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How to get ahead in email marketing

February 21, 2009

In the past we’ve explored some of the don’ts of email marketing (see our article Email campaigns what NOT to do) and also expounded in detail on many areas of the email marketing process. This month we thought we’d bring all of this wisdom together in the ultimate checklist of how to run a successful marketing campaign – the Extravision Guide to How to Get Ahead in Email Marketing...

Much like the sales process itself there are many times at which an email campaign can fall on its feet - every stage of the process is important and attention must be paid at each juncture. Whether you are already running email campaigns, but suspect they could be achieving more, or are about to embark on your first email marketing venture, we hope that our ten point plan will point you in the right direction...

Build a list based on permission

It goes without saying that you cannot conduct a campaign without any email addresses. If you do not currently have an email list then the first task will be to establish one. At extravision we have found that the best way to do this is to build on an existing in-house list, something all companies will have even if the data is currently hidden away in a CRM or accounts system.

Segment & target 

Once you have built your list it should be broken down into very specific segments, which will enable you to deliver highly relevant emails. The exact segmentation will vary from business to business and from campaign to campaign, but it is a vital component of the email marketing process. Mass, generalised emails are not as successful as targeted, personalised ones. By segmenting the people on your list you will create niche groups to whom you can deliver highly relevant messages.

Be personal & personalise

Personalisation is about more than getting the recipients’ names right (although you’d be amazed at how many campaigns fail even to do this) and it’s probably the single most important ingredient in a successful campaign.

Emails should look as if they have been sent, and written, by an individual rather than a marketing department. They should address the recipient in the way that they like to be addressed and should never begin ‘Dear Valued Customer’ - unless you want them to be immediately deleted that is. Everyone likes to be treated like an individual and this is perhaps even more the case with email, which is a more direct, chatty and personal method of communication. Personalisation works, not least because it is the anti-thesis of what every legitimate email marketer strives to avoid – spam.


Personalising your email goes a long way to creating a message that is highly relevant, however it is worth making certain that the content of the message is as pertinent as possible. A good way to ensure this is to include something about your history with your customer. Achieving a high level of relevancy is best done by mining and collating all the data you have in order to build customer profiles on the back of your email lists. Any information you possess can usually be turned into a communication that seeks to build on a relationship, rather than one that is cold and anonymous.

The offer and call to action

Whatever the objective of your email campaign, whether it’s to improve brand recognition, increase sales leads or drive traffic to your website, the offer and subsequent call to action needs to hit the right note if the campaign is to succeed. Not only that but it needs to be made at the very beginning of the email; few people take time over reading the content of their emails so brevity and clarity are the order of the day. What the actual offer is will of course depend on your business and your target customer. Whatever it is, it should be something that your customer actually wants and preferably something that addresses a ‘need’. If in doubt, test. If still in doubt send out different offers and monitor the response.

Whatever the offer, the call to action must be simple to understand and easy to follow. Most will require a click to a landing page on a website – if so, make sure that this page itself is live (sounds obvious but...) and that there are no more than 3 steps that need to be taken before the action is complete. The call to action must be email friendly, so anything other than a click through in our experience probably won’t work.

Subject Line

No matter how well targeted your list and how relevant and enticing the offer, your campaign will fall at the first hurdle if your email is never opened in the first place. The subject line may seem like a small and inconsequential part of an email campaign but actually it can make or break it. Your message may be competing against many others and will need to stand out if it stands a chance. It should intrigue without being too vague, tell the recipient what is in the email and look as if it has come from an individual. Personalisation is as important here as in the content of the email itself. 

Testing, testing

Once all of the elements of the campaign are in place, it is worth making absolutely sure that your email gets the response you want, not least because mistakes can be costly in terms of reputation. The only sure way to do this is to test. At extravision we always send a number of test messages to small sample groups in order to test the response before launching the campaign proper.

If the message isn't right, or the tone is inappropriate, not only will it deliver a poor return, but also it could do permanent damage to your brand. Testing is therefore vital even if you do not want to compare the results of different messages. Tedious and unnecessary though it may seem, this is not a stage to be missed out.


Although perhaps not the most important element of email marketing, getting the timing right can optimise the response rate of a campaign. It is therefore worth thinking about the best time to send out the emails. This will vary depending on whether the campaign is business or consumer orientated. If the campaign is going to an international list then time zones will also need to be taken into account. If you have run campaigns previously, or have detailed website statistics, then this data can be used to pick a time when customers have shown they are most receptive. If not, then it is really a matter of using common sense about when your customers are likely to be logged on.

Response Management

Once the email is sent, then the hard work really begins. Managing responses to a campaign is no mean feat and by far the best approach is to set up an automated response management system. No matter how accurate and well targeted the list, there are bound to be bounce backs and UN-subscribes to act upon. If the campaign has been a success there will be the positive responses to reply to – and inevitably some non-responses to contend with as well. For a variety of reasons your first email may slip thorough the net so it is worth re-sending a re-worded version of the offer to the non-responders. Failing to act quickly could mean that all your efforts are laid to waste and email sales leads will quickly go cold.

Follow-up campaign

By following steps one to nine we hope that you will have delivered a successful campaign that meets your objectives, whatever they may be. The good news is that the campaign should have been more cost efficient and effective than traditional campaigns. The other news is that in order to build on your success you need to plan a follow up campaign to develop the relationships you have begun to create. A one off email campaign will only ever have a limited effect. By delivering carefully planned emails on a regular, but not too frequent basis – and by following our guide each time you do so – you will have the basis of a beautiful friendship.

If you need any more information please email [email protected] or call 0161 817 2929

Posted by Paul Latham

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