ideas per email send. Brainstorming is a good thing and will yield better options in the end.
  2. Short, concise subject lines will engage the reader (under 50 characters). Subject lines that are too long may get cut off within the preview pane of the email client.
  3. Emojis can also make your subject line stand out, but be aware of rendering across all email clients
  4. Use A/B split testing to verify which subject lines are performing best; look for the batch that had higher open rates.
  5. Make the content offer easy to identify by using brackets or colons, such as “[Webinar]” or “Webinar:”
  6. Try to stand out by using a unique number in your subject, for example: “17 Tips and Tricks for Sales and Marketing Alignment.”
  7. Create a sense of urgency with your email, without sounding like spam. Avoid using terms that would be caught by spam traps
  8. Measure engagement with email subject line tools from CoSchedule or Email Subject Line Grader

Don’ts:

  1. Don’t use your company name in the subject line. It’s a waste of real estate. The “From” address contains that information.
  2. Don’t use symbols such as exclamation points or spam words such as “free” that could get your email stopped by a spam filter.
  3. Don’t use all caps in your subject line.
  4. Don’t be deceiving in your emails by placing “Re:” and “Fwd:” in front of your subject line.
  5. Don’t use long subject lines that get lost in the email preview window.

Copy

Your email copy should stem from your customer journey mapping crossed with your persona messaging. All you are doing here is manipulating those messages as identified for your campaign for this particular channel of distribution.

For email, marketers need to provide concise, personalized content that is easily read at a glance. The following tips will help keep your content stay targeted and engaging to increase your email conversions:

  • Personalize your email. According to a research conducted by the Circle Research Group, you can improve your email’s effectiveness by 32%—it pays to personalize your email content to your reader.
  • Summarize your benefits with bullets. Highlight the benefits of your email offer within 3 or 4 bullets. These bullets will jump out to the reader within paragraphs of text.
  • Don’t forget your alt-tags. You can assume that a portion of your audience will not see your images as most email clients automatically block images from emails. By using alt-tags you can design an email that will clearly communicate your offer even when its images are turned off.
  • Keep a 60/40 ratio of text to graphics. Avoid spam filters by keeping a heavier emphasis on text instead of graphics. Time spent looking at your email includes images—make these images engaging and supportive of your email offer.

Anatomy of an engaging email

You have precious seconds to grab the attention of your reader… so every piece of your email counts! Make sure to optimize each area of your email for engagement and conversion:

From Label – Prospects should get used to seeing the same name or persona to build trust. Use a lead owner, sales manager, or company “thought leader” name. Do not use your brand name alone. One well-known example – “Ann Handley – Marketing Profs”

From Address – Use a lead owner, sales manager’s or company “thought leader’s” actual address. Do not just use a corporate blank email account such as “sales@” or “info@.“

Reply Address – The reply-to can be a generic email address if you want a single point of contact within Marketing to monitor the replies, otherwise, match the from address.

Subject Line – Subject lines should be short and clearly state the CTA value proposition. Get to the point within the first 35 characters and do not exceed 50 characters. This is the first thing most recipients will read, and it often determines if they’ll click into the email at all since they see this in th email preview.

Don’t forget to provide 3-5 subject line options for testing to find a clear winner!

Pre-Header This will be the preview text a prospect/customer will see in their inbox – it should not be the same text as your subject line as it is a second chance to capture prospect interest

CTA Header – The CTA should be less than 40 characters if in text – as in a headline or in an email banner graphic.

Greeting – Make sure to use their name in the greeting, such as “Hey Majda!” for a basic step into personalization. This has become commonplace, and so is nearly expected at this point.

Body Copy – Leverage pain points or needs of the audience and even their personal motivators right upfront – are they ego-driven? Do they want some peace and quiet? Is there a particular problem you can help with? Put them first, so the reader wants to keep reading!

Keep the body short and use bullet points to call out benefits and features of the offer. Finish strong with a sentence or two and consider adding a “contact me” link for those readers who want to speak with someone. 

Closing/Signature – Close the email with the signature line of the sender. Include the title so the recipient knows the sender’s role and relationship to them.

Right Column CTA – Provide a clear call to action with a sense of urgency such as “Download the White Paper,“ “View the Webinar,“ or “Register Today“ where applicable.

Content Thumbnail – Make sure you include a thumbnail image of the offer. This image should be no wider than 150 pixels and compressed (no large images!).

Company Footer – This can be a shortened version of your corporate PR “about us” copy. This should remain static in all emails.

Unsubscribe Footer – The unsubscribe link within the email is a requirement. Include company address and disclaimers for any promotions. This will not change from email to email and is typically system generated within your email platform.

Template Design

There are many styles of email templates available to leverage. We’ve found that whatever template you use, the following best practices help keep your design focused on conversion:

Mobile optimization

for mobile templates, simplicity is key. The more columns and content elements in the email wireframe, the more difficult it is to view an email from a mobile device. Keep in mind an optimized window of total email width is 320 to 480 pixels.

According to a study conducted by HubSpot, 35% of business professionals check email on a mobile device and 46% of all email opens occur on mobile devices. (Hubspot 2019) As with nearly everything digital, design for mobile first and desktop will fall into place!

Use this wireframe for effective emails to your databse

Two-Column Wireframe

Most outbound B2B emails have singular CTAs, as such to streamline the prospect’s behavior. These email wireframes should incorporate a 2-column design with 2/3 width attributed to a body column and 1/3 width attributed to a secondary column.

This wireframe can also be used for events as the smaller column can highlight event logistics.

Multi-column emails

Multiple columns can be used for newsletters or as a testing ground for more than one CTA. The goal of this busier email template is to give multiple offers to the prospect or customer.

I recommend leveraging this type of wire frame if you have a lot of content you are trying to test within a short period of time. Once you have established the best performing offers and content, leverage a 2-column email wireframe to serve that offer in subsequent campaigns.

Rich-Text Emails

In addition to creating wireframes with multiple columns or graphics, consider the impact of a simple text-based email.

Some verticals and roles prefer a non-HTML email. For example, I had a client whose text-based emails outperformed HTML emails by 40%. We found the main reason was the target audience was an IT vertical and prefers simple emails with little to no graphics.

Graphics in Emails:

Graphics, like every other element in an email, serves a purpose.

Use graphics sparingly in your email marketing. Too many graphics in your email could set off a spam or phishing alert. Depending on your audience, you may find that sending an all-text email is much more engaging than an html graphic email 

When using graphics, consider the following:

  • Banners in an email serve a purpose – to help guide the recipient of the email to the call to action.
  • Do not use generic imagery just to make it look “pretty”. If the imagery doesn’t articulate the value or enhance the relevance to the recipient – go without
  • If the call-to-action is to download something, provide a thumbnail of an image. If it is an event with featured speakers, provide headshots. If it is a promotion of a product, feature a picture of the product
  • Consider using imagery as a way to personalize by the recipient’s job function, industry, pain, etc.
  • Always include ALT tags! ALT tags act as a failsafe, providing the user with important information if images fail to load correctly (or the recipient has to click “download images” to show them, such as in Microsoft Outlook). ALT tags should accurately and succinctly describe the image.

How do I ensure the email makes it to the inbox?

With nearly 16% of all emails never making it to the inbox (Email Tool Tester, 2020), you need to make sure you are reviewing these eight components that contribute to good email deliverability:

  1. List quality
  2. Spam traps
  3. Blacklists and filters
  4. Complaint rate
  5. Email configuration
  6. Transmission rate, volume and frequency
  7. Content
  8. Opt-in

For a deeper dive into this topic, check out our blog on email deliverability here.

How do I test and measure email marketing performance?

Last, but certainly not least, let’s talk about metrics. When looking at email performance, you need to take into account a number of metrics and measure against your company’s benchmarks AND industry benchmarks.

Here is a table of standard metrics used in email marketing:

TermsDefinition
SentNumber of emails that actually moved through the sending mail server (your ESP). This may or may not be the same as addresses on your sending list; it depends upon how your ESP tracks what’s been sent (whether or not it includes “bad” email addresses in the final count).
DeliveredNumber of emails that were sent and not rejected by a receiving server. It’s important to understand that Delivered does not mean it landed in the recipient’s inbox.
Delivered RateNumber of delivered/ number of sent
OpensNumber of contacts who opened the email at least once
Open Ratethe number of opens / number of leads delivered
Clicksnumber of people (contacts) who click at least one link in the email.
Click RateTotal number of Clicks divided by the total number of emails delivered
Click to open ratetotal number of Clicks (per subscriber) divided by the total number of Opens.
Hard BouncedEmail was rejected because of a permanent condition, such as nonexistent email address.
Soft BouncedEmail was rejected because of a temporary condition, such as a server being down or a full inbox.
PendingEmail is still in the process of being delivered.
Clicked LinkNumber of email recipients who clicked a link in the email.
UnsubscribedNumber of email recipients who unsubscribed from your email.

Please note that the definitions of your metrics can differ from platform to platform, so please review the definition of your metrics in your ESP or Marketing Automation Platform. For example, Eloqua and Marketo have slightly differing ways of calculating metrics and that can also differ slightly from MailChimp or Constant Contact.

For metrics to matter, not only do you need to know how they are defined, you need to know what TO DO with them. A/B testing is a perfect way to take action to improve your email marketing performance, so let’s dive into that subject.

A/B Testing

A/B split testing is the comparison of two components with a single variation in a digital campaign to improve conversion rates. Companies that A/B test every email see email marketing returns that are 37% higher than those of brands that never include A/B tests. (Litmus, 2019)

Most email marketing and marketing automation tools have A/B testing capabilities built into their platforms. What you need to know is how to take action on those results. The following chart is a guideline to help you understand what actions to take based on your email metrics:

Key MetricsUnsubscribe RatesOpen RatesClick Throughs
What influences effectivenessPerceived value, recognitionThis is about trust in the sender, reputation and how interesting/relevant your subject lines areThis is about how effective your messaging, offers and channels are.
What low numbers could meanIf high numbers: Emailing too frequentlySending cold emails to unknown, un-opted in recipientsIf low numbers: From name is not optimizedSubject line is too vague or not actionable NOTE: email opens are tricky to track, due to diverse email clients and technical tracking. It’s not a great metric to base success onIf low numbers: Prospect is not active in that channelBanners were not offer drivenCopy wasn’t compelling enoughToo vagueOffer format is not appropriateEmail/banner/post layout is not optimized

For more information on how you can take action on your metrics and testing, check out our Campaign A/B Testing: A Visual Guide Infographic.

Now You’re Ready!

Audit your existing email marketing programs, whether its in something like Constant Contact or Mailchimp or a more robust marketing automation platform such as Pardot, Marketo, or Eloqua.

Really dig into why each email is currently being sent. What is its purpose, and what should the user do? Then, check your metrics to see if it’s driving the action(s) you’re hoping for.

Have questions? You can always reach out to me directly on LinkedIn, or send us any marketing question you have!

Here’s some more great content you may enjoy:

And if you want to have an expert on call to help with your email marketing, check out Experts on Demand!

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