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mail itself has been around since the 1970s.
Email marketing, the practice of companies and
Ebrands sending promotional (or other) messages
to potential customers, followed the advent of the new
medium quickly. Queen Elizabeth I was the first Head
of State to send an email in 1976 and the first recorded
email advertisement sent via government and university
networks went live in 1978.
Of course, there is a constant battle between brands
looking to get the message out about their products and
services and the desire that consumers have for privacy,
and email has been one of the toughest battle grounds
for this. The 2003 CAN-SPAM act signed into law by
George W. Bush to the more recent GDPR regulations
established by the European Union, bad behavior from
unscrupulous brands and marketers has always made
things more difficult for legitimate companies. Beyond the
laws themselves, regulatory agencies like the Federal Trade
Commission (FTC) have codified rules for how marketers
can conduct themselves.
On top of that, the rise of ISPs and then independent
email providers such as Hotmail, Yahoo, Gmail and more
have further complicated matters for brands seeking their
audience, namely through the development and changes
to their guidelines and algorithms.
Google rolls out new innovations to their email platform
often including the segmented inbox, with categories for
regular emails, social media notifications and promotional
content neatly categorized for users. They have also
revolutionized customer control of the content they
receive by allowing for one-click unsubscribes and new
functions for follow-up reminders as well as the ability to
“snooze” emails for a pre-set period of time. While this
does mean that consumers will be better able to focus on
those messages that truly interest them, these kinds of
capabilities do make it challenging for brands to get the
attention they need.
Technology plays a major role in the email marketing world
as well. What used to be a desktop-only medium has
thanks to the growing popularity of smart phones- become
dominated by people who access their emails, personal
and professional alike on their devices. With this shift has
come several challenges, and with new technology like
voice address systems for home use and “the internet of
things” becoming more and more of a reality, there’s no
slowdown ahead for email evolution.Right now, a large
portion of consumers access theiremails primarily through
mobile devices. This means that marketers will continue to
focus their efforts on creating a big-screen experience for
a small screen.
The single best way for brands to make sure that they’ll
continue to be able to land in the inbox and connect with
customers is to stay on the right side of the ISPs and email
providers, and the best way to do that is to know what
the best practices are. Of course, these are constantly
changing and evolving but most providers have some
clear and consistent logic behind their rules and knowing
what it is that they’re looking for lays a solid foundation
for maintaining a good reputation. Engaging in email
marketing with too cavalier an attitude or without doing
your due diligence will make it much harder for brands to
get the recognition and engagement they need; once a
brand’s reputation is marked, it gets harder and harder for
that brand to recover it.
o now that we know that the best way to stay visible for
consumers is to follow the best practices, we can take some
Stime to look at what those best practices are and how they’ve
changed and adapted over time. As a general definition, best
practices are those guidelines and procedures that the consensus
of an industry considers correct and effective; they can come out of
governmental regulations, consumer behaviors, and more and most
come from a combination of those factors.
For email marketing, the biggest concern is to avoid
coming across as spam. Many email providers have built-in
spam filters that detect emails appearing to match certain
characteristics and automatically block them from the
inbox; There is also a possibility for recipients to mark an
email as spam and enough of those reports can damage
any sender’s reputation, making it more likely that future
emails will be automatically sent to the spam folder (where
no one will see them). While the list of best practices can
sometimes seem endless, there are some key practices
that everyone in the industry can agree on, that maximize
any email marketer’s efforts.
1 | EMAIL IS NOW MOBILE
Research shows that a large percentage of consumers
either primarily or exclusively look at their emails on their
phones, and as demographics shift that number is poised
to increase. What this means for email moving forward is
that marketers will have to plan for their campaigns to be
accessible on a smaller screen.
In addition to the general challenges posed by trying to
fit information and great design on the handheld screen,
Apple and Google alike are incorporating more interactive
functionalities into their email platforms, which means that
marketers have important choices to make when and how
to incorporate interactive features into email design and
when to leave things classic will become more and more
important an issue.
2 | PERMISSION IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER
May 25, 2018 saw the launch of the EU’s General Data
Protection Regulation (GDPR), which governs how brands
and marketers can collect and use consumer data; other
countries have been following suit, and consumer privacy
concerns in the light of new data collection possibilities
have been growing. People want to feel that they have
control over who knows about them as well as what they
know; so, permission-based email is the only way to go.
Opt-in procedures for email marketing should be clear in
terms of the information gathered and used, remaining
easy to navigate and simple for consumers to take back
their permission. These are all vitally important pain points
as these new regulations get stricter.
3 | KNOW YOUR FORMAT
More innovative possibilities are being introduced in
regards to email formatting, so marketers need to know
the best formats to use whether that’s a question of which
platforms customers are more likely to be on or which
new bells and whistles to use in an email. Knowing which
format will work best (HTML, plain text, or the newer
formats available as email platforms expand) for the effect
needed separates the novices from the pros.
4 | COPY IS KEY
One thing that has always been consistent with email
marketing is that the content of the email from the subject
line to the body is a key factor for success. The shift to
mobile and other formats makes email copy even more
important; marketers must get the message across in a
way that’s clever, concise, and clear. Consumers aren’t
interested in reading long emails, but they also aren’t
as likely to respond if they feel like they don’t have
enough information. Finding the balance for customers
to entertain and convert makes the difference between a
successful email campaign and one that doesn’t work well.
5 | WATCH YOUR REPUTATION
More and more, email service providers and ISPs are
looking to protect their users’ privacy and to appeal to
consumer desires to stamp out spammy emails. As a
result, platforms like Gmail and Yahoo have implemented
algorithms that take aim at the most obvious signs of
spam emails; they have also given their users the tools
to report inappropriate or spammy emails. When this
happens, the systems flag the account those emails come
from. Too many strikes means that future emails will land
in a dedicated spam folder, where recipients won’t ever
see them, and where they’re likely to get automatically
deleted. Marketers have to keep on top of their reputation
as senders or they won’t be able to be seen.
6 | KNOW WHEN TO GET FLASHY & WHEN NOT TO
New functions and capabilities for email design arrive on
the scene weekly, and it can be tempting to incorporate all
the exciting new options into a campaign to really stand
out. Even though email platforms are rolling out options
that can allow for interactive emails with quizzes and
animation, there is still a place for a plain text email and for
restrained graphics and design elements. Knowing when
to use a flashy new feature in an email and when to show
restraint to get a genuine message across makes a huge
difference in the success or failure of a campaign.
7 | TEST, TEST, TEST
Targeted data has become one of the most important
aspects of planning and deploying an email marketing
campaign. Gone are the days of “blast” emails sent to
everyone on a list with the same messaging; consumers
increasingly demand more personalized emails that target
their interests directly. The best way to set a campaign
up for success is A/B testing and other methods;
differentiating a campaign between a great ROI and
money down the drain.
mail marketing is becoming more and more intimate and
personalized; consumers want to feel like the brands reaching
Eout to them are offering them, specifically, value for their
time. Technology is making this increasingly possible, and consumer
expectations continue to rise as more and more, marketers put it to
Targeted emails, and list segmentation, are two important
practices when it comes to email; but in order to target
groups and individuals, or segment your recipient lists,
you first have to know who it is you’re marketing to. Data
on who it is you’re talking to is an important foundational
step but before you even get to look at who’s already
engaging with your brand, it’s important also to know who
you should be reaching out to; who might be interested in
a particular product or service.
Demographic data has been around for years now, including
the ability to target based on:
● Gender ● Age ● Income level ● Geographic area ● Marital status
● Family status ● Interests ● Race ● Education
Data and analytics, however already starting to show up
revolve around predictive and behavioral measures. As
information gathering has become more automated, it’s
become easier and easier to make projections and predict
responses. From here, marketers can target specific
messages to specific people, and know that those who
welcome the value.
SEGMENTATION IS THE PRESENT
& THE FUTURE!
List segmentation the process of separating a list of
email addresses into categories has been a factor in email
strategy for years, but new technologies are making
it possible to segment lists down almost to individual
email recipients. Of course, there’s a level beyond which
individualization no longer makes sense from a cost-
benefit analysis; but using the data that is increasingly
available on consumer behaviors and demographics,
marketers have the ability to get very close indeed to a
one-on-one connection with their customers. That one-
on-one feeling that individual connection is something
that consumers increasingly demand from companies they
do business with, and that trend is poised to continue.
Technology and planning now exist to make it possible for
marketers to target campaigns to specific groups of people
most likely to convert based on behavioral analytics,
previous purchase history, demographic information and
more. Marketers that don’t get on board with the shift to
more personalized marketing content are going to quickly
find themselves left behind.
CRAFT MESSAGES FOR SPECIFIC
With the shift from general messages to the entire
audience to specific, targeted communications with
segmented groups comes another challenge for marketers:
crafting messages that make sense, that appeal the best to
the sub-groups they’re reaching out to.
● Crafting messages that make sense, that appeal the
best to the sub-groups they’re reaching out to.
While you may only have a limited number of products
or services, there are bound to be multiple groups of
people interested in them; but those groups all respond
to different things.
● Copy in email marketing should appeal to those values,
wants, and needs that each group has in mind.
● The way that you would address a 21-year-old college
student to convince them to buy is different from how
you would address a 40-year-old mother of four.
Segmenting and targeted copy go hand-in-hand to help
marketers improve ROI, increase engagement, and overall
secure more conversions. The best segmentation methods
in the world won’t help if they’re not accompanied by
appropriate messaging to the various segments you have
ne of the more interesting findings that multiple studies
have documented within the field of email marketing is that
Oconsumer response is heavily dependent on timing. The
time that emails arrive in an inbox, along with the amount of time
an offer is available, with other variables, all play a role in not just
the rate at which recipients open a given email, but their likelihood
of responding to a call to action. Knowing when your customers
or prospects are most likely to have the time to really consider the
value proposition you present can make a big difference.
PLAN YOUR CAMPAIGNS PROPERLY
Planning for email marketing campaigns should include
a broad understanding of the customer’s behavior that
includes when they are most likely to be checking their
email, as well as when they are more likely to be engaged
with their emails. While many consumers check their email
when first waking up, that check is often cursory just for
the sake of picking and choosing which emails they want
to read, and which they will send directly to the trash.
Even in these instances, however, a savvy email marketer
can set themselves apart enough to make the cut.
RELEVANCE IS KEY
Brands should know when it’s relevant reach out to
their customers; the ability to email every day can be
tempting but should be avoided. The best practice for
email marketers is to send fewer rather than too many
emails, and to make those emails as relevant as possible.
Behavioral targeted emails (for example: emails triggered
by a customer abandoning their virtual shopping cart on
the website, or browsing and then leaving) are a mainstay
of email marketing, but they are not the only ones to think
about. Promotional emails should be highly relevant to
customers’ interests some brands have even been able
to go so far as to use weather data to suggest potentially
LET THE DATA GUIDE YOUR TIMING
The growth of new tools to gather and analyze data
means that it’s easier than ever to know when to launch
a campaign and when to follow up. Seasons, trending
issues, demographic movements and more can affect the
best time for you to reach out to consumers. Now that
there is data at hand to be able to make these choices, it is
important to choose wisely.
With the data in hand, you can plan your future
campaigns. For a minimum guideline, you should have at
least three months lead-time on any given campaign, and
the data will help you to accomplish that with confidence.
DON’T LET A LAST-MINUTE
OPPORTUNITY PASS YOU BY
While it’s important to have basic campaign plans set
up three, six, and up to twelve months in advance,
keep in mind that some of the campaigns that have the
best responses and highest conversions fall into place
in reaction to current events; being agile and flexible
to the demands of the moment, to what is going on
in your consumers’ lives and worlds, can create its
own opportunity to engage and win conversions. It’s
important to build in spontaneous or at least spontaneous
seeming campaign chances, to generate a higher level
of engagement from your audience. By having a few
ideas “on the deck,” so to speak, to fit different types of
scenarios, marketers can reach out in ways that seem
genuine, and that are highly relevant to their audiences.
nce you know who your audience is, and the groups that
they’re made up of, you can effectively tailor your message
Oto them; you know when they’re most likely to respond to
your message, what kind of verbiage they’re likely to react positively
to, and much more. With that in mind, it’s easier to break down the
steps of actually crafting the perfect email for each segment.
Before you do that, however, you should know what your
message is. Each campaign should have a specific idea, or
concept to communicate; there’s nothing more likely to
waste money than a campaign with no real message for
people to respond to. So, before you get to crafting, there
are a few important questions to ask yourself:
● What is the goal of the campaign?
● In the simplest words possible: what do you want
your customers’ take-away to be?
● What’s in it for them?
● How does it reflect the brand?
Since not all email marketing campaigns are necessarily
to promote a specific event like a sale or a new product
arrival; campaigns geared at awareness of a new product
or service are just as valid. Let’s drill down a bit more into
the questions though.
YOU NEED A GOAL
Every campaign that you develop and launch should have
a specific, measurable goal. What that goal is can vary but
it should be something that you can state specifically, and
that you can come up with a way to gauge the success of.
Some examples of specific, measurable goals include:
● Awareness of new products or services
● Increased traffic to your website/location
● Increased sales revenue
Of course, there are as many possible goals that brands
can target as there are days in a year and brands in the
world; but the important thing is to make sure before
planning the campaign that you know what oal you have
in mind and how you will measure whether or not you’ve
WHAT SHOULD YOUR CUSTOMERS
TAKE AWAY FROM YOUR CAMPAIGN?
Ask yourself, what is the “elevator pitch” version of your
campaign’s goal? Marketers should be able to describe,
in the simplest terms, what email recipients should know
or understand about the brand’s message. Consider the
following exercise to get to the best possible version of
the customer’s take away:
● Start with the broadest version of the concept you
want to communicate to consumers
● Narrow the focus down to the key words
● Use the keywords to turn the broad concept into a
● If possible, refine that sentence to the length of an old
school Twitter post (140 characters)
This is the customer takeaway!
Having a clear concept of what you want to express to
the customer helps to frame every other aspect of the
planning and development of the campaign. Anything
that isn’t in service to getting that point across should
be reconsidered, and if possible cut completely. As email
becomes an increasingly mobile-first medium, space is
at a premium; making the concept as tight as possible
and as straightforward as you can will make it easier to
ecide what extra ro cut out in regards to copy and design.
Keep in mind that even in the multimedia-obsessed age
we currently live in, some of the most successful email
marketing campaigns remain plain text campaigns.
WHAT’S IN IT FOR THE CUSTOMER?
This may seem at first like a redundant question, following
the customer take away; but really it’s a statement of
the value proposition that you’re offering your recipients
which may be separate from the overall message you
want them to take away from the campaign. Consumers
are increasingly seeking solid value for their time reading
emails there are simply so many coming in that if they read
every one there would barely be time for anything else.
So if an email doesn’t offer obvious value, consumers are
much more apt to ignore it or delete it without reading
than they might have in the past.
Of course, values and benefits come in many forms. Asking
yourself what benefit the customer gets from opening
your email, reading your message, and clicking on your call
to action helps to frame how you’re going to present these
things to the recipient; it also helps keep the primary focus
on what’s most likely to bring success to your campaign.
Consumers especially in the Millennial demographic are
consistent where they feel that their time is valued. They
reward brands that give them something back whether
that’s a discount or something less tangible (for example,
information on an item that can benefit them or make their
lifestyle goals easier to accomplish). Studies have shown
that those marketers that remain focused on customer
expectations and desires have the highest success rates;
and for good reason.
HOW DOES OR WILL THE CAMPAIGN
REFLECT THE BRAND?
While email marketing is made up of individual campaigns,
it’s also important to fit those campaigns into a larger
context of how they will impact the brand over the long
term. As an example: one campaign, badly developed or
poorly deployed (for example, broken links or offensive
imagery) can damage a brand’s relationship with its
customers for months and years to come. It’s important
to ask what the impact of the campaign will be on brand
recognition, authority, and consumer confidence while still
in the planning stages, and keep that question in the back
of your mind as you go through the rest of the steps.
Many email marketing campaigns are aimed not at specific
promotional events but at overall consumer awareness of
products or services. These awareness campaigns don’t
necessarily garner a huge number of immediate sales or
conversions but by telling a story, they encourage later
conversions and sales, and encourage email recipients to
The internet has become an extremely interconnected
hub; social media has only hastened that phenomenon.
Make sure that your brand is properly represented in your
email campaigns and you’ll maintain steady ground to grow
from with both new and existing customers.
hen people think about email marketing, one of the
foremost concerns in their mind is either data or design
Waspects. Content is every bit as important as graphic
design when it comes to email marketing. Email marketing
content falls into a few specific categories, so it bears
looking at nderstanding best practices and how each
category creates impact.
SUBJECT LINES: THE INVITATION
A well-crafted subject line is, at heart, an invitation. It’s
something that makes the email recipient want to know
more, something that encourages their curiosity and
interest. With the shift to mobile platforms as well as the
coming popularity of voice address systems, subject lines
remain vitally important in capturing attention but the
approach that marketers take to crafting them has and will
continue to have to change.
Studies show that the emails that get the best open
rates have subject lines of 50-100 characters in length.
A good subject line should convey urgency as well as a
clear message; but it’s important to avoid the kinds of
words and tactics that people associate with spam emails.
For example, some of the most common “red flag” words for
● Act now!
● Don’t delete
● No catch
● “Once in a lifetime”
Of course, there are far more than these, but this list
gives a representative sample and illustrates the point:
while a deal or a promotion may be a substantial value for
customers, trying to hype it too much can do the opposite
of getting people interested. A good subject line should be
more like an introduction to an interesting person and less
like a hard, desperate sell.
BODY TEXT: GETTING THE MESSAGE
Once the recipient opens the email, based on the subject
line, it’s a terrible thing to go on to disappoint them with
the email’s contents. It feels like a small betrayal to be
intrigued and then disappointed. The best practice is to
avoid that by making sure the body text of the email is just
as strong as the subject line. Ideal body text should have
the following features:
● No glaring grammatical or spelling errors
● Correct, clear information
● Appropriate “tone”
● Engaging delivery
● Concise length
People read emails quickly; studies show that consumers
spend on average 15 to 20 seconds each reading
individual emails. That means that if there’s something
obviously off (for example: including a typo, a grammatical
error that messes, bad spelling, etc.) you’ve lost them
before you even really have them. Body content for emails
should be concise, with no extraneous information, as well
as clear it shouldn’t require more than a few seconds of
thinking to understand the message.
Tone and delivery are important too. Depending on your
brand, the level of professionalism and familiarity that your
recipients will expect from you will vary, but it should be
consistent across all of your emails. Too familiar or friendly
of an approach is as much a turn off as too formal an
In short, body content for an email should give the
recipient everything they need to make a decision, in a
quick format that’s easy to digest, and with a tone that
CALL TO ACTION: MAKE THEM AN
OFFER THEY CAN’T REFUSE
The Call to Action (CTA) in an email actually has two
aspects to it: the design aspect and the content factor.
We’ll discuss the design aspects (including placement,
color, etc.) later on; for now, it’s important to focus on the
content. The primary thing to remember about your CTA is
The best-placed call to action will not accomplish much if
the actual wording of it doesn’t measure up.
CTA’s are similar to subject lines in the sense that they
need to be quick and inviting. In essence, they represent,
in essence, a final pitch or one last push to convert. But
too often, marketers overstep when it comes to a CTA;
they know they need to give their recipients that ast
chance, but instead of a gentle shove they apply the kind
of enthusiasm and force that one would expect from
someone trying to move a pregnant woman out of the
way of a car. It’s easy to understand this mistake and not
always as easy as it might seem to avoid it.
Best practices when it comes to CTA from the content
perspective fall into the following guidelines:
● As few words as possible
● Clear cause-effect relationship
● No shouting
A call to action from a graphic or design standpoint
really just represents a spot for a customer to convert:
a clickable link, a mobile-friendly “button” that enables
a call, etc. With that in mind, a CTA should be no more
than a handful of words and those words should clearly
communicate what action is needed and what the result
of that action. For example, “Check out the new lineup”
or “Buy Now”. The correct length of any given email’s CTA
is going to vary depending on the rest of the email but it
shouldn’t be more than 5 or 6 words. As you can see in the
examples, the CTA clearly communicates an action and
connects it with an outcome.
As for the “no shouting” guideline: consumers get emails
constantly at least dozens a day and while CTA should
have a sense of urgency behind them. Content that comes
across as shouting will only turn people off; it won’t make
them feel comfortable about clicking the link, pressing the
button, or acting on the offer in whatever other way you
need them to.
ow that we’ve tackled the best practices for email
content, we can take a look at the role that design
Nplays in email marketing and it’s an important factor,
indeed. While good content is vital for a successful email
campaign, the design elements are the frame and the best
artwork suffers when it’s placed in a bad frame. Creative
comes into play even more powerfully with the growth of
mobile email, since the smaller screen concentrates the
Overall, the key to good email design is balance; the days
where one big image was all a marketer needed are over,
and with mobile email, balance is more important than
• Color choices
Let’s take a few moments to look at what these things
CHOOSE YOUR IMAGES WISELY
Images are an important piece of any email marketing
campaign, as they are in most advertising formats. Content
tells the story, but images reinforce the concept and after
all, as they say: a picture is worth a thousand words.
When selecting images for your email campaign, there
are some key best practices to abide by. On the most
basic level, images for email should be appropriate, brand-
related, and relevant. They should be sized properly for
the layout and they shouldn’t take up so much space that
they obscure the message you’re sending. Finally, avoid
background images altogether. Most email providers
strip them out of emails entirely, meaning that at best it
will never be seen and at worst, it can harm your sending
reputation with the provider.
More specifically there are some key aspects to keep in
● Use the minimum number of images to convey the
feeling you need
● Make sure to pay attention to proportions in your
images on mobile, recipients have about three inches
● Simpler images are better than more complicated images
● Colors in your images should coordinate with your other
design elements properly
COLORS AND SHAPES MATTER
In addition to the images used in the email, color choices
and visual patterns play a major role. Color choices can
make a major difference in the way that consumers
respond to your email, and the shapes you use in the
format can break up flow or enhance it. In addition to
these concerns, the fonts you choose for the email design
subtly unconsciously make an important impression in
customers’ minds. There are a few key things to consider in
● Use a limited number of colors focus on no more
● Avoid red as much as possible; it can be a trigger for
● Color theory works: warm colors (red, orange, yellow)
elicit excitement, while cool colors (blues, greens,
purples) have a calming effect
Balancing the colors and shapes involved in your design
will create the most impactful statement. Poorly balanced
colors or incompatible shapes will interrupt the flow and
even the best content won’t work.
YOUR LAYOUT SHOULD FLOW
In addition to images, color, and shapes, an important
concern for the creative is the overall layout. As a
prime rule: Vertical layouts are the only ones that work.
Horizontal layouts just don’t work in email especially for
In addition to that important guideline, there are several
things to think about when considering the layout of your
email. Overall, your layout should flow easily, allowing
customers who receive your email to pay attention to what
you have to say rather than trying to decode how you’re
Here, as in the previous aspects, there are a few key
practices to ensure success:
● Font size should be no smaller than 12 pixels, while the
CTA font should be 2-4 pixels larger
● Maximize the white space clean and uncluttered designs
● Incorporate eye path techniques: there are consistent
ways that people tend to read, and how they prioritize
● Use visual textures wisely: they can add visual interest
and establish mood but they can also distract
● Code key elements like call to action buttons into the
email itself, rather than embedding them as images they
should be accessible even if images are turned off
With the right design elements in play, you can frame
your message properly, and create a winning combination!