The Basics of Email Marketing

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Digital Marketing Boot Camp, Session 4: Margaret Hamner of MailChimp breaks down the basics of building out a successful email marketing campaign.




Hi, I’m Margaret Hamner from Mailchimp, and welcome to the Email Marketing Basics session. The goal here is to help you get started with email marketing. The assumption here is that you really haven’t done much email marketing yet, or that you’ve done a little bit and you want some advice about how to do it a little better. I’m going to go through some of the basics of why we want to do email marketing and that kind of thing, so let’s start with that.

The importance of email marketing

There are several reasons you want to do email marketing:

1. U.S consumer response: The first is that U.S. consumers actually respond to it. Studies show that 26% of U.S. consumers actually say that they have purchased from an email so when you send an email, people are likely to click through and make direct purchases from them, so it can be pretty good from driving that change.

2. Affordability: Email is a fairly cheap way to do things. You got a good ROI on email marketing. So for every dollar spent, the estimate is that it can be about $40 return on investment, which is pretty high for any marketing channel.

3. Millennial purchasing power: It turns out that 73% of millennials, which is the big buying power that’s coming up, say that they prefer their communications, their business communications to be by email, which is kind of a surprise as you would expect that the millennial generation would really be more comfortable with things like social media. But in the studies, they’re saying that they prefer email marketing so that’s a good sign for using it for your marketing.

What email marketing is and isn’t

Email is an inexpensive way to communicate with your customers or prospects that have told you, you can communicate with them. You do need permission to use email marketing so you’re going to need a list where people have opted in from some other way, so on your website or in social media or some other way to drive them in it.

What email isn’t, unfortunately, a good way to find new prospects. You don’t want to buy lists and put them into your email marketing program because then you start getting spam laws and you lose the trust of the people that are receiving your email. Always make sure you have that permission and that you’re only talking to people that you have permission to talk to.

Creating an awesome email

There are six steps, and I’ll go into more detail on each one of these, but let’s just look at the overview for right now:

  1. Find an ESP (email service provider)
  2. Plan the email
  3. Design the email
  4. Build the email
  5. Send the email
  6. Measure success

1. Find the right ESP

The first step is to find an email service provider (also referred to as ESP) and there are a couple of things you want to consider when you’re looking for an email service provider into your emails.

The first is are you small or you don’t have a list yet? If so, you probably don’t want to pay for an email service provider, and there are several free options out there. MailChimp has one option and I think HubSpot has one, so you can always go out and google for ESP and find the service that you can work with until you get more established and what to pay for, a place to put your lists and to send your emails. If you are small and you’re just starting out, find an ESP that will grow with you. Make sure they’ve got the things on the paid level that will serve what you want to do in the future so you don’t have to change over and find a new ESP when you get ready to pay for a service.

If you’re starting with a larger list, you’re more established, and you’re going to have to go ahead and pay for an ESP now, make sure you shop carefully. There’s a lot of bells and whistles and a lot of things that different email service providers do that you may or may not need. Think carefully about what you’re actually going to want to do and don’t pay for what you’re not going to use. Be realistic about all the cool things that you could do on which you’re actually going to have time and resources to do.

2. Plan the email

To plan your email, you want to carefully think about the goal of your email. What do you want that email to do? There are several options here:

  • You can have it inform people just to tell them that you exist or that you’ve got a new product or event.
  • You can influence people and get them to take action. If you’re a charity, get them to donate to your charity or get them to attend an event that you’ve got coming up.
  • You can sell things by email, of course, which is probably the most popular way to use it for email marketing, so you get somebody to go out and buy your product directly.
  • You can do something as simple as a welcome email when you have somebody join your list. When somebody signs up for your product, send an automated email that goes out to them that says, “Hey, welcome. Here’s what our company looks like, and here’s what we’re about, and here’s what we like to do to help you out.”

Think about your audience

The next thing in planning your email is to think about who your audience is, who you want to reach with this. You want to be as targeted as possible. It’s never a good idea to send big emails to everybody on your list. Think about what the message is and think about who’s going be receiving that the best, and pull out pieces of your audience, segment your audience out and do some smaller lists with some really targeted messaging to them.

Ask yourself, does everybody on your list need to hear what you have to say in this particular email? Maybe they don’t. Maybe it’s just a piece of your list. Put yourself in your customer or your prospect’s shoes and ask yourself how would you feel if you receive this email? Is this an email that I would think was a good message if I was receiving it if I was in their shoes? If not, then maybe that particular group of people is the right one to be receiving this particular email.

3. Design the email

We’ve got everything planned so let’s go out and think about designing the email. When designing your mail, the first thing you want to do is to choose a template. Luckily, most ESPs or probably all ESPs actually provide you templates that have blocks that you could design your layout for your email, and all you have to do is drop in the content so that makes it pretty easy.

Find a template that actually has the amount of information that you want to have in there, or the kind of, you know, the number of images, the size of images that you have available.

Be accessible

Think about when you’re designing and you’re looking at those templates, the accessibility of your email. There’s a lot of things from accessibility that you need to think about, things as simple as:

  • Text color
  • Background color
  • Text alignment

I know we have used a blue background and the wrong color with white text, and it wasn’t friendly to people with certain types of colorblindness. If you have centered texts, it’s harder for someone with dyslexia to read it. There’s a lot of different things out there to consider with accessibility, but be considerate to everyone as you’re designing your email.

Capture their attention with an image

The next thing in your design is going to be your image. Most emails that you receive use the visual method and have some type of image. People are used to seeing an image as the emails come in so be sure to choose an image that captures their attention and helps communicate your message.

You’ve got some choices with images. You can do photos or align images, whatever fits your message and your brand the best. You can even put a GIF in there if you want to see some motion. Most ESPs and invite providers will actually support having a GIF if you want to do have some motion to your email.

Stock images or your own?

The next thing to think about is whether you’re going to use stock footage or own images. If you’ve got images available and you’ve got line art that somebody in your organization has drawn, or if you’ve got photos that could show what your brand is about, then use those. Otherwise, if you want to go out and buy some stock images, you can do that from online services. There are some pretty cheap services out there. Some of my favorites are Adobe Stock, which has some reasonably priced beautiful images, and also iStockphoto is geared to small businesses and individuals. You can go out and find some reasonably priced, nice artwork that you can use.

4. Build the email

When building your email, the first thing you want to think about is your form name and address. This is often overlooked, but if you’re just starting an email program, come up with a “from” name and a "from” address that will show in the inbox. Our "from” name is usually “MailChimp” because that’s the simplest thing, and we use hello@mailchimp as our from address.

Try to use this consistently. Think of what you’re going to use now and what you’re going to use in the future and try to get something that you can continue to use. What this does is builds trust when people see that over and over, coming to them in their inbox. They learn to trust it as being from your brand. They don’t assume it’s spam. If you start changing it every time, they start to wonder if it’s spam, and people don’t want to open emails that may be spam and may cause problems once they open them. The next thing you’re going to choose is your subject line. This is a very important piece.

Keep your headlines short and sweet

If you look at the image there, the subject line for the MailChimp email is “Introducing MailChimp’s 2019 Annual Report,” which was the subject line. You want what you have to say to be as short as possible but still make an impact.

We recommend about 60 characters, no more than 9 words or 60 characters for that subject line because you want it to be scannable and to get the message as quickly as possible.

You also want it to be as powerful as possible, to give as much information about what’s actually in the email as possible so that you can drive people to want to open that email to find out more. You try to make it as compelling as possible. You could even ask a question so that they can answer it by opening the email.

Testing out emojis

The last thing that I’ve got it is emojis, and emojis with a question mark, because there’s a lot of talk back and forth about whether those actually work well or not. If you’re not doing a super serious message, they can work in a subject line so give it a try in one email. If your audience doesn’t like it, you’ll see that pretty fast. Your open rates will go down a little bit, but give it a try if you want to and try out an emoji, and by that, you know, it’s like for Christmas. When you talk about Christmas presents, you put a little emoji of the Christmas present on your line.

Always use preview text

To explain what preview text is, when you look at our inbox image here under the MailChimp email, our preview text on there is, “It was a big year and we have you to thank for it.” Preview text is one of those things that’s often overlooked. You always want to put something there. A lot of times, people even leave it blank, so you show a blank space that you could have used to help get your message across and get your email opened. You should always use it and pack it with as much information as you can to drive to open. You can put more information on that preview text, and you can put them in the subject line, and more of it’s going to show up in a lot of providers.

Writing your copy

This usually is the hardest part for most people, which is writing your copy. You need to think through what your message should be, who you’re talking to as you’re writing this message. Ask yourself some questions. What do you want to tell recipients? Not only is it what you want to tell the recipient, or what do they need to know. Once again, as before, putting yourself in the customer’s shoes and thinking, what would I want to hear? What meaningful thing would make me want to do this thing this person’s asking me to do? Think about the tone you want to use. It all depends on you, of the message you’re trying to get across, and what action you’re trying to drive, but you can be friendly.

You can have a friendly ask of what you want to do, or you can be informative, you know, you’re there to give information to the person, or you never send messages, you want to get really serious. If it’s something that’s going to affect the account the person has or something that is not a lighthearted matter, then you want to go and have a more serious tone.

No matter what, be clear and concise and be to the point. You don’t want to write a book for an email. You want to have it as short as possible to get through the information that you need to get through. The statistics that I’ve seen about what the time people spend on emails, scanning an email is between 10 seconds and 50 seconds.

So that’s the amount of time you have to actually have people scan through and figure out what it is you’re asking for. Also, if you have something to offer them or giving them some kind of knowledge, but you’re also marketing to them and asking them to do something, give them that value upfront. Then go to your marketing message so that you led them into your marketing and you have them feeling better about getting the marketing message at that point.

Setting your call to action

The next thing on building your email is the call to action or, as you see it written a lot of places, the CTA. This is what you’re asking people to do. On the copy that we’re showing here, it’s the big blue box that says, “Read the report.” You want to be really obvious and clear while making it as visual as possible. Your primary call to action for an email should pretty much always be a button (if possible) because people scan for that button to see what it is you want them to do. If you’re going to put some secondary call to actions, things like, “Here’s a resource article I want you to read,” or other little things before they get to that primary call to action, then those are better done as links in the copy. So you link a word in the copy out to your resource or whatever you’re trying to do for that secondary call to action. Make sure that you’re not doing multiple buttons, that’s just distracting.

An email should really have one main purpose, and that should be your primary call to action.

Filling in your email footer

The last part of building your email is actually the footer. Footers vary. There’s some information that’s actually required in the footer and some that’s just good to have. One thing that you want to put either in your footer or somewhere else is an easy way to find your company. I see a lot of emails that come through that have the call to action that takes me out to the thing that a company is trying to sell, but there’s no link to the company’s main website to actually find out more about the company.


I want to do some research at this point, find out who they are, find out if they’re the people I want to buy this thing from, so you want to make that easy to do, you know. If you have a logo at the top of your newsletter, then make sure that’s linked out to your company news or to your company website. The next thing is, this is just about the footer, things that you need to have in the footer, things that you can’t have in the footer. The things that you absolutely have to have in your footer or somewhere in your email and usually best done in the footer are the unsubscribe link. You do, when you’re sending an email with marketing content, you do have to have an unsubscribe link.

It’s required by law that you have to give the people who are receiving a chance to say, “Don’t send this anymore.” Luckily, email service providers all have a way to do this. They have an unsubscribe function so that you can put that link in there. hen somebody clicks on it, they will then unsubscribe them from your list automatically. So you don’t have to worry about how that actually works, but you do have to have a link in the email. If you’re sending marketing information out, the legal requirements in the U.S. and in other countries is that you must also have your physical company address somewhere in that email, so that people can find where you are and to prove that you’re a legitimate company that has a physical address.

Linking your email properly

The other things that are recommended for the footer are the company logo, which I would always put there. Once again, I would link that logo in the footer back out to your company website so that, once again, they have another way to find you. You can put a link to your website in the footer so that, once again, somebody can find your website and find out who you are. The other thing that’s there that I really like using in a footer is the social media buttons. If you look, there’s a Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Instagram button at the bottom of our footers.

You click on that; it takes people out to your social media properties, and it’s really a great way to drive people out, you know, drive traffic to those properties to let people see all the great work you’ve been doing on your social media properties. Okay, so we’ve got everything built so now it’s time to send the email. But before we send, we want to test and review the email, make sure that you take a good look at it before you send it out to your customers. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. You can’t recall an email. First of all, send it to yourself. You can send a quick test to yourself, go through, read through it as if you were your customer, and make sure that it says what you wanted to say.

Check all of your links. Do your links go to where they need to go? Are the sites live where you’re sending it out to? Those kinds of things. You also want, too, when you’re checking that, check it both on your mobile phone and your desktop, and a lot of times, things change when you send an email to mobile. Over 50% of people now are actually opening their emails first on their mobile, so you want to make sure that it looks right on the mobile and not just on the desktop. There are tools you can use. Litmus has a great tool. It’ll show you every inbox you could possibly sending an email to, what it would look like when that person opens it in an inbox.

It costs money, so it’s something that you want as your business grows, but it’s something to keep in mind. The only thing is if you’re using merge tags, if you’re merging information from personalization or anything, make sure you’re testing those. We’ve all received that email that says, “Dear blank,” and the blank is actually a whole bunch of characters, that’s not okay. Make sure if you’re using merge tags, if you’re merging information into your email that you’re testing those out really well before you send it out.

5. Send the email

We’re ready to send and schedule the email. Determine the best time to send. There’s a lot of information out there. Everybody’s got their own opinion about it, and you can find an article that tells you every single day of the week is the best time to send an email. So it’s really a matter of just experimenting and testing out what your audience responds to best. Send something on a Tuesday and see how it does and send the next one on a Thursday and see if it does any better. The timing does make a difference sometimes, especially if you’re dealing with an international audience. So keep in mind if you’re sending from the Eastern time that you’re sending to a group that’s largely in England, that if you’re sending at 3:00 in the afternoon, it’s hitting them in the middle of the night. Keep in mind time zones as you’re sending and make sure you’re hitting the biggest part of your audience at the right times.

6. Measure success

Okay, so everything’s done, you’ve set, everything’s out there, so now it’s time to measure your success to look and see how well you did with it. The first thing you’re going to want to do is to pull some benchmarks. There are a lot of benchmark studies out there. MailChimp has one for free on our website, so if you want to go out to MailChimp and pull it. There are a lot of other sources. You could go on and just google email benchmarks and get all kinds of studies. What those do is they average.

They give you an aggregate of your industry, the open rates, the click rates, how emails are supposed to perform or perform on the average, at least for your certain industry, and it gives you something to mark against, you know, to look and see. Am I doing better or worse than the average? Okay, so the things that you want to measure. The first one is the open rate. An open rate is measured as the number of unique opens, so that’s, if someone opens an email 10 times, that’s not 10 opens, it’s 1 open, so measured by a person opening the email, over the number of successful emails delivered, so you don’t want to do it over everything you sent.

You want to do it over what was successfully delivered. So that should be net of all of your balances, previous unsubscribes, and those kinds of things. If somebody doesn’t receive an email and you can’t expect them to click it, so your click rate should be driven off of the bottom line of the net delivered instead of what you actually sent. Click to open rate is another thing to measure. You hear people talk about click rates; I prefer click to open, and that’s the number of unique clicks. Once again, one person is only one click, no matter how many times they click, over the number of unique opens. And what this does, it tells you the number of clicks out of the people that opened. So it kind of isolates that click measure and lets you know independent of how many people clicked on your email, of those who clicked, how well you did. So, you know, it kinda helps you that engagement metric gets a little more refined.

Establish a feedback loop

The last thing for measuring success is the feedback loop. You can establish a feedback loop and not just have the email as a push mechanism but also to get some information back, which really helps you refine future relations and sometimes refine other things about your business. The first thing you want to look at is your unsubscribe rates and your spam complaint rates, which you will see on your reporting from your ESP after you send your email.

You want to make sure if those are going up, especially over time, that maybe you have a problem. You consider what reasons people have for doing this. In most ESPs, you can review the unsubscribe reasons. So when somebody clicks “unsubscribe,” a lot of times, they get get a screen that gives, like, six reasons that a person would unsubscribe, and they can check and tell you why they’re unsubscribing. There’s also a place where they can actually fill in the information and tell you what that reason was, which is really very valuable.

I always read through all of those because it’s like a free focus pretty much, and people are going to write back and give you information, and they’re pretty passionate that they’re going to go out of that trouble, so it’s good information on what you need to fix. The other thing is to allow replies to your emails and read those. When emails come in and you see do not reply in the front line, don’t do that. If you really want to know what your customers are thinking, allow them to do a reply to your email and read through those replies. A lot of times you’ll find out that there’s something wrong with your list or there’s something wrong with how you’re sending, or like I said, sometimes there are even things people don’t like about your business that you can find out that way.

Those are the steps to get through so good luck building your email. The other thing I want you to know is that I have just barely brushed on each one of these topics, the things that you can find out there. If you want more information on these, for instance, subject line, there are reams of information, so just go google subject line, especially there’s going to be a lot of information when you google it. Especially look at some of the studies done by the different ESPs because they do pound a lot of just general marketing information has nothing to do with their particular tool, but they will help you learn how to build a subject line or any of the other things I shared.

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