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How to Write an Effective Marketing Email

Despite the growth and prominence of mobile messengers and chat apps, email remains an integral part of daily online life. In 2020, the number of global email users amounted to 4 billion and is set to grow to 4.6 billion users by 2025.

Email continues to be the main driver of customer retention and acquisition for small and mid-size businesses. According to a study by Emarsys, 81% of SMBs still rely on email as their primary customer acquisition channel, and 80% for retention. Findings from this study show that email marketing tops the chart in comparison to organic search, paid search and social media when it comes to customer acquisition and retention. This isn’t to say that other marketing channels aren’t important for your business, but when it comes to direct impact and reach, email marketing appears to be ruling the roost.

So, it’s no surprise to learn that businesses are upping their email game. By the end of 2023, email marketing revenue is estimated to reach almost $11 billion. Boasting an impressive return on investment (ROI) – $36 for every $1 spent! – email marketing is not only effective, but one of the most cost-effective forms of digital marketing available to businesses. (Affordable and effective – music to an entrepreneur’s ears, right?)

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves – simply sending an email doesn’t guarantee success. There are a number of techniques you can use to help ensure your marketing emails reach inboxes, get opened, engage your recipients and encourage click throughs. And the best part? They’re pretty quick and easy to implement.

1. Know your customer profile/s

If you don’t know who you’re writing for, you won’t know who your emails need to resonate with, and the tone you should write them in. For example, how old are they? Where do they live? What do they do for a living? What are their interests, priorities? What do they value? What do they need? What time of day / day of the week are they most likely to check their emails? Knowing these details will not only assist your content, but will help with email segmentation to encourage engagement and keep ROI high.

2. Build your own lists

Before you start planning your email content, you need to make sure that the people you’re sending it to have opted in to receiving marketing emails from you. If they haven’t, they’re unlikely to engage with you and flag your emails as spam (plus, it’s illegal!). Make sure to build your own email list, as consent is critical to success. Buying ready-made email lists is a big no-no. Not only do you not want to be branded a ‘spammer’, but your business’s reputation will be damaged. Building and managing an engaged email list is one of the most critical factors when it comes to successful email marketing.

It’s important to note here, that if you’re running a business, chances are you’re also dealing with personal information. Whether that’s details about customers, suppliers, or your own staff, it’s important to follow certain data protection regulations. As a business owner, you’re legally obliged to adhere to these regulations, so it’s important to sharpen up your knowledge in areas such as the Data Protection Act (DPA) and the UK General Data Protection Regulation (UK GDPR). A useful guide on UK GDPR can be found here. See also Data Protection and your Business.

3. Set a goal

To create a great marketing email, it’s not enough to know who you’re creating it for. You also have to know why you’re creating it. Set one clear goal per email e.g. get a review from a new customer, reclaim an abandoned basket, book a demo of a new product, claim a 15% off code. This will inform your email’s call to action.

It’s also useful to have big-picture goals for your email marketing strategy e.g. drive conversions, brand building, etc. Keep this in mind when deciding on your individual email goals and how they contribute to these wider business goals.

4. Less is more

Email marketing has come a long way over the years. Businesses can now go for a full bells and whistles approach as they take advantage of snazzy new functionality features. But there’s a strong case for stripping away the distractions and focusing on one simple message. A well-written plain text email can perform just as well as a highly designed one (if not better).

It’s hard to be simple, as there’s so much you want to communicate – and you don’t want to leave anything out. But if you want your email to be effective, you need to break it down to the basics. As Leonardo da Vinci once said “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”. Simplifying your email requires skill, but once you’ve mastered it – the results will soon follow.

You can also apply this tip to the frequency of your emails. There’s a fine line between being helpful and informative, and simply being annoying (!). Think about the companies that email you – how much is too much? As a small business, a good approach is to send emails twice a month, then increase to once a week if you can provide great content and new offers. If you have regular weekly offers – sending emails a couple of times a week could prove fruitful, however the proof is in the results. Monitor your data results closely to work out the right frequency of emails per week / month for your target audience.

5. Use actionable language

People are busy, inboxes get crowded. Encourage opens by using actionable language in your subject line to clarify what you’re wanting recipients to do with the information in your email e.g. ‘download xxxx’, ‘reserve xxxx’.

To inspire action, keep in mind these three triggers that cause people to open emails:

  • Self interest – offer something that’s going to help them e.g. ‘handpicked items just for you.’
  • Emotional interest – make readers feel special e.g. ‘You’re exclusively invited…’
  • Relational interest – encourage readers to like, trust and want to hear from you. E.g. build connections to your brand and mission by highlighting your sustainability commitments.

You can also apply actionable language to the calls to action in your email copy, which should be easily identifiable e.g ‘view deal’ or ‘shop now’. If you’re sending an HTML email, you can make this call to action stand out via a button.

6. Avoid competing calls to action

 On the subject of calls to action – stick to one. Offering multiple instructions can overwhelm, confuse and reduce click throughs.

 7. Steer clear of spam filters

Certain words within your subject line and email body copy can trigger spam filters, such as ‘earn extra cash’ or ‘increase sales’. Misleading subject lines will also make recipients more likely to flag your emails as spam. Make sure to sidestep spam trigger words by crafting engaging and descriptive subject lines.

Don’t forget to ask your subscribers to add your email address to their approved contact list. This will help them see your emails, while sending a trust signal to their email service provider, helping to reduce your email spam score further. Additionally, provide an ‘unsubscribe’ link within your email body copy to give recipients the option to opt-out of emails. If you don’t provide this, your emails could go to spam.

Keeping things simple also helps to avoid spam filters. An email with a skewed ratio of image/text can get flagged as spam, while some users don’t allow images in emails to load, which again will trigger these filters.

8. Personalise where possible

To get the best results, add a personal touch in the subject line or message to increase your open rate and provide a better customer experience. Segmented and targeted emails perform better by ensuring the most relevant content is delivered to your subscribers on an individual basis. Personalisation in both the subject line and body copy can encourage click throughs, which also reduces the chance of future emails reaching junk folders due to low open or read rates. A personalised approach will also reduce your unsubscribe rates.

Spend time segmenting your lists so you know which types of emails to send to which segments on your list. E.g. If you’re an insurance provider, you might have lists such as ‘homeowner’, ‘pet owner’, ‘car owner’. With some deeper analysis, you could also create lists of subscribers that haven’t purchased in a while, and email them an exclusive discount code. You could also reward your most loyal and engaged customers with an exclusive reward. (A customer relationship management – CRM – system can help with this – but that’s another article.)

Another efficient way to ensure your subscribers get the best content for them is to ask for their interests and preferences when subscribing to your email list at the very beginning, which immediately adds them to the most relevant email segment. (Should they decide to unsubscribe at any point, there are also options you can give them to refine what they receive further – from selecting certain topics to the frequency in which they receive your emails.

9. Align your subject line with your email copy

Nobody likes to feel misled. Ensure your email content delivers on what your subject line promises. If readers feel cheated to open an email, they can report your email as spam (and you definitely won’t be encouraging any click throughs-!).

10. Keep it brief

If you include every piece of information within your email copy, not only are you setting the recipient up for an overwhelming open, but you give them no reason to click through to your website. Consider your email copy as the breadcrumbs to your website. Offer the crucial information, but link through to the relevant landing page that offers the finer detail.

11. Be mindful of mobile

Another vital reason to keep your email content brief and simple is that a large number of users open their email on mobile devices. Nearly 1.7 billion users check emails on their mobile phones, which has outnumbered the data for desktop, which is around 0.9 billion users.

Every time you send an email campaign, you should expect a large amount of recipients to open it on a mobile device. A clear and uncluttered email will not only be easier to read on a smaller screen, but the information will be much easier to digest, especially if the recipient’s on-the-go.

Make sure to use email templates to prevent problems with alignment and proportions. All leading email service providers (ESPs) offer them. Many provide a preview option that shows what your email will look like on both a desktop and a mobile device. You can also send test emails to a specific inbox if you’d like to check how it looks from your own devices before pressing go.

12. Split test

For a higher ROI, consider split testing two different versions of your email to two different sample groups of your email list. The email that receives the most opens and clicks will be sent out to the rest of your subscribers.

13. Prioritise clarity

Clarity wins every time. While it’s tempting to inject some whimsical wit, the most important factor is to be 100% clear. Never sacrifice clarity for entertainment value.

14. Establish relevance

Remind your recipient of your relationship – how do you know each other? Why are you getting in touch? What are the benefits to the recipient?

15. Talk about benefits, not features

Think from a customer perspective. While it’s great that a product or service offers certain features, what difference does it actually make to their day-to-day life? What problem does it solve? What is the value? Focus your content on customer benefits, they can always read details of features on your website if they want further information.

16.Write in the second person

Writing your emails in the second person, using pronouns such as ‘you’, ‘your’ and ‘yours’ directs the content away from you as a business, and towards the recipient. While you can still use ‘we’ as a brand, keep it to a minimum. A nice balance of second person language focuses on the customer – a subtle tactic that helps you stay value-orientated.

 17. Let your brand’s personality shine through

Communicating with customers and prospects via email can be a great way to showcase your brand’s personality and build meaningful relationships with the people on your email list. Don’t be shy to add some personality, but don’t let it detract from the goal of your email.

18. Keep learning

Email marketing platforms can provide an incredible amount of insight when it comes to assessing the results of your email campaigns. Make sure to track your results and refine your email content accordingly.

When starting a business, resources can be limited – so you want to be sure you’re not wasting precious time and money in your marketing efforts. With its high ROI and cost effectiveness, your business can’t afford to ignore email marketing to drive growth – it would be like going fishing without a rod.

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Jenny Lambert

Jenny Lambert is a freelance writer, interiors blogger and Etsy shop owner with extensive experience working in marketing, digital and publishing roles.

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