Even though every industry is different, there are steps you can take when preparing your email marketing strategy to ensure people in your target audience actually want to open—and read!—the messages you send.

We’ve come a long way since 1976, when Queen Elizabeth II became the first monarch to send an email. Today, over 4.3 billion individuals worldwide use email daily. Considering it’s one the most pervasive forms of digital communication, you’d think knowing how to create an email marketing campaign would be intuitive, but that’s not the case.

Keep reading to learn what foundational work is necessary to create an email marketing campaign that captivates, minimizes unsubscribes, and boosts conversions.

Email marketing fundamentals

Email marketing is a great way to get attention from potential and current customers. Whether you’re a seasoned marketer refining your strategy or a small business owner seeking innovative ways to engage your clientele, navigating the intricacies of email marketing can feel like venturing into uncharted territory. Fear not! 

Here are the seven essentials of email marketing that go beyond business basics and can help you build an email marketing campaign that sets your company or organization apart from its competition.


Define campaign objectives

Your first task when putting pen to paper shouldn’t be writing the content. Revisit your overall marketing strategy and target audience. 

How can you align your email marketing goals with your broader strategy? As always, try to make sure they are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound). The email campaign types you write and steps in the user journey will change depending on the outcomes you are looking for and people you are hoping to reach. Having clearly defined goals keeps your team on the right track, while also creating a sense of ownership and accountability. 

As you gather insights from campaign results, you can adjust and refine your objectives accordingly. The key is to have a defined baseline that allows you to monitor progress and make informed decisions for future campaigns. This way, you will start to see tangible results from your marketing emails in no time!


Build a quality email list

Pro-tip: Want a better ROI for the emails you send? Then, you make sure you are regularly email list cleaning.

You have probably heard the phrase “quality over quantity.” This saying definitely applies to email list creation. Compiling contacts takes time. In most cases, you won’t have a robust set of addresses to send to when starting a new email marketing campaign, but you can organically grow your email list by:

  1. Only adding contact information for people who are genuinely interested in your business. (You can do this by gathering emails where your audience is already active, such as on social media, during checkout, and with pop-up forms on your website.)
  2. Making it quick and easy for users to sign up to receive messages. Don’t ask for information you don’t really need. Strategize to determine what would be most beneficial to know about your audience, and keep your form as succinct as possible.
  3. Showing the value of your emails with testimonials or list size stats. (Other “value”-related info you might share include the typical frequency of your dispatches or your company’s promise not to share (or sell) any provided contact info with third-parties.)

Segment your audience

Understanding your marketing audience is something many companies try to rush through due to time constraints. But segmenting your audience doesn’t have to be a time-consuming research project that feels daunting. 

Get started by leveraging what you know and what data you have access to:

  • Social media demographics: Do some exploration on the demographic of your social media following. Do you notice a trend in age range or gender? What kinds of comments are people leaving on your content? What are some of your most engaged posts?
  • Website usage data: Do you have analytics on your website to view frequently visited pages, most viewed items, or how traffic is getting to your site?
  • Transaction and purchase history information: Do you have records of purchase history you could use to understand locations, purchase frequency, and popular items?

You might also consider experimenting with different methods for collecting data you can use for segmentation. For example, with some email messaging tools (like Hubspot), you can use email automation triggers to automatically update your user segments based on their actions.

Keep in mind, this is an experimental process. While you don’t want to spam your subscribers’ inboxes, you might want to use your emails for testing. Don’t be afraid to try out a hypothesis you have, and leverage findings to inform the strategies you develop as part of planning for future campaigns.


Craft compelling subject lines

Storydoc surveyed a random pool of 1,200 people about their email interactions, and they found that about 90% subscribed to at least one email newsletter—which sounds like a lot, until you hear that Harvard Business Review’s researchers have found that only 20% of newsletters are ever even opened, making it clear that just because you send an email to your target audience, that doesn’t mean they’ll read it. 

When you open your inbox, what goes through your mind when you’re deciding what to open and what to delete? According to researchers at Constant Contact, factors like personalization and well-crafted email subject lines can significantly impact these kinds of split-second decisions.

What makes a must-read email

People are spending more time in their inboxes each day, they spend an average of just four minutes on “permission mailers” daily. How do you ensure your newsletter captures their interest and maintains their attention within a limited timeframe?

A few suggestions to get you started include:

  • Ask a question: Engage curiosity and prompt readers to open for answers.
  • Use numbers and statistics: Providing specifics—like, “5 Tips” or “10% Increase”—is a great way to draw attention.
  • Create intrigue: Tease interesting content without giving everything away.
  • Create urgency: Encourage immediate action with limited-time offers or deadlines.
  • Highlight benefits: Clearly state the value readers will gain.
  • Be clear and concise: Ensure your message is direct and easy to understand.
  • Avoid spam trigger words: Stay away from words like “free,” “deal,” and “winner” to prevent your messages getting flagged by spam filters.

Since your subject line is the first way a user will interact with your email, spend extra time to write something that will grab attention while accurately and authentically introducing the reason for your message. You can also try A/B testing multiple subject lines with your audience, and use those insights to further improve your email marketing results.


Personalize your email content

Unlike social media marketing, email marketing campaigns offer a more direct and personalized channel for businesses to connect with their subscribers over time. 

Personalization goes beyond audience segmentation by demographics or behaviors. It involves tailoring the content to each individual recipient. This can be as simple as including your recipient’s first name at the top of the message. 

You could also follow up a purchase with a message asking about their experience, how the product is working for them, or suggesting similar products they might like. These small gestures show that you value your subscribers as individuals and are attentive to their needs and preferences. When you’re ready to elevate your personalization efforts, consider using dynamic content on platforms like Hubspot or Mailchimp. Dynamic content allows you to customize sections of your emails based on each recipient’s interests, further enhancing relevance and engagement.

In a case study shared by Mailchimp, Honeywell Biscuit Co. experienced an unexpectedly large response when they sent an opt-out offer prior to Mother’s Day promotions. This unexpected gesture of consideration resonated deeply with its customers, resulting in an outpouring of gratitude.

This insight inspired the Honeywell Biscuit Co. to humanize more messages and develop a new email marketing campaign where the owner shared personal information and encouraged customers to tell her more about themselves.

Get inspired by these ideas on how to humanize marketing efforts

By personalizing your email content and going that extra step for your subscribers, you can cultivate meaningful relationships and drive success in your email marketing campaigns.


Design user-friendly email templates

Now you are ready to design your template. You can use a pre-built template in your marketing automation platform, or level up your marketing game by designing your own custom email templates

One often overlooked aspect of the design is accessibility. According to the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, approximately 15% of the global population lives with some form of disability, ranging from visual impairments to cognitive challenges. 

By optimizing your emails for reader accessibility, you not only cater to this sizable audience but also improve the overall user experience for all recipients.

Implementing accessibility features such as descriptive alt text for images, proper HTML formatting for screen readers, and sufficient color contrast for readability can make your emails more inclusive and user-friendly. 

Additionally, accessible emails are more likely to comply with anti-spam regulations and email client standards, thereby improving deliverability and ensuring your messages reach a broader audience.

Email accessibility tips

Here are our other suggestions when designing to create professional and engaging templates:

  • Include a balance of text and visuals in the message
  • Avoid cluttered layouts or layouts using too many colors
  • Have fun designing, but make sure to prioritize readability
  • Maintain consistency with your brand identity
  • Include clear CTAs
  • Consider using dark mode
  • Test across devices and browsers

Overall, focus on directing the reader’s attention. 

  • What will catch their eye first? 
  • Where will their eyes go next? 

Keep it simple and ensure your message comes across effectively, including a clear call-to-action. A thoughtfully designed template can enhance user experience and increase engagement rates.

See visual examples illustrating the dos and don’ts of email marketing design templates.


Focus on final steps

Before finalizing your email marketing campaign, there are essential steps you must remember before concluding:

  • Test, monitor, and optimize your campaign: Testing different elements of your emails, from subject lines to content layout, allows you to identify what resonates most with your audience. 
  • Monitor and analyze results: Keep a close eye on key performance metrics, such as open rates, click-through rates, and conversion rates, using tools available in your email marketing platform to assess the effectiveness of your campaigns.
  • Ensure compliance with email regulations: Familiarize yourself with the dark side of email marketing, and laws such as the CAN-SPAM Act and GDPR to ensure legal compliance and maintain trust with your subscribers.

If you aren’t seeing the results you were hoping for from your campaigns, it might be time to refine and optimize. Start with these five strategies to improve email deliverability.

More strategy = more opens and more clicks

Email marketing remains one of the most effective and accessible tools for engaging with your audience. It offers a unique opportunity to elevate your marketing efforts and connect with your customers on a more personal level.

Every stage of the email marketing process, from setting clear campaign objectives to crafting visually appealing and compelling templates, is crucial in developing successful email campaigns. Through consistent practice and ongoing improvement, you can refine your skills and gain valuable insights into what resonates best with your target audience, ultimately benefiting your business.

Get help from email marketing campaign experts

For over 20 years, TBH Creative’s team has been helping clients from across the nation send smarter emails. If you’re looking for more tips to help with writing a successful email newsletter, check out our additional resources below. Need more personalized help? Let’s talk.