Originally written on February 4, 2015. Revised by Campbell Williams on May 7, 2019.

How To Create Successful Email Marketing Campaigns

Some companies are better than others at sending creative and high performing marketing emails. If you’re just getting started with email marketing, or you need to take a step back and look at your process to improve your email campaigns, we can help! We’ll start by helping you understand and create SMART goals, and wrap up with some pre-launch success tips.

So, what makes a strong marketing goal and how do you create these for various marketing channels, specifically email? Let’s break it down.

6 Steps To Exceptional Email Marketing Campaigns

Step 1: Understand SMART goals

Let’s pause for a minute and make sure we’re all on the same page regarding SMART goals. Goals are great, but unless they’re well thought out and lead you towards making better marketing decisions in the future, what’s the point? Using the acronym SMART when determining goals will ensure you are thinking about your goals in a specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely way. It’s simple if you take it one step at a time:

  • Specific – Know how much you want of something by what date. An unspecific email goal might be, “I want more people to open the email.”
  • Measurable – Make sure your goal is something you can track. Words like “more” or “less” without data associated with them don’t give you a baseline to track from.
  • Attainable – Challenge yourself but also know what you can achieve. You want to be able to report success at the end of the campaign.
  • Realistic – Just be honest. Know that there will be hurdles, know your team’s strengths and weaknesses, and plan accordingly.
  • Timely – Always, always, always set a deadline. This will give you a date by which the measurable piece has to be met in order to be considered a success.

This varies from company to company, and likely campaign to campaign. It’s important to know this first, and then build a SMART goal backwards from there. Are you interested in a certain percentage open rate, or a certain number of clicks on a CTA? What about total leads or sales generated from the campaign? Create your SMART goal and share it with your team to make sure everyone working on your email campaigns knows what you’re striving for.

Step 2: Hold a creative brainstorm

Being creative and thinking outside the box with your emails can make all the difference in grabbing your target audiences’ attention or getting overlooked. To make sure you stand out, hold a brainstorm with a few creative thinkers. Start by telling everyone in the room what the SMART goal is for the email campaign, and then let the creativity flow! You’ll want to think through the message you’re trying to communicate, design decisions that will grab attention, and some stellar visuals to keep your audience’s’ interest.

Pro Tip: Refrain from saying “no” to any ideas during the first 15 minutes to see where it takes you. By the end of the brainstorm, filter through all the ideas to see what is right for the current promotion or newsletter.

Step 3: Consider A/B Testing

A/B testing, also known as split testing, is one of the best ways to gather information about your marketing efforts and improve future campaigns. The most important rule of A/B testing is to only change ONE thing at a time. If you try to test out two send times and two subject lines at the same time, you won’t know which really had an impact on your open rate. If you want to test multiple things, spread out your tests on different emails so you can really see the impact.

A/B tests have become much easier and more automated now that the main email tools have caught on. Testing a subject line is now as simple as choosing two options and letting your email tool do the rest!

Certain tools will even send out the email in two rounds. The first 40% of the emails split between the two subject lines and the remaining 60% to whichever subject line resulted in the higher open rate. With this automation, you won’t need to wait until your next email to apply what you’ve learned!

In addition to the subject line, here are a few items you can A/B test in your email campaign:

  • Email launch date or time
  • Headline copy
  • The language or color of your CTAs
  • Imagery
  • Sender name
  • Layout
  • List segment
  • Preview text

Pro Tip: Documentation is key when you’re running experiments or tests. The information you gather is important, so try tracking your tests in a spreadsheet that your team has access to so everyone can benefit from the information.

Step 4: Commit to a deadline

Think through the steps that your campaign will take, how long each step takes to execute and the waiting period for your recipients to take action. For a single email, reporting in 48-72 hours is usually a good rule of thumb. Count up how many emails your campaign consists of as well as the days in between sends, and determine a date to report on your success from there.

Step 5: Identify any obstacles

As with anything in marketing, there are bound to be a few roadblocks in the way of reaching your email campaign goals. Some potential obstacles might be:

  • The time it takes for your team to produce the content for emails including set-up time (if there’s a chance these will interfere with your deadline)
  • Other projects and deadlines your team members are responsible for
  • Potential issues with your email client—especially if you are new to using their software

Be sure to write any obstacles down so all parties are aware and able to plan accordingly.

Step 6: Optimize your email

Every detail matters when you’re trying to stand out in a crowded inbox. You’ll want to consider the time and day of the week you’re sending the email, your subject line, and your preview text. Here are a few tips to make sure your email campaigns are properly optimized:

Sending Time

  • There are quite a few opinions on the best time to send a marketing email. But after years of experience, we have found that emails sent on Tuesdays and Thursdays tend to have a higher open rate. As far as time of day goes, consider 8-9am. WordStream found that this time range on Thursdays resulted in the highest open rate.
  • Keep in mind that the optimal send time will vary from industry to industry. For B2B newsletters, you’ll want to reach your target audience during the work week and within work hours while they’re in the right mindset. For the healthcare industry, weekends may be better because people tend to schedule doctors appointments on the weekends.
  • There is plenty of data that shows what has worked for OTHER companies. The best thing you can do for your business is to test, test, and test again. Once you start seeing trends in your open and click-through rates, you’ll be able to determine what works best for YOUR business.

Subject Line

  • If possible, consider personalizing your subject line. According to HubSpot, “Emails that include the first name of the recipient in their subject line had a higher clickthrough rate than those that don’t.”
  • Think about using an emoji or two in your subject line. Experian found that 56% of brands using emoji in their email lines had a higher open rate.

With clearly documented goals, a testing plan in place, and a well-optimized campaign, you will be able to better report on the success—and areas for improvement—of your email marketing efforts. This will allow you to cultivate a stronger understanding of what works and doesn’t work for your leads and customers.

Hopefully these 6 steps will have you on your way to creating extraordinary marketing emails. For more tips and tricks for successful inbound marketing, download our guidebook!

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