Over the course of the past several years, I’ve found myself deeply involved in the strategic planning of end-to-end solutions for email campaigns which, while at times frustrating and arduous, are deeply interesting and a great exercise in thinking in multiple directions. You’ll find in the words below some thoughts based on my own experiences in terms of strategies I’ve employed to great success in the inbox. This won’t touch very much on the design of emails which is an entire book in and of itself—in fact, Jason Rodriguez offers an excellent book in that vein that you should absolutely hand over your money for.

To begin, I think pushing a regular email newsletter, for the right reasons, is absolutely a mandatory for anyone (business, individual, non-profit, etc.) carrying themselves as a thought leader or, at the very least, a steward of vast amounts of relevant content.

To make a bunch ob unorganized babble seem more organized, I’ve broken the items needed for a successful email campaign into these elements:

  • The List
  • The Template
  • The Strategy
  • The Schedule
  • The Marketing
  • The Data
  • The Unsubscribe

the-listThe List

Every email service provider and CRM out there that’s worth anything will recommend up and down that organically growing a list is really the only way to get decent response rates from quality leads. Importing lists will lead to, potentially, catastrophic levels of unsubscribes. There are a few ways in which to grow a list organically, here’s what I’ve done in past efforts to the success of increased rate of return (measured in website visitation, click-thru, and subscription) to the tune of 400% inside of two months. 

First, an obvious CTA was placed on the corporate website (in a globally accessible position—in this case, an area above the footer) that encouraged regular site visitors to opt-in to more content that would, ultimately, lead to uniquely curated content based on the vertical of that user. Initially there was one big subscriber list that all received the same content, but once the list had grown past about 2,000 subscribers, the sign-up process was altered to inquire of the user what of a list of 9 verticals the agency aimed for in new business they felt they fit into. When those list segments grew to at least 50 subscribers each, an industry/vertical-specific email newsletter for that vertical as well as a general agency newsletter was sent at different times during each month.

Second, a landing page was crafted to speak more on the subject of what one would receive by joining up with the newsletter and contained the sign-up form molded into the layout of that landing page. This landing page worked as the target of social media campaigns so there was a common URL to send outside users to for direct sign-up versus having them navigate to the sign-up form. It was housed within the site so that users could then flip through the site as desired for more information, but they landed on that sign-up page. I’ll talk more about the avenues used to get here later on under ‘The Marketing.’

Remember that all lists have a regular rate of decay, so losing subscribers is perfectly normal so long as you’re still engaging in efforts to grow your list organically. It’s another weak point of just importing a list. Without organic growth and lead generation strategy, that list will eventually dwindle. There’s not a lot of organic list growth from friends sharing an email with a buddy. Though there is some! 

the-templateThe Template

It’s critical that a responsive and modular email template is constructed that adapts to whatever device the user is reviewing your content on. Also, in terms of content, it’s critical that you be sensitive to the mobile users (who grow in number by the second) who review your emails, as one wrong step and you’re in unsubscribe-land with them. Mobile users have data plans and ADD, so it would behoove you to craft something that doesn’t murder data plans with tons of image data or piles of content that a short attention span would disregard. As you gather data from users, you’ll get a better idea of the device landscape and be able to lend your attention to the areas that more desperately need it in terms of digesting the content you’re providing in an ideal environment. 

Keep it modular. This way you can move content blocks with ease as your content shifts and demands different real-estate needs within your template. Keeping the same layout every single send is another quick way to usher subscribers off of your list. As with any form of marketing, audiences grow immune and sometimes even exhausted of any one approach, so it’s your duty to mix it up and keep the content rich and interesting in an effort to captivate your audience and compel them to convert. 


Also ensure that this template can be viewable as a web page and that certain content, if not the entire email, can be shareable across social media nodes that are relevant to your business. This affords you the opportunity to tweak your codebase to deliver content in specialized ways that standard email won’t allow (which is most things if you’re talking about techniques in the web post the year 2000). 

the-strategyThe Strategy

Plan out a head of time what’s going to be written about. What is it that your audience would want to read on a regular basis from you? What matters to them? Who is that audience?

I’ll tell you what doesn’t work. Posturing. Boasting about yourself, your business, you, will not lead to conversions. Instead it’ll lead to the less desired opposite effect. Clients know you’re great by your willingness to roll up your sleeves and get dirty in their world not by bragging about how awesome you are to everyone with ears.

Maybe some items are posts from the company blog while others could be sharing important industry articles out there in the wild. Perhaps you’re sharing successes of some of your clients in a spotlight area or promoting a talk one of your team is making at an upcoming conference. Maybe you’re boasting about a nice showing you had at an awards gala or providing a case study into a project the agency is particularly proud of. Maybe you’re sharing photos from the company’s booze-filled holiday party.This needs to be planned enough ahead of time that it can be properly folded into your email strategy (and really your social media and blog strategy as well). With enough planning and content-creation prioritized, you can do several emails at once and then launch them on a staggered time table so it’s not necessarily a monthly time suck for all parties. I would also stress the growing importance of video content. Link to it from your email to a youtube of vimeo page for the company. It’ll help with social share, website traffic, and SEO for keyword ranking. 

the-scheduleThe Schedule

There are differing philosophies on when the best time is to send emails. But they all agree, for the most part, that consistency in a monthly send is a good idea. Not that users are sitting with anxiety, expecting the arrival of the next blast. But wouldn’t that be nice? Many email newsletter, take Smashing Magazine for example, always sends on a Thursday somewhere before noon. Like most things in email or really web-related, user data you gain from already being in the water will aid you in how to modify your scheduling planning among other things. Mail chimp has a decent article on it found here: http://kb.mailchimp.com/delivery/deliverability-research/find-your-best-sending-time

the-marketingThe Marketing

To grow a list, people need to be aware that there is a newsletter to sign-up for. This can mean many things depending on what media your company is invested in. If you’re very twitter-involved, then I’d recommend promoted tweets and twitter lead generation cards. Promoted tweets require a dollar amount investment to invade users’ twitter feeds with a minimal message/image that they can click to be directed somewhere. The lead generation cards generate a form with inputs that allow the user direct sign-up to the newsletter. you can find out more about twitter lead gen cards here: https://blog.twitter.com/2013/lead-generation-card-now-available-to-all-advertisers-with-new-features

Also in social media, you might consider curated Facebook posts and clickable annotations within youtube videos to send users to the sign-up page. This will increase traffic to your site which will not only increase your subscription rates but your visitation rates from reliable resources—thus increasing your ranking with google as a reliable resource, worthy of recommendation. Some of this dips into SEO tactics in terms of posting relevant content within industry specific blogs and websites for honest backlinking. But it’s all part of the same whole in some places. 

Banner ads can also work to your benefit for list sign up if you engage with folks like Sponge Cell and others of that ilk that allow for multi-layer interactivity within banners to performs specific actions like list sign-up, lead generation, content delivery, video embedding, etc. they also offer a tremendous amount of analytic data in terms of impressions and floodlight tags.

the-dataThe Data

The key to any successful campaign, especially emails and websites, is the regular review of analytic data. Where are users going? Where are they not? How long are they on the page? What are they clicking and with what frequency? Are they opening my emails? Forwarding them? Sharing them? If no one’s looking at my client feature section after 3 – 6 months of sending, do we need that section in the email? Would they benefit from different content or the sifting of the priority of content within the email? Are they going all the way through it or do I need additional navigation (such as page anchors) to drive them more successfully to all additional content? 

Proper and regular viewing of analytic data will ensure successful maintenance of your email campaign—as users’ habits evolve, so should your layout and content delivery as well as the type of content provided. 

the-unsubscribeThe Unsubscribe

Unsubscribes are something we all hate, but they’re quite normal. The important thing is to A. Keep them on the smaller side of the percentage of your lists and to B. Try to get them to either re-subscribe or to alter their experience so that they continue on with being a list member. I’ve found success with this by way of a custom unsubscribe page that has well crafted text content surrounding the unsubscribe opt-in, either offering an incentive like a free ebook, etc. or changing the send settings from monthly to bi-monthly, etc. Also to ask for reasoning for the unsubscribe—we can’t get better if you don’t tell us what’s wrong. What you absolutely can NOT do is try to hit them again after they’ve unsubscribed. This is seriously blackhat and is a good way to get banned from all respectable EMS’s. 

This is a top-level view of an end-to-end email strategy. There are so very many avenues one can take to success here and just as many that can lead to failure. It’s important that you stay vigilant—monitor the behavior of your subscribers, be aware of technological changes in the world of email, be true to your business and its desired outcome from the campaign(s). There are many resources out there to aid you in this quest as well, from the wonderfully documented and easy-to-use email service provider, Mailchimp, to the extremely intricate and granular capabilities of a marketing automator like Hubspot or Marketo. Just remember that these guys are services and tools, not the answer and not the strategy.

It can be a lot to take in and the are certainly hurdles in your way, but try to look at it as a challenge worth taking on—a problem worth solving. At the end of the day that’s why we get up every day right? To solve problems.

Go craft an email campaign and get the hang on thinking inbox.