Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat. – Sun Tzu
When it comes to email marketing, the tendency of many businesses is to zero in on the details and turn it into a conversation about tactics.
Many feel that a good email marketing strategy hinges on:
- Sending lots of promotional emails
- Campaign analysis (Measuring open rates, CTR & ROI)
- Campaign optimization (A/B testing subject lines and calls to action)
What is rarely discussed is what’s beneath the surface….
Before we start trying to optimize a campaign and improve it’s ROI with various tactics, we must ensure we have a great email marketing strategy in place.
We’ve sent millions of emails. Helped hundreds of fast-growing companies in multiple industries, create email marketing strategies that have helped them grow customer lifetime value regardless of where they were before.
We’ve learned a lot and now we want to share our learnings.
Whether you’re a new business looking to get started with email marketing, or you’ve already got a robust email program, this post will help you pull more revenue from your email marketing by showing you how to refine your strategy and complement it with the right tactics.
As you’ll see a lot goes into building a successful email program. Depending on where you’re currently at, you may need to focus more on one phase than another. Start wherever is best for you…
Table of Contents:
- Build an Email Marketing Dream Team
- What the Right Email Marketing Software Will Do for You
- Email Deliverability: Actually Getting Your Emails Into the Inbox
- Create a High Converting Email Program
- Email Analytics: How to Measure and Improve What Matters
- Email Optimization: How to Consistently Improve Campaign Results
- How to Start Building (or Rebuilding) Your Email Marketing Strategy
Build an Email Marketing Dream Team
Before you can perfect your email marketing strategy and implement it effectively, you need to have people with the right expertise to optimize each aspect of your email program.
A high quality email program is a product of high quality components. It’s best to have access to an expert for each facet of email marketing. These experts are going to be the all-stars for getting the most from your email marketing efforts:
Your email marketing strategist is the one who understands the economics of your business, and how your email marketing program relates to your company’s situation. A good strategist knows your customers, and how to apply lifecycle email marketing so that your emails target the right customers at the right times throughout the customer lifecycle.
Emails targeted at different stages of the customer lifecycle
A savvy strategist will create an email program that:
- Targets the biggest revenue generating opportunities by implementing the highest ROI email campaigns first.
- Uses triggered lifecycle emails to contact customers at each stage of the customer lifecycle to maximize customer lifetime value.
- Employs offers only in situations where they are most profitable.
- Markets aggressively without annoying customers with excessive contact.
The strategist will also help you manage the members of your email marketing team who are more focused on the components of a good email.
The Email Designer
Your email designer should have a solid understanding of how email design differs from website design. An email designer understands how visual design, personalized content, and typography affect email conversions.
The right email designer will create emails that present your products and brand in a way that:
- Is optimized for consumption on multiple devices (desktops, mobiles, and tablets).
- Works within the design constraints of modern email clients (Gmail, Outlook, etc).
- Ultimately converts the reader into a sale.
Your emails will look better and get better responses with a good email designer on your team.
The Front-End Developer
Email developers get into the nitty gritty of email code and use code differently than web developers. An email front-end developer knows how to optimize code for the rendering engines of email clients. Email development is much trickier than the standards for modern web pages.
There are no rendering standards across email clients. An email that looks great in Apple Mail may look awful in Outlook. To overcome this email developers need a good base of working knowledge in email development since the workarounds for many email issues are what some might call email development “hacks”.
Your email developer should know what’s possible within the email inbox and be willing to push those boundaries whenever there’s an opportunity.
Quality Assurance (QA) Team
The thing that hurts your conversions the most is bugs. Customers simply don’t interact with emails that don’t work.
If your emails don’t display correctly on different devices and apps, or if your CTA buttons don’t work, your email design and copy won’t persuade customers to click through to your store. End of story.
This means that detail-obsessed QA is essential. To get an idea of how thorough your QA team should be, our QA team uses tools like Litmus to preview email campaigns on more than 50 apps and devices. We vet our email campaigns on:
- Apple Mail 8
- Outlook 2013
- Outlook 2016
- iPhone 5S
- iPhone 6 Plus
- iPad Air
- iPad Pro
- Android 4.4
There’s a whole lot more, but you can see how many devices and apps there are, and how vital it is to understand which devices your emails are being opened on, and having a solid QA process in place to ensure your emails work well on those devices and apps.
You don’t just want words in your email campaigns, you want words that sell.
Having a copywriter in place can help you increase the open rates, click-through rates and conversion rates of your campaigns.
Writing copy for emails is different than writing copy for pages on your website. The attention span is different and the way people read your emails are different. Think about how someone will read an email in a cafe waiting for their coffee versus reading an email at home on their desktop computer.
That’s why having a copywriter who knows how to write copy for emails can greatly benefit your campaign results.
Hiring an Email Marketing Dream Team Can Get Expensive…
That’s why our customers use Rejoiner instead.
Email Marketing Software: What the Right ESP Will Do for You
As you evaluate different email marketing software, the most important thing is to make sure that your ESP can run an automated email program that sends emails that are triggered by customer behavior.
The right ESP will be able to trigger emails based on these key events:
- A customer made their first purchase: Send a welcome series to introduce them to your brand and improve the probability of future purchases.
Here’s one of the welcome emails the Rejoiner team created for Peak Design to help them increase their repeat purchase probability…
You can see the entire campaign and the results we helped Peak Design achieve here.
- A customer added a product(s) to their cart but didn’t complete the purchase. This should trigger an abandoned cart email.
Here’s one of the emails the Rejoiner team created for Liftopia, helping them recover $714,000 in the process…
You can read the full Liftopia case study here.
- A customer browsed a certain product or product category several times but didn’t make a purchase. Your ESP should give you the ability to send a browse abandonment email when this happens.
- When a customer hasn’t made a purchase in a while, a win-back email should be triggered.
- Customers who have purchased a lot of product from you or who’ve made high-dollar purchases should be part of a VIP email campaign to make them feel special.
Then, to evaluate and improve your triggered emails your ESP should:
- Recommend other products to customers based on their browsing and buying behaviors. We’ve found that this recommendation algorithm produces the best results.
- Send emails based on customer demographics, purchase data, purchase history, and buying behaviors. A more precisely targeted email campaign is a higher converting email campaign.
- Give you the ability to A/B test email campaigns to maximize conversion rates and revenue per email.
- Collect and analyze data—page view, product view, add to cart, and purchase behavior—from various ecommerce platforms.
If your software doesn’t meet all of these requirements, you should consider switching to a new ESP that has the capability to get the most email marketing revenue for you.
Looking for the Right Email Marketing Software and a Successful Strategy to Grow Your Revenue?
Rejoiner is your answer.
After picking the right software, it’s important to build the right ‘pipeline’ to get your emails delivered….
Email Deliverability: Actually Getting Your Emails Into the Inbox
Email deliverability is a pretty big deal. No matter how good your emails are they don’t do any good if your customer never sees them.
Given the importance of email deliverability it’s a bit startling that 78% of companies have email deliverability issues.
To frame this in terms of revenue, email deliverability problems cost European email marketers 53.2 million euros per day, and 19.4 billion euros per year-that’s 23.8 billion per year in U.S. dollars.
The numbers might be pretty grim, but it’s entirely possible to improve your email deliverability by following some best practices that ensure your emails get delivered.
Email Authentication Standards To Improve Email Deliverability
- Sender Policy Framework (SPF) Email Authentication. Without this authentication standard, an ISP cannot verify the identity of the sender; therefore, the ISP may determine that your emails are spam and block them or send them to the spam folder.
Here are the basics of how SPF works:
- DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) authentication. This authentication method ensures that your emails haven’t been modified while in transit. Without this authentication standard in place, your emails cannot be verified as secure, and thus may get blocked or dumped in the spam folder by the ISP.
This is how DKIM authentication checks your emails:
- Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance (DMARC). DMARC authentication is designed to protect users from fraudulent emails. Without this authentication standard, your emails are likely to appear fraudulent to an ISP and get blocked.
- Reverse DNS Lookup. Reverse DNS lookup is similar to SPF in that it’s designed to verify the identity of the sender using the IP address. Although it’s similar to SPF, some ISPs use Reverse DNS lookup authentication standards, and some use SPF. So it’s important that you have both standards setup.
- The HELO Command is used in conjunction with other authentication methods, most often SPF, and is a common cause of authentication failures. If you have authentication issues, check to make sure your HELO identifier is valid.
Build Good IP and Domain Reputation
To ensure that they are only delivering emails that users want, email providers like Gmail, Microsoft, and Yahoo! measure the reputation of the IP addresses and domains that send out emails.
Both your domain reputation and your IP reputation are based on how your customers respond to your emails. High spam complaint rates and unsubscribe rates will lower your reputation score.
Additionally, low user engagement metrics like open rate and click-through rate will damage your domain and IP reputations.
Lastly, low quality emails will also adversely impact your sender reputation. Email quality is based on proper authentication standards, good formatting and well optimized HTML code.
Ultimately, your IP and domain reputations shouldn’t be in danger if you:
- Have built an email marketing team that know these best practices
- Use an ESP that employs triggered email campaigns, which helps you send relevant content
- Setup the listed authentication standards
- Follow these 5 steps…
5 Steps to Improve Your Email Deliverability:
- Setup SPF, DKIM, DMARC, and Reverse DNS Lookup records with your ISP.
- Warmup all your new marketing email IP addresses.
- Send quality emails with content that is relevant to your subscribers and uses good HTML optimization.
- Monitor key email marketing metrics to determine whether or not you’re hitting subscriber inboxes, and—if not—identify what deliverability issues you’re having.
- Periodically cull your email list of unresponsive inboxes.
Would You Like Your Email Deliverability Handled by a Team of Experts?
Rejoiner can make it a hands-free process for you.
Email Marketing Campaign Strategy: How to Create a High Converting Campaign
According to the DMA’s 2015 email report, revenue from blanket email newsletters that have the same message for all recipients decreased significantly from 23% to 14%.
Email newsletters (aka ‘batch and blast’ emails) that indiscriminately contact all of your subscribers, doesn’t fly in 2018. In most cases it’s only a matter of time before customers start tuning you out. So what’s better?
Lifecycle emails are a form of data driven marketing that takes your customers’ relationships with your company into account to produce more personalized and effective email communication.
Think of the customer lifecycle as a journey. Each customer goes on an adventure of discovering your brand, evaluating your product or products, buying from you, using the stuff they bought, and then, ideally, purchasing again and telling their friends.
Not every customer on your email list is at the same stage of the customer lifecycle. This means that you need to send emails with the right timing and content to address the customer’s experience and emotional state, based on where they are in the customer lifecycle.
Your email marketing strategist should have a good working knowledge of how to build an email program based on the customer lifecycle curve (of your business).
The customer lifecycle curve looks like this, note the best types of email for each stage:
To create a successful campaign strategy, you must gain an understanding of what your customer lifecycle looks like, and what the time between purchases are.
If your customers purchase once a month, your strategy is going to be a lot different to a company with customers that only make a purchase once a year.
Once you know this information, you’ll be able to segment your email list and create a campaign strategy that effectively communicates with your customers.
Here’s how that would work:
- Send a welcome series to new customers who have just made their first purchase to establish a positive relationship, introduce them to your brand and familiarizing them with their purchase.
- Potential customers who have looked at a specific product or category of products multiple times but haven’t made a purchase should be contacted with a browse abandonment campaign.
- Prospects who have added an item or items to their online cart but haven’t completed the purchase should get an abandoned cart email.
- Reward customers who have bought a lot of product from you, or who made high value purchases from you, with a VIP campaign to create that feeling of exclusivity.
- If you sell products that need to be renewed periodically (every 30 days, 1 year, etc.), build a consistent revenue stream with replenishment emails.
- If you’re not selling renewable products, target customers who are beginning to withdraw from your brand and haven’t made a purchase in a while with a win-back offer.
If you really want to send email newsletters, here’s how to do it best:
- Write multiple, content driven, newsletters. Each segment of your email list should get a separate newsletter that hones in on their specific needs and interests.
- To hone in on the perfect prospect that should receive your newsletter, use the eCommerce Email Segmentation Matrix as a guide…
Once we have implemented a campaign strategy that we believe effectively communicates with customers at different stages of the customer lifecycle; then it’s important to start measuring how effective our strategy really is.
Email Analytics: How to Measure and Improve What Matters
It’s a common mistake to jump straight into A/B testing subject lines, CTA copy or different offers without knowing which campaigns are experiencing problems or what we should focus on improving.
Before you improve what matters, you must measure what matters.
You can do this by collecting the right data to understand how well your campaigns are performing and what needs further attention. Collecting and analyzing certain email marketing metrics is the best way to identify issues and focus your optimization efforts (which we’ll cover in the next section).
If you start optimizing before analyzing, your email program optimization will be haphazard at best.
There are a number of email marketing metrics you could look at. This great resource by Chad White from Litmus breaks down all the important metrics at three different levels:
With so many metrics it can be easy to get lost.
That’s why it’s critical to know which metrics to look at and when to look at them. Tracking a lot of metrics is only useful if you know which problem each metric can help you solve.
That’s why it’s important to have a methodical process for using your key metrics. Without a clear process in place, you’ll have a huge number of metrics to look at without any clear next step for improving your campaigns.
Before you even get into optimization, develop a consistent process for using the metrics available to you. It could be a set of questions that you run through for every campaign:
- Are my emails getting delivered? For this, the metrics related to deliverability—bounce rate, delivery rate, inbox placement rate, etc.—are the most indicative metrics.
- Once you’ve fixed your deliverability issues, narrow the focus and ask if your emails are getting opened.
- Here, some campaign level metrics will do the trick. For example, open rate (how many of your delivered emails get opened) will help you evaluate whether or not you’re using poor subject lines or if the timing of your emails is off.
- Next you could look at click rate and click to open rate (the number of delivered emails that get clicked, and the number of emails that get clicked expressed as a percentage of emails that got opened) to help you determine if your emails are getting opened but no one is clicking on them. If this is the case, then there might be an issue with the content of your emails or how people are signing up for your email list and what their expectations are.
- This ties into your unsubscribe rate and list churn rate (the number of subscribers that leave your list in any given time period). Are people opening emails, then unsubscribing? There may be a mismatch with that you’re telling them before sign up and the first email they’re receiving.
- Last, look at your subscriber lifetime value. If it hasn’t grown in months, ask some more questions. Are you sending the wrong emails? Do you have the wrong campaign strategy in place? Could you be testing more?
Having a set of questions or a checklist like this to lean on makes it easier to know which metrics to use and when. This will help you find out where the issues are faster and more efficiently.
If you think you’ve found a problem, you create a hypothesis and test your assumptions. This is where good testing methods and control groups come into play.
Email Attribution: How to Measure the True Impact of Email
Email attribution is simply understanding if your email program caused a customer to make a purchase or if it was something else. This understanding is essential to the process of determining which emails and offers are most profitable and which ones just give away margin.
Many businesses use Google Analytics for attribution. Unfortunately, Google’s attribution models are great for measuring email’s contribution to overall marketing efforts but are not so great for determining if customers who are exposed to emails are more valuable than customers who aren’t.
So, if Google Analytics won’t do the trick, what’s the best way to measure the true impact of your email program?…
Holdout Testing: A Simple Test to Measure The True Profitability of Your Email Campaigns
Holdout testing is about establishing two groups of customers, sending an email campaign to one group, and “holding out” (i.e. not sending) a campaign to the other group. The group of customers that receives no email campaign is the holdout group (control group).
Evaluate the buying behavior of both groups for 90 days. At the end of the test, compare the value of each group using the ‘revenue per customer’ metric (see a holdout test example in this post).
The data from a holdout test will help you answer two questions:
- How much revenue lift is generated by this email campaign?
- Would these customers have purchased even if we didn’t market to them?
The results of a real holdout test for one of our customers produced the following results:
The example above shows that by sending this campaign the company is generating almost 2X the amount of revenue versus not sending it at all (so these guys need to keep sending this campaign!).
Holdout testing should be a regular part of your email marketing strategy to determine if certain email offers and promotions are necessary.
In summary: email marketing metrics, attribution and holdout testing are your guides to help you:
- Discover where the issues in your email marketing campaigns are. Metrics provide data that is critical to the diagnostic process.
- Identify your most profitable email subscribers (i.e. VIP customers) so you can implement email campaigns that grow the value of these customers.
- Focus your email optimization efforts so that you don’t randomly test different things on gut feel.
This brings us to the last stage of building a great email marketing strategy: optimization.
Email Optimization: How to Consistently Improve Campaign Results
Email optimization involves using your email analytics as a guide when you’re trying to improve your email program’s results.
Blindly following a blog post with a list of tactics about changing different words in your subject line and testing different CTA copy to try and improve your click-through rates is not a process.
Email optimization is about creating a methodical process that uncovers areas you should focus on improving. If you can find the right place to focus and consistently test high impact areas, you’re going to see more impactful results.
In order to see ‘impactful results’ we recommend focusing on improving one key metric across all of your campaigns: revenue per email (RPE).
Consistently improving your RPE means that you’re making every customer that comes through your email program that much more valuable.
The best way to improve your RPE is with consistent A/B testing.
How to Perform Email A/B Testing
A/B testing, also called split testing, isolates a certain component of your emails—like the subject line or call to action—and tests two versions of it so you can discover and use the most effective iteration.
What to Test?
This section will not be a 10 point checklist of things to test. However, what we’ll show you is a few specific insights we’ve gained after looking at thousands of different email campaigns that have been sent by our 350+ customers in varying industries:
Insight 1: Timing Emails Perfectly
When you send your emails is much more important than you might give it credit for.
Triggered email campaigns are sent based on customer behavior. But these emails need to reach the customer when they’re the most receptive.
For example, a cart abandonment email is designed to remind a customer of their interest in an item they had previously added to their cart. Our data showed that one day after abandonment customers become significantly less receptive to abandoned cart reminders as you can see in the graph below…
Based on this data, sending this campaign one hour post abandonment produced the highest conversion rate–just under 16%.
Timing obviously matters, especially in this specific campaign. What you could do is look at campaigns with multiple emails being sent and ask yourself:
- Are we sending this campaign at the right time?
- Does the data show that this could be a timing issue?
Insight 2: Using Preheaders for More Opens
One of the top priorities for any email marketer is to achieve the highest open rates possible. If an email never gets opened, then all the internals of the email—the copy, the call to action, the layout—accomplish nothing. That hurts.
If you’re looking to improve open rates, preheaders can help, which in turn makes the rest of the email elements more effective–since the customer actually sees them.
There are multiple ways to utilize the preheader of your emails. Since most email clients simply snatch the first line or two of the email and display it as a preheader you can write your copy so that it creates an enticing preheader that encourages the customer to open the email.
With Rejoiner you have the ability to update your pre-header text within the software without having to mess with code…
Alternatively, you can have your email designer and front end developer write a bit of code that will display the preheader the way you’d like.
Either way, a starting A/B test for preheaders would be sending two versions of the same email:
- One that uses a custom preheader and…
- One that doesn’t
Based on our experience, you’ll likely see a rise in open rates if you have a piece of compelling copy in the preheader section.
In a test we ran for a customer the variant (with improved preheaders) saw a 7.96% lift in open rates compared to the campaign that ran without preheaders.
Insight 3: Subject Lines That Increase Conversions Rates (Not Just Open Rates)
Since open rates are critical, optimizing your subject lines is a no-brainer.
However, there is one additional thing to consider when evaluating the effectiveness of your subject lines: conversion rates.
Measuring open rates will definitely give you a solid idea of how good a subject line is, but measuring conversion rates will tell you how well your subject line resonates with your customers, and whether or not your subject line gives a first impression that prepares a customer to make a purchase.
As you can see from this data, higher open rates don’t always mean higher conversion rates:
The unreliable relationship between open rates and conversion rates is why we stress using RPE as your guide for optimizing your email program.
Always ensure that each email generates more revenue and not just more opens.
Insight 4: The Perfect Email Length & Tone
In general we’ve found that simpler emails with fewer links to click bring in more conversions. Emails with a single call to action and no footer navigation links have performed better than more complex emails in A/B tests.
In a test we ran for Legion Athletics we removed the footer navigation (which had 12 additional links) to make it easier for the reader to make a decision.
This test provided a 19.48% lift in conversions.
Insight 5: Scarcity–Give Them One Last Chance to Act
Scarcity is an effective tactic to get people to take action now, rather than later (or never).
Additionally, we found that simple emails (Insight 4) combined with an added element of scarcity produced a huge lift in conversions; 63.46% with a confidence level of 99.76% to be exact:
There are a ton of A/B tests you could design using just these elements. However, the most important thing is that you adhere to a strict process for how and what you test rather than going at it with an ad-hoc mentality.
Want to Increase Your ROI from Email?
Rejoiner can systematically optimize your campaigns for less than hiring a new employee.
Insight 6: How to Increase Click-Through Rates (Just Prime Your Customers)
One of the best ways to improve your CTR is to build your emails so that everything in the email points to the call to action.
Not literally, but in terms of the way the email looks and flows. This is a psychological tactic called priming and it’s proven to be very effective.
In email, priming is creating an association between the body of your email and the CTA so that when the customer finishes reading the email, clicking the CTA makes sense.
Here are a few quick examples of ways to prime your customers to click through on your emails:
1–Use a CTA that relates to your product, and support it with copy that thematically ties in to your CTA. Note the repetition of “man” and “men” in the copy of this email from Manpacks, and the active CTA that features, you guessed it, the word “man.”
2–Present your central offer in the same color as your CTA button to associate your call to action with the benefit of the offer. Have a look at the text color of the main offer and CTA button in this email:
3–Prime your customer to click your CTA with the language in your copy. Check out how this JCrew ad repeats “gift card” and includes “two” in the copy to prime the customer for option 2, the preferred CTA:
Think up good ways to construct emails that lead your customer to the CTA. Use A/B testing to determine which ways works best for each email.
Another email optimization tactic involves…
Keeping Your Email Code Clean
As we talked about earlier, well optimized email code improves deliverability. However, in addition to clean code it’s also important to keep your email code well organized and thoroughly edited.
Check your email code to ensure that you’re avoiding these pitfalls:
- Spell check your code to make sure that you don’t accidentally include words that make spam filters think you’re talking about common spam email topics.
- Check your code comments for words that might make spam filters think you’re talking about something inappropriate, i.e. “sexy.”
- Keep your emails under 102kb to prevent clipping in Gmail, and ensure that you’re not negatively impacting your sending rate by straining your ESP’s servers.
- Make sure your font colors aren’t similar to your background colors. This makes it look like you’re hiding content in your emails, a common spam tactic.
- Only link to complete domain names, not IP addresses.
This article has more advice on how to keep your code clean. Your email designer and front end developer should be on top of this.
Code Your Emails to Be Responsive
Mobile devices have become so popular that 55% of emails are opened on mobile devices. Despite the undeniable relationship between mobile devices and email only 11% of email campaigns use responsive design.
This problem might be more serious than it appears on the surface since 70% of readers will delete an email that isn’t optimized for mobile.
This means that failing to code your emails to be responsive and render on all devices has a huge impact on almost every email marketing metric that matters. So make sure that you’re coding your emails to work on all devices.
3 Bonus Tips To Improve Your Email Marketing Results
1–A larger email list can help you accelerate the growth of your company. That’s why capturing more email addresses is so important. This post on email capture best practices reveals two methods that you could use:
The two-step opt in popup has its place and is useful for businesses that prioritize on-site conversions.
However, for companies employing a highly segmented and high performing email program based on lifecycle emails the three-step opt in popup will generate the high-quality leads you need.
2–Use email append to identify more eligible customers for your abandoned cart email campaign. Email append enables your website to identify which browsing sessions are from customers who’ve clicked through on your emails, so that you can identify a larger pool of customers to send triggered emails to.
Here’s a visual showing how it works…
3–Reduce buying friction with session regeneration. Session regeneration enables your abandoned cart emails to take the customer back to a cart that’s populated with the items they added to the cart before they abandoned it.
This reduces the number of clicks it takes for the customer to complete their purchase, and therefore helps you recover more abandoned cart sales.
How to Start Building (or Rebuilding) Your Email Marketing Strategy Plan of Action
There are thousands of different things you can do with your email program. If you get overwhelmed, this checklist will help point you in the right direction to success:
- Build your email dream team first.
- Choose the right ESP.
- Follow these email deliverability best practices from the get go:
- Reverse DNS Lookup
- Valid HELO Command
- Implement the right campaign strategy for your business, based on your customer lifecycle.
- Measure what’s important.
- Use your key metrics to guide your email optimization efforts and increase RPE.
What to Do Now
If you’d like the Rejoiner team to help create your email marketing strategy, schedule a free strategy session